“Shut It Down!” A protest song by Parzen Family Singers…

Tell me what you want, what you really want!


Tell me what you need, what you really need!


Last month, Parzen family took part in Lights for Liberty (A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps) here in Houston. It was part of a nationwide protest that took place that evening.

We’ve been protesting and marching a lot in recent years. And it’s always a rich and compelling human experience — tapping into a shared desire to make the world a better place.

I wanted to capture that energy in music and so I went about setting some of the chants to a beat. The result was the Parzen Family Singers’ first protest song, “Shut It Down!” (below).

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone, and thank you for listening.

Always stand up for and speak out about what you believe is right. Those are words that we live by at our house.

Slow Wine Guide 2020 to feature 200+ California wineries.

Above: Rhys Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One of the things that has amazed me about California viticulture is how so many of the top growing sites are located in heavily wooded, wild areas.

The first edition (2018) of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California featured 70 wineries.

With the second (2019), that number grew to roughly 120.

With the third (2020), it’s looking likely that the guide will include more than 200 estates.

(As in years past, the guide will be published in the spring and hard copies will be available for purchase at each of the events along the Slow Wine tasting tour across the U.S. It will also be made available for download.)

These last three years of working on the guide have been an eye-opening — or should I say palate-expanding — experience for me.

There’s so much great wine in California, I’ve discovered, that never seems to get the media coverage it deserves. As I’ve written here on the blog, I believe that’s partly due to the fact that a lot of California’s greatest wines are sold nearly exclusively to mailing lists and high-end restaurants. The iconic wines of Philip Togni, a Napa benchmark, are a great example.

Above: Mark Pisoni showing me his garden insectary at the family’s Pisoni Ranch. There’s a waiting list for those who want to buy the estate’s top wines.

It’s also due to the fact that there’s a relatively small group of “new wave” producers who have received the lion’s share of the media’s attention over the last 10 years or so. The new kids on the block, most of them négociant labels, make great wines, too (and I’ve tasted a lot of them over these last three years as well).

But I’ve also met a myriad of legacy growers who have quietly gone about their business of growing and raising great wines for decades, often without the media attention they merit (especially among the new generation of wine writers who’ve emerged since the advent of the enoblogosphere).

The expansion of coverage for this year’s guide is thanks in great part to our new senior editor Pam Strayer, a former environmental and health journalist who now writes passionately and expertly about organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Thanks to her extensive contacts on the ground and her impressive experience tasting wines across the state, our team has managed to nearly double the number of wineries we covered last year.

The energy and commitment that she brings to our work have been an inspiration for me.

From Pam’s About page:

    A leading specialist on American wines from organic and biodynamic vineyards, Pam Strayer is the author and publisher of 7 apps as well as forthcoming new web sites and books for the wine industry and consumers. She also consults to organic and biodynamic producers and organizations on marketing, strategy and communications.
    She is currently organizing a webinar for Women of the Vine & Spirits that will be held on Oct. 18 on the organic and Biodynamic sector of the wine industry (open to WOTVS members as well as the public) and writing an article for Beverage Media called “Green Wine: Where Are We Now.” She is also working on new books, Organically Napa, and Organically Sonoma, to be published along with a new newsletter.

Her wonderful blog is a great resource for those who follow organic and biodynamic grape farming in the state. I highly recommend it to you. She also leads consumer tours.

Apotheosis: Napa Valley finds one of its greatest expressions in Philip Togni

Above: “mountain” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa has become all the rage over the last decade or so. Togni planted at 2,000 ft. in 1981.

A most remarkable thing happened during my August visit to Philip Togni Vineyard on Spring Mountain Rd. not far from the western border of Napa County.

“Buona sera!” exclaimed dottor Togni when a Slow Wine editor stepped out of his truck.

“Buona sera,” replied said editor. “Come sta?”

“Bene, grazie. Benvenuto!” answered the iconic St. Helena grape grower and winemaker, whose family produces one of Napa Valley’s most coveted wines.

Above: the soils of the Togni vineyard are primarily volcanic in origin.

It should have come as no surprise: before settling with his family in the mountains to the west of St. Helena, the polyglot Philip Togni studied winemaking and made wine all over the world, including France, Chile, and Algeria. He had already mastered many languages before reaching California in the 1970s. But it was his Ticinese heritage that prompted him to study the language of Dante at Napa Valley College, he told the editor — in impeccable, seamless Italian.

(See Frank Prial’s wonderful 1990 profile of Togni for the Times.)

Above: the rocky soils and their drainage are ideal for the classic Bordeaux blend favored by the Togni family.

Over the course of our late afternoon visit, dottor Togni and I spoke almost exclusively in Italian.

But when it was time for a walk around the vineyard and tasting, his daughter Lisa, the current winemaker, switched to English as our lingua franca.

After three seasons of working with the Slow Wine guide, I’ve had the chance to experience their extraordinary wines on a number of occasions. And I have to say, they entirely reshaped my understanding of what Napa Valley can be.

They only make two Philip Togni wines: an “ageworthy Margaux-type” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, their flagship; and a sweet wine made from Black Hamburgh, a rare table grape evidently not found elsewhere in Napa. Wines not deemed worthy of their top label are sold under a separate label.

Above: the Togni family crest in their barrique room.

There are few wines from Napa that achieve the elegance, balance, and clarity of the Philip Togni blend, made from the same vineyard each year. As for many Napa icons, Bordeaux is clearly the model, as they acknowledge. But the freshness and the vibrant acidity of the wines make them stand apart from the crowded field of predictable valley floor offerings.

Some would ascribe the brilliance and deliciousness of the wine to the altitude and exposure of the site. But when you stroll through the vines, planted on rocky volcanic-origin soils and surrounded by forest and wildlife (not far from the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where some of California’s most inland redwoods breathe), you begin to wrap your mind around what an exceptional site this is.

Above: the Togni family — figlia e padre — feel that their wines should be drunk only after a decade out from the vintage. 20 years, said Lisa, was when they really start to hit their prime.

The gently spicy oak was present but very much in balance on the 2016 Philip Togni poured me in their cellar. It had been open for two days, she said, and the slightly underripe red and black fruit was showing gorgeously.

In another era, a less experienced taster might have dismissed this wine because of the presence of oak. After all, many young wine trade observers still believe — wrongly — that oak is by its very nature “bad.” In fact, oak aging, in the classic French style, is what gives this wine its extreme finesse without compromising its lean character.

Sadly for me, the wines land above my price ceiling and I’ll probably only ever get to taste a properly aged Togni wine when and if a generous collector takes pity on me.

In the meantime, I’ll feel glad that the Togni family has shown me the true potential of Napa Valley viticulture — the appellation’s apotheosis.

La ringrazio, dottor Togni, per la visita, davvero eccezionale. Arrivederci.

At Kistler “setting the tone” for greatness…

“Maniacal.” That was the word that sprung to mind during a walk through Kistler Vineyards’ main farm and winemaking facility in Sebastopol last week.

Maniacal farming practices. Maniacal vinification protocols.

Winemaker Jason Kesner (above) chuckled in agreement when a wine blogger shared the thought with him. The vineyards he oversees are among the most (literally) manicured you’ll ever find — each bunch coddled to perfection, each cluster pampered until it realizes its full potential.

When we headed inside the winery proper, he showed me the temperature-controlled tanks used for fermenting the winery’s Pinot Noir.

After the grapes arrive during harvest, he told me, a 24-hour crew manually monitors temperatures in the vats in at least four places. Temperatures inside the vessel, he explained, vary from top to bottom. And while most winemakers, even the best ones, would perform a classic however quasi-robotic punching down of the must and skins, his team manages the cap in accordance with each tank’s particular and ever-changing thermal profile. No one’s sitting a home checking on the temperature of the vat with a smart phone app, hitting a button to warm or cool the tank, and then going back to sleep. No, at Kistler each tank is watched over with meticulous precision — exactness that echoes throughout the winemaking process.

Note how the barriques are perfectly aligned, Jason suggested when we visited one of the four Chardonnay fermentation rooms.

“It sets the tone for everything we do,” he told me.

The aesthetic touch may seem like affectation to some. But when it comes to the clarity of fruit and the elegance and balance of the wines, the taster realizes that Jason’s perjinkities are the product of the deep-reaching thoughtfulness and nuanced soul that he and the owners of this iconic estate summon to deliver these spectacular wines.

All of Kistler’s Chardonnay vineyards are planted to the “Wente” clone (as opposed to the Burgundian “Dijon” clones). The concept of the winery has never changed since its inception. The clone is always the same. The farming practices are uniform (and uniformly maniacal). The winemaking approach is unvaried. As a result, each bottling is reflection of the place — of the terroir — where those grapes are grown.

I’ve written before about how an inexperienced taster, clouded by peer pressure, didn’t have the palate or tasting chops to understand what makes these wines great.

Generous friends and colleagues have treated me to bottles of Kistler over the last two decades and I’ve come to appreciate, greatly, the compelling wines Jason and his team produce. When I visited last week, I wasn’t surprised to discover the ethos and ethic that make them a supreme expression of Californian viticulture.

Thank you, Jason, for one of the most extraordinary winery visits of my career. And thank you, Katie, for the fantastic tasting!

Californians keep all the good wine for themselves! Wouldn’t you? Slow Wine Guide 2020 dispatch.

One of the things that has become abundantly clear to me after three years of working on the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California is that the Californians keep all the good wine for themselves.

Well, that’s only half true: they keep the good stuff for themselves and their friends.

So many of the top wines, I’ve discovered — from the super collectible to the cool kids — are sold predominantly via the estates’ mailing lists and on premise (to restaurants).

Looking back over the years, it occurs to me now that one of the reasons California wine was so unfashionable among enohipsters was that it was hard to find the more soulful stuff. Even during my youth in my hometown of San Diego, the wine shelves were mostly stacked with the classic oaky, extracted, and supercharged goods. You know, the Schafers and the Caymus and the Silver Oaks etc. I’m not saying that those wines are “bad.” But they don’t fit the more youthful, woke (as it were) approach to wine. You had to look a little bit harder to find the vino buono. After taking the time to dig deeper, I’ve been blown away by the quality of the wine I’ve tasted and how much it aligns with the progressive wine lover’s palate.

Later today I’ll be visiting my all-time favorite Napa wine grower. And I have never seen their wines in a wine shop — never ever. And I go to a LOT of wine shops.

Yesterday I met and tasted with Mark Pisoni at his family’s Pisoni Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands. That’s a shot of their farm above. And the Lucia Pinot Noir he tasted me on was spectacular (and an amazing value, btw). But it’s sold, he told me, primarily through their mailing list and to restaurants.

The Californians aren’t keeping all the wine to themselves (and for their friends) because they are covetous. They are simply faced by too much demand for their labels.

I’ve been on the road this week in northern Californian wine country tasting with winemakers and grape growers for the 2020 edition of the Slow Wine guide. I’ve already had some amazing visits and have more today and tomorrow. I’ll share my notes soonest.

Have to hit the road again now but need to give a shout out to El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs, Sonoma County (where I stay at my best-kept-secret hotel).

That’s their Oaxacan zucchine flower quesadilla below. One of the best things I’ve eaten this year. Thanks again to John Lockwood of Enfield Wine for the recommendation!

A voice from Trump’s America: “Our Country Needs God’s Way.” Rev. Branch’s letter to the White House

My wife Tracie grew up in Orange, Texas, a Gulf Coast town that lies in the ruby-red heart of Trump’s America. The president enjoys nearly unmitigated support from the white community there. Her parents live there and we visit regularly.

That’s Tracie’s father below, Rev. Randall Branch, a Methodist Pastor, celebrating Easter in his church with our daughters.

Last week, following the El Paso and Dayton shootings, he sent the following letter to the White House. He also posted it on his church’s blog and Facebook. It speaks for itself and I am glad to share it here (as per his encouragement in the post’s post-script).

Our Country Needs God’s Way.

I have been praying about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Asking for God to be with those who have been thrust into a time of grief, healing and perhaps hopelessness. My prayer is that God heal them in every way needed, physically and mentally. My prayers are also for all those who are afflicted with hatred, bigotry and racism, that they too may be healed and come to know the loving grace that God pours out upon all people.

For all of us who know Jesus Christ as our savior I pray that in all we do and all we say we are an example of who Christ wants us to be and not who our flesh sometimes calls us to be. You know that “loving your neighbor is all inclusive and never exclusive!”

I am not making a political statement when I say that it was good to hear President Trump denounce all forms of hatred and bigotry. I do wish however that he had gone a step further in that statement and made sure that those who thrive on hatred, racism and bigotry would know that he is not their friend and wants nothing to do with their movements or way of thinking. I believe that step further would also lead to a kinder more thoughtful way of saying things in the future that would/could not be interpreted by people that are looking for an excuse to cause harm to others through word or deed.

If you need some Biblical support one of many scriptures we should be living by is Colossians 3:1-17. They speak about our world today and about how we are, as Christians, to live our lives.

Got that off my chest but maybe I need to send a letter just like this to the White House. Hmmm! I wonder if He would read it.

Have a blessed day in Jesus Christ…for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Pastor Randy

PS. please feel free to copy and share if you would like to..maybe even come to a house of worship like the one below.

A Barbera d’Asti that fired on all cylinders and an all-American pairing…

It’s become a cliché for American sommeliers and wine pundits to talk about Barbera’s role as a “pizza wine” in our country.

But predictably does have its merits and a Sunday pairing of the Maraja 2015 Barbera d’Asti Masche with some of our favorite pies was by no means a cliché négatif (photography buffs will appreciate the paronomasia).

Italians generally pair beer and/or sparkling soft drinks with their pizza. And if they reach for wine instead, it’s usually something bubbly. The fattiness and acidity of the mozzarella, the wisdom goes, needs something effervescent to aid in digestion (the metabolic challenge of pizza is one of the reasons that Italians mostly avoid eating pizza at lunchtime but that’s another story).

Only in America, where the great misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean gives rise to our gastronomic exceptionalism, do gourmets and enohipsters view still red wine as a excellent match for pizza. How many times have you heard the lesser informed members of our society point to Chianti as a “pizza wine”? Chianti! (But that’s another story as well.)

On Sunday, our all-American family found itself with another red-white-and-blue couple who’ve recently expanded their brood with a beautiful, precious baby girl. And the Maraja was the bottle we reached for when we ordered pizzas creative and traditional.

Man, this wine had it all: buoyant red and berry fruit, minerality and a hint dusty earth (hallmarks of Astigiano-raised Barbera), the classic electric acidity that the variety is known for, and higher-than-expected-alcohol that was kept wonderfully in check by the sum of its parts. It just fired on all cylinders like a finely-tuned 1968 hardtop Mustang Fastback. What a gorgeous lip-smacking wine!

One of the things that has fascinated me the most over the course of my bilingual career is how wines and foods are often “applied” by Anglophones in ways that their Italophone counterparts didn’t imagine and/or intend.

Sometimes we get it right, sometimes wrong. But on Sunday, we, Americans, nailed it.

Walmart USA: it’s time to stop denying we have a white supremacist problem #HateWillNotDefineUs

The Walmart in El Paso where the mass shooting took place this weekend is just like the Walmart in our Houston neighborhood. You’ll find every gradation of humanity there: brown, black, white, Asian, Jew, Muslim, Christian…

We don’t live on the U.S.-Mexico border like our sisters and brothers in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. But we do live in the fourth-largest city in America, the country’s most diverse, home to one of its largest ports and transit hubs, where Spanish, Yiddish (yes, I hear Yiddish every week in our neighborhood), Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, and countless African, European, and Asian tongues all mingle together every day.

And the Walmart in our southwest corner of Houston, where I bought our daughters their first bicycles and where we shop occasionally, is just like that Walmart in El Paso where a white supremacist murdered and maimed innocents on Saturday morning.

I thought twice about taking the girls to our Walmart yesterday, Sunday, when we needed to get a replacement tube for one of their bikes.

After El Paso, there’s no longer any denying that our nation has a white supremacist problem. Over the last 12 months, white supremacists have killed black people, brown people, and Jews in our country.

In the course of our activism, Tracie and I have seen white supremacy up close and personal: it’s scary and ugly and dangerous. And tragically, it’s very much alive, thriving, and growing in our country.

It’s time for everyone — from politicians in the White House and the Texas capitol to the woman and man on the street, from religious leaders to civic leaders and activists — to call it out for what it is. Honestly, it was time a long time ago. Innocent people are dying at the hands of white supremacists and we must rise up against them.

The first step is to recognize this expanding, horrific problem. The second step is to stand up and speak out: we will not tolerate white supremacy in our communities, churches and synagogues, schools, and place like our Walmarts — where we all gather for back-to-school shopping on a late summer Saturday morning.

Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this weekend’s shootings and their families. And our hearts and minds are filled with resolve to combat white supremacy wherever it lurks in our country.


“The Day After Yesterday (Emilee’s Song)” by Parzen Family Signers featuring Lila Jane Parzen

Too many blessings to count this week at Parzen Family.

Niece Emilee will be celebrating her 22nd birthday next week. Her recovery, after a really serious car accident back in May, is going great. And she’s still on track to graduate from UH on schedule.

And here in our corner of Houston yesterday, Lila Jane successfully underwent eye surgery to correct a muscle in her eyes. Just a few hours after her surgery, she was up and about in the house, enjoying ice cream and her dogs. She’s been super brave through the whole experience.

The girls had asked me to write a song about cousin Emilee and so we came up with “The Day After Yesterday” based on a malapropism that Georgia used to be fond of. Lila Jane recorded her vocal track like a pro, in just two takes and one overdub.

The first single from their forthcoming December 2019 album on the Terrible Kids Music label, here’s Parzen Family Singers with “Day After Yesterday (Emilee’s Song).”

Thanks for listening everyone. Have a great weekend.

“Day After Yesterday (Emilee’s Song)”
by Georgia Parzen (BMI) and Jeremy Parzen (BMI)
performed by Parzen Family Singers
featuring Lila Jane Parzen on vocals

It was the day after yesterday
That we heard the news
Someone precious in our lives
We weren’t prepared to lose

But then we heard the best word
That she wasn’t all alone
It was the day after yesterday
We heard she’d be coming home, it was the

Day after yesterday
When all the clouds had covered up the sun
She was the one

So when you put your babies down
To sleep this starry night, remember
Day after yesterday you need to hold them tight

She is only twenty-one
So beautiful, so young
And there are still so many songs
Just waiting to be sung

And so we drove all through the night
To be right by her side
And we cried and thanked the lord
When we learned she’d be alright, it was the

Day after yesterday
When all the clouds had covered up the sun
We came undone

So when you tuck those babies in
Remember what I say
Day after yesterday
Can be taken away

Day after yesterday
Tell the ones you love
You need them so

So when you put your babies down
To sleep this starry night, remember
Day after yesterday you need to hold them tight

Greenwashing, Instagram food waste, food porn health risks: issues that matter to millennials at Slow Food U.

Above: the Slow Food U. campus was once a country residence belonging to King Vittorio Emanuele II, united Italy’s first ruler until his death in 1878.

Grading exams is rarely a task that professors look forward to. But when it comes to reading term papers by graduate students in my food and wine communications seminars at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences, the engagé topics and theses reveal some of the issues that matter most to these millennials, many of whom will become food and wine professionals.

One of the subjects that stood out was “greenwashing,” the black art of misrepresenting a product or producer as environmentally responsible. Wineries in particular have been the culprits of such dissimulation in the eyes of some of my students. The conviction and vehemence with which some of the students call out unscrupulous winemakers are impressive.

Food waste by Instagram users was another red thread that connects many of the essays. Instagram users, especially chefs, some of the wrote, have lost sight of nutritional value and sustainable practices when they create and then discard hardly edible dishes conceived expressly for the social media platform.

Food porn health risks also concern my students. A number of them pointed to the high fat content and low nutritional value of the foods commonly represented on social media. This trend, they point out, encourages and even promotes unhealthy eating habits among young people.

Natural wine’s grip on cultural hegemony was one of the topics that surprised me. The popularity of natural wine and natural winemakers and their uncanny ability — purposeful or incidental — to eclipse conventional wine and conventional winemakers is, evidently, a real concern among some of my students. It takes a lot of courage to speak out about the issue, especially on a campus where natural wine is taught like gospel.

All and all, the socially conscious, woke issues that my students grapple with align with overarching millennial trends.

As one of my former students put it, he wants to make the world a better place to eat. If these millennials have a say, we’ll all be the better for it.