Sunday, August 06, 2023

A Paean to He Who Started with Nothing and Now Has Everything

It’s not every day one can expound about an American success story. Sure, there are scores of them - this country exists for attainment, at any and all costs. Some are dearer than others, and some have cost our collective soul more than we sometimes wished to pay. But pay we do, ultimately. And now, we arrive at another crossroad, this one surely historical, if not now, then definitely in the uncertain future, if it indeed the future will exist. But this isn’t an elegy or an obituary, it’s a celebration of a native son’s success in life. He started with nothing. Now, his cup overfloweth. He has everything.

I got a message from him. He was in London, getting ready for lunch. “Puligny or Chassagne?” We both suffer from a love of white Burgundy. “Well, if it were I, Puligny. But I know you have leanings towards Chassagne.” Long ago I had an awakening experience with Puligny, so I was attached to the wine. Of course, if someone opened a bottle of Chevalier Montrachet, I surely wouldn’t turn it down either. Or any wine with the word Montrachet. But those days are behind me. I cannot afford a retirement house in Ojai, California and regularly opening bottles of any kind of Montrachet seem like a distant memory at this point.

My friend chose a Chassagne, Grand Cru, and reported back. He was well sated by the end of that day, so he intimated.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, the heat is turned up to maximum, and we’re all baking like scones in a brick oven. My insides feel like they are on fire - what with all the gurgling and upheaval - over the interminable inferno of a place Texas has become.

But my friend was born here, raised here, by a more-or-less, single mother, barely old enough to be his mother. I have sisters older than his mother. So, they were ill prepared for the world awaiting them. And dirt poor. Project housing poor. Not a recommended scenario for growing up. But them’s the cards was dealt to them.

My friend now languishes in a Parisian penthouse suite, with the temperature barely reaching 70⁰ F, a degree of deliciousness we haven’t seen in Texas in months. Croissants, butter and Burgundy. He is slated for more satiation in the coming days. After several bouts of Covid, and a longer battle with long Covid, this is a victory lap of sorts. He once shared with me how the virus changed his palate.

I wonder if there are wine writers or journalists (do they still exist?) out there who have studied this phenomenon? I thought to mention it to a friend who is still active in the trade. But who cares what some doddering idiot (moi?) ruminates over in the hinterlands?

Still, I might lean into the subject and see if some famous sommelier somewhere has seen their palate irrevocably changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out if a master of wine has had that happen to them? They can write, generally, better than the master sommelier crowd, who sticks to their Instagram stories, searching to be liked more and more.

My friend, let’s give him a name, shall we? Jack.

Jack learned that being poor, while virtuous, offered little in the way of social mobility. He is interested in everything, it seems. So, he trod a path to pull himself and his mother out of the sludge of scarcity.

Along the way, he met the love of his love (picture Claire and Jamie of the Outlander) and they created a close-knit family. This family makes an Italian family look like poseurs. They are tight. He loves it. King Jack, I like to call him.

Now, mind you, I throw fastballs at him. I do not slow down my pitches for him. But I don’t do it because I have ill will towards him. It’s hard not to like him, love him. But he also needs someone to check him from time to time.

One of his favorite sayings, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter,” I’ve taken seriously. I will not gut him like a trout, never. But neither will I be a yes man. He’s had enough of that in his life.

Jack loves Italian wine, maybe even more than me. You name it, he’s had it, time and time again. All the greats, even more than I could ever have hoped to have had. But that’s the way Jack is – a big man with a big appetite for life.

I tell him all the time, “You’re living a privileged life.” He just laughs at me. “You didn’t grow up below the poverty line, pal,” he shoots back. True. We lived well enough in Southern California, where I grew up. Cadillacs and two-tone shoes. Somewhere around the mid 1970’s it turned into Birkenstocks and used Corvairs. I got my comeuppance. 

Meanwhile Jack was falling in love (with his forever gal), buying a house and driving a fancy car, one of many exotics that would inhabit his garage throughout his career. It was like we changed places. I walked away from money, it gravitated towards him.

But, no regrets from this guy. I’m healthy and debt free. I have a garage full of reliable (and sexy) German cars, a cellar full of reliable (and sexy) Italian wines and the freedom to live life, more or less, on my terms. Like Jack said, “You won!”

Well, Jack, you won too, cowboy, big time. I’ve enjoyed our time together, learning your story. They really did break the mold after they made you. One of a kind.

Jack, you really started with nothing and now you have everything you’ve ever dreamed of. 

Now, tell me more about that bottle of Masseto you have in your saddlebag?



wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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