Dinner Toast Styled

Wine is a luxury of being home.

Sure, I have my cellar in my home and I am writing this sitting on the front porch of my home while sipping the remains of the 2008 Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp 4 that I opened yesterday (it has only gotten better!).  We share simple family meals with a glass of wine, or have extravagant dinner parties where wine and fellowship are shared in abundance.  But that’s not my point.

Wine is not the product of nomads.  It takes years for a newly planted grapevine to produce enough fruit to make wine.  The vines need tending, the fruit needs harvesting, and the juice needs a place to undergo its transformation into wine.  Fermentation, racking, aging, bottling, storing — these are all activities that require settlement.  One of the markers that researchers and archeologists use to determine when bands of people moved from wandering to being settled is the presence of viticulture and winemaking.

20090730-021 Vineyard

Certainly wine (of sorts) can be made by nomads who find fruit, pick it, crush it, and allow natural fermentation to happen as they continue along their journey.  But viticulture, growing grapes to produce wine, simply can’t be done on the move.

In the Biblical story of the flood (with Noah and the ark), one of the first things Noah was instructed to do when the water receded was to plant a vineyard.  Those vines were a strong symbol that Noah and his kin were no longer displaced; they were now home.

The implications of wine being a product of settlement, security, having a “place” and land, are many and rich.

While I will no doubt wax on profusely about all of this at another time, I want to end here by suggesting a connection between this concept and one of my newest favorite wineries:  Saarloos & Sons.  They are making some wonderful wines and serve them in this home built in 1886 which they call simply, “House.”

Saarloos & Sons House

Each of the wines that Keith Saarloos (son) makes is connected to stories of home — stories from the vineyards where the wines had their birth as well as stories of family and ancestors whose memories and legacies are captured and honored in the naming of their bottlings.  Their family creed says it all:  “We live to honor those that have come before us, and to prepare the way for those yet to come.”  An example of their somewhat odd wine naming is their “Purper Hart.”  Not a misspelling.  It’s the Dutch translation of “Purple Heart.”  The wine (an amazing Syrah) honors John Saarloos, a member of their family who received the Purple Heart for his service in WWII.

These wines, and all wines, are connected to the land, to the people who make them, and to those who delight in drinking them.

You see… it’s about home.

A Lesson on Bias: Fess Parker Winery

Fess Parker

I confess that I have had a bias against Fess Parker wines for many years. The winery itself is gorgeous, nestled in the midst of mature vineyards along a picturesque winding road in the Santa Ynez Valley. On one of my early visits to the winery (early 1990s) we met Fess Parker himself, and were pleased to have “Davy Crocket” (or “Daniel Boone” if you prefer) autograph one of his bottles of Pinot Noir for us. It was quaint, though the facade of a skilled Hollywood production was obvious. This guy knew how to market wine… even wine that was quite unremarkable. Over the next few years, the number of tour buses visiting the winery increased, the array of products available in the tasting room eclipsed the varieties of wines, and the wines themselves… well, they remained unremarkable. So I stopped visiting Fess Parker Winery, and probably raised my nose a bit every time I drove by on my way to one of the lesser known wineries up the road.

Fess Parker Winery sm

That was until last week. One of the area’s most interesting new wine makers, Larry Schaffer, met us for a private tasting of his Tercero Wines (see yesterday’s review of his Outlier Gewurtztraminer). I came to find out that Larry is on the wine making staff of Fess Parker Winery. That got my interest. Larry spoke very highly of Blair Fox, the head winemaker at Fess Parker, and gave me a different prespective on the resources that are available to the wine making team as part of a larger enterprise. They have the luxury of selecting only certain barrels to include in their finest wines — a reality not available to the smallest producers. They have the resources to have a wine making staff, not just one winemaker and one palate shaping the wine.

Still, what made me visit Fess Parker Winery again was its accessibility to less well-trained wine consumers… I took my mother-in-law. She likes wine out of a box. White Zinfandel is her wine of choice. She wouldn’t like Tercero’s complex flavors or the big flavors in Beckmen’s juice. Of all the wineries in the valley, the one bearing the mark of the ‘coon skin cap is the one she’ll like the best.

I had set up a private tasting at Fess Parker with Larry Schaffer, assistant winemaker, to guide our experience. The first wine was a Santa Barbara County Chardonnay. I almost skipped the pour. Larry’s expressive face told me to try it. The wine had a clean, elegant aroma that got my attention. THIS is Fess Parker’s wine? I sipped and was instantly humbled. This is a new kind of wine from Fess Parker. Thinking it might be a fluke, I was still reluctant as we continued the tasting. Boy was I wrong. This team of winemakers is doing something really interesting — they are exploiting the resources available to them to create some really fine wine.

We bought two bottles — I’d have bought more if we weren’t restricted by our need to take it home on an airplane. The chardonnay would be a gift for the couple taking care of my mother-in-law’s dog (nice gift!), and I’d keep the wine that changed my mind about this winery — the 2005 Syrah “The Big Easy.” They have captured some of Santa Ynez Valley’s finest Syrah character in that bottle. See some of my impressions in the review below.

Oh, and fortunately I’ve still got that autographed bottle on display in my wine cellar at home.

Fess Parker Winery Website

Wine Blog Paralysis & Wine as Sabbath Enactment

I love to write.  I’m in a profession that writes a lot.  I write for work, I write for leisure, I write for introspection, I write to stay connected wtih people, I write to provoke thought and conversation.  I like a good computer keyboard and excellent fountain pens — tools for this practice of writing.  So blogging is a natural thing.

But sometimes I get paralyzed by the backlog of things I need to blog about and I end up not writing at all.  I’ve got a bunch of wine reviews from my Wine Ministry tastings at CTS that still need to get posted.  It takes a while to do those — reviewing my notes, carefully writing the review, formatting the entry, finding the label or bottle image, etc.  Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right to write other things with the task list undone.

So I was thinking…  I don’t drink wine everyday, but usually at least two or three nights a week I’ll enjoy a glass — with a meal or just sipping while unwinding from the day.  The “to do list” certainly isn’t done, but the glass of wine is almost an enactment of sabbath.  There is always work to be done, but sabbath is an intentional break from work and opportunity for attentiveness to things other than work.  For some of us the enjoyment and experience of wine is both a symbol and practice of sabbath.

Blogging, wine, and sabbath.  Here’s the connection:  the “need to do” things will always be there.  For most of us, particularly if we have slightest bit of compulsivity in our personalities, those things will get done.  But allowing for the gift of sabbath, a break from the routine of work, will nurture our souls, our minds, our bodies.  So I’ll get the reviews posted, but I’ll also take time to write other ideas, reflections, and musings.  I’ll open that “special occasion” wine just because it’s sabbath.  I’ll also extend the invitation to you to consider sabbath practices in the midst of your worlds of work, tasks, and things needing to get done.  Cheers!

A Note About Ratings

Rating wines is absolutely subjective. The points (and even the tasting notes) ascribed to a particular wine are the opinions of the reviewer and reflect the rater’s own tastes, biases, and preferences. I make no claim to be able to give wines an objective tasting, review, or rating. If your palate and tastes are similar to mine then you’ll probably agree with my reviews. If, however, you prefer a different style of wine, you’ll most likely wonder which planet I have visited in order to give a particular score.

I’m good with this diversity of experiences of wine. In fact, I cherish it. But that’s the subject of a different blog post. For now, I want to give a brief summary of what the numbers mean to me. Here is the scale I use when rating wines. It reflects the scale used by most wine reviewers and what you’ll see on store shelves. I think it’s really funny that the scale really begins at 50. But as one who has continued academic study for most of my life, I’m familiar with odd grading/scoring scales… Here it is:

Extraordinary (96-100 points)
Outstanding (90-95)
Very Good to Excellent (85-89)
Good (80-84)
Average (75-79)
Below average (70-74)
Avoid (50-70)


Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe,

borei p’ri hagafen (Amein)
Who creates the fruit of the vine.  (Amen)

It has been a quiet Saturday at the end of a full week. Some of the blessings of this day and the days of the past week…

  • Attentiveness to practices, particularly hospitality, blessing, and prayer
  • Coffee and a bagel, a sunny morning, and good conversation with Rob and Paul
  • Colleagues in ministry, time to study and learn, a community of inquiry
  • Katie’s giggles that send me, even when I can only hear them on the phone
  • Kerri whose love and support is boundless
  • Seeing friends from Pleasant Hill, and the good people of Gwinnett being good enough to celebrate the occasion with fabulous fireworks
  • Wine Ministry and communities that deepen around the fruit of the vine
  • The terroir of Bordeaux and the Rhone River Valley
  • The terroir that imparts taste and texture in the stories and people I have encountered this week
  • BBT’s laugh
  • Rob’s anticipation of parenthood
  • Prosecco with a slice of ripe strawberry
  • Belly laughing with Mark, Mary, David, Bekah, Matt, Chris, and Paul — the 2006 Waterwheel Memsie might have contributed to the spirit in the room
  • Time to write and things to write about
  • South Carolina peaches
  • The Dekalb Farmers Market and Sherlock’s Wine Merchant
  • Raindrops on my window that now look like shimmering diamonds with the sun shining through them
  • Paul’s Red Wine and Blues song — in process
  • Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner
  • Domaine de Perilliere Cotes du Rhone

For these and all thy gifts I give thee thanks O Lord.

Wine Ministry at Columbia Seminary – Summer 2008


It’s officially a tradition now.  I prefer to call it a practice.  But whatever we call it, this is now the third incarnation of “Wine Ministry” as part of the Doctor of Ministry program at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Last summer we inaugurated the practice, carried it on in New York City in January of this year, and now we meet again — this time in the upstairs lounge of the Harrington Center each afternoon around 5:00.  It’s not a bad way to transition from a day of study and learning into whatever the evening holds (usually more reading and/or writing).

To be sure it’s a time of drinking wine.  We put together interesting tastings — so far we’ve had big chewy reds, Spanish delights, and the terroir of the Cabernet grape.  Tonight we’ll be sauntering through the Rhone River Valley (and a few other places the lovely Syrah grape has been transplanted).  Tasting notes of each of these wines will come soon.

But this is more than wine.  Wine is simply the practice that facilitates what is really happening.  The community being formed among doctoral students from around the country is what it’s really about.  We laugh heartily, tell stories, and connect with each others’ lives in ways that will be indelible (much like the stains of red wine in the shorts I was wearing last night).  Others bring a bottle of wine or food to share, the circle gets wider, and the feast just happens.  It’s a feast of wonderful tastes and new experiences of wine, it’s a feast of friendship, it’s a feast of lives connecting with one another.  We’re all theologians and pastors, so we talk theology and ministry.  But all that talk is more sublime and insightful when the words are blended with the flavors of Bordeaux and Malbec.

I raise my glass to this gift of time and friendship.  I toast the lives of those with whom I have shared the sacred juice of the vine.  And I even toast the Spirit of God whose presence is as flavorful, complex, and delightful as the wines we have shared.

Martha Stewart Makes Wine (not!)


There has been an announcement in the wine world that Martha Stewart has entered into an agreement with E&J Gallo to bottle wine for her under the label “Martha Stewart Vintage.”  Check out these stories about this news:  Tom Wark’s Fermentation and the San Francisco Chronicle.

 I am fascinated by this collaboration.  This kind of practice in the wine world is nothing new — wine makers make wine for other people’s labels all the time.  The good folks at Trader Joe’s are making a mint off the enormous volume of sales of it’s Charles Shaw wines (aka “Two Buck Chuck”) — wine that is made by the Bronco Wine Company.  The Charles Shaw wines purport to be from Napa (check out the label sometime), but the grapes are actually grown in the much-less-desirable Central Valley of California.  Think Bakersfield.  And the bottle says “Charles Shaw,” not Bronco Wines.  And it would be misleading to assume this only affects “low end” wine and wineries.  Even the biggest name wineries engage in this lucrative practice.  It happens throughout the wine world.

The Martha Stewart announcement provides a helpful lens, though, for some reflection on this practice and its implications beyond the world of wine.  This is rich ground for musing — I love this!  Wine as a commodity.  Wine as a product.  Wine as a pawn in the world of commerce.  The art of winemaking reduced to signatures on a contract.  I can see a new reality TV show in the making… Martha Stewart Vineyard versus Two Buck Chuck.  I’d watch just to see the divas actually drink what’s in the bottles that bear their names!

But there is more to this story than just the raw commerce of it all. There is something about character and the character of wine. The wines labeled “Martha Stewart Vineyard” will NOT be from Martha’s Vineyard (so to speak). The illusion is that they will bear the sophistication of the cashmere sweater and pressed linen napkins of a Martha Stewart afternoon tea. But there is no authenticity. It is a fraud. It lacks integrity. It’s plagiarism — the signature on the artist’s canvas had nothing to do with the creation of the art (even if the art, as in this case, is like mass-produced “Velvet Elvis” prints that can be purchased at any flea market). But it’s intentional — Martha (rather, the Martha Industry) will want her consumers to assume the wine is of her own making.

Perhaps the charitable thing to do would be to wish Martha well, and to join in a chorus of “cheers!” with those who will drink her (er, I mean Gallo’s) wine. But then I myself would be inauthentic.

More thoughts about this later…