Merle Haggard, “Back to Earth”

Tracie P and I splurged on Friday night and treated ourselves to seventh row seats at the Merle Haggard show at the (bring your own booze ’cause they ain’t got none) River Bend Auditorium (and erstwhile church) in Austin.

We first saw him together in 2009 and the show brought back lots of memories of when I first moved to Austin and our hearts were brimming with dreams of building a financial future for ourselves and having a family (Friday was the first time we had a sitter!).

It was great to hear Merle play the hits and tell the stories again… But the song that moved me the most wasn’t one of his. It was Willie Nelson’s “Back to Earth.”

I found the clip below from a Ryman Auditorium (I don’t need to tell you where that is) performance from 2008.

It’s really a song about love lost… But it’s also about enduring, true love… It’s been nearly four years since I first came to Austin from California and I know that our song will never have a final verse… I wouldn’t trade these last four years of my life for anything in the world.

Songs our love created I still sing
Love we knew still makes the rafters ring
Tonight I’ll sing for everything I’m worth
For all the hearts that have settled back to earth

Our song will never have a final verse
Our hearts just finally settled back to earth

Texas tones pair well with La Jolla sushi!


The Grapes had a blast last night playing our first gig at Zenbu Sushi in La Jolla. Nearly half of the graduating classes of La Jolla High 1985 and 1986 were there… What a night…

Who knew that Texas tones would pair so well with sushi? Well, then again, it makes sense that a little Tex Mex would jive with the Mexican- and Californian-cuisine influenced Japanese at Zenbu. That’s the “Mexicali Roll” above.

And the icing on the cake was Nephew Cole who sat in on 2 numbers and played like a pro! How cool is that?

Even Mama Judy got a dedication: “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard… ;-)

The first I remember knowin’ was the lonesome whistle blowin’
And a youngun’s dream of growin’ up to ride.
On a freight train leavin’ town, not knowin’ where I was bound
No one changed my mind, but mama tried…

Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadin’ I denied
That leaves only me to blame cause mama tried.

Thanks again to everyone, family, friends, and La Jolla High School, for coming out to tap your toes to some Texas twang!

In other news…

Tracie P and I are headed to Dan and Kate’s wedding in Santa Barbara County, staying in Solvang tonight. Stay tuned…

Kermit Lynch is coming to Austin and he’s bringing some damn good music with him…

Above: Tracie B and me met Kermit Lynch in real life for the first time in May in San Francisco. In case you don’t know, Tracie B would be the good-looking one on the right.

Like so many good things that have happened to me over the last year and a half thanks to the blog, I met Kermit Lynch back in April when he commented on my post Idol and Bandol. Who knew that Kermit read my blog?

We’ve stayed in touch since then and a few months ago he asked me if I’d give him a hand organizing a listening party for his new release on Dualtone, Man’s Temptation. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get to work with him, in part because I love his palate and have always been a fan, in part because I’ve been digging his new disk and have become a new fan, and dulcis in fundo it’s just so cool to get to work with a luminary in the biz who loves country music as much as Tracie B and me.

In our trans-Atlantic conversations (he in Provence, me in Austin), he told me about how he grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, the son of an itinerant evangelist. The Grapes of Wrath was the backdrop: the souls his father saved were the same southern farmers who came to California in search of Merle Haggard’s “California Cotton Fields,” one of my favorite Merle tunes and one that Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris both covered:

    My drifting memory goes back to the Spring of ’43
    When I was just a child in Mama’s arms
    My daddy ploughed the ground
    And prayed that someday he might leave
    This run down mortgaged Oklahoma farm

That’s some pretty serious country cred that Kermit’s got.

Here’s the info and the press release I composed to launch the event. I hope to see you there: if you’ve been planning a trip to Austin, this might be a fun time to make it out.

kermit_cover2Man’s Temptation: An Evening with Kermit Lynch

Monday, November 9 @ Vino Vino, Austin, Texas

listening party and wine tasting

singer, song-writer, and wine industry legend Kermit Lynch plays cuts from his new album Man’s Temptation (Dualtone) and talks about his music, his life, and his wines

Monday, November 9, 2009, 7 p.m.
$20 (ticket price includes 1 glass of wine)

Vino Vino
4119 Guadalupe St
Austin, TX 78751-4222
(512) 465-9282

with a menu inspired by the wines and travels of Kermit Lynch

All currently stocked Kermit Lynch wines will be available by the glass and available for sale retail.

Reservations required, space limited.

To reserve, please call (512) 465-9282 or email

Rocker Interrupted: Kermit Lynch finally yields to temptation

Singer-Songwriter Kermit Lynch releases Man’s Temptation (Dualtone), a collection of ballads, rockers, and ditties, spanning forty years of faith, temptation, and musical salvation (produced by Ricky Fataar).

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
—Oscar Wilde

From the opening lines of Man’s Temptation, singer-songwriter Kermit Lynch cinematically sets the backdrop for the multi-layers of his life as a singer, writer, and wine Svengali:

    Paris and my mind is breaking
    Paris, I’m in a railway station
    Gare de Lyon…

But just when you think that the gravelly, smoky voice behind the old tube-driven microphone is about to head out to Lyon to taste wines with a Beaujolais producer, the melody of the track rises and steers the listener in another and entirely unexpected direction. The singer is in a railway station,

    Gare de Lyon, on my way to the next concert stage.

Man’s Temptation was recorded just last year in Nashville, Tennessee with some of the great country music players in the business today but the album represents a journey that began more than forty years ago in Berkeley, California.

Lynch was born in Bakersfield and grew up of the son of a teetotalling itinerant preacher who traveled the upper reaches of the San Joaquin Valley in search of souls to save. The setting was straight out of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, as Lynch puts it, and the souls were southerners who had fled their native land and sought out the same “California Cotton Fields” that Merle Haggard’s father dreamed of as he tilled his rundown, mortgaged Oklahoma farm. It was there that Lynch discovered his first love of music (and grape juice, since no wine was to be had): Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams, and the country recordings of Jerry Lee Lewis were the first cuts he would hear, the same music his father’s congregants listened to when not singing at church.

By 1966, Lynch had landed in Berkeley, at the height of the music scene. He began writing songs, started a band, and gigged around. But a first trip to Europe and a drummer’s cocaine habit interrupted and deferred the rockstar dream. Disillusioned by the flower power scene, Lynch decided to focus on making a living and turned to a second passion: wine.

Hit pause and fast forward: forty years later, Kermit Lynch is one of the most successful and respected names in the business and he is considered one of the world’s greatest wine writers, a pioneer in reshaping the American wine palate with wines that speak of place and the people who make them.

Hit play: forty years later, Lynch has delivered the album he lived and wrote all those years ago and in the lifetime that followed, a collection of ballads, rockers, and ditties that speak to the weaknesses and the strengths of man and his temptations.

From the original tracks like ballad “Gare de Lyon,” the Beggars Banquet-inspired country waltz “Backstreets of Moscow,” and the rocker “Buckle-Up Boogie” to covers of classic Dylan like “Girl from the North Country” and classic country like “Take These Chains from My Heart,” the verve, pathos, and fun of Lynch’s voice play counterpoint to some of the most bad-assed, finger-lickin’ pickin’ you’ve heard since the last time legendary session man George Marinelli (Bruce Hornsby, Bonnie Raitt) tuned up his git fiddle. The fresh analog-driven tones of the band provide an earthy palate of colors for the tableaux vivants painted by Lynch, whose face is probably slightly less wrinkled than his heart and whose voice is as gravelly and dusty as the vineyard roads of southern France that led this voice astray some forty years ago.

Kermit Lynch, rocker interrupted, is now waiting at the Gare de Lyon, getting ready to board a train on his way to the next concert stage.

Btw, I’ve taken a train from the Gare de Lyon to go play a gig in Lyon!

How her life Italian became mine (and our very first wine)

Above: The first wine we ever tasted together was Moncontour sparkling Vouvray. Tracie B had a bottle waiting for me in my hotel room the first time I came to Austin to visit. “Champagne,” I said. “No,” she corrected me. “It’s Vouvray.” I guess you could say that she had me at “hello.”

Stranger things have happened. When I got on a plane to come visit Tracie B in Austin, Texas in August last year, she and I weren’t strangers but we had never met in person nor had we ever spoken on the phone. We had been emailing probably ten times a day since our first exchange on July 15, the day after my birthday, one year ago today.

Above: This photo was taken the second time I visited and the first time we went to my now favorite (and Tracie B’s all-time favorite) Austin honky tonk, Ginny’s Little Longhorn. I was most definitely in the “pesce lesso” or “boiled fish” stage, as Franco used to tease me happily. That’s an Italian expression for “you’re so in love that the expression on your face looks like that of a boiled fish” (more or less). Franco’s family agreed with his assessment.

When my beautiful Tracie B and I became friends on Facebook a year ago today and began emailing and messaging furiously, I had known of her existence for some time: I had learned about her blog in early 2008 when I read her comments at Italian Wine Guy’s blog and started reading about “her life Italian.” IWG (aka Alfonso) and I had become friends through blogging, as had he and Tracie B. I really liked her “sassy” comments, as she likes to say, and when I started reading her blog, I was immediately enchanted by her honest writing style, with its Texan- and Neapolitan-inflected twang, and her funny insights into her life as an “ex pat” in Italy. But what impressed me the most was her sharp palate and her immense talent for describing wine. I was already a fan, but from a distance.

Above: In October, I surprised Tracie B for her birthday with Willie Nelson tickets. Back then, we had a long-distance relationship and I would come to visit with her in Austin about once a month. We hadn’t started talking yet about me moving here but the Texas flag in the background was a certain sign of things to come!

After Tracie B and I had been emailing, Facebooking, and otherwise messaging for about a month, IWG serendipitously suggested that I come out for Tex Som, the annual Texas sommelier conference, held in Austin last year (this year in Dallas). I couldn’t make it on those dates and so I asked Tracie B if I could come visit her anyway. She said yes and so the San Diego Kid booked himself a room at a B&B not far from where she lives.

Above: That’s us on New Year’s 2009 in Austin, just a few weeks after I drove out to Texas in my beat-up old Volvo from San Diego where I had been living.

We never spoke in realtime or in real life until that very first day she came to pick me up at the Austin airport back in August. In the months that followed, I must have come to visit Tracie B three or four times. In a lot of ways, our courtship was very old-fashioned: we would write each other every day, describing our daily lives and our lives past and our hoped-for lives future. I would send her mixed CDs of my favorite music, mostly country, and lots of dedications of songs that expressed what I was feeling for her.

Above: In February, Tracie B accompanied me on tour in France with my band Nous Non Plus. We had one of the most memorable meals of my life, lunch at the Tour d’Argent. It was a beautiful, clear winter day in Paris and I’ll never forget the way the sunlight shone on Tracie B’s face, reflecting up from the Seine.

In November, Tracie B made her first trip westward, to see where I lived and to meet my family and friends. By then, we were already deeply connected and the pangs of love that came with every goodbye were too much to bear and it was during her visit that we first talked about me moving to Austin. Later that month, I met her family for the first time when Tracie B took me home with her for Thanksgiving in Orange, Texas where she grew up.

Above: In March, Tracie B surprised me with Merle Haggard tickets. We’re both huge country music fans. That night was one of the most fun ever.

You see, when I met Tracie B, my whole life changed (you may remember the post I did, not too long ago, Just some of the reasons I’m so smitten). I’ll never forget when I first told Jayne and Jon about Tracie B and how I was going to visit her for the first time. “She’s an amazing writer,” I told them, “she loves food and wine, she has a fantastic palate, she loves country music, she’s beautiful, and she can cook like nobody’s business…” And Jon turned me and said, “AND she can speak Italian?” (Sometimes Tracie B and I speak in Italian, her with her Neapolitan accent, me with my Veneto accent! It’s hilarious.) By December, we had decided that I would move to Austin and I packed up my car and headed east and rented myself an apartment here. It was the smartest thing I have ever done (not that I am known for doing smart things).

Above: In April we went to the Texas Hill Country Food and Wine festival gala in Austin. I don’t know how a guy could be prouder than having a beautiful lady like Tracie B on his arm.

You see, Tracie B is simply the most lovely creature on this God’s earth that I have ever seen. And her cover-girl beauty is matched by the immense generosity of her heart and her bright spirit. Through her love and her affection, her devotion and her tenderness she has brought once unimaginable joy in to my life. I’ve fallen madly in love with her and just can’t imagine my life without her. She is my “Phantom of Delight”:

A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

And so her life Italian has become mine.

Above: In May, I gave Tracie B this 1930s diamond and blue sapphire ring and asked her if she would marry me and she said yes! We are getting married in January 2010 in La Jolla and then we’re going to celebrate with friends and family at Jaynes Gastropub. I would venture to say that we’ll probably blog it, too! ;-)

When people ask us how we met, we tell them the story of how we learned of each other’s existence through our blogs and then were introduced online by a mutual and virtual friend whom we had both met through blogging. We courted, sending each other secret messages through our blog posts: remember the kiss I blew from the stage in Germany last September? Sometimes, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, we sit around her living room drinking coffee, blogging and reading blogs, sending each other messages on Facebook and emailing each other. Ours is a bloggy blog world and we love it.

It’s our life Italian now and I love her. I love her thoroughly, completely, absolutely, immeasurably, undeniably, undyingly, ceaselessly, tirelessly, unflaggingly… I thank goodness for the day I started my blog way back in 2006, just to keep a journal of good things I drank and ate. Blogging has delivered more rewards — personally and professionally — than I could have ever imagined. (Click here to read her version of our story).

Coda: We’ll be serving that same sparkling Vouvray by Moncontour to our wedding guests as they arrive next January.


She Was a Phantom of Delight
—William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight’s, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

I saw her upon a nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature’s daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveler between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light.

Undisgorged Puro and Canyon Lake pulled pork

Above: While we were visiting and singing songs after a great dinner (I ate two of Mrs. B’s pulled pork sandwiches), Tracie B’s nephew Tobey found the cork from the bottle of Puro and brought it to me. He likes to bring you things he thinks you’ve lost (photos by Tracie B).

After Tracie B and I opened and disgorged a bottle of 2000 Puro Rosé by Movia the other day with our friend Josh Loving (over Tracie B’s famous fried chicken), we still had Puro on our minds. So, we decided to take a bottle with us to our visit over the weekend with her family at Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country (just south of Austin). But instead of disgorging it (see here), we chose instead to drink it undisgorged — sediment and all.

Above: Mrs. B’s pulled pork was tender and perfectly seasoned. She braised the pork all day in a trusty crock-pot (she must have started cooking about 8 a.m. yesterday morning).

Typically, we would store the Puro upside down in the refrigerator until all of the sediment has settled at the bottom, in the neck of the bottle. Then, as Aleš Kristančič taught me, you simply disgorge the bottle underwater, in a tub or sink (it’s really easy and not messy to do, as daunting as it may seem).

Above: Tracie B made my pulled pork sandwich special, dressing it with melted Colby Jack cheese and topping it with pickle relish. Mac ‘n’ cheese and beans on the side and a garnish of pickled jalapeño.

At the end of the figurative and literal day, I have to say that I like Puro better when undisgorged. I love the meaty mouthfeel of the wine and intense grapefruit flavor. When undisgorged, it almost has a cider-like quality and it reminds me of the homemade, slightly sparkling Malvasia I used to drink back in my dorm days at the Università di Padova.

Above: The wine was muddy, like the shallows of Canyon Lake, which — everyone remarked — was extremely low this year. It sure felt good on my skin to jump in the fresh water.

Everybody seemed to enjoy the wine: its acidity was great paired with the rich flavor of the pork and its bright fruit brought out its tang — and its twang!

Above: After dinner, I brought out the acoustic and we had an impromptu sing-along: mostly Beatles, but also some Merle Haggard highlights. Mrs. B’s and my fav was Merle’s “Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man).” I love the tableau vivant and lyrical arc of that song. Pictured above from left are Tobey’s dad and Tracie B’s brother-in-law Ricky, her cousin Alexis, her aunt Holly and uncle Terry (Mrs. B’s brother). Terry can sing him some Merle pretty good…

Thanks again family B! I had blast, the food was great, and it felt so good to jump in the lake and get some sun…


Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)
—Merle Haggard

Daddy Frank played the guitar and the french harp,
Sister played the ringing tambourine.
Mama couldn’t hear our pretty music,
She read our lips and helped the family sing.

That little band was all a part of living,
And our only means of living at the time;
And it wasn’t like no normal family combo,
Cause Daddy Frank the guitar man was blind.

Frank and mama counted on each other;
Their one and only weakness made them strong.
Mama did the driving for the family,
And Frank made a living with a song.

Home was just a camp along the highway;
A pick-up bed was where we bedded down.
Don’t ever once remember going hungry,
But I remember mama cooking on the ground.

Don’t remember how they got acquainted;
I can’t recall just how it came to be.
There had to be some special help from someone,
And blessed be the one that let it be.

Fever caused my mama’s loss of hearing.
Daddy Frank was born without his sight.
And mama needed someone she could lean on,
And I believe the guitar man was right.

Daddy Frank played the guitar and the french harp,
Sister played the ringing tambourine.
Mama couldn’t hear our pretty music,
She read our lips and helped the family sing.

Yesterday’s Wine: Merle Haggard

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here.
This is a hangout of mine.
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine.

(from “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Willie Nelson, performed by George Jones and Merle Haggard as a duet, and by Willie Nelson)

Above: The inimitable Merle Haggard at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday night. Tracie B surprised me with tickets!

With the awesome show we saw on Wednesday night in Austin, Tracie B and I have fulfilled two panels in our “Yesterday’s Wine” triptych, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Merle Haggard (we saw Willie in October and so we’re just missing George Jones now). We had a blast: he played a lot of the hits, including “Okie from Muskogee,” “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink,” “If We Make It through December,” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.” It was amazing to think about how apropos the latter two are today, with the economy in tatters and the future uncertain:

    I wish coke was still cola,
    And a joint was a bad place to be.
    And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.
    Before microwave ovens,
    When a girl could still cook and still would.
    Is the best of the free life behind us now?
    Are the good times really over for good?

    Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?
    With no kind of chance for the Flag or the Liberty bell.

Above: Isn’t she a doll?

In other news…

I had some of the best ragù (not counting Tracie B’s) I’ve had in a long time at Samson’s in McKinney (north Dallas) where I was traveling for work. Served over potato gnocchi, it had just the right consistency and balance of sweet, savory, and fatty flavors. Chefs and brothers Samuele Minin (who makes the gnocchi) and Germano Minin (who makes the ragù) are from Udine (Friuli) and they really know what they’re doing. Paired wonderfully with 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, which is simply singing right now. Life could be worse… especially when you’re on the company dime!

Yesterday’s wine: Willie Nelson at the Backyard

Miracles appear in the strangest of places…

Above: no synthesizers allowed… Willie played with a piano player, bass, drums, percussion, and harmonica. He played all the guitar himself on that same old acoustic guitar he’s used on all his albums. Man, that dude can play the guitar. I love his signature chromatic scales in his solos.

A week ago yesterday, Tracie B and I went to see Willie Nelson on the closing night of Austin’s storied concert venue, the Backyard. (Click here for a story about the closing of this legendary concert “shed.” I love what the reporter wrote: “Most folks say if the backyard does re-open elsewhere they’ll likely go, but it won’t be the same.”)

He played nearly all my favorites, including Yesterday’s Wine, one of his many greats, which was also recorded as a duet by George Jones and Merle Haggard (a great version):

    Yesterday’s wine, I’m yesterday’s wine
    Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine

I don’t know much about Willie’s palate (although I do know that he and I share a predilection for another indulgence). But, like analog wine in a digital age, his songbook has evolved gracefully over the years, with the nuanced notes of a classic American composer — just like yesterday’s wine… One of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life.

Above: “Ain’t you glad we ain’t all California girls/Ain’t you glad there’s still a few of us left/That know how to rock your world” (Gretchen Wilson). Tracie B and Jeremy P at Willie last Sunday.


In other news…

Do Bianchi is rarely a forum for political views but something I witnessed Friday compels me to ask my Californian sisters and brothers to please vote NO on Proposition 8. Drivers-by hurled insults at the woman in the photo (left) and the other protesters who lined Adams St. around the corner from Jaynes Gastropub.

Proposition 8, which would outlaw gay marriage in California, “is discrimination,” it’s un-American, and it’s just plain wrong. At the restaurant on Saturday, I waited on a super nice couple who recently got married (they drank Il Poggione 2006 Rosso di Montalcino): the vote will be close, they told me, and every vote will count.


Miracles appear in the strangest of places
Fancy meeting you here
The last time I saw you was just out of Houston
Sit down, let me buy you a beer

Your presence is welcome with me and my friend here
This is a hangout of mine
We come here quite often and listen to music
Partaking of yesterday’s wine

Yesterday’s wine, I’m yesterday’s wine
Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine
Yesterday’s wine, we’re yesterday’s wine
Aging with time, like yesterday’s wine

You give the appearence of one widely travelled
I’ll bet you’ve seen things in your time
So sit down beside me and tell me your story
If you think you’ll like yesterday’s wine