Parzen Family Passover

Seder plate.

Wow, what a trip to celebrate the Passover and read the story of the Exodus and think about all the folks who are fighting for their freedom in the Middle East???!!!

Gefilte fish from Ziggy’s in Houston.

Tracie P and I had eight persons at our dining room table for a seder, which I led using this haggadah posted for all to use by the Jewish Federations of North America.

I roasted a leg of lamb for the main course.

Mama Judy taught me how to make her matzoh balls and her charoset. And I made my own horseradish sauce to serve with the gefilte fish and the lamb.

We drank three orphaned bottles from the Hippie Six-Pack — a gently sparkling Cortese and a still Barbera by Valli Unite and Tony Coturri’s Sandocino.

The Barbera by Valli Unite is one of the best wines I’ve tasted in 2011 and it is simply SINGING right now. Cannot drink enough of it. All of the wines were made using native, ambient yeasts… definitely not kosher for Passover (and we obviously don’t keep a kosher kitchen) but it was interesting to contemplate the role of yeast in the religion of Natural wine and Passover. If humankind’s use of yeast is the rational distortion of nature (as Lévi-Strauss interpreted it), Passover is the festival that removes yeast from our lives, instructing us to banish yeast from our homes. A rational distortion of a rational distortion? Of course, the Passover seder could not be complete or completed without wine. And so yeast is inevitably and invariably part of the ritual. (The best source for kosher for Passover wines, btw imho, is our favorite wine writer and one of our favorite people in the world, Alice Feiring.)

Three generations sat at our dining room table for our first Passover seder. As I led the seder and read the words, “It is because of what G-d did for me when I came out of Egypt,” I thought about the generation of my family who fled Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, before the Russian revolution, to make a better life for their children in the U.S. For all the headaches and troubles we deal with on a day-to-day basis, we sure have a good life and we sure are lucky to have each other.

Hag sameach, ya’ll!

Tony Coturri, groovy cocktails, friends, and awesome pizza at Sotto

Before I started my shift at Sotto’s last night, I asked the “father of Natural winemaking in California,” Tony Coturri, to talk to the staff about Natural wine and the differences between “organic” and “biodynamic” farming (he was in town for a wine dinner and we feature one of his wines at the restaurant). Perhaps more than any other winemaker I know personally, he is the most passionate about Natural wine and chemical-free farming and he sees his mission as vital to our race and our future — I believe that he is right and thank goodness for him. (Thanks again, Tony, for taking the time to talk to us.)

Über hipster mixologist Kate Grutman was doing her magic at the bar last night. She hooked me up with her concoction, “Il Cattivo,” equal parts of Carpano Antica Formula, Branca Menta, and Genever. That soup is hot!

At the end of my shift, I got to sit down with some of my best friends, who came in to support me in this new project. That’s (from left) Heather and Mike Andrews, Gary Jules, and bandmate Dan and Kate Crane (Dan’s band Quick Hellos just released a super cool record and his release party is next week in LA, btw). I just can’t believe how sweet and supportive everyone in LA has been. It’s really meant the world to me.

I finally got to dig into Chefs Steve and Zach’s Pizza Margarita. Rating: RUN DON’T WALK. This is the good shit, people. I’ve eaten pizza cities all over the U.S. and Italy (including Naples). Sotto’s is in my top 5 and definitely the most authentic Neapolitan this side of the Atlantic.

It’s been super fun to launch my wine program at Sotto and the owners and staff and patrons have been so generous and supportive. We’ve tasted some great wines together over the last few days and the food at Sotto rocks. But now it’s time for me to get back to Texas and my beautiful Tracie P where I belong. Can’t wait to hold her tight and taste her sweet lips! A taste of honey, tasting much sweeter than wine…

Picking grapes with Tony Coturri in Texas

Above: The cowboy hat that Melvin Croaker gave me isn’t just for show. I can probably do more damage at computer keyboard than I can with pruning shears in the vineyards but this singing cowboy managed to fill a crate or two with Blanc du Bois in the Texas sun yesterday.

There are many mysteries in this big ol’ world and many of them leave me scratching my head. But one of the ones I find the hardest to fathom is why every single wine professional in central Texas doesn’t head down to Comal County to get a glimpse of natural winemaker Tony Coturri, who arrives promptly each year to harvest grapes and make wine with maverick winemaker Lewis Dickson of La Cruz de Comal winery. (For a recent and truly wonderful interview with Tony, please see this excellent post by my friend and blogging colleague and fellow Californian-Texan Amy Atwood. And for a profile of Lewis and his wines, please see this post I did for the 32 Days of Natural Wine.)

Above: No, that’s not Billy Gibbons, it’s Tony on “the Gator.”

It was a thrill for me and Tracie P to get to “rub shoulders” with Tony in the vineyards and the thought of getting to hang with him even got us out of bed on a Sunday morning at the crack of dawn (can you believe that?). Harvest of Lewis’s Blanc du Bois grapes began yesterday at daybreak in Comal County on the southern side of Canyon Lake (about an hour and half from our place in Austin).

cruz de comal

Above: Tony and Lewis destemming the Blanc du Bois harvest. From the quality and quantity of grapes, it appears that Cruz de Comal will have one of its best vintages of Blanc du Bois, which is used to make the winery’s Pétard Blanc, one of my favorites and white with remarkable aging potential.

In case you don’t already know Tony, he’s a leading Californian grape grower and winemaker and a pioneer of natural winemaking in the Golden State… AND he makes killer wines. I love what he said to Amy in the interview she did:

    The basic principles and procedures of my winemaking haven’t changed over the years. I have remained a believer in natural, and traditional and additive free winemaking. If anything, refining the natural process has been the change. As my understanding of the development of all aspects the vineyards through the use of organic and biodynamic practices deepens I realize that I’m not so much a “winemaker’ but a custodian of grapes. The wine is made in the vineyard. My job is to take care of it. The magic is in the vineyard not the winery.

O mamma, you’re speaking my language!

cruz de comal

Above: A little grape porn for ya’ll.

Tracie P and I are both a little sore from picking those grapes yesterday but we’re no worse for the wear. And what a good night sleep you get after a day of working in the vineyards in the sunshine and fresh air! Man, I can’t wait to taste that wine…

I’d rather trust a man who works with his hands,
He looks at you once, you know he understands,
Don’t need any shield,
When you’re out in the field.

—Peter Gabriel (can anyone name the tune? Thor, I’m counting on you!)

Natural wine in Texas and the woman man behind Charlie Wilson’s war

cruz de comal

Last week I spent an afternoon and evening with maverick grape-grower and owner of La Cruz de Comal winery Lewis Dickson, who, together with winemaker Tony Coturri, who oversees vineyard management and flies out to Texas Hill Country every summer to vinify the harvest (since 2001), may very well be the only natural winemaker in Texas.

I can’t talk about the wines (yet) because my post on our visit, our conversation, and our conference call with Tony will be part of the second edition of 31 32 Days of Natural Wine, which begins on June 19. I can’t reveal (yet) what Tony said to me about how he is able to make these wines with no addition of sulfur whatsoever.

But I can share the below photo of one of Lewis’s super-cool nineteenth-century hand-wound French rotisseries.


And in the spirit of “it’s almost lunchtime here in Texas,” I’ll share our tasty repast that night, leg of lamb that had been marinated for 3 days in wine must, roast potatoes, and freshly wilted spinach topped with mozzarella di bufala and cayenne pepper:

cruz de comal

Hungry yet?

In other news…

Yesterday, at cousin Alexis’s graduation party, I had the chance to sit down and chat with a Texas icon, Charlie Schnabel.

jeremy parzen

As per an age-old Hollywood convention, Charlie was played by a woman in the Mike Nichols movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Charlie was Wilson’s right-hand-man in Washington during the congressman’s covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During that time, he traveled more than a dozen times to the region. “Read the book,” he said joking about the fact that he’s played by a woman on screen, “it’s better than the movie.”

jeremy parzen

Charlie had stopped by to help celebrate Alexis’s graduation: Texas barbecue (chicken, ribs, and brisket), all the fixings (including sweet creamed corn), iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened), and — get this — homemade ice cream.

We talked about the dandelion wine he makes at home and his love of Lambrusco, and I asked he why he thought Texas has played such an important role in the iconography of the U.S. “Because of size of our state, it’s really five different states,” he said. “It’s really a country… with a wide range of climates and people, from the Spanish settlers to the Indian culture that was already here. We’ve never lost the independent spirit.”

He also told me what really caused the 1983 fire in the iconic Texas state capitol, where Charlie served as the secretary of the senate for more than 30 years. But I’ll have to share that with ya’ll a voce… ;-)

Check out this cool profile of Charlie, a Texas icon.