Punk and funk meet at Terroir in San Francisco

Tracie P and I will never forget the first time we visited Terroir Natural Wine Bar and Merchant on Folsom in San Francisco in May 2009. We watched on as then co-owner Guilhaume Gerard, wielding an aluminum baseball bat (conveniently stowed above the bar for ready access) chased a homeless man out the door and down the street after the man attempted to steal a bottle of wine. Unflustered, Guilhaume soon returned and put the bottle back into a display case and picked up our conversation where we left off.

Terroir has seen its ups and downs since its heyday in 2009 but it’s still there and I thank goodness for it: it’s the one place that I make sure to visit every time I’m in San Francisco (since I travel there more often than not to play with Nous Non Plus, it’s tough to make time for a proper dinner but I can always find a moment for a glass of something natty).

Saturday evening, the last I spent in SF, I went to Terroir accompanied by good friend Billy and Zanotto for a celebratory lap (following our well received Col Fondo tour).

Owner Luc Ertoran poured us some great wines, including the sparkling Vin de Savoie, above, and the Mauzac and Duras by Plageoles from Gaillac.

The wines, conversation, and company were awesome and I really dig the free spirit of Terroir, where you never know whom you’re going to meet and what you’re going to taste at midnight on Saturday on the gritty side of SF.

But the thing I love the most about Terroir is how Luc — or whoever is manning the bar — always has something by the glass that will surprise and thrill me.

This gig may not be for everyone but it sure does it for me…

In other news…

A lot of folks have been quoting Matt Kramer’s recent post on “the big lie of wine democracy.” Ha! If you, like me, are laughing heartily at the thought of a byline by Wine Spectator’s Kramer with such an outrageously self-referential title, please come sit at my table and I’ll pour you some Pampanuto Bianco!

With all due respect to the many writers who are quoting him and drawing inspiration from his muzak, I think it’s worth pointing out that Kramer works for the very same military industrial complex that propagates that very same semiosis…

Wine for thought for this last weekend before Tracie P, Georgia P, and I head to Italy for our 2012 harvest trip…

Thanks for reading and buon weekend yall!

Our date with the City, part 2: the best natural wine bar in the U.S.?


Above: I may be going out on a limb here when I say that Ten Bells seems to have captured the title of the “best natural wine bar in NYC” but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway. The selection of stinky cru Beaujolais was pretty impressive, even after affable owner Fifi Essome had sold out of many of the labels for his Beaujolais festival the Thursday before our Sunday visit. Photos by Tracie B.

Whether it’s Saignée, Wine Digger, Eric, Alice, or McDuff, it seems like all of my fav bloggers are either writing about or hanging out at The Ten Bells on the Lower East Side of New York City (which takes its name from the homonymous and notorious London pub).

So after Tracie B and I finished lunch with Michele at Kesté, we took a stroll over to the east side and picked up Alice in SoHo and walked down the Bowery to Broome and Orchard on the Lower East Side and tasted a few of the by-the-glass Beaujolais selections that were leftover from the wine bar’s Beaujolais festival the previous Thursday — and what an impressive, if picked-over, list it was!

alice feiring

Above: Alice Feiring is one of my dearest friends and one of the persons I have known the longest in New York. Her book The Battle for Wine and Love was recently released in paperback.

Beyond Lou on Vine in Los Angeles, which remains my favorite American winebar, I can’t think of anywhere else you will find a greater selection of natural, stinky wines. And while Lou can trump nearly any joint for the hipster celebrity sitings on any given night, The Ten Bells seems to have become the official backdrop for the natural wine dialectic of our fine nation and seems to be the official satellite office for visiting natural winemakers.

I liked the way McDuff put it best: “The Ten Bells is mysterious… The Ten Bells is dark… The Ten Bells is Dangerous…” Just quickly scanning Fifi’s hand-written chalkboard wine list as Tracie B, Alice, and I caught up after our last meeting in Paris at Racine’s, I eyed at least a score of labels that I wanted to try. The oysters looked fantastic, too.

We had lots to catch up on but the main topic of conversation during our all-too-short visit was Alice’s recent and heated exchange with The Wine Spectator’s James Suckling, who was finally hipped to natural wine by our mutual friend (and jazz guitar great) Anthony Wilson. I’ll be connecting with Anthony early next month and I’ll be sure to get the juice behind the juice he turned Suckling on to!

Our date with the City was too short and there were so many folks and places that we would have loved to have seen. I can’t say that I miss living in New York but you gotta love the buzz of that city, the energy, and the wine. With London, Paris, and Rome, New York is right up there as one of the great wine destinations of the world — whether you’re drinking old Nebbiolo at Manducatis in Queens or stinky, natural Beaujolais on the Lower East Side at The Ten Bells. I sure don’t need it everyday… but a beautiful, crisp, clear fall day in November, with some yummy Beaujolais in our tummies, catching up with some dear friends, felt just right…

Waiter, waiter: I’ll have what Eric’s having…

Above: Last night, Tracie B and I opened Puffeney’s 2006 Trousseau, one of those “original” wines that we couldn’t stop talking about. Photos by Tracie B.

The wines from the Jura first came to my attention at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, L’Utopie in Québec City when my band Nous Non Plus was on tour there a few years back. Thirty-something owner and sommelier Frédéric Gauthier has an amazing palate and his list has always delivered something unusual and exciting to my table.

So when I read Eric’s preview of his column on the “Unusually Good” wines from the Jura at the end of a long workday for both me and Tracie B, I decided to cork a bottle of Puffeney 2006 Arbois Trousseau that we had picked up here in town at The Austin Wine Merchant.

At a talk on modern vs. traditional wines he gave in New York a number of years ago, Angelo Gaja discussed what he called “original” wines: wines that “surprise” you, he said.

The Trousseau, like nearly everything I’ve tasted from the Jura, was one of those “original” wines: it’s one of those wines that could only be made in that place, by those people, using the grapes, the techniques, and the terroir that belong uniquely to them. It was light in body but with some confident tannin, with berry fruit and brilliant acidity. Tracie B and I couldn’t stop talking about it: one of those wines that surprises you and speaks of a little mountainous utopia in France along the Swiss border where they make truly wonderful wines.

We loved it and I also highly recommend Eric’s column today in the times. Wine Digger digs these wines, too, as does McDuff. And here’s a little background on Puffeney’s methods.

Get it at The Austin Wine Merchant. Enjoy!

Savary Chablis and Tracie B’s enchilada casserole. Who knew? (also, Gramsci, Gaja, Israel Merlot in Italy, and natty wine in SF)

Above: Tracie B’s enchilada casserole may not be pretty but it’s shot to the top of my list of favorite things she cooks with meteoric celerity. And what better with the spicy and rich flavors of tomatillo sauce, cotija cheese, fresh peppers, corn, and cilantro, roast chicken, and corn tortilla than steely, mineral-driven (and affordable) Chablis? Who knew?

Seems we weren’t the only ones drinking Savary Chablis last night: a series of backs-and-forth on Facebook with Anthony on whether or not my silverface Princeton is a 69 or 71 was interrupted around dinner time because Savary 07 Chablis and Tracie B’s enchilada casserole were calling in my case, Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes (I believe the 06) after his show last night (wherever he is!).

It’s Saturday and I’m working today (because I have a tight deadline on a hefty translation: a folio edition of twentieth-century Italian photography, pretty cool stuff actually). But before getting to work this morning, I did indulge in some Antonio Gramsci and his notion of cultural hegemony. I’d been thinking about Gramsci over the last week and how wine, in his era, was considered a luxury product in the eyes of the agrarian class (Italy was still in the early phases of its industrialization) and an important trading commodity by the landlords. How far the western world has come in such a short period of time! With the rise of globalization (unthinkable in Gramsci’s time when protectionism reigned) and the seemingly boundless exchange of wine today, Tracie B and I can enjoy an excellent and affordable (at our price point) Chablis that has traveled seemingly effortlessly across that misunderstanding otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean. And we enjoyed it — no less! — with Mexican cooking spiced up by peppers grown in the farmland that stretches between Dallas and Austin in Texas (we still had some peppers left over from my stopped at the sorghum syrup and stuffed armadillo store).

My hankering for Gramsci was whetted in part by the soul searching that followed the wild exchanges this week but it was garnished by the news — which I read at Franco’s blog — that Angelo Gaja is importing Israeli Cabernet and Merlot to Italy. It seems that like the historic stockfish vendors of the Roman ghetto, Gaja saw an opportunity in bringing modern-style international grape varieties from the promised land and selling them to the “Israelite” communities (as they are called there) in Italy. Does Italy really need another international-style Merlot? From Israel?

Gramsci, where art thou?

In other news…

Above: I bet this guy knows his Gramsci. Guilhaume Gerard, one of the owners of Terroir in SF, pours great wine and writes a great blog with an emphasis on you know what.

I read at McDuff’s excellent blog that there is a now a site with information about the natural wine week event going on in San Francisco next week, hosted by different venues, including one of my favorite natural wine destinations, Terroir, with a symposium led by the inimitable Guilhaume (whose natural wine credentials, by all accounts, are impeccable and who has an amazing palate and writing style).

Red, white, and sparkling carpet at Kermit Lynch Tasting

Some of the cool people I got to taste with in San Francisco…

The pre-Kermit-Lynch-tasting evening began with an aperitif of stinky wine at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant where we hung with my new friend Guilhaume Gerard. Between him chasing off a would-be shoplifter, a discussion of the cutthroat nature of our trade, and some Django on vinyl (how cool is that?), we had a fantastic time. I’m really digging Guilhaume’s blog, Wine Digger, and highly recommend it. (Book editors: there’s a story there that hasn’t been told yet.)

The pre-tasting dinner was held at an excellent restaurant I’d never been to, Jardinière, with a very chic, glamorous art-deco ambiance and great food. The man himself, Kermit, took time out to chat music and pose for a photo-op with me and the lovely Tracie B.

Also got to taste with Gerard’s partners the next day at the portfolio tasting, Luc Ertoran and Dagan Ministero (to the left and right, respectively) and their friend Ian Becker of Arlequin Wine Merchant in SF.

The previous week, I tasted beer not wine with Clark Z. Terry, who came to see our band Nous Non Plus play in SF. In my view, Clark represents the future of wine marketing: he’s cool, he’s hip, he’s way-friggin-intelligent, and he’s dialing Kermit into the age of viral marketing. Check out the Kermit blog, authored by Clark.

Tracie B and I got to catch up with one of our favorite people in the natural wine business, the inimitable Lou Amdur of Lou on Vine. I don’t really miss living in Los Angeles but I sure miss cozying up to the bar at Lou on Vine and checking out what he has in his glass. Terroir in SF may be giving him a run for my money but Lou remains for me the best natural wine bar and best wine bar period in the U.S.

Representing Austin in the house was Monsieur Josh Loving (center), Austin’s top natural wine palate, classical guitar player, and one of the coolest dudes I know in Texas. We kinda went ape-shit over 1987 Terrebrune Bandol Rouge that we tasted together. Geoffrey Metheny (right), who pours wine at Fino in Austin, had his eye on some of those California natural wine girls.

Our friends Dan and Melinda Redman, who own the company I work for, were so way-super-cool and generous to bring me and Tracie B along for the ride and what a ride it was. Thanks again, guys! Tracie B and I had a blast.

I didn’t taste any wine with this funny bunny but I did take this picture of him in the Sonoma downtown square where he was hanging with some Lego Stormtroopers. Thanks for reading this far!

Human, all too human: remembering Josko Gravner’s son

One of the owners of Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar in San Francisco, Guilhaume Gerard, recently reminded me that that the wines come first, before the people who import them. Guilhaume pointed out rightly that while there are a lot of people in the wine trade whom we admire and care about and others whose scruples give us pause, the wines are what is really important. I agree with him.

To Guilhaume’s observation, I would add only that the wines and the people who make them come before the people who import and sell them.

miha_gravnerToday, after Franco and I posted on VinoWire about the tragic and senseless passing of the young Miha Gravner (left, photo by Alfonso), I was blown away by how many people linked back to our post, on Facebook and on their blogs, writing about how they never met the young man but how, nonetheless, they felt a personal connection to him and his family through their wines. As Franco wrote in his post at Vino al Vino, Miha had begun working closely with his father Josko and would have continued his father’s legacy.

Josko Gravner was part of a small group of radical “extreme” winemakers, who, as Eric wrote today in an unrelated post, vinified and aged their wine in clay amphorae. I’ve tasted Gravner’s wines on many different occasions, from many different vintages, and no one can deny that these are benchmark, original wines, wines that push the envelope of contemporary winemaking by reaching back to the secrets of the ancients. Josko is also one of the fathers of the natural wine movement in Italy and was inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

Cory at Saignée put it best when he wrote:

    If you’ve never had one of Josko’s wine, now is the perfect time to grab a bottle and raise a glass to him. They are some of the most individualistic, interesting, and unforgettable wines in the world from a man who has dedicated his life to exploring the possibilities of what wine can be. i, of course, have never met the man and am only familiar with his wines, but i’d like to think that personality can come across in wine making and that you can know someone just a little through their wines, and i wish him the best through this tragedy.

I imagine that Cory, Guilhaume, and I will open a bottle of Gravner at Terroir on Thursday night before I head over to do our set with Nous Non Plus at Rickshaw Stop.

Stop by if you have the time and we’ll remember a young man who would have made the wines we would have drunk for a lifetime.