Alfonso Cevola responds to a post (and breaks our hearts)

alfonso cevola glazersAbove: Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in a happier time in our now defunct friendship, which dates back to 2007. Here’s a profile of Alfonso I wrote for the Houston Press after he won the Vinitaly International Prize in 2013.

In the spirit of fair and balanced wine blogging, I’d like to share a note from leading Italian wine blogger Alfonso Cevola in response to my June 27 post, “Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors.”

Your post last week, claimed three falsehoods:
1) The two large distributors do not control 99% of the market
2) As for heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales –Texas is #43 (along with California) in state wine taxation among the 50 states.
3) RE:The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks – Outside fulfillment is legal as long as the fulfillment company ( and the trucks they are using) have proper TABC permits. And yes, small distributors can (and do) pool deliveries in Texas.

Alfonso is the Italian Wine Director for Glazer’s, previously one of the two biggest wine distributors in Texas. Now, with the completion of the Southern-Glazer’s “mega deal” merger, the company is part of “the U.S. market’s largest wine and spirits distributor by far, distributing more than 150 million cases of wine and spirits annually, employing more than 20,000 people and operating in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, the Caribbean, and Canada. Total revenues are at more than $15 billion” (Shanken News Daily, June 30, 2016).

I don’t entirely agree with Alfonso’s assessment but felt it was important to share it here. I have also updated my June 27 post with an errata corrige.

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See why I moved to Texas? Thank you, Tracie P, for giving them to us!

tracie and georgia thumbWhat a joyous day for this proud daddy yesterday when Georgia P performed in her first big dance recital at the Stafford Centre theater in southwest Houston!

She was part of the ensemble performance by her four-year-olds class at the Banbury School of Dance (located in our neighborhood, Westbury; they did a fantastic job of producing this show, btw).

That’s my little ballerina with her mother, above!

georgia on stage thumbMan, can you imagine the lump in my throat and the pounding in my chest as we waited patiently in the audience for her big stage debut!

And lo and behold, she took the stage with that gorgeous smile on her face and unbridled confidence in her steps.

Georgia P, I couldn’t have been more proud! The stage lights, the packed house, and a sizable cast of talented dancers: you handled yourself like a pro, my sweet, sweet girl!

lila jane thumbAnd Lila Jane, you had so much fun cheering your sister on!

You sat so patiently through the dress rehearsal and the show. By the end of last night’s performance, you were performing the moves in the aisle!

Tracie P, thank you for giving us these beautiful girls. You gave them your big heart and your brilliant smile.

And you have given me a dream life that I never could have imagined until I came here to Texas to be with you.

I love you all so much…

Texas high school football, just like in the movies

west orange stark football championshipOur daughters (and their dad) got a crash course in Texas high school football yesterday when we attended the Class 4A Division II state championship, where Tracie P’s alma mater, the West Orange Stark Mustangs (14-1), beat the Celina (pronounced sah-LEE-nah) Bobcats (15-0) at Houston’s NRG stadium (where the pros play) 22-3.

That’s Georgia P (age 4), above, in the arms of her cousin Lesli (who lives in Los Angeles).

Everything you’ve ever heard about the high school football phenomenon in Texas? It’s true.

There were roughly 25 members of the Branch-Johnson side of our family in attendance, mostly from West Orange (where Tracie grew up a block away from campus) but also from Austin and Houston (and even one from California).

When I went to visit the restroom at halftime, an impromptu reunion of diaspora Mustangs alumni was taking place, with women and men and their families gleefully greeting each other and exchanging notes and hopes on the course of the game.

nrg stadium houstonOne thing that really impressed me about the experience was the fans’ ardent loyalty to the teams and the intensity of their cheer.

This was no mere social event or pageant intended to foster character among the young men on the field.

No, this was Texas football…

west orange stark football scoreThe other thing that impressed me was how nice and just downright polite everyone was.

That’s our daughter Lila Jane (2), above, btw.

As raucous as the crowd was, I didn’t hear or witness one tense exchange among the throng of people trying to reach their seats.

I ascribe the mood and air of sisterhood and brotherhood in part to the joy that Texans derive from the sporting experience.

But I also attribute it to Texans’ general attitude of friendliness and thoughtfulness when they gather.

This locus amoenus was a happy place where people — literally — from all walks of life came together to celebrate the fanfare and wholesome excitement of our state’s “national” pastime.

Congratulations to the Mustangs on a great season and a job well done!

I am a man who goes into women’s bathrooms in Houston

houston equal rights amendmentAbove: at the airport in San Diego, the city where I grew up, there are three options at each bathroom station — one for people who identify as men, another for people who identify as women, and one for people who identify as transgender.

I identify as a man. I live in Houston and identify as a Houstonian. And I regularly use women’s bathrooms.

Yes, that’s right, I regularly use women’s bathrooms in Houston, my adoptive city and the city where voters yesterday rejected a city ordinance that would have allowed — among other things — for trans- and pan-gender persons to use the bathroom of their choice.

The 2014 Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO as it is known, was repealed by voters in Houston yesterday. I am one of those voters (my wife and I early-voted a week ago Monday) and I can now be thrown out of women’s bathrooms by restaurateurs and office building doorpeople and superintendents etc. 

Mostly I use women’s bathrooms in Houston when I visit restaurants. There is a good reason for that.

Actually there are two good reasons for that: Georgia P (nearly age 4) and Lila Jane (age 2), our daughters, can’t yet “go to the potty” by themselves.

So when we eat in restaurants after our Saturday and Sunday visits to the zoo, NASA (the “real astronauts” as it is known in the Parzen familiar lexicon), or the Natural Science Museum (the “dinosaurs” and “butterflies”), I often take both of them into women’s bathrooms for Georgia P to go tee-tee (she’s potty trained) or to change Lila Jane’s diaper.

Generally, the women I meet in Houston bathrooms are very sweet to us and greet us with a smile. As a matter of fact, ever since we moved to Houston a year and a half ago and ever since Georgia P potty trained and she began using the “big girl” potty, no one has ever complained about us using the women’s bathroom. But, evidently, that’s no longer kosher in the city where we live.

I’ve also taken the girls into men’s rooms. But now, without the protection of HERO, we could be thrown out of those, too!

I’m not sure where the new state of equal rights leaves us. Squatting behind our minivan in the parking lot? Occasionally, I need to go to the bathroom when I’m out with the girls, too. They really don’t (self) identify as anything at this point but I know that other Houstonians identify them as females. I can only imagine what people are going to think when they see me urinating on the street because I can’t take them into the men’s room and they can’t be accompanied by me in the women’s room now.

I’m sure that most Houston restaurateurs won’t mind when I take them into the women’s room or they come with me into the men’s room.

I guess at this point our girls and I will just have to take our chances…

Microaggression and my Houston apologia

houston hermann park conservatoryAbove: my family at the Hermann Park Conservancy in Houston last year, not long after we moved here from Austin.

12,000+ views, 2,000+ Facebook shares, and 28 comments later, it’s still going strong… When I published it a week ago Sunday, I never imagined that my post “You’re from Houston? I’m so sorry” would have generated such a response.

When she shared it on her Facebook on Thursday, Houstonia magazine managing editor Katharine Shilcutt (and one of my editors there) wrote: “it’s always heartwarming to see non-natives become Houston apologists.”

Katharine, a Houston native, is a friend and one of the writers and editors I admire most on the food scene here. It was a thrill to discover that she enjoyed the post enough to share it with her legions of followers.

And today, the post was featured on the Houston Chronicle “Opportunity Urbanist” blog.

Honestly, I never intended the post as a panegyric.
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The Confederate flag and me

In 1968, a year after I was born in the South Side of Chicago at Michael Reese hospital, Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Institutionalized violence against black men in urban areas in the U.S. was so severe that Rush and his fellows felt compelled to arm themselves to protect their communities.

But there were no Confederate flags displayed in the city at that time — at least I can’t remember any.

In 1970, my family moved to gilded La Jolla, California, where Jews had been excluded from buying property until a University of California campus was established there in 1960.

There was only one black kid in my class at Bird Rock Elementary. His name was Michael Green and he and I were friends.

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WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT: BBQ porn from yesterday’s Houston BBQ Festival

pork belly corkscrewYesterday I managed to snag a press pass and sneak into the Third Annual Houston Barbecue Festival. The event was co-founded by Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist Chris Reid, my good friend here.

This year’s gathering featured 23 Houston-area smokers according to its website.

While Lockhart in Central Texas is considered the “barbecue capital” of Texas and Austin continues to grow as a hipster barbecue mecca, Houston is emerging as another mandatory stop on the Texas barbecue trail.

In the last five year or so, many new artisanal smokers have appeared and “cult bbq” — with its early-morning waits and long lines — is now an established phenomenon here.

That’s smoked pork belly by CorkScrew, above.

boudin stuffed pork chops corkscrew bbqI didn’t visit every stand but CorkScrew’s was my number one for taste and presentation. I loved the Boudin-Stuffed Pork Loin, above, the best thing I tasted at the festival.

brooks place bbqBigger is often considered better in Texas barbecue. That’s the Brooks’ Place beef rib, above (the cut is often called a “brontosaurus rib,” even though it is now believed that the brontosaurus never actually existed).

pulled porkI overheard one of Houston’s highest-profile food writers say that Patrick Feges’ pulled pork, above, was the best thing he tasted yesterday.
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On dinosaurs and astronauts: Houston’s wonderful cultural resources

hello kitty astronautAbove: yesterday’s outing was to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where I couldn’t resist buying Georgia P a Hello Kitty astronaut. Georgia, who’s now 3, calls the space center “the real astronauts.”

It still happens all the time.

When I’m on the road and people learn that I live and am raising a family in Houston, many respond with a knee-jerk reaction like o, I’m so sorry or Houston? How’s that going? or even — and this came from a relative — how can you live around all those awful people?

There’s no getting around it: Houston, like Texas in general, has a horrible reputation beyond its city limits.

Sadly, the hard-line republicans from Texas have given their state a bad name in the American consciousness. And it’s a real tragedy for the rest of us because Houston is actually a very liberal and ethnically and culturally diverse city.
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Cult BBQ with J.C. Reid, leading ‘cue commentator & connoisseur

cork screw bbqAbove: BBQ waits for no one at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, Texas, where the line begins to form at 8 a.m. for an 11 a.m. open.

There was a time in Texas, I’ve been told, before citizens would begin lining up early in the morning to get a taste of limited-edition cult BBQ.

Some say that Snow’s in Lexington (about an hour east of Austin) was the first pit master to attract such an early morning crowd.

But it was Franklin’s in Austin (proper), opened in 2009, that irrevocably created a new BBQ vernacular: BBQ zealotry punctuated by early-morning commitment and/or long waits under the Texas sun to savor the coveted gelatinous beef fat or pork product of choice.

With Killen’s, which opened earlier this year, Houston got its first high-profile cult BBQ destination — including the long waits and disappointed customers who don’t make it to the front of the line in time for their favorite cut.

chris jc reid bbq texas writerAbove: J.C. Reid, left, travels across Texas and the United States writing about BBQ. Georgia P and cousin Marty sit to his left.

On Saturday morning, Georgia P, cousin Marty, and I joined J.C. Reid — the foremost authority on Texas BBQ in my view — and his beautiful wife Tamara for a meal at Cork Screw BBQ in Spring, about forty minutes north of Houston.

“Chris,” as he is known to his friends, was the first in line when the cashier opened at 11 a.m.: he had been there since 7:30 holding his place (read the Cork Screw FAQ for queue etiquette [please excuse the pun on ‘cue]).

In his weekly BBQ column for the Houston Chronicle (launched in April 2014), Chris wrote that Cork Screw’s “smoked meats now rank with the city and state’s best, and the bar will likely keep getting raised higher.”

Click here for the article. It’s a great window into the commitment and unbridled passion that go into great BBQ (I love the line about the “thousand-yard stare”).

foldover sandwichAbove: a “fold over,” in southern parlance, when you make a sandwich using one slice of bread. The brisket — the sine qua non of BBQ in Texas — was outstanding, with melt-in-your-mouth texture, well balanced rub (seasoning), and integrated smokiness (a key factor in the best BBQ in my experience).

Chris has written about BBQ for a number of top mastheads (including the New York Times).

We became friends a few years after I moved to Austin in 2008 via social media thanks to our shared love of central Italian cookery (we’re planning a carbonara-fueled trip together to Rome in spring 2015).

The thing that sets him apart from the current and past generation of BBQ chroniclers in Texas (blowhards, for the most part) is that he sets his sites beyond the state’s borders.

He and his wife are world travelers and gourmets and he’s acutely aware (and self-aware) of BBQ’s role in the americana gastronomic canon (a grad of USC, he has also worked as an architect in New York and the chief of a web hosting company here in Houston).

When I thanked him for holding our place in line, he smiled and told me he was happy to do it.

“It’s my job,” he said.

The best place to follow Chris is his Twitter, where he posts a subscription-free link to his Houston Chronicle column each week. See also his article, published last week, on favorite BBQ destinations beyond Houston and the Texas tradition of the “BBQ run.”

An awesome Gavi and other grooviness @VinoVinoWine #ATX

best gavi cortese biodynamic

So much groovy wine is finding its way to Austin, Texas these days. And it seems that nearly every day, I get turned on to a label I’ve never come across before, like this stunning Gavi by Giordano Lombardo, which blew me away with its focus, its mineral and citrus flavors, and its gentle 12% alcohol. I really really love this wine.

It was poured for me last night by my Austin client Vino Vino, our go-to wine bar in town.

bisson glera

Last night, we also tasted the Bisson crown-cap reclassified Prosecco that the winery labels as Glera (thanks again to owner and friend Jeff, for celebrating the birth of our daughter with me!).

With so much banana-candy Prosecco in Texas these days, it’s wonderful to see a commercial Prosecco like this one that actually tastes like Prosecco. High acidity, the classic note of green bitterness, and citrus and white fruit aromas and flavors. (I imagine that Bisson reclassified because it wanted to use the crown cap — a much more intelligent closure in my view — which is not allowed by the Prosecco DOC).

Bisson’s been in the Texas market for some time now and we’re big fans of its Ligurian Ciliegiolo. But I had never had the chance to taste this one.

st magdalener schiava

A local sales rep tasted us on another wine that I’ve followed for some time but — I believe — is new to the Texas market, the St. Magdalener Classico Huck am Bach, bottled by the Cantina Bolzano cooperative.

The wine showed beautifully and I love how the Lagrein gives the more gentle Schiava some oom-pah-pah. Great wine and a great time to love Italian wine in Texas.

Buon weekend, yall!