Parzen family update from Houston.

On Friday, local media here in Houston reported that ICU capacity had already hit 100 percent and health officials are expecting an “‘unsustainable surge capacity’ of intensive care beds by July 6 [Monday].”

Also on Friday, the governor of Texas ordered all bars in the state to close, restaurants to reduce capacity, and hospitals to stop performing elective surgery.

The bottomline is that Houston has become one of the world’s pandemic epicenters. At least one health expert, a locally based international authority on infectious disease, has said that Houston may become the “worst affected city in America.”

(For those wanting to understand how we got here, I highly recommend this New York Times “Daily” podcast featuring the paper’s Texas bureau chief, Manny Fernandez. As he says and the end of the interview, it really comes down to “world view.”)

Tracie, the girls, and I are safe and healthy. And everyone in our immediate Texas family is also safe and healthy. Even as things started opening up here at the beginning of May, we have remained vigilant and have been very careful about avoiding exposure.

We are very fortunate to live in a residential neighborhood where we can walk and exercise while maintaining social distancing. We do all our grocery shopping using curbside pick up.

Tracie and I really appreciate the concern and the thoughts and wishes from our friends. Thank you for that. It means a lot to us. We have been very lucky throughout the crisis and we will continue to stay safe. Heartfelt thanks for all the messages we have received.

A pandemic-era wine sales strategy that works at Roma in Houston.

best italian houstonIn the wake of yesterday’s post (“The age of arrogance is over. Winemakers, please check your hubris at the (virtual) door!”), a lot of people have asked me about the restaurant that had organized the virtual wine dinner.

It’s a “trattoria inspired” independent venue called Roma in Rice Village, the Houston neighborhood where Rice University is located. I help out with its online presence.

Owner Shanon Scott is a Houston restaurant trade veteran and one of our community’s most beloved restaurateurs. A former maître d’ at some of the city’s highest-profile Italian dining destinations, he opened his own place in a classic Houston-style bungalow about three and half years ago. He’s also become a good friend of ours over the years. I love working with him and share his passion for great Italian cuisine.

Every week, he hosts a virtual wine dinner: guests (mostly couples) pick up their food and three bottles of wine between 5-7 p.m. each Thursday and then settle in around a computer or smart phone with a Zoom link. Most Thursdays, a winemaker or winery ambassador from Italy dials in as well and leads the participants through the wines. I serve as event moderator.

The campaign has been highly successful for both Roma and the distributor Shanon’s partnered with, Impero Wine Distributors, a Florida-based importer with wholesale operations scattered across the U.S.

pasta with tuna and capersThe man in the back of the house, Angelo Cuppone, is a classically trained chef from Pesaro (the Marches, Italy) and his cooking style is classic. My favorite dishes there are the lasagne and the carbonara but our 11-year-old cousin (whose family lives down the street) is partial to the grilled octopus. All the prosciutto they serve is sliced on a Berkel — another huge plus in our book. The restaurant is one of our extended Houston family’s go-tos.

For those who have never worked in the food service industry, it may be hard to fathom what a challenging time this is for food and wine professionals. Landlords don’t stop charging rents even when pandemics force lockdowns and catastrophic loss of business. And restaurant workers — from dishwashers to back waiters to line cooks to servers — have rents to pay and kids to feed even when an epidemic forces restaurateurs to entirely reimagine their business models.

Scores of Houston restaurants have permanently shuttered their doors in recent weeks. Bernie’s Burger Bus, for example, an immensely popular independent Houston hamburger chain (the kitchen was housed in a yellow school bus), had just begun an expansion when the virus arrived. No one in our community could believe that such a successful model could fall victim to COVID-19. But it did.

Similarly, the wine trade has been decimated by the fallout. Last week, Southern Glazer’s, one of our nation’s largest wholesalers, laid off most of its sales force according to anecdotal reports. I recently contacted its Houston sales office to help out a restaurant owner friend in Orange, Texas (where Tracie grew up). He wanted to set up an account with company to service his new wine program. The sales rep I spoke to told me that he is the sole agent taking orders for Southeast Texas. I can’t imagine that Southern Glazer’s will share the exact number of fired workers but the fact that there’s just one rep for such a huge swath of Texas is an indication that it’s currently working with a skeleton crew.

In my view, Shanon and his Impero sales rep, Melania Spagnoli, are true heroes. The virtual wine dinner model they’ve created is “moving boxes” (wine tradespeak for selling wine) in a perilous time and it’s helping to feed a lot of families — including my own.

Food photos by Al Torres Photography.

The age of arrogance is over. Winemakers, please check your hubris at the (virtual) door!

Above: Petulantia meet Hybris.

Speaking Italian well can be a blessing and curse. Sometimes both at once.

The other evening, when an Italophone Houston-based wine professional led a virtual wine dinner for a local Italianate restaurant, he was dismayed by the sheer aloofness, arrogance, and downright rudeness of his Italian counterparts on the other end of the call.

During the pregame call, they insulted the owner and chef (before the proprietor and his colleague joined the meeting). And during the event itself, they practically refused to thank their hosts even though the latter were “moving boxes,” as they say in the trade, selling their wine.

Instead of heeding an appeal by the moderator to avoid overly technical language (this was a consumer dinner after all), the winemaker — the son of one of Italy’s most prolific enologists — literally recited the information from technical sheets. And what made matters worse was the fact that he doesn’t speak English. Not a sin in and of itself but why was he on the meeting in the first place? By the time he got to “cryomaceration,” said Houston-based professional was ready to throw his hands in the air!

And from the frying pan into the fire, the self-proclaimed “experienced wine professional” who interpreted for him (“I’ve done events like this a thousand times”), couldn’t even render the word argilla into the English clay, one among many of the lacunes and, dare I add, personal shortcomings in his professional formation.

At a time when wineries, their importers, and their distributors on the ground are struggling to “move boxes,” there is no time for such insolence.

At a time when restaurants, one of the top channels for selling wine, are scrimping to survive, it is no time for such impertinence.

The other day I moderated an Italy-American Chamber of Commerce webinar on Italian wine trends in the pandemic era. The panelists were two of the highest-volume Italian wine buyers in the state. They spoke openly about how we are in a “buyer’s market” when they are literally inundated by inquiries from Italian winemakers who hope they’ll sell their wine. They don’t even read the emails, they said. They go straight away to the attachment to see if the pricing aligns with the current market. If it doesn’t, they hit delete.

The restaurant that I consult for has been one of the survivors in a time when scores of eateries are closing their doors permanently in Houston. The owner developed this virtual dinner format together with the local distributor and it’s been highly successful for both. Because our otherwise myopic governor has decreed that restaurants can now retail wine, the restaurateur also sells the wine at his cost to the guests. It’s another example of creative thinking that has helped keep him and the distributor afloat in this Darwinian era for wine and food professionals.

Especially as the trade wars are about to be stoked up again by U.S. government, winemakers — and not just Italian winemakers — need to partner and cooperate with American wine and food professionals instead of undermining and demeaning them.

The age of arrogance is over and they need to check their hubris at the door.

Deborah Parker Wong, new Slow Wine USA editor, discusses 2021 guide (VIDEO).

Last week, leading California wine educator Deborah Parker Wong — and the new editor for the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of North America — talked to me on Zoom about the guide and how she and her team of editors are putting the 2021 edition together even as they face the challenges of the pandemic era.

See the video of our Zoom chat below.

Deborah, above, served as a senior editor for the guide for the 2020 and 2019 editions (you can download a free e-book version of the 2020 guide here). And this year, as the new coordinating editor, she’s also overseeing an expansion of the book to include Washington and New York states.

It seems like a lifetime ago that my friend Giancarlo Gariglio, the guide’s editor-in-chief, asked me to help him launch a U.S. version. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career as a wine writer and I couldn’t be more happy that Deborah, one of the best technical tasters I’ve ever worked with and a true California wine insider, has stepped up to lead the team of contributors in these challenging times. Slow Wine USA couldn’t be in better hands.

Of course, Deborah and I weren’t going to waste an opportunity to taste some great wine together. Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Scarpa in Monferrato (for whom I do media consulting), we each had a bottle of Scarpa 2013 to taste. It was a thrill to get to open that bottle — however virtually — with one of my favorite people in the wine world.

What a wonderful wine, from a fantastic vintage!

Tracie and I paired it with her homemade focaccia (a Parzen family favorite) that night for dinner. Deborah checked in later in the day and said she poured with a salmon and spinach frittata. The wine, a current release, is showing beautifully right now.

Houston removes Confederate statues in time for Juneteenth.

By the time a Houston-based activist arrived on the scene yesterday, all that was left of a United Daughters of the Confederacy statue of Confederate commander Dick Dowling was a broken, jackhammered pedestal (above) and a desecrated dedication stone (below).

The Dowling statue was one of two monuments that were removed in Houston this week.

After gatherings at the site of the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent in 2017, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner formed a commission to study the repurposing of the city’s Confederate monuments. Earlier that year, he had already announced that the name of Dowling St., the main artery of one of Houston’s historically black neighborhoods, would be changed to Emancipation Ave.

But after sweeping public outcry in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and Virginia governor Ralph Northam’s announcement that the Lee statue in Richmond would be removed, mayor Turner decided that the time was right to remove these hateful and offensive tributes to the men who defended racist violence and genocide. (While mayor Turner was able to move forward with the removal this week, yesterday a judge barred Governor Northam from removing the Lee statue indefinitely.)

Today, Houston residents will be able to observe Emancipation Day — Juneteenth — without the long dark shadow of these monuments cast over their celebration.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing global health crisis, there will be no public gathering today at Houston’s Emancipation Park (below).

The park, established by black business leaders who purchased the land in 1872, was the site of some of the earliest celebrations of Juneteenth.

Thanks to the heightened interest in the holiday this year, many Americans have learned for the first time that Juneteenth can trace its origins to Galveston and Houston, the last cities in America to receive news of the Confederacy’s demise and black Americans’ newfound liberation from bondage.

Given the current public discourse on racism in this country, Juneteenth observances have particular significance and urgency this year.

May we all take this day to reflect on how we can become better American ancestors.

Happy Juneteenth from the Parzen family in Houston, Texas.

Please consider donating to and/or sharing our GoFundMe campaign to repurpose a newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up and where half the population is black.

About the guy screaming racist epithets at us on NowThis (please help us raise an MLK billboard over the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas).

On Saturday, NowThis Politics reposted a video entitled “Conflict Over Confederate Monument in Texas” which it had originally published in November 2018.

It was produced using video that Tracie shot at one of our protests of the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where she grew up.

You can view the Facebook repost (June 2020) here. And the original NowThis tweet (November 2018) here.

We’re not sure if NowThis was aware that we were protesting the memorial on Saturday, part of our ongoing campaign to repurpose the memorial which stands on Martin Luther King Dr. in a community that’s half black.
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No violence but tensions high at our Saturday protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas. Thank you Orange PD for keeping us safe.

Above: Tracie and her friend LaToya at the Saturday, June 13 protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie and LaToya both grew up and attended high school together.

Despite threats of violence and rumors that “Antifa” would be at our Saturday protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas, our demonstration was peaceful and without incident.

You can watch footage of the event, including interviews, here on the local Fox affiliate.
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Please join our protest of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas tomorrow. Please donate to our campaign to raise an MLK billboard across from the site.

Tracie and I were already planning tomorrow’s protest of the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where she grew up when we were contacted a couple of young women, sisters, who live there. They wanted to organize their own protest, they told us, and they were asking for our help.

The flyer below was designed by the older of the two, a recent college grad on her way to medical school.

If two young people like them have the courage to stand up against racist iconography like the “Confederate Memorial of the Wind,” then I truly believe there’s hope for our cause.

They’ll be there with us tomorrow, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., as we protest Confederate flags planted along Martin Luther King, Dr. — one of the city’s main arteries — in 2017.
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What does the Confederate flag mean in Texas? Racism! Join us in protest of the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas this Saturday.

“NASCAR bans Confederate flag from all its events, including races,” reported the venerable news agency Fox News yesterday. News of the ban was also published by leftwing lamestream media outlets.

Here’s an excerpt of the statement issued by NASCAR, as published by Fox: “The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry… Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

NASCAR has banned all displays of Confederate flag. The U.S. Marine Corps also just banned all displays of the Confederate flag.

Is there any question in anyone’s mind at this point as to whether or not the Confederate flag is an offensive and divisive symbol of racism?

In case you’re wondering what the Confederate flag means in Texas, I’d like to share another statement with you, one that was published by the state of Texas in 1861.
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