It was with great sadness that Tracie and I learned last night of Ginny Kalmbach’s passing.
From the early 1980s through 2013, Ginny owned the legendary Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin, Texas.
“Let me just say that it is my hope that with the measures that are being put in place that our numbers will not spike… That is my hope.”
Those are the words of our city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, speaking at a news conference Monday, April 27 following Texas governor Greg Abbott’s announcement that the state would “reopen” today, May 1.
Mayor Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (our city manager) had planned to keep Houston’s “Stay Home/Work Safe” order in place and they had just announced that masks would be mandatory when Abbott decided to supersede all local measures to combat the spread of the deadly virus.
It was the latest volley in Abbott’s ongoing war on local authority in our state. Since coming into office, he has lobbied assiduously to punish cities like Houston and Austin for their status as sanctuary cities and for their progressive policies on reproductive rights.
This week, he took it a step further: now he’s playing with life and death.
In just a few hours, scores of restaurants across Houston will begin opening their doors for “dine-in” service. Abbott has ordered that they can only operate at 25 percent capacity. But beyond that, he’s given no guidance on how restaurateurs can keep their staff and customers safe and how they can curb COVID-19’s spread.
Some in our city are looking to Georgia’s example. The state’s governor, Brian Kemp, issued these guidelines for reopening restaurants last week (Georgia’s restaurants were allowed to reopen on Monday).
But with no official norms or regulations in place, Houston’s restaurant managers are on their own in terms of how they operate and what safety measures they adopt.*
In other words, it’s the wild west when it comes to culinary hygiene. Concerned (however courageous) restaurant-goers have no way of knowing with confidence what safety protocols restaurants owners have put into place, if any.
I understand the economic logic behind reopening. And I recognize that Texas has “flattened the curve.” But on the same day that “Texas reports most deaths in a day from COVID-19” (a story that appears on the landing page of the Houston Chronicle this morning), wouldn’t it be prudent to provide businesses like restaurants — where proper hygiene is always essential for safety — with more robust guidance?
Just like the families of countless wine professionals across our state, ours is struggling to make ends meet in the time of the pandemic. It’s my hope that we’ll all be able to get back to work as soon as possible. But without the proper guidance, Abbot’s order is a genuine gastronomic “go to Hell” to Houston and Austin where local authorities have fought to keep restrictions in place.
Texas reopens today and I am scared as hell for dishwashers, prep cooks, line cooks, waitstaff, sommeliers, and the customers they will serve.
This isn’t political. It’s just common sense.
I encourage you to watch Mayor Turner’s news conference. His remarks moved me to tears when I watched them in real time. He and Judge Hidalgo are true American heroes.
*”‘Reopened services’ shall consist of the following,” wrote Abbott in his decree, listing which businesses could reopen today, including dining establishments: “Dine-in restaurant services, for restaurants that operate at up to 25 percent of the total listed occupancy of the restaurant…”
He specifies that the order only applies to restaurants “that have less than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages” and he also prohibits valet parking except for “except for vehicles with placards or plates for disabled parking.”
But there is no mention of masks, gloves, hand-washing, or testing, for example.
In all fairness to our heartless governor, he does offer an overarching recommendation that reopened businesses “should implement social distancing… and practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation.” But it’s just advice, not an order. “Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings,” he writes, “but no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”
Paolo Cantele and I will be pouring his family’s wines tonight at Vinology in Houston from 6-8 p.m. Please come out and taste with us!
That was the scene on Wednesday, above, at the Rootstock portfolio tasting preview at Light Years, Houston’s newest all-natural wine bar.
Rootstock, a mid-sized importer and champion of natural wine, had coordinated their events and the incoming winemakers with the Wild World Natural wine festival, which is happening this weekend in Austin. Alice Feiring is the featured speaker and I’ve even heard that natural wine maven and mensch Lou Amdur will be there (I’m so bummed I can’t be there but I have to be in Houston this weekend for a food festival I”m presenting and a blow-out music and wine party we’re hosting at our house tomorrow; message me if you want to come and need details).
Hank is good friend but I’m also one his biggest fan boys — a lover of the wine and the man. Such a cool dude and such great wines. Dustin’s also a good friend from our Austin days.
After I hit the Light Years event, where my buddy and natural wine pro Steven Dilley was literally slinging his now legendary Bufalina pizzas (with a line that stretched literally around the block), I headed over to Nancy’s Hustle where owner and wine director Sean Jensen was pouring some equally groovy natural wine.
Nancy’s Hustle is such a great example of what’s happening here in Texas: soulful, thoughtful food paired with equally meaningful wines. I was blown away by the enthusiasm and table-side knowledge of the servers. Man, this place was killing it on Wednesday night and the vibe was just right.
That’s me in the photo with a whole lotta Moscato d’Asti right there. It was a super cool event.
Shit, even Eric Asimov wrote a story about the renaissance of Texas winemaking in this week’s Times.
It’s just felt like one of those weeks when the wine stars have aligned seamlessly over my adoptive state.
Come see me and Paolo tonight at Vinology, come to our house party tomorrow, or come out and see me at the Houston Pasta Festival on Sunday where I’m emceeing! Wherever you are this weekend, DRINK GOOD WINE AND EAT GOOD FOOD! And ROCK ON!
Above: the statue of Stephen Austin, founder and “father” of Texas, in the Texas state capitol. Below: the cupola as seen from below. I took both photos in February when I visited the state capital to interview representative Matt Rinaldi in February.
For years, here on my blog and in the Houston Press, I have written about the Texas government’s anti-competitive and un-American retail wine shipping policies. Despite our nation’s Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Texas still prohibits the shipment of wines to consumers from out of state.
It took a redder-than-red Texas state representative, Matt Rinaldi, Republican from the Dallas area, to have the courage to stand up to the Texas wholesalers lobby and propose a bill in the current legislative session that would right this wrong.
In an interview I did with him for the Houston Press, he called the current policies “ridiculously anti-competitive.”
“We value our freedom first and foremost,” he said. “Government shouldn’t be interfering with that. [Texans] should be given the freedom to do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of anyone else.”
The following message was penned by wine retailer Daniel Posner of New York and shared with me by my good friend and Manhattan wine retailer Jamie Wolff. Wine industry consultant and advocate Tom Wark is the creator of Wine Freedom, a grass-roots initiative devoted to raising awareness of anti-competitive shipping policies currently in place across the U.S.
Thanks for reading. G-d bless Texas and G-d bless America!
Dear Texas Wine Lover,
We need your help to bring Wine Freedom to Texas.
A bill, HB 2291, would formally allow Texans to receive shipments from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers.
To help this bill succeed, we MUST get a hearing on the bill scheduled. You can help by emailing or calling:
• Representative John Kuempel – Chairman of the House Licensing and
Administrative Procedures Committee
Ask him to schedule a hearing on HB 2291
The best way to do this is by visiting the TEXAS WINE FREEDOM page: https://www.winefreedom.org/wine-freedom-for-texas/
Information is on this site allowing you to easily:
• Email or call Representative Kuempel
• Sign up for Alerts and news on the bill
• Sign a petition supporting the bill.
You only need to tell Representative Kuempel the following:
“I live in (name of city) and I support HB 2291, the Wine Shipping Bill in your committee. I urge you to schedule a committee hearing on the bill.”
Taking action now is critical since the Texas legislature will not meet for another two years and this is your only chance to change the laws on wine shipping in Texas.
Over the last week, I visited Austin twice for work and for fun. Here are some highlights from my trips to the River City, where the good food, wine, and music just keep flowin’…
The meal I had at Lenoir with colleagues was one of the best and most original I’ve had this year. The food was thoughtful and fun yet wholesome, nuanced, and balanced, and the ambiance was magical with its old-time Americana feel.
The wine list was also spot on, with lots of natural selections, and I loved their new outdoor wine bar with its ancient oak trees. Super cool…
We were there with my friend Bryan Poff, who knows the owners: they hooked us up with a tour of their ice house where they “cook” and cut their own ice. Honestly, I didn’t know about the whole house-cooked ice thing. It’s got to be clear and it’s got to melt slow. Literally cool…
Stiles Switch, right by our old house, is still my go-to for classic bbq.
It’s one of the few places that remains open late (by ‘cue standards) and it serves beer, which is awesome. Smoking cool…
There’s always a lot of great shows happening in the “Live Music Capital of the World.” But whenever I visit with out-of-town friends, I try to make it to a Dale Watson set.
It was all happening at the classic Texas dance hall the Broken Spoke on Saturday (one of the last old-school dance halls left in the state). Groovy cool…
I was really stoked to learn that my friend Matt Berendt (left) will soon be opening the fourth location for his mega-successful wine program at the Grove Wine Bar. I met up and tasted with him and Grove sommelier Graham Douglass (right) at the West 6th location in downtown.
I’ve always thought that Matt should write a textbook on how to run a wine list. And I’ve always been inspired by an adage of his that I often use when I lead tastings and seminars: trust the wine, not the story. So true and so truly cool…
What’s not to love at Vera Cruz All Natural taqueria truck on Cesar Chavez? It takes them like 30 minutes to make a breakfast taco, even when it’s not busy. But it’s so worth it. I’m never one to believe the hype but in this case it’s well deserved. Real-deal cool…
And dulcis in fundo, last but not least, we grabbed some gelato at Dolce Neve on South First before we headed out last week. I hear that the nice folks there will soon be opening a place in Houston. I love their whole schtick and the gelato is purely delicious.
Excuse the pun but… utterly cool…
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the Slow Wine guide tasting in Austin, Texas this week. And the people — organizers, producers, and tasters — couldn’t have been nicer or more excited about this super fun gathering.
I know I’ve said it many times before but I’ll say it again: when I moved to Texas more than eight years ago, I never would have imagined that top markets in our state would become “targets” for media and trade events like this. Between the Benvenuto Brunello tasting in Houston a few weeks ago (the second time the Montalcinesi have come to the Bayou City) and this one (the second time the Slow Wine cats have come to the River City), it would seem that my adoptive state and two cities I have called home are now firmly established as hubs for Italian wine in the U.S.
That’s Slow Wine guide editor Giancarlo Gariglio (left) and Houston-based wine professional Thomas Moësse (right) in the photo above.
There’s talk that the Slow Wine event will come to Houston next year (don’t quote me but it looks likely). And there’s also talk that I’ll be involved in presenting next year’s gathering. I can’t spill the beans just quite yet but there’s some good stuff (and some good wine) in our future here in Space City.
What a lovely day to catch up with some of my favorite people in the business. That’s Lucia Barzanò (right) of Mosnel, one of my favorite Franciacorta producers, with her husband Andrea. The nicest people… great wines.
My good friend Silvano Brescianini of Barone Pizzini (left), another one of my favorite Franciacorta producers. And that’s Art Fristoe, one of the top keyboard players in Texas right now. Super cool cat. He ripped it up at the Elephant Room later that night.
Thank you to everyone who came out for the event. Thank you for all you do for Italian wine and the Italian wine renaissance in Texas!
See you next year in Houston!
We had even lined up a place to stay, with friends in Bethesda. But when someone fired a gun at a favorite pizzeria in their neighborhood (claiming he was investigating a Clinton conspiracy theory), we decided that the potential for violence was too great. We agreed that I would stay home with the girls and that Tracie would attend the march in Austin, the Texas capital.
That’s Tracie above (in the back row, more or less in the center, green sign in hand) with her group of friends and comrades who marched yesterday in Austin.
According to the Austin American-Statesman (the paper of record) and the Austin police department, up to 50,000 persons attended the march. According to the Washington Post, more than one million persons attended the marches in the nation’s capital. One of them was our Houston cousin Dana.
Since the election in November, Tracie has organized a women’s activist group that meets regularly in our home. She has visited both U.S. senator Ted Cruz’s and senator John Cornyn’s office to protest Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (a core issue for us). Last Sunday we, including the girls, attended a rally led by U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to protest the ACA’s dismantling by republicans as well (below).
In the light of Trump’s campaign platform, I still can’t wrap my mind around the incongruous fact that Evangelical Christians supported Trump in the election in such great numbers. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the Christian Bible to get a greater understanding of their reasoning. The following passage, from the Epistle of Saint James, sticks out in my mind:
Come now, you rich people… Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
G-d bless America. I will continue to write about Trump America here on the blog and I’ll continue to post updates on our family’s efforts to raise awareness of issues faced by the disenfranchised among us.
Posting in a hurry today because I’m super slammed with work.
But, dulcis in fundo, how not to end the week on a sweet note after having visited my new favorite ice cream shop, Dolce Neve in Austin?
I loved talking to owners and ice cream-makers Marco Silvestrini from Umbria (below, right) and Leo Ferrarese (left) from Lombardy. I didn’t get to meet Francesca Silvestrini, Marco’s sister. But she’s part of the picture, too.
Super nice people and fantastic, wholesome, artisanal ice cream. All made from scratch and served in traditional Italian style with lots of fun flourishes.
Talking to these guys yesterday while I was in Austin for business, I couldn’t help but think that someone is going to make a “feel-good-movie-of-the-summer” about their arc, from the corporate world to ice cream slingers in America’s quirkiest city. Lick, pray, love…
Thanks for being here and buon weekend a tutti!
Tuesday found me in Austin where I finally got to eat at Italic, the latest Italian-concept to open there and just one of the seemingly countless new Italians to open or to launch before year’s end.
The wine director Master Sommelier Craig Collins is a good friend from our years in the River City. He started my party off with a bottle of Lambrusco di Sorbara and expertly sliced prosciutto, a thoughtful pairing and a lovely gesture (especially because, and I just have to say this one more time, the prosciutto was sliced perfectly).
His list there is fantastic, with a focus on indigenous grape varieties and a balanced selection of northern, central, and southern. That alone was enough to make me a fan: It’s great to see southern wines well represented at restaurants like this, where the marketing target is generation Z. I love to think about how current UT students might wash down their pizza with Aglianico instead of the predictable and unavoidable stainless-steel Merlot from Tuscany that you see so often by-the-glass in pseudo-Italians today.
But thing that really blew me away about his program wasn’t the current offering but the wines that weren’t on the list.
Before we sat down, Craig gave our party a tour of his 1,000+ reserve cellar, chock full with Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico that he’s aging. He has laid down a serious allocation of 2010 wines and he plans to start opening them a few years from now.
“I’m going to do 2010 Produttori del Barbaresco [classic] Barbaresco by-the-glass,” he told us, “just because I want people to experienced what aged Nebbiolo tastes like.”
Beyond New York, it’s rare that you find programs where directors are cellaring wines like these.
So for me, the thought that someone like Craig is holding back these wines in a youth-oriented market like Austin gives me confidence that a new generation of Italian wine lovers will emerge there.
And that’s good news for all of us, across the board, from Italian winemakers and purveyors of Italian wines to Italian wine consumers.
Italic is a big restaurant located in the heart of downtown Austin on 6th street not far from music row. When I moved there in 2008, no one could imagine such an ambitious Italian restaurant and wine list in one of our nation’s party-hardy epicenters. Today, this sleek joint packs ’em in and plies them with pasta, pizza pies, and Frappato.
Bring it on, Craig! I love your program. Chapeau bas, my friend! It’s great to know that an Italian cellar grows in Austin.
After dinner, I just had to take my clients, Giovanni (above, left) and Francesco Minetti (right) to Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon, one of me and Tracie P’s favorites honky tonks from our years in Austin.
That’s Tracie Lynn (above, center), one of the Live Music Capital of the World’s standbys. She and a super smoking band delivered a bitchin’ set of country standards.
Super fun night and after her last set (yes, we stayed to close the place), she meet-and-greeted fans outside the club in classic country fashion.
When she learned that it was Giovanni and Francesco’s first time in Texas, she insisted on gifting them CDs!
The guys had a blast (as did I) and afterward, I couldn’t help but say to them, adding a double-shot of irony for the road: “visting Texas? I’m so sorry…”
The date was October 9, 2013, two days before Tracie P’s birthday, when two men burglarized our home in Austin in broad daylight.
I had left earlier in the morning for my weekly commute to Houston (where we now live) and Tracie had taken our daughters to the grocery store.
One of the men broke down our front door and searched through our belonging for valuables (here’s my post from the week of the burglary). The other waited outside with their getaway car.
The police were able to identify one of the burglars because he took a selfie with our family iPhone and we saw it in our iCloud. He also took a photo of a brand new pair of tennis shoes.
Both men left Texas and went to California. The driver had been pulled over by police in Austin and fled. He was ultimately apprehended in California.
From what we were told by the Austin detective who handled our case, the man who entered our home was killed in Los Angeles in June in a gangland shooting. He was twenty-four years old.
On Friday of last week, the driver accepted a plea bargain. He will spend the next ten years in jail.
In the end, the news of the one’s passing and the other’s guilty plea made me feel terribly sad.