Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California: prizes to be announced next week

As strange as it seems, it was on a chilly November night in Piedmont — as voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was already well under way — that Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first suggested we create a Slow Wine guide to the wine of California. We sipped sustainably farmed Timorasso, dipped organic torilla chips into organic salsa (just to add a layer of surreality), and by the time we said goodbye, we knew we were on the verge of having a new U.S. president and a new vade-mecum to California viticulture.

That’s San Diego winegrower Chris Broomell, above, in June of this year. Together with his wife Alysha Stehly, also a winemaker, he produces some of the most compelling wines that I’ve tasted in 2017. Not just delicious but also thrilling (at least to my palate) for the new direction that he’s driving grape farming and vinification practices in an often overlooked and undervalued American Viticultural Area, San Pasqual Valley.

Next week, Giancarlo (our editor-in-chief) and I will begin posting the winery and wine prizes, winery profiles, and tasting notes on a new blog we are launching for the guide, which will be released as print media early next year. We’ll also be posting about our methodology, the rationale behind the guide and the prizes, and the overarching ethos of Slow Food and Slow Wine and why we felt the time was right for a Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive of this new adventure and challenge. And special thanks to my daughters and wife Tracie who have seen a little less of me in recent weeks as I’ve been holed up in my office editing, writing, editing, writing, editing, and writing and editing some more.

It’s a very exciting project and I can’t wait to begin sharing it with you next week. Stay tuned!

Want to help Houston restaurant workers displaced by Harvey? Please come and see us! (Thank you Michael Madrigale and Planet Bordeaux.)

“Everyone’s been affected by the hurricane… everyone,” said Master Sommelier Guy Stout, a wine educator for Southern Glazer’s, when I saw him last night at a Bordeaux event at LeNôtre Culinary Institute in Houston’s Northline neighborhood.

After I attended the Bordeaux tasting, which included a guided tasting with celebrity sommelier Michale Madrigale from New York (below), I spent yesterday evening bouncing around wine bars in my adoptive city, talking to sommeliers about the status of the Houston wine community.

That’s the sign outside Underbelly (above) in our Montrose neighborhood, one of Houston’s most popular restaurants and wine destinations and a regular draw for out-of-town guests. Its owners have partnered with a local wine collector to present Wine Above Water, a wine-focused benefit for Houston-area wine trade members who have been displaced or otherwise affected by Harvey. As Guy rightly pointed out, we’ve all been affected — in one way or another.

Please read about the event and click through to the organizers’ website here (my post today for the Houston Press).

“No hesitation at all,” said Michael when I asked him if he had any reluctance in coming to our city so soon after the storm. “I was just glad when I found out we could get in.”

That’s Michael (above, left) with leading Houston sommeliers (from left) Sean Beck, Jack Mason, and Christian Varas.

Colleagues and peers from across the world have been writing me asking me how they can help with recovery efforts. Every dollar donated counts, I tell them, and donating to Wine Above Water will directly aid wine professionals who are facing mounting challenges as the restaurant industry and its patrons get back online.

But more than anything else, we need you to come here and see (and share the news) that we are open for business. Nearly everyone I talked to last night told me that their wine bars and wine-focused restaurants were up and running the day after the hurricane. In some cases, they unshuttered while the storm was still dropping up to 50 inches of rain across the greater Houston metro area.

My recommended foundations for donating are the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)
and the Houston Food Bank.

Please add Wine Above Water to that list.

But if you really want to help our community — and not just the wine and food community — please come here and spend money in our restaurants and shops. Please post a photo from Houston on your social media to let the world know that we are back on our feet. Come shake someone’s hand and share a glass of wine with one of the many displaced wine and restaurant professionals who are struggling to get by as our city rebuilds.

Thank you, Planet Bordeaux (organizer of last night’s event at LeNôtre), and thank you Michael Madrigale for not by-passing our city. That’s the type of spirit that will make #HoustonStrong even stronger.

Please check out my Houston Press post on Wine Above Water here.

From Puglia to Burgundy to Piedmont: taste with me in October in Texas, Colorado, and California

Above: I will be presenting winemaker Cesare Barbero of Pertinace (Barbaresco) and a vertical of his wines October 18 at Rossoblu in Los Angeles where I author the wine list. It’s just one of the events where I’ll be pouring and presenting this fall.

Please join me for one of the many events where I’ll be presenting, pouring, or blogging next month in Texas, Colorado, and California.

I’m particularly excited about my event with my friend and client Paolo Cantele in Houston at Mascalzone (Oct. 11) where I’m now writing my first wine list in Texas.

Another highlight will be the vertical tasting of one of my favorite Barbaresco producers Pertinace at Rossoblu (Oct. 18), where I’ve been having so much with the list, which we launched in the spring.

And of course, the Boulder Burgundy Festival (Oct. 13-15), where I’ve served as the official blogger for the last three years, is always an unforgettable experience. This year, we’ll be joined by Eric Asimov and Raj Parr.

Thanks for your support… hoping to see (and taste with) you next month!

Wednesday, October 11
7:00 p.m.

featuring Paolo Cantele
and 3 classic Italian dishes
paired with Cantele wines

$50 per person
12126 Westheimer Rd.
Houston TX 77077
Google map
CALL (832) 328-5151 TO RESERVE.

Thursday, October 12
7:00 p.m.

family-style dinner
featuring Paolo Cantele
and Cantele family wines

price TBD
5924 Convair Dr.
Fort Worth TX 76109
Google map
CALL (817) 349-0484 TO RESERVE.

Fri.-Sun., October 13-15

with keynote speaker Eric Asimov
and sommelier and winemaker Raj Parr

Boulder CO

SOTTO (Los Angeles)
Tuesday, October 17
7:00 p.m.

“Native Sons of Puglia”
dinner featuring Paolo Cantele,
Cantele family wines
& artisanal pastas by Pugliese
pasta-maker Francesco Allegro

$90 per person
9575 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90035
Google map
CALL (310) 277-0210 TO RESERVE.

ROSSOBLU (Los Angeles)
Wednesday, October 18
7:00 p.m.

Pertinace Barbaresco vertical
dinner with Cesare Barbero

$350 per person
1124 San Julian St.
Los Angeles CA 90015
Google map
CALL (213) 749-1099 TO RESERVE.

Kobrand, shame on you for by-passing Houston!

Above: the scene yesterday at the Houston Zoo, where my two daughters — ages 4 and 5 — especially enjoyed the elephants, lemurs, and cotton candy. We were lucky to find a parking place!

On Thursday, the following email found its way to my inbox:

For reasons they decided not to reveal (other than “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”… what a tone-deaf word choice!), fine wine importer Kobrand’s powers-that-be have decided at the last minute to change the location of their touring Italian tasting, scheduled for Tuesday, September 19, from Houston to Ft. Worth.

Honestly, I had been looking forward to the tasting and looking forward to writing about it on my blog and the Houston Press food and wine blog. But thanks to the “wake of Hurricane Harvey” (I still can’t get over how insensitively their marketing department’s email was worded), it will be a missed opportunity for all concerned.

Here’s an update on the Houston wine community “in the wake of Hurricane Harvey”:

– both of my favorite wine bars in Houston were open the day after the storm;
– both of my favorite wine shops were open the day after the storm;
– the Houston-area Italian restaurant where I write the wine list was closed for only one day during the storm;
– every restaurateur member of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce was open by the last day of the storm, except for one, which opened the next day.

Although the first day of school had been postponed for two weeks, my daughter started kindergarten this morning. Yesterday, I took my daughters to the zoo and we were lucky to find a parking place (that’s how crowded it was).

The USPS delivered mail to our house the day after the storm.

City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department picked up our trash and recycling two days after the storm (our regular day for pick-up; there was no disruption in service).

Houston’s airports reopened the day after the storm. I flew to California and back for work last week, with no disruption or delay.

Kobrand, I hope you “Have a wonderful day!” in Ft. Worth. (You can tell that Kobrand managers have a truly top-notch marketing machine working for them, all the way down to the authors of their heartless copy).

Houston is by no means fully recovered. It will take years, some say up to 10, to get the fourth-largest city in America back to its pre-Harvey bustle.

But I can assure you that the wine and restaurant community has rebounded swiftly and seamlessly.

Just think of all the meals that the winemakers and brand ambassadors would have enjoyed in Houston-area fine dining destinations. Just think of the tabs they would have paid and the tips they would have left. But, no, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, all of that support will go to Ft. Worth, where they surely need it most.

Have a wonderful day, Kobrand! Don’t worry about us down here in Houston. We’re doing just fine.

Where to donate to Houston relief efforts…

Above: Houston restaurateur Giancarlo Ferrara preparing lasagne for first responders.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites for donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Thanks, everyone, for all the notes, wishes, prayers, and solidarity. It’s going to be a long, long road to recovery. But we’ll get there together. #HoustonStrong

Orange, Texas disaster update: our families safe and dry but towns still underwater

I grabbed the above photo this morning from family friend Glynis’ Facebook.

That’s her house on the left (flooded) and Aunt Ida’s house (not flooded, miraculously) in an image snapped above Bridge City (one town over from Orange) using a drone yesterday.

Reverend and Jane Branch (my in-laws) got some water in their house — for the first time ever. But they are okay and still in their home with another family friend whose house flooded and memaw (Tracie’s grandmother) who is in her 90s.

The Parzen/Branch/Johnson family has been extremely lucky throughout the disaster. But our communities have been (literally) devastated. Most of Orange and the towns that make up the Golden Triangle are still completely underwater and nearly all of the towns north of I-10 have been under mandatory evacuation orders.

Thanks for all the wishes and the prayers. They went to good use. Now it’s time to take care of those who haven’t been as fortunate as we have.
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Please say a prayer for Orange and Southeast Texas: waters rising, residents trapped (including our family)

I came across the above photo this morning as I was scanning Instagram hoping to find images of my in-laws’ neighborhood in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border (Google map).

Isn’t it beautiful, with the blue sky and clouds reflected in the floodwaters? The famous Shangri La Botanical Gardens (where our daughters often play) lie just beyond those trees on the right.

“It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” wrote the Instagram user, redbeard_mark, who took the photo yesterday. He’s a veteran who’s helping with rescue efforts.

Right now, as the Sabine River continues to rise and overflow into the surrounding towns, including Orange, Tracie’s parents are trapped by flooded roadways that offer no way out. And the floodwaters are only expected to rise through Sunday morning as the river level continues to get higher and higher.

We are watching the situation closely and I’ll post updates here and on social media.

But the nightmare of Harvey is far from over, I’m sad to say.
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Best ways to donate to #Houston #Harvey relief efforts…

Ever since we were able to travel beyond our block, Tracie and I have been working as hard as we can this week to aid our neighbors and fellow Houstonians: helping with clean-up and gutting houses, babysitting someone’s kids as they deal with insurance, washing flooded families’ laundry, gathering used clothing and purchased goods for shelters and relief distribution centers, etc.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites to send donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Based on our research, these are the best resources for contributing directly. As Tracie pointed out this morning, the Houston Food Bank can stretch a dollar a lot farther than we can by simply going to the grocery store and dropping off food we purchase. And by giving to Mayor Turner’s fund, you can be confident that the money will go directly to local relief efforts.
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Parzen family #Houston #Harvey update: helping our neighbors and praying for Tracie’s family on the Louisiana border

Just a quick update today to let everyone know that we are doing fine. Thanks for all the notes of solidarity and concern. The thoughts, wishes, and prayers really made and make a difference. They really do. Thank you…

We were finally able to leave our house yesterday and we began helping our neighbors with recovery.

That’s just one image of a thousand I could have shot yesterday as I was finally able to move around beyond our block and see some of the damage.
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Miraculously, Parzen family safe and dry. So many of our fellow Houstonians flooded and stranded. #Harvey

From the solar eclipse “path of [partial] totality” to Hurricane Harvey’s “cone of uncertainty” in less than a week. It’s felt a little bit like the end of times here in Houston.

According to what I’ve read online and the television news we’ve followed, 30,000 people are displaced in our city right now and flooding isn’t expected to subside anytime soon: Harvey is expected to make landfall on the Texas coast at around 1 p.m. today after it moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news for us is that it seems like the worst is over in our little corner of southwest Houston. That’s a screenshot of the radar tracking, above, on Sunday morning when things got really dicey for us. If you look carefully, you can see Houston’s inner “loop” (Interstate 610). We are just outside the lower lower corner.

On Sunday morning, we could see that the main thoroughfare closest to us was already under a foot of water and it was creeping up our street. At the same time, water was splashing up against our sliding-door window in the back.

We thought the house was going to flood then and so we packed up to get out. It was one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to us as a family. After about five hours huddled in the living room as we watched the water rise in the backyard, it finally stopped raining and the water began to subside.
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