Please share: Southern Smoke (Houston) offering restaurant worker relief nationwide (Houston Press interview with wine director Matthew Pridgen)

Until I reached out to Underbelly Hospitality wine director Matthew Pridgen (above) for an interview published today by the Houston Press, I wasn’t aware that the group’s non-profit Southern Smoke is offering financial aid not just to Houston-area residents but also to restaurant workers across the U.S.

“So far we’ve donated over $670,000 to 354 people to date since the COVID crisis has started,” he told me. “Obviously there’s still a lot more. They’re processing them as fast as they to try to get money to people. Once people are approved, it’s a really quick turn-around. The check is in the mail immediately. It’s been a big help to a lot of people. We’re able to help outside of Houston. It’s nationwide. It’s not relegated to strictly Houston.”

Southern Smoke is currently accepting applications from people in need: click here to apply. And they have 30 staff members processing applications.

“Once people are approved,” he said, “it’s a really quick turn-around. The check is in the mail immediately. It’s been a big help to a lot of people.”

Please share with anyone who needs the support right now.

The interview is part of a series of posts devoted to the Houston wine community and how it is coping with the ongoing health crisis (for the record, I’m putting these together pro bono).

Thanks for sharing.

And happy Earth Day: non unius terrae sed totius naturae interpretes sumus.

Food aid for Houston sommeliers and restaurant workers thanks to Master Sommelier June Rodil and her partners.

In the second in a series of Houston Press posts on how the local wine community is coping with the ongoing health crisis, this morning I published this interview with Master Sommelier June Rodil (above), a partner in one of the city’s top restaurant groups.

She’s one of just a handful of wine professionals in Houston (and the U.S. for that matter) who still have a job. And she and her team are giving back: the group’s “community box,” with roughly three days’ worth of food, is available to anyone who needs it every Saturday at 2 p.m. at Rosie Cannonball at 1620 Westheimer (at Kuester St.). The partners prepare and distribute 100 boxes each week. Rodil recommends lining up at 1:30 p.m. to ensure availability. “No questions asked,” she said. “We just don’t want anyone to go hungry.”

That’s not all she and her partners are doing for our community. And she also shared some good advice for out-of-work sommeliers. Check out the post here.

For those who wish to support our local food and wine community through a donation, I recommend the Houston-based Southern Smoke Emergency Relief Fund.

In other news…

I’ll be hosting a live story with Andrea Farinetti, COO of Barolo producer Borgogno, today at 11 a.m. CST (12 p.m. EST) on the Ethica Wines Instagram (@EthicaWines). Andrea’s family has played a major role in reshaping Piedmontese viticulture over the last 15 years and I’m really eager to e-meet him and discuss how he and his family’s companies are facing the challenges of the current economic climate.

Please join us if you can.

Thanks for being here and thanks for supporting Italian wine by drinking it.

Dum vita spes.

A new series for Houston Press on how the local wine community is coping with health crisis.

Like its sisters and brothers across the country, the closely knit Houston wine community is reeling from widespread layoffs and furloughs. The impact has been nothing short of devastating. Many wine professionals live paycheck to paycheck and the sudden loss of income has left an entire generation of sommeliers without a means to support themselves. It’s really bad out there: people who yesterday were serving top-shelf wines are now standing in breadlines.

In an effort to raise awareness of our community’s needs and resources, I asked the editor of the Houston Press to let me launch a new series of posts devoted to how Houston-based wine professionals are coping with the crisis and what they are doing to support their colleagues.

The first post in the series, published today, features Advanced Sommelier Jaime De Leon (above, in a selfie he took for the piece). As the Beverage Director for the Kroger supermarket chain’s Houston division, he’s one of just a handful of wine professionals who are still employed in our city.

I wanted to post Jaime’s piece first because over the course of our conversation, he underlined the fact that Kroger — like H-E-B, the other major supermarket chain that serves our community — is hiring.

“Kroger is definitely welcoming anyone and everyone that’s willing to seek employment with the Kroger company,” he told me. “Feel free to apply. We are looking for help. It’s not a good time for the total industry and our economy but thank God there are still avenues that are still available for a way to make some money.”

Visit the Kroger careers page for job listings. There are many positions currently being offered, at multiple locations across the greater Houston area.

“I’ve extended the website Kroger jobs site to everyone,” he said. “And I’ve told them that they can use my name as a reference if they need it.”

I’ve already interviewed a number of our colleagues and I’m looking forward to sharing the posts as I edit them.

If you know a Houston wine professional in need, please encourage them to apply on the Kroger website. And please feel free to pass along my contact (jparzen@gmail.com) so I can get them in touch with Jaime.

And for the record, the Houston Press is also in need of support. I’m doing these posts pro bono.

In other news…

Today, I also want to give a shout-out to another Houston colleague, a sommelier who’s been using his time in isolation during the Stay Home-Work Safe order to produce a new enocentric podcast.

Chris Poldoian’s By the Glass is just two episodes in and I was honored to be a guest on his show. He produced it remotely: we spoke by phone using headphones as we recorded our voices and then he spliced the audio files together.

Chris (below) is a great guy and a beloved member of our community. I’m not a fan of my own voice but a listen might help to pass the hours of isolation. He was keen to hear about my experiences in Franciacorta and Lambrusco. I know Chris will appreciate the click.

According to media reports, we’re about two weeks from our peak here in Houston. Please stay safe and isolate. Staying at home saves lives.

Taste of Italy Houston festival postponed due to ongoing health crisis.

UPDATE (March 4, 2020): Vinitaly has been postponed until June. See details here.

As one of the organizers of this event, I am deeply sorry to have to share the following press release. See also this CultureMap coverage of the postponement.

March 2, 2020
Italy-America Chamber of Commerce
Houston, Texas

PRESS RELEASE: Taste of Italy Houston (March 29-30), Taste of Italy New Orleans (March 31), and Savor Italy Los Angeles (April 2) postponed.

As U.S. issues Italy travel advisory, IACC postpones food and wine festivals planned for Houston, New Orleans, and Los Angeles in March.

The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central has officially postponed its food and wine festivals and trade fairs previously scheduled for March in Houston (March 29-30) and New Orleans (March 31). The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West (Los Angeles) has also postponed the festivals’ sister event in Los Angeles previously scheduled for April 2.

The IACC has decided to reschedule the gatherings in the wake of news reports of U.S. carrier flight cancellations to and from northern Italy and the U.S. government’s newly announced screening policy for travelers arriving in the country from Italy.
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Rock out with me, Tracie, and the girls this Sunday, December 29 at 13 Celsius wine bar

That’s one of my favorite photos from back in the day. Tracie and I had just met for the first time the month before (following a six-month e-mance). But I was in East Germany playing a gig with my band Nous Non Plus at a European Green Party retreat (no shit).

Dany Le Rouge (yes, Dany himself!) was dancing with a beautiful girl dressed in red in the audience at that show.

The year was 2008 and things were finally looking up after an annus horribilis in New York the previous year (well, honestly, looking back on it all, it wasn’t so bad, except for the financial crisis).

We had just sold a song to the TV show Girls on HBO and one of the producers featured us on his playlist (that was huge!).

And this beautiful woman from Austin, Texas had just come into my life — changing it forever and for better.

Today, nearly 12 years later, I’m a dude in his 50s who plays 70s and 80s covers at funky downtown natural wine bars. Who would have thunk it?

This Sunday, our band BioDyanmic (I know, right?) will be playing two sets at one of my favorite wine hangs, 13 Celsius (which is actually in midtown, equally funky).

AND… the amazing Thomas Cokinos will be sharing lead vox duties with me. He is not only a super talented player but a super frontman frontperson. Really great.

Click here for the details but all you really need to know is that we will take the stage around 1 p.m. and that me, Tra, and the girls (yes, it’s kid-friendly) will be hanging out afterwards to see the other bands and to enjoy some great wine (at discounted prices; they do this crazy “Sunday Situation” discount program there). The small plates are also excellent (the girls love the charcuterie).

I hope you can join us to end 2019 in bellezza as they say in Italian.

Rock out with me in Houston: Hanukkah first night house party and Sunday Dec. 29 at 13 Celsius

Houston friends: I’ll be playing two shows with my 70s and 80s cover band BioDynamic later this month. Please come rock out with us!

On Sunday, December 22, Parzen Family will be hosting a blow-out house party and open mic, featuring kids from the Suzuki program at our school and anyone who wants to perform solo or sit in.

Kids will start playing around 1 p.m., followed by adults and our band (around 4 p.m.). At sundown, we’ll take a break to light candles and Tra will be making her legendary latkes.

If you already know where we live, just come whenever. And bring your favorite pot luck dish or bottle of wine (not necessary but welcomed).

If you don’t have our address, ping me. ALL ARE WELCOME!

And then on Sunday, December 29, we’ll be playing two sets at one of my favorite Houston wine bars, 13 Celsius in Midtown. It’s part of the their end-of-year celebration, “The 13th Hour.” Party starts at 1 p.m. and we take the stage at 2 p.m. There’s no cover and it’s family friendly. And of course, the wines will rock as well.

Click here for details and the complete lineup of Houston bands.

I hope that everyone is having a great holiday season and that you can join us for one of the shows/events.

And thanks to everyone who wished Georgia a happy birthday on social media.

Rock on and drink great wine! Hope to see you soon!

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.

#HateWillNotDefineUs

“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

Looking for natural wine in all the wrong places: NASA Liquor, I love you!

Parzen family doesn’t visit the Johnson Space Center as much as we used to. After nearly six years of living in this Gulf Coast town, Georgia and Lila Jane (ages 7 and 6) are more interested these days in Houston’s natural science museum with its awe-inspiring dinosaurs, the city’s excellent zoo, and its superb art museums (mostly the Museum of Fine Arts and the spellbinding Menil Collection).

But the hullabaloo marking the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing this month (an expedition where Houston — Space City — played a major role as home to Mission Control) re-ignited the girls interest in astronauts (the “real astronauts” as they used to call them).

Grocery and wine shopping was also on the agenda last Saturday. But the heavy summer traffic prompted this mission’s commander to avoid the city’s congested inner solar system. The grocery shopping would be no problem in Clear Lake where the Space Center is located.

But the wine? That was another question. Down in that part of greater Houston, there are no progressive wine shops. At least, that’s what the enonaut thought.

A Google Maps search revealed a number of wine shops and liquor stores. But none showed much promise until the flight navigation directed him to NASA Liquor on East NASA Parkway, a stretch of road populated seemingly by strip malls, smoke and vape shops, faded Mexican restaurants, and military-industrial-complex chains.

Scrolling through the otherwise pedestrian establishment’s Google business page photos, the pilot discovered a smattering of classic European and forward-looking American wines among the shop’s offering.

The venue’s facade (above) didn’t raise expectations. In fact, the crew wondered why on earth were they making a stop at an anonymous strip mall where the pavement was as steaming hot at the waning off-beige color of the stucco walls. The bullet-proof glass that protected the cashier made the outing feel even more far-fetched.

Undaunted, Parzen family made the return journey with a bottle of skin-contact Minimus 2017 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris Antiquum Farm in tow. With its ripe cherry and berry fruit flavors, vibrant acidity and restrained alcohol, it was throughly enjoyed by the pilot and his commanding officer as they watched the third episode of “Chasing the Moon,” a documentary about the moon landing by America Experience on PBS.

It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover or a wine shop by its shingle, especially when you’re looking for natural wine in all the wrong places.

Aglianico and sushi made for magic last night in Houston

Learn how to pronounce Aglianico in Neapolitan and in Italian here.

Something remarkable happened last night after Tracie and I sat down for a splurge sushi dinner at Kata Robata, one of Houston’s premier Japanese restaurants.

Seated at the (cocktail) bar, we had just ordered a bottle of Graci Etna Rosato, a rosé from Nerello grapes grown on the high-lying slopes of the Sicilian volcano, by one of our favorite producers (a classic). The same bartender who had taken our order approached us with another glass of rosé in hand.

“Hey,” he said, “if you like that wine, you might like this one, too.”

It was the Rogito rosé from Aglianico by storied Aglianico del Vulture producer Cantine del Notaio (rogito — ROH-gee-toh — means public decree in archaic Italian; all the names of the labels by Cantine del Notaio are plucked from ancient legalese; the name of the winery means the notary’s cellars; a notaio was a term used for what we would call lawyers today).

Tracie had never had the wine and she loved its bright fruit and freshness. So our bartender, Mohammed Rahman, graciously offered to switch our bottle order to a by-the-glass order instead. It turned out that he is also the wine director at this super high-profile Houston dining destination (and a lovely guy).

The wine worked brilliantly with our meal, including the fatty tuna and Japanese scallops that we ordered. The whole experience was fantabulously delicious.

But the thing that struck me was the ease and grace with which Italian wines have insinuated themselves into an unlikely program. The last time Tra and I visited Kata Robata, one of our Houston special-occasion spots, we were lucky to find an affordable Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Mo, as Mohammed introduced himself, is a big fan of Italian wine and his list is peppered with some of my favorite value-driven wines from the peninsula and its islands: Winkl by Terlan, Falanghina by I Pentri, not to mention a solid Assyrtiko (from Santorini, Greece) by-the-glass and Hanzell Chardonnay (from California) by-the-bottle.

It’s rare that you find so much affordable drinkability at a place that also sells current-vintage Château Margaux (750ml) for $1,400. Mo told us that he tries to offer a robust selection of wines like the above for budget-challenged food and wine people like us and him.

Chapeau bas, Mo! We LOVED YOUR list. Thanks for taking such great care of us last night.