Alicia Lini joins me Thursday, July 16 for a virtual wine dinner at ROMA in Houston.

I’m thrilled to announce that Alicia Lini (above), one of my best friends in the wine business and producer of some of my favorite Lambruscos, will be joining me for a virtual wine dinner on Thursday, July 16 at ROMA here in Houston.

Alicia and I first met more than a decade ago while I was working in the wine trade in New York. The launch of her brand was my first major campaign as a media consultant and its success shaped my career for the decade to come.

A few years ago, Alicia asked me to give her hand promoting her brand again here in the U.S. and it’s been another immensely rewarding experience — especially because of our friendship.

Next Thursday, she’ll be joining me for an ongoing series of virtual wine dinners I’ve been leading for ROMA, where I’ve been running media for owner Shanon Scott for a few years now.

These events have taken on a truly magical feel: they are a world unto themselves, where everyone can cast away the worries, pressures, and stress of what’s happening around our families.

They sell out regularly and we have capped them at 25 couples and/or individuals so that everyone can be onscreen throughout.

Chef Angelo Cuppone and Shanon are working on the menu as I write this and I’ll share as soon we publish it on the restaurant’s website and social media.

Alicia and I have shared so many unforgettable moments over the course of our time working together. Here’s the story of how she and I ended up in a green room with Pattie Boyd, the woman who inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time.

Houston wine and food friends: please join us next Thursday for what is sure to be a great evening of Lambursco and classic Emilian cuisine (email or PM me if you want me to hold a spot for you).

Thank you for your support and solidarity. Tracie, the girls, and I are still hunkered down, healthy and safe in our house in southwest Houston. But our city and state continue to report record numbers of daily contagions and hospitalizations. And members of our extended family continue to battle the virus. COVID-19 is real. We are seeing it firsthand. Please where a mask when you go out and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside their homes. G-d bless America. G-d bless us all.

Wine professionals: please follow the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance as we gear up to fight new tariffs!

Parzen family COVID-19 update: our nuclear family is healthy, safe, and isolated in Houston. Unfortunately, some of our extended family members are now ill and we are praying for their speedy recovery. Many of our friends in Southeast Texas have also been infected. But Tracie, the girls, and I are hunkered down at our house and we’re all healthy. Please keep all affected Americans in your thoughts and prayers. Please wear a mask and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside the home.

Yesterday a Houston-based wine blogger had the great fortune to sit in on a Zoom call organized by the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA). It was humbling to share the time and conversation with some of the greatest wine professionals active in our country today.

On the call, USWTA president Ben Aneff described the group’s efforts to lobby the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the issue of existing and potentially increased and expand tariffs on European wines.

Currently, the USTR is considering a new round of tariffs. And it is hosting a comment portal on its site where Americans can express their concerns about how current and new tariffs do and will affect their livelihoods.

Read about it in the USWTA newsletter here, including the timetable for comments and the decision-making process.

Ben and his team are currently working on a new online portal that will help guide wine trade members and consumers across the U.S. as they post their comments on the USTR site. Please stay tuned for that.

As Ben mentioned on the call, the U.S. wine trade wasn’t prepared for the first round of tariffs that were imposed last year. But the newly founded USWTA is now aggressively using all resources available to make the wine industry’s voices heard in Washington. And it needs all of our support.

As we wait for the new USWTA portal to come online, please:

– become a USWTA member here (by filling out the form, you will be added to the mailing list);
– read the USWTA guidelines for commenting on the USTR site (extremely important);
– please follow the USWTA Instagram and Twitter and please join the Facebook group;
– share, retweet, and repost USWTA media, and encourage your employees, colleagues, and peers to do the same.

Parzen family update: Houston in crisis but we are healthy and safe.

It happened to our sisters and brothers in Italy. It happened to our fellow Americans in New York. And now it’s happening here in Houston where we live.

COVID-19 is overwhelming our city’s health care system, Houston-area hospitals are already beyond capacity and they are expecting an even greater surge early next week. People are suffering and dying all around us, including many in our family’s social circles.

Thankfully, our governor has finally come to his senses — how could he not at this point? — and has made masks mandatory for nearly all Texans while in public. The order was long overdue: in late April, his executive order made it impossible for local government officials to issue their own public mask requirements. But we are just grateful that it’s here.

Tracie, the girls, and I are in isolation and we are all healthy and safe. And everyone in our immediate Texas family is also healthy and safe.

We have been extremely fortunate and will remain vigilant.

Thank you to everyone who’s written to us to check in. Those messages really mean the world to us.

G-d bless Houston, G-d bless Texas, G-d bless America, and may G-d bless all Their children across the earth.

Please stay safe, no matter where you are.

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.

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.
Continue reading

What it’s like to be a black American wine blogger: “It was like a slap in the face, but yet just another reminder.”

The following post was published on Friday by my friend and fellow Houston wine blogger Katrina Rene, author of The Corkscrew Concierge, on her Facebook. She has graciously allowed me to share it here (image via Adobe Stock).

I have been approached by a few people now asking what they can do. What should they say? I honestly don’t know. But…

I can tell you that I’m mentally exhausted and pissed as hell!

I can tell you that the anger and depression has taken my breath away and left me speechless with a great sense of futility.

I can tell you that my husband and I have had these conversations so many times that it’s as natural as “what’s for dinner?”

I can tell you that it cuts me to the core to listen to my husband telling my daughter (b/c I can’t do it!) that people won’t like her, not because of anything she did, but because of what she looks like.

I can tell you that while my daughter can understand such a message, my son (who has his own challenges) will be a different story altogether when his time comes.

I can tell you that I worry about my son, lose sleep because of his challenges, and know that the world will be so much more dangerous for him.

I can tell you that my husband is always outside in front of our house and frequently walks the neighborhood with the kids so that people recognize him and know that he “belongs” there.

I can tell you that if my husband has to knock on a neighbor’s door to return a package, lost pet, etc. he always takes one of the kids with him because he’s “scary” on his own and someone may assume he’s there to do them harm.

Speaking of our neighborhood, I can tell you that my deed restriction still has the old “racial restrictions” clause that only permits people of the “Caucasian Race” to dwell there. I was shocked to see it still there (with a line neatly drawn through it) when I built my house and it was like a slap in the face, but yet just another reminder.

I can tell you that my husband dresses “a level up” wherever he goes because he understands how he is perceived and that the same rules don’t apply to him.

I can tell you that I initially didn’t want my daughter to play tennis because no else there looked like her and I was afraid she’d be singled out. I can tell you that when she used to play matches, I would hold my breath if there was any sort of disagreement because I feared someone treating her badly.

I can tell you that my husband has been pulled over while “driving black” – not speeding, no broken tail light, etc. for almost an hour while the “peace officer” looked for something, expected him to react, but then eventually let him go. I guess he was lucky.

So just imagine if all of these things factored into your daily life, affected the most simple, basic decisions you had to make, and was always there in your consciousness. It’s 2020 and this is our reality. And sadly, ours is better than many.

How sommeliers are keeping guests (and themselves) safe as dine-in service resumes in Houston.

Please check out my post today for the Houston Press on how sommeliers are keeping guests and themselves safe as dine-in service resumes in our city.

It’s a challenging time to be a restaurant worker, even if you are a wine director overseeing a world-class cellar.

Texas is one of the first states to allow restaurants to reopen. As all of the wine professionals I spoke to noted, there is no model for how to execute wine service safely. And neither the state or federal government have provided adequate guidance.

A mere 11 days have passed since our state’s governor superseded local orders to isolate, wear masks, and keep restaurants and other businesses closed. There are anecdotal reports of numerous restaurateurs not following social distancing protocols. But everyone I talked to for this piece is taking it extremely seriously. I was surprised by what some of them told me (including those who didn’t end up in the post).

Thanks for checking it out and please stay safe.

Help us raise an MLK billboard over the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas for MLK Day. Just $240 needed to meet our GoFundMe goal.

UPDATE (January 15): We’ve reached our goal! Thank you so much to everyone who donated and shared. The GoFundMe is still active if you’d like to donate to our future efforts. We’ll probably raise another billboard in the summer. Thank you to all for the support and solidarity.

We are just $240 short of our fund-raising goal of $600 needed to raise a billboard celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King that will look down on the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

Click here to donate.

We have already secured the billboard space: the artwork (above) will go live just in time for Martin Luther King Day and will stay up through most of African American History Month.

The sign was created by a designer from Orange.

It will also be up in time for our Martin Luther King Day protest of the memorial (from 2-4 p.m.). See details here. We hope you will join us.

And if you can’t, please consider giving what you can to our campaign. Every little bit helps.