Houstonians & Southeast Texans: please join us for the socially distanced 2021 MLK Day parade in Orange, Texas.

Image via WhiteHouse.gov (Creative Commons license).

Please join us as we celebrate the life, teachings, and legacy of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Orange, Texas.

Social distancing and masks will be required. Please feel free to share this post and thank you for your support. Tracie and I hope to see you a week from Monday in Orange where she grew up.

MLK DAY PARADE
ORANGE, TEXAS

Monday, January 18, 2021
10 a.m.

Start: Solomon Johnson Park (Google map)
End: Heritage House (Google map)

Organizers Impact Orange and Repurpose Memorial are requiring marchers to wear masks and socially distance. They’ll be asking people to form groups of no more than 10 persons, ideally from the same household, and will coordinate the timing of each group’s start time so that they can socially distance from other groups. They will also have free masks to distribute.

There will be no speeches or gathering at the end of the march. Marchers will simply disassemble at the end point.

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to the City of Orange for their help in making this possible.

Heartfelt thanks also to everyone who donated to our GoFundMe campaign to raise money for our special events insurance policy. We raised more than our $500 goal. The extra money will go to masks, bottled water, and hand sanitizer to distribute at the march. The campaign is still active if you’d like to contribute.

Wine for voter enfranchisement in Texas: Vines for Votes raises money for Texas ACLU.

Above: Texas congressional district 36. Source: House.gov.

That’s a map of Texas congressional district 36. It stretches from Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border where Tracie grew up all the way to Clear Lake, Texas, where the Johnson Space Center is located south of Houston, roughly 85 miles away as the crow flies from Tracie’s hometown.

The population of Orange is more than 30 percent black.

The population of Clear Lake is roughly 4 percent black.

And this is a classic example of Texas gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement.

Thanks to its convoluted layout, Texas congressional district 36 has an overwhelming white ruby red Republican majority that essentially eclipses the black and democratic vote in places like Orange where most of its black residents live.

In June, Tracie and I met with Democratic candidate Rashad Lewis who’s running against the Republican incumbent for the 36th district Brian Babin.

As you might imagine, Lewis advocates for repurposing the district’s neo-Confederate memorials. Babin opposes their repurposing.

A few days ago, a group of wine professionals in New York, including two prominent Texans, launched a campaign to raise money for the Texas ACLU fight for voter enfranchisement in Texas.

It’s called Vines for Votes and if you are reading this, you probably know at least a couple of its members.

Using its website, you can donate directly to Vines for Votes and you can offer wines for auction (proceeds will go to Texas ACLU). And of course, you can also give directly to the ACLU or Texas ACLU.

Wasn’t it Baldo Cappellano who quixotically said “there are some battles in life that you know you will lose and these are sometimes the ones most worth fighting”?

Words to live by in our book of life. Thanks for reading.

Texas wine, food, media professionals: please join me for virtual tastings with Italian producers September 21-22.

Some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done has been for the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce South Central. Previously covering just Texas but now also Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma (hence “south central”), the Houston-headquartered IACC is ranked number one among chambers in North America and number eight throughout the world.

Sorry, New York!

The IACC has achieved that status in part by mounting truly compelling events with top wine and food producers from Italy, leading wine and food professionals here in Texas, and high-profile journalists and tastemakers from across the U.S.

In March, the IACC would have presented the sixth annual Taste of Italy trade fair, the largest wine and food gathering in the U.S. devoted exclusively to Italian products and producers. I’m a consultant and emcee for the event. Last year, we hosted more than 100 producers and 500+ attendees.

This year, we’ve moved the event online: on Monday and Tuesday, September 21-22 wine and food professionals across the state of Texas will have the opportunity to attend one-on-one virtual tastings with producers in Italy via Google Meet.

And here’s the even cooler part: once you schedule your tasting appointments, the wines and food products will be delivered to your home or office. It’s that simple.

The other cool thing is that the IACC has partnered with a super groovy new platform called GrapeIn to coordinate the tastings (more on GrapeIn forthcoming).

If you are a wine and food professional or a culinary-focused social media user active in Texas, click here to see a list of participating wine and food producers. Click on the producers you’d like to taste with, indicate the time slot, and the IACC will take care of the rest.

This 100 percent virtual event represents an extraordinary opportunity to connect in real-time with Italian producers as you taste their products.

Please join me in just a few weeks as we explore some great Italian wines and foods. Ping me if you need more info or guidance. But it’s all pretty straightforward.

Austin, San Antonio, Dallas: I’m talking to you, too!

Oh and that photo at the top of this post? I took that in our kitchen. It gives you an idea of what these tastings will look and feel like.

I hope you can join me! Thanks for supporting Italian wine and food and the people who make them (in the comfort of your own home)!

“Like a war zone.” Houston spared. Orange pummeled but no deaths. Lake Charles “worst hurricane ever.”

Tracie’s parents are safe but rattled after Hurricane Laura, a nearly category 5 storm, made landfall early this morning just east of where they sheltered in place in Orange, Texas on the Texas-Louisiana border.

My sister-in-law and her family and Tracie’s aunt and uncle all evacuated Orange County, Texas yesterday before the storm came. But my in-laws had to stay behind with Tracie’s 99-year-old grandmother.

I’m happy to report that everyone is safe this morning.

In her early-morning text to me, my mother-in-law wrote that “it’s like a war zone.”

Here in Houston, our city officials were still telling us to prepare for the worst as late as yesterday afternoon. But the storm continued to shift eastward. Remarkably, we didn’t even have rain here. As the television meteorologists say, we were on “the cleans side” of the hurricane.

Yesterday morning, news reports were projecting “unsurvivable storm surge” in Galveston about 50 miles south of where we live. But Hurricane Laura made landfall in Cameron, Louisiana, 32 miles southeast of where my in-laws live (roughly 130 miles from where we live).

On the news this morning, a middle-aged woman who had decided to ride out the storm in Lake Charles, Louisiana, said it was the “worst hurricane” she had ever experienced.

Hundreds of thousands of people are without power across the region this morning. It will take weeks before some of them have electricity again (many unfamiliar with hurricanes don’t realize that this is one of the most dangerous and life-threatening aspects of extreme weather events like this).

Texas governor Greg Abbott said this morning that no deaths have been reported in Texas. He ascribed the zero-fatality rate to the fact that the state provided hotel rooms to nearly everyone who had no place to go once evacuated.

We’re all feeling very fortunate this morning. We are praying for our sisters and brothers in southwest Louisiana just across the state line. They are going to need our help and support for weeks to come. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who called and wrote to check in on us. We have been extremely lucky. Had Laura made landfall here, a much more populated area, the devastation could have been a lot worse.

Hunkering down for Hurricane Laura. Parzen family update.

Above: the view from our front yard facing south toward the Gulf of Mexico where Hurricane Laura is currently a category 3 storm. The coast lies about 50 miles due south from where we live in southwest Houston.

At one point, it looked like Hurricane Laura (currently a category 3 event in the Gulf of Mexico) might make landfall in Galveston just south of Houston where we live. But over the last day or so the projections have moved it to the east.

That’s good news for our city. We’re expecting to have high winds and heavy rainfall typical of a tropical storm. Flash flooding is expected. But we’ll be outside the storm’s cone.

But it’s terrible news for my in-laws who live in Orange, Texas, right on the Louisiana border. At one point last night, landfall was projected to happen in Orange. The cone has moved slightly east but Orange is still in the storm’s cross hairs.

As of 8:50 a.m., Laura is expected to be a category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border around midnight tonight.

Traice’s parents, Jane and Randy, will be sheltering in place this evening at Tracie’s grandmother’s house. Tracie’s “memaw” is 99 years old and suffered a stroke earlier this year. She’s at home with 24-hour care but can’t travel.

We’ll be following the storm’s progress carefully and checking in regularly with family in Orange.

In the meantime, we’ve been hunkering down and securing everything in our yard (so that the wind doesn’t turn patio furniture and our daughter’s playscape etc. into “missiles”). We have plenty of water, food, and batteries. We even have a transistor radio and my truck and Tra’s minivan are all gassed up.

We’ll be praying for our family in Orange and all of our friends across southeast Texas. We’re expecting Houston to be hard hit as well but we’re particularly concerned about Orange.

Thanks to everyone who’s written and called to check in. The thoughts and wishes mean the world to us. We need them right now.

For updates on the storm, see the excellent Space City Weather blog.

Italian sisters and brothers, you are my heroes! This is what a life in wine can be like in the time of the pandemic.

My good friend Flavio Geretto, a top Italian wine professional, post this photo yesterday with the following caption: “Lunch and Prosecco blind tasting with the export team before the summer holiday break. During this difficult year we never stopped… and our aim is to continue in the same way!!!!”

Dinner was over, the kitchen was clean, and our daughters were in bed last night when Tracie and I turned on some music and sat down on the coach to catch up on news and social media.

One of the first images that appeared in my feed was the one above: my good friend Flavio Geretto (second from right) with the export team at the Villa Sandi winery in Valdobbiadene (I do media consulting for Flavio).

I turned to show it to Tracie.

“That’s what life in wine could be like,” I said, “if our country had the leadership and moral fiber to fight the virus. Italians are my heroes.”

Through their sheer resilience and deep sense of civic duty, the Italians have shown the world how we can learn to live with COVID.

Here in Texas where we “live,” our infection rates are high, countless people are suffering, and many are dying, and yet our state leaders continue to tie the hands of our local government despite our mayor and crisis manager’s pleas to let them lock our city down. It’s so plain to see: the Italians were quick to lock down their country once the scope of the pandemic became clear; they banded together — apart — to stop COVID’s spread; they wore their masks and maintained social distance; and now, across Italy, a normal life has resumed.

It’s a life where people can work and socialize without fear, as in the photo above of Flavio with his colleagues.

What the Italians have down is nothing short of heroic.

I’ll never forget texting with one of my single friends in northern Italy at the height of the health crisis there. He was holed up alone in his condo in the country end and we were extremely worried about his physical and mental health. He had no contact with anyone — anyone at all, not even his parents or sister — for weeks on end. Today, he goes out to lunch and dinner, sees his friends, and regularly receives tasters at his winery.

Wine professionals in America could be doing the same if it weren’t for the shortsightedness of our leaders and our utter lack of civic responsibility. We could be doing the same if our worldview didn’t boil down to why should I wear a mask to protect your health, why should I change my lifestyle so that others don’t suffer, why should I care that members of my community are dying at an alarming rate?

Where Tracie and I live, there’s no end to the crisis in sight. We are among the fortunate who work at home and have the means to live a decent life even while sheltering in place. But our community — our country — will never get back on track until our citizens embrace a sense of belonging and selflessness in the place of the egoism and myopia that continue to paralyze us.

Italians, you are heroes! How I envy you! How I weep and long for my America!

Help us raise an MLK billboard overlooking the newly built Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up.

Above: the new billboard we are planning to raise across from the newly constructed Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up. It will look down on the site from across the road. Click here to read Dr. King’s speech where the quote appears.

In case you haven’t heard about our ongoing efforts to repurpose the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ newly built memorial — including the Confederate flag — in Orange, Texas where Tracie grew up, here’s the link to the story NowThis Politics published about our campaign a few years ago.

The memorial stands on Martin Luther King Dr. in a community where half the population is black and where there is a sordid and ongoing legacy of racial violence against black people that stretches back to Jim Crow and the Civil War.

We’ve had to put our protest plans on hold because of the health crisis in Southeast Texas. But we are just a few hundred dollars away from our $5,500 GoFundMe goal to raise our new billboard across from the memorial for the next six months — through MLK Day 2021.

The U.S. Marines and Navy have banned the display of the Confederate flag. NASCAR has banned it. And most recently, the U.S. Secretary of Defense has banned it from all U.S. military installations. Cities across the country are removing statues and monuments.

Even Mitch McConnell has said he didn’t “have any problem” with renaming [military] bases for “people who didn’t rebel against the country.” Isn’t that something?

Just this week, the U.S. House of Representatives cast an “overwhelming” and bipartisan vote to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.

Isn’t it time that black mothers and fathers should have the right to drive their children to school along MLK Dr., one of the city’s main arteries, without such an affront to their dignity?

Last month, after NASCAR banned the symbol of hate, the Sons of Confederate Veterans flew it over a race in Talladega, towing it with a plane.

They are racist cowards and it’s time for them to repurpose their site in Orange to reflect the community and community values — not their bizarre and puerile cosplay fantasies.

Please consider giving to or sharing our campaign. Every donation, no matter how small, makes a difference. Every click counts. We’re so close to our goal.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.

Why most Americans don’t care about wine tariffs.

Above: a European winemaker hosts a tasting of his wines in Colorado in late February, 2020.

“Tariff threats return,” read one of the wine retailer email newsletters that reached my inbox over the last week. “Our business could totally get blown up by a trade Death Star.”

“[My business partner] and I have spent 19 years building our business,” reported another, “and it could get wiped out in one blow. For better or worse, we’ve tied our love of European wine to the life of our shop. We have 25 employees, many with families; we pay their health insurance; we pay a boatload of taxes. [Our shop] is a micro business, but there are many thousands of employees and owners around the country who will be similarly affected — to say nothing of how this will impact our wine loving customers.”

Across the U.S., wine retailers are mobilizing their customer base and trade networks in an effort to raise awareness of how potentially increased and expanded tariffs on European wines could — literally — decimate their ranks.

Most of the roughly 20 or so similarly conative messages received over the past few weeks weeks point to a portal recently created by the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA), an advocacy group formed by European wine-focused small businesses. It streamlines the process whereby the user, whether trade member or consumer, can comment on the U.S. Trade Representative site and express their concerns regarding the tariffs currently under consideration. The deadline for comment is July 26. The decision on whether or not to remove, expand, and/or increase the duties will be announced on August 12.

With so much energy being poured into this campaign by understandably qualmish wine merchants, it’s hard to imagine that the U.S. government won’t take note of the existential threat posed by the potential tariffs and their resulting dismay.

But tradesfolk in our country’s major cities often forget that they remain a minority in our nation.

I was reminded of this when I recently contacted the office of a top anti-tariff congressperson whose district lies just north of metropolitan Houston where I live. The area where he lives and dines (as I discovered) is one of greater Houston’s more affluent. But despite the extreme concentration of wealth in his neck of the woods (Houstonians will get the pun), there isn’t much in terms of haute cuisine in the community he represents beyond the quintessential high-end and highly predictable steak house franchises.

When I spoke to the owner and executive chef of the seemingly lone high-concept restaurant there (where, I learned, said representative frequently eats), the food professional told me that while he was aware of the tariff issue, it hasn’t affected his business at all.

How is that possible? I asked him.

His wine program does include a sizable allocation of expensive French wines. But those lots were purchased some time ago, he said, partly as an investment (a classic restaurant model). Like the guests he serves, he focuses primarily on top California wines.

And when he revealed his overarching approach to his restaurant group’s wine programs, the axiomatic delivery rolled off his palate so mellifluously that I can’t imagine it was his first time uttering the phrase.

“If it doesn’t have the grape name on the label,” he informed me, “they ain’t going to drink it.”

He was referring to pecunious Americans’ well-documented penchant and preference for “varietal wines,” bottlings sometimes even blended using different varieties but labeled with a single grape name, e.g., “Chardonnay,” “Merlot,” “Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir,” etc.

His aphorism rang true when I spoke to said representative’s office. The person on the other line seemed entirely unaware of the heightened interest in European wines that has taken shape in this country over the last two decades.

For the record, both the restaurateur and the government official with whom I spoke were exceedingly generous with their time and both were glad to lend a hand in connecting me with the persons I was trying to reach.

But the notion that the tariffs under consideration would disproportionately affect Americans without achieving the desired result was something that hadn’t previously or remotely crossed their minds.

Wine culture has grown enormously in the U.S. over the last 20 years or so. But for most Americans, it doesn’t really matter where that Pinot Grigio comes from. It might as well be from Australia or Texas, as long as the grape name is inscribed on the package.

Just think of how wine is sold in American airports (or should I say, try to remember the way wine used to be sold in airports). In these transport hubs, where Americans from all walks of life and of all stripes meet (however fleetingly), the sale of wine is primarily categorized, classified, and bartered using its designate ampelonym: what wines do you have by the glass? is commonly answered by Chard, Sauv Blanc, Cab, Syrah, Pinot, and Merlot.

Shortly before the pandemic redefined “living” in America, a European winemaker and I took a road trip that led us from Houston to Dallas to Tulsa to Boulder. We hosted well-attended wine tastings in each city we visited.

But what about all the places and people in between?

Until a majority of Americans dives into the nuanced and subtle differences between Nebbiolo from Langa and its varietal counterpart from upper Piedmont, the threat of wine tariffs will be as ephemeral to them as it is existential to us.

Please visit the USWTA portal and make your voice heard!

Parzen family COVID-19 update: isolated and vigilant as Houston sets new daily records for cases and deaths.

Tracie and I would like to share our heartfelt thanks with everyone who’s sent us messages to make sure that we are okay. She, Georgia, Lila Jane, and I are all healthy and safe, hunkered down in our southwest Houston home.

We only go out to exercise, take walks, and pickup groceries curbside. We are extremely fortunate to live in a residential neighborhood where it’s easy to social distance when we are outside. And both Tracie and I work from home.

Yesterday, we learned that another member of our extended family here in the Houston area has COVID-19. That makes three persons in our family who now have the virus. We are praying for their speedy recovery.

Houston continues to set daily records of numbers of contagions and deaths. There are reports, some of them verified by mainstream media, that refrigerated trailers have been brought in to serve as morgues at local hospitals.

Tragically, Texas governor Greg Abbot continues to refuse to allow our locally elected officials to order the two-week lockdown that they have proposed. At least one Houston-area county is now openly defying his mandatory mask order.

So many people in our community — and our country — are suffering and dying right now. All we can do is to continue to isolate and minimize our exposure as best as we can.

Please stay home if you can. Please wear a mask if you go out in public. Please continue to support those who have no choice but to work outside the home.

Thank you again for all the notes and messages. They mean a lot.

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.