Screenwriter, grape grower, and winemaker Robert Kamen was in town last night for what’s become his yearly stop in Houston, where he always holds court over dinner at Tony’s, my friend and client Tony Vallone’s iconic restaurant.
I always have to pinch myself: how did I get here? I wondered as I hob-nobbed with some of the city’s leading politicians, oil moguls, and real estate developers, not to mention the man who gave the world wax on, wax off.
But wine has its unique way, I always remember, of connecting people from the most disparate walks of life. (And Tony’s generosity may have a little something to do with it, too.)
I also had the great fortune to sit down with Robert earlier in the day to chat about a wide variety of subjects, from the current political landscape to his cannabis advocacy, the latter a subject that he’s touched upon in every conversation we’ve had since I met him back in my NYC days in the late 1990s. When we first connected, he was just starting out and I’ve followed him and his wines ever since. I can tell you that the confabulatio is never dull!
One of things I was curious to ask him about was something that I view as an anomaly in the contemporary wine trade: on the one hand, you have a New York-born lefty writer cum Sonoma winemaker whose vineyard manager is California’s pioneer of biodynamic farming and whose wines embrace an Old World, acidity-driven and restrained style; and on the other, you have the wine world’s über-critic who regularly gives these wines 98- and 99-point scores, even though he historically tends to favor the big, bold, and powerful when it comes to his top-rated wines.
And let me tell you, folks: Robert Kamen is no Ann Colgin!
“I don’t give my wines to anyone,” said Robert referring to the fact that he doesn’t submit his wines to the major mastheads for review.
“I’m in the movie business and I’m critic-adverse,” he told me.
But when former Parker editor Antonio Galloni visited the estate some years ago and spent the better part of the day there touring the growing sites and tasting the wines, “I decided to give him the wines.”
And that legacy carried over even after Antonio departed from the storied publication.
Do the scores have an effect on sales? I asked Robert.
“In all the years that I’ve been making and selling wine,” he revealed, “only once did someone come into the tasting room and say he wanted to buy the wines because he was collecting ’98-point’ Cabernet.”
As the dinner wound down, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the city’s leading Republican politicians. We chatted about our shared view that Houston is the future of America: it’s the one great American metropolis, we agreed wholeheartedly, where left and right, blue and red, Democrat and Republican interact every day; and it’s also America’s most diverse city, where people from all parts of the world live and breath in harmony and civility (and if you don’t believe me, come see me please).
Only at Tony’s, I thought to myself, does a lefty like me (a native Californian and lapsed New Yorker) get to drink one of America’s best wines with a leading advocate for the right in one of the union’s most conservative states.
But then again, only Tony could serve octopus and Cabernet Sauvignon and make the food and wine dance so gloriously on our palates.