Sunday, March 04, 2012


I recently had an epiphany. It started at the San Francisco airport, in the new #2 terminal. We were heading back to Dallas after a memorable week of writing, work and inspiration in Napa Valley. We had arrived a little early and hadn’t had time to do anything on our drive from Napa to SFO but stop at Acme Bread in Berkeley so we could bring home some sourdough loaves to our loved ones.

Little did we know when we got to SFO that the new terminal had an Acme Bread counter. We hadn’t needed to stop in Berkeley at all. It was one more indication that the airport folks had read my mind. In fact there were all kinds of signs. A burger place that used meat from cows raised and slaughtered humanly. An organic place. A wine bar with real wines, not some bar “concept” with crappy industrial and trophy wines. A sushi place with honest sake.

Landing back in DFW, there would be none of that. Just a bunch of tired, worn-out chain restaurant concepts. Low on the totem pole of food and wine consciousness. Yuck.

Now, this isn’t just about bread. Or wine. Or sushi. But it is about something I witness, all the time, in Italy. And it has been happening more and more to us in Northern California. That is the realization that there are places and cultures and people who strive for a more refined expression in their foods, in their wines, in their lives. In Italy it is like the blood in the veins, it is something that has been downloaded into their DNA. And so it seems California has been evolving a little faster toward this than some of the places I frequent in the United States.

I know this isn’t a news flash to some folks. But it hit me on the side of my head, once again, that I have been doing missionary work in the interior of this country for so long that I have forgotten the wellspring of inspiration for which I have been proselytizing all these years. I haven’t been “home” in such a long time that I have forgotten that there are people who don’t think of a wine such as a Susumaniello or a mushroom that isn’t a standard button as oddities. That it is more in the natural course of things. I have forgotten my natural-ness in my longing to convert everyone to Chianti Rufina over Classico and Langhe Nebbiolo from Pinot Noir. I have been in battle mode for too long; I have strayed too far, wandering in this desert. I want to go home.

I want to go where I don’t have to sit in a restaurant and look at a wine list with the same Ripasso and the same Pinot Grigio and the same lazy restaurateurs telling me that they cannot put the Friuli Pinot Grigio on it because it is too expensive and besides no one has ever heard of it. Where people who call me “friend” hand me a plate of pasta with more garlic than mushrooms, with more salt than sense and with olive oil that doesn’t taste anything like the olive oil I taste regularly in Italy and California.

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a divine confluence of all the right energies, the nights we sat in restaurants in St. Helena with winemakers and writers and we drank great wines from California and France and Italy and we shared conversation, not as server to client, but person to person. I wasn’t some old-school fogie that some young sommelier would ignore. I actually had something to say and expertise to share and was among my peers. They, as well, had something to share with me, an exchange of ideas, of passions, of tastes.

It wasn’t, “Hey you think your Chianti is so great, look at this one I got from so and so, it’s even better!” I get that from too many servers in my local market. The wines they throw back at me are often ones I sold or introduced into the same market 30+ years ago. I am exhausted with the arrogance of some of today’s new-crop industry members, their impatience and ignorance of the history of the business they are in. I witness less of this in my Italy and in my once-upon-a-time home state, California.

People tell me it is an evolving thing and of course the coasts will always be ahead of the great middle way. I knew that; I’d just forgotten it in the fog of war. But even the other Thirty Years War (look it up) came to an end. I want to be the happy warrior, walking in the direction of home, or at least dreaming of places that know me. If nothing else, a silent acceptance, like the night we sat with the winemakers and their old wines. That was my old tribe, my people, that was belonging. That made all this struggle worthwhile.

And so, the lights once again, came on. The cymbals clashed, and the epiphany of taste once again rolled out and presented to me: “What are you waiting for? We are handing it to you. When are you going to take it?”

I reckon I’ll take it when I finally really “get” it. And I’m beginning to get it a little more clearly now.


Hal Rose said...

Right on brother!

Samantha Dugan said...

Lovely Alfonso. Truly.

Marco Cadetto said...

Ain't that the truth, amico. said...

Does that mean you are coming home? California is waiting. Great piece. Sis

Thomas said...

Yes, indeed.

How long does it take for the middle to meet the two ends--or should it be the other way around?

nico said...

cheers alfonso!

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