Monday, November 27, 2000

Some Thoughts Before Leaving on Vacation
The wine business is exhausting. From planting the vines, to pruning and cultivating the fields, to treating the vineyards (of course, only with organic concotions), to our annual summer green harvest (although I think we are finally getting to the point where we will simply prune in an extreme fashion rather than wait for vine growth to get out of hand during the summer), then the harvest, vinification, élévage, bottling, label registrations with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, shipping the wines and having customs break up the container to be certain there is no contraband hidden in the boxes of wine and that the real labels correspond to the labels we registered with BATF (see above), finding customers for the wines, negotiating sample allocations, pricing structures, and marketing strategies with distributors in 20+ states, participating in distributor tastings around the country where I tell everyone that Helen Turley was the consulting oenologist for our Cour-Cheverny producer François Cazin.

Then we take out full-page advertisements in The Wine Spectator in the hopes that this will buy us favorable reviews only to discover that something named Cinq Cépages from a Château that isn’t even in France or a country that speaks French is the Wine of the Year, to hearing people call me Lou Dressner (even though there is no such person), to having people tell me how much they respected my late father Lou Dressner who I'm told was one of the great men of the wine trade (my father’s name is Sam, he is alive and he has never been in the wine business, although his profession has never been clear to his immediate family (by the way, the company is named Louis/Dressner because Denyse Louis was one of the two original partners (the other being myself) before we went public and I felt as a gentleman we should put her name first with a slash seperating our two names)), on to shipping fabulous wines from France that undergo secondary fermentations when they arrive in our warehouse.

Then there are in-store consumer tastings with plastic cups that dental hygenists would not use for mouthwash, to being ‘bill-backed’ by the stores that do the in-store consumer tastings for the cost of the plastic cups, to chasing our modest bills from customers making millions of dollars selling wines from California and enormous French négociants that taste well in plastic cups who insist that the "check is in the mail." Next I'm thrown off numerous wine internet boards on the grounds that I'm delusional and not writing enough about wine (i.e. smelled like raspberries, long finish of cassis that lingered forever), then having four heart by-passes done by a wonderful surgeon named Aubrey Claudius Gallaway who bears an uncanny resemblance to Pierre-Jacques Druet of Bourgeuil, to finally sitting back and drinking a fabulous Clos Habert 1998 Demi-Sec from François Chidaine in Mountlouis and plotting sales of thousands of cases across America to discover that Chidaine has only 20 cases of the cuvée left in France and did not make any in is an exhausting profession.

I'm ready for a vacation. Denyse and I are off to a small sailboat in a non-viticultural ocean tomorrow where there is no phone, no wine reviews and no government warnings. I am bringing the collected works of Sidney Sheldon with me and plan on reading them in their entirety using techniques I learned years ago when taking an Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Course. Or maybe it was Stanley Kaplan, I forget. Regardless, I’ve never read any of Sheldon’s books but have always noted the rave reviews he gets from Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times. So, I will not be around for about a week and this new site of mine will not change for a few days.

The Clos Rougeard from Frères Foucault

Some parting thoughts: the firm I work for, Louis/Dressner Selections, has a cult wine in a country where no one has ever heard of the producer. There are a few Loire geeks and some French sommeliers who know about the Clos Rougeard made by the Frères Foucault but not altogether that many. But in France, people don't say their names, they whisper it, almost in awe -- The Frères Foucault. Often it is in fear, although no one knows what there is to be afraid about. No one can get an appointment there, no one can find the wine outside of three star restaurants and a legend has built up around Nady and Charlie Foucault. France is also filled with thousands of people who are ‘super-copain’ (loosely translated this means big buddies) with Nady or Charlie or both, but one is never certain if this is true or not since it is rare to get an audience with the Foucault where one can verify who they do in fact know or not know..

The wine is cabernet franc from great vineyards that have been in the family for generations. For generations, the Foucault family has worked the vineyards organically before people talked about 'organic' or had certifying authorities that require endless paperwork as part of the certification procedure. The Foucault have always limited yields to incredibly low quantities to get concentration, raised their wine in barrels (even the great-grandfather who was a tonnelier) and never deformed the wine with oakiness because the oak always helped the élévage of great raw materials. Their cellar is cold, damp and houses innumerable treasures.

Years ago, Charles Joguet was viewed in America as the signature producer of Cab Franc in the Loire. Joguet now has nothing to do with the estate that bears his name, having been bought out and thrown out by his accountant, and there is no doubt that the Foucault are making the highest expression of Cabernet Franc on this planet. The wines are just plain radioactive. Even better than Bruce Schneider!

We get three cuvées: the Clos, Clos Poyeux, Bourg. We just got in the 1997s and they are expensive and rare and grab some if you can find them. There are a few stores and restaurants in New York, some in Boston, maybe on the West Coast, perhaps someone in Detroit. There is no secondary, grey or auction market as the wines have not been reviewed by Robert Parker, The Wine Spectator or any of the usual suspects. So I doubt you will find any.

Sunday, November 26, 2000

A Useful E-Mail Received About a Thoughtful Web Site
I just received an e-mail from one of this site's readers suggesting that I take a look at The Definitive Guide to Shaving. This Totalshavingsolution commercial site plugs a product similar to the Somerset Shaving Oil that I discussed in my post below. But if the careful reader eliminates the commercial aspects of the site that are there solely for narrow promotional reasons, they will encounter a rather long, detailed and well-thought out analysis of optimal shaving techniques. The site covers many important issues such as:

  1. The eternal question of whether long or short shaving strokes are the best way to shave a beard.
  2. How to compensate for dreaded razor drag.
  3. How to avoid skin irritation.
  4. The problem of razor clog.
  5. Handling bleeding problems.
  6. Aftershave: Yes or No?
  7. Should shaving be done in the shower and can it be done using the revolutionary braille method?
  8. and many others....

While I do not agree with all the commercial conclusions made by this site, and one should bear in mind that they are trying to sell product, there is still much thought-provoking material that I think is of interest to everyone.
Additional Thoughts about Charles McCabe, My Favorite Critic
I shaved about 30 minutes ago and realize that I left out an important element of my shaving philosophy.

I have to do a great deal of travelling as a wine importer. I spend the summer months in France, where we have a home in the Mâconnais, but use our home to travel around viticultural France to see our vignerons. In February I go to France for between three and four weeks to taste the new vintage, talk business with our growers, and usually to take some gullible American customers of ours on a tour of our producers. Lastly, I have to travel in America, visiting various cities where I try to convince gullible distributors, retailers and restaurant owners to buy our wines. All this travelling is extremely wearing and I have spent years trying to figure out how to pack for these various trips.

Bear in mind that I am large fellow and my clothes take lots of space in my luggage. For several years I would pack for my winter trip with enough clothes to last for two weeks, which usually required two suitcases that were tiresome and draining to drag around with me. I would time my trip so that I would wind-up in the Beaujolais after about two weeks and quickly get my clothing to a dry cleaner/blanchisserie in Anse (near Villefranche). By sheer coincidence the two brothers who own the dry cleaner are childhood friends of our former supplier of Rully and Givry and they would quickly do my clothing, although they would not give me a discount. Commercial clothing cleaning is extremely expensive in France -- the whole deal would cost me about $40 to $50, depending on the currency -- and is more of a luxury service than in New York City, where I reside for most of the year. New York City seems to have thousands of dry cleaners, even more dry cleaners than Duane Reade Drug Stores, and all of these dry cleaners bill themselves as authentic French Dry Cleaners. Of course, there is no such thing as a French Dry Cleaner and I have always wondered what the origin of this term might be. When I first started going to France I tried to figure out if there was a truly a native dry cleaner culture, distinct from the American dry cleaner culture, that has inspired our dry cleaner industry. This is the case for French cuisine, for instance, but does not turn out to be the case for dry cleaning.

My neighborhood in Manhattan has one French Dry Cleaner per 12.3 residents, according to the latest Census Bureau figures. There is even a cleaner named Madame Paulette. There is no Madame Paulette at Madame Paulette and the whole story makes no sense. I understand why California WIneries call their wineries Château Something-or-Other, as this recalls the prestigous wine estates of France and is a clever marketing ploy. But why French Dry Cleaners?

Anyhow, I had no choice but to end this packing/travelling regiment because we stopped buying wine from our Givry/Rully producer who was overcropping and raising prices in direct proportion to his annual yield increases, leading to a dilute wine of little interest to anyone. Our Givry/Rully producer was a good friend and I always regretted that we stopped working with him, but we had little choice as the wine was becoming dilute and bad. Simultaneously, his wine was selling like crazy in France at high prices and he had no incentive to do any better. Of course, this ruined our friendship with the grower and I was quite depressed by the whole turn of affairs. Given that I was no longer going to see the grower, I could not in good conscience take my dirty laundry to his dry cleaning childhood friends in Anse!

Around the same time, I stumbled upon Doug Dyment's excellent web site on travelling with one carry-on bag: The Compleat Carry-On Traveller. Having studied this site, I now travel with but one carry-on bag filled with polyester clothing (all of which have several secret pockets to carry money and sensitive documents) that signal Europeans that I am an American rube. I also have various gadgets that are meant to lighten my travel load.

This brings me back to the problem of shaving. I've never liked an electric razor, even when it was dual voltage, and have always preferred the manual jobs. The problem is which shaving cream to travel with? For years I liked Noxzema and would buy their smaller can for travel, even though it was still quite large and consumed a large spot in my luggage. But Noxzema stopped producing the small can (although maybe they still produce them but New York City's Duane Reade Drug Stores have discontinued carrying the small cans) and I would have no choice but to carry the enormous regular Noxzema regular size can. I suppose what I always liked about Noxzema was that it was 'medicated' and seemed truly bracing first thing in the morning. But when I thought about it, it made no sense to cover your face with a white cream that made it impossible to see the very skin you were shaving. Some years ago I tried Edge Gel, which is transparent and comes in convenient travel sizes, but I found it gave a horrible shave. It turned out that Edge's protective shielding gel not only made it impossible to cut or nick your skin, it also made it impossible to shave your beard.

Finally, through the advise of Doug Dyment, I have discovered Somerset Shaving Oil. As Mr. Somerset says:

At first, it seems totally impractical: requiring only two or three drops of this lightly fragranced liquid to be rubbed into the beard. What follows has to be experienced to be believed.

A liberal splash of water activates its extraordinary lubricating powers, allowing the blade to simply glide through the toughest bristle.

It's 100% natural, made from only pure essential oils and menthol giving an almost perfect shave, free from nicks and razor burn. It contains no alcohol or astrigants and won't irritate even the most sensitive skin. Used over a period of time, the oil actually conditions, leaving the face moisturised and supple.

It's also incredibly economical, each little 1/4 oz bottle delivering up to 90 perfect shaves. And being small,it's also very portable - perfect for travelling!

I give this product my strongest recommendation -- if I had a choice between a 1997 Saumur-Champigny Poyeux, an absolutely radioactive bottle of wine from the Frères Foucault and the Somerset Shaving Oil I would take the Poyeux, but would regret it the next morning when I woke up to shave. Click on the link above and you go the the Magellans web site, where you can order this wonderful product. Magellans specializes in travel gear and I have no commercial relationship with them. But, if you order Somerset Shaving Oil by December 15th and mention that Joe Dressner, A Wine Importer, sent you there, they will ship you a complementary bottle of California Cult Cabernet! Please note that the Magellans' on-line order screen has a spot for a special message to their customer service staff -- you should mention The Joe Dressner, A Wine Importer, Promotional California Cult Cab Offer in that spot. Alternatively, if you speak to them by phone, please mention promotional offer TJDAWIPCCCO. In fact, if you mention TJDAWIPCCCO on the on-line order form it should be sufficient to get you the free bottle.

Saturday, November 25, 2000

Charles McCabe, My Favorite Critic
I get so sick of Parker, The Wine Spectator and all the various other wine journalists that I often think of Charles McCabe, my favorite critic.I should note here that I do like Steve Tanzer, who I know personally, for being somewhat more tentative then the rest of the bunch. And of course, Steve is a helluva-a-guy!

McCabe was a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle along with Herb Caen -- a powerful one-two morning punch for City residents. I lived in San Francisco from 1975 to 1980 and greatly enjoyed both columnists, McCabe was perhaps best know for his motto Any clod can have the facts, but having opinions is an art, but I always remember him for his muckraking columns against America's razor blade manufacturers.

McCabe's theory was that America's razor manufacturers were intentionally making blades that required weekly replacement. Periodically, they would develop new shaving technologies that were seemingly superior -- the twin-edged and then triple-edged blade come to mind, although McCabe did not live to see the triple-edged. At product launch, these new blades would be extremely-sharp and last weeks. But as months and years went by, the razor companies would purposely lower the level of razor quality, ensuring that once again the shaver had to replace the blade on a weekly basis. This would create a perceived market need for an even newer technology and a new product would be introduced yet again that would work fine for several months and then once again degrade in quality. Ad infinitim.

I was very happy with Gilette's entry into the triple-edged market and was perhaps one of the first consumers to buy the Mach III when it was introduced. In fact, I was so overwhelmed with the performance of this machine, I was enthusiastically converted to Gillette's contention that this was the most important shaving innovation since the 1960s (although I was too young to shave until about 1968). But two years have gone by and I note that the blade cartridge, which seemed almost immortal at product introduction, now requires constant replacement. And those hard to get smooth spots are becoming the impossible to get smooth spots.

Happily, Alyce Dressner, my 12 1/2 year old daughter, constantly peruses the site and I learned that the Schick company has now come up with its own triple-bladed system, the XTreme III (Schick XTreme III Site). Of course I immediately seized the opportunity to order these new razors and found the overall experience to be qualitatively superior to the Mach III. But still, it lacked the excitement that was there when the Mach III first came into the market. The XTreme III is incrementally better than the Mach III, but nothing more than that.

During this time of disappointment, I accidentally tried out another Schick blade. I am currently going to a physical therapist three times a week to remobilize my chest. My chest, which was once mobile, was recently cracked open to make way for four heart bypasses. Or quadruples bypasses, as they say in the medical trade.My physical therapist turns out to be organized like a luxury gym and oddly my insurance pays for the whole shebang, including the luxury showers outfitted with luxury cosmetics and razor blades. Just this week, they changed blades from an uninteresting Gillette disposable to a fascinating ergonomic Schick twin blade that I had never seen and that I decided to try out. What a shave!

It is not principally the ergonomic design of the razor that makes it so interesting as it is the inclusion of the One-Push Cleaning System. The shaver pushes this button during the shave and a clever mechanism pushes a small plastic strip between the twin blades, quickly dislodging any dirt or whiskers that might lead to clogging and eventual blade dulling. Again, I cannot recommend this blade highly enough and hope all interested readers will take the time to look at Schick's inspired web site dealing with this new technology: The Schick ST Disposable. Not only is this the best blade in the marketplace but it is also one of cheapest -- I bought a 15-pack today at Rite-Aid Drugs for only $5.99! Of course, there is always the possibility that the razor will go dull in several months or in a year. But until then I'm convinced.

There is a lesson here for wine lovers. They've been making twin-blades and disposables for some time now. Finally, it is an incremental improvement to an old and tested design that qualitatively advances the shaving experience. Not fancy new shavers or elaborate blades. The market always come back to the tried and true and demonstrably effective. Novelty, for the sake of novelty, eventually fatigues.

There is a lesson here for wine lovers.....

Friday, November 24, 2000

Thinking About Beaujolais Nouveau on the Day After Thanksgiving

I was unduly pessimistic and had a lovely time. Great Neck is cultured, civilized and they make delicious overly-elaborate-mishmash-dishes.

It was a good idea to bring wine. They had a Linden Chardonnay from the State of Virginia, "aged in new barrels" according to the wine's back label, that they were very enthused about. The back label also told us that the wine has lots of exotic fruits and was delicious. I view these type of back labels on American wines as a great service to the consumer, cautionary notes that are far more important than the useless Government Warning (I rarely drive and will never be pregnant) and am always pleased that the winery is considerate enough to warn that the wine is going to be over-oaked and over-yeasted and generally horrible. So, I drank the Domaine des Terres Dorées Nouveau instead. My mother liked the Nouveau a great deal but she is inclined to like our wines and in no sense can be considered a barometer of popular public taste. I agreed with her though.

My view of wine has very much been shaped by working with Jean-Paul Brun of the Domaine des Terres Dorées in the Beaujolais. Denyse and I have worked with Jean-Paul for 10 vintages and our notion of non-interventionist winemaking and the importance of natural yeasts dates to our initial tastings with Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul was receiving press in France for his beautiful production of non-yeasted and non-chaptalized Beaujolais, something that seemed almost revolutionary when compared to the the bottlings from Georges Duboeuf which still dominate the Beaujolais scene.

Until recently, Duboeuf was using an industrial yeast called the 71B, which was added to his wines during fermentation and which gave aromas of bananas and tasted like candies. Duboeuf has now moved on to other industrial yeasts and a system called thermo-vinification but Jean-Paul remains part of the tiny minority of Beaujolais vignerons who still produce something authentic. We loved Jean-Paul's wines when we first tasted them and realized that his notion of winemaking was central to making wine rather than beverages. Jean-Paul remains a maverick, constantly hounded by the local authorities in the Beaujolais for bucking modern trends, but over the years we have been able to find growers like him from all over France. But the vigernons working naturally are truly rare today and the industrial beverage-making segment of the wine business dominates both the new world and the old.

Take the Linden Chardonnay I could have consumed in Great Neck yesterday. What is this thing I didn't drink? I consulted their web site today for more information. Particularly intriguing is their use of both Burgundian and Australian yeasts! What could they possibly be talking about?

The world has gone mad and the people at Linden Chardonnay couldn't be happier! Of course Linden Chardonnay itself is of little importance. I had to travel to my cousin's Thanksgiving celebration in Great Neck to see a bottle of the stuff for the first time and I still haven't drank a drop. What is more important is what Linden Chardonnay says about the current wine zeitgeist. Perhaps I'm nuts, but doesn't the following description sound like a repulsive, concoted wine with little relationship to nature, vines, wine or enjoyment?

1996 Chardonnay
Aromas: Pear, melon, almond and hazelnut.

Flavors: Apple, toasty oak, and vanilla with a creamy, citrus finish.

Food Pairings: Rich fish like salmon, or earthy foods like risotto with mushrooms and roast chicken with polenta.

Vineyards: Estate Vineyard (79%), Fauqier Co., on top of the Blue Ridge at an elevation of 1,350 feet on a south and east slope. Deep, well drained, volcanic origin, greenstone based soils. Vine age is between 9 and 14 years. Contributes pear aromas and a crisp, citrus finish.

Flint Hill Vineyard (21%), Rappahannock Co., elevation of 900 feet, rolling terrain with several soil types. Vine age is between 16 and 18 years. Contributes melon flavors and a rich middle.

Vintage: Cool summer and a cooler fall. Harvest dates were Oct. 3 & 4, 1996.

Winemaking: 100% barrel fermented in 95% French oak and 5% American oak using Burgundian and Australian yeasts. Aged on the lees in the barrel for 10 months. Bottle aged for 18 months before release. This wine ages wonderfully for many years. 1,065 cases produced.

Thursday, November 23, 2000

Thanksgiving Wines

Frankly, no wine is going to go well with our Thanksgiving dinner. Its not even a dinner, as it is starting at 3 pm and my cousins live in Great Neck, a suburb of New York City. My son Jules finds this early-eating barbaric but not surprising, as it is taking place in a barbaric suburb. Jules has nothing against Great Neck but perceives all suburban life as barbaric. He is only 14 1/2 and lacks the experience and maturity to know just how right he is about 3 pm Turkey dinners and Great Neck.

We're invited to a relative who will make a mishmash of sweet and salty dishes to prove how creative and talented they are in the kitchen. Some of these dishes will probably taste terrific and we'll no doubt have a good time. Beer would probably be a much better companion to this meal (although I leave what goes well with cranberry sauce to greater minds than myself).

Since Denyse and I are wine importers we have to bring wine. Generally, my relatives know little about wine but think it is nice that we have wines that have the name Dressner on the back label. At least that is the view in my father's family, where they tend to have the name Dressner and our wines can be viewed as vanity items. Unfortunately the Thanksgiving dinner is at relative's on my mother's side and they couldn't care less about the Dressner name being on the back label. They like wines from Long Island. We will have to pretend that we like the wine that our hosts serve. We won't.

I'm bringing a Beaujolais Nouveau from Domaine des Terres Dorées as an aperitif -- every wine critic says that Noveau goes well with Turkey but they are out of their minds. But as an aperitif it should be nice and Denyse has not drank the wine since it arrived this week. I'm also bringing a Bernard Baudry Chinon Croix Boisés 1998, a great wine from a great site in an average years. Of course, sweet wines are always a hit so I'm bringing the Château Pierre Bise Quarts des Chaume 1997 and an Estate Reserve Port from Quinta do Infantado.

American holidays are always difficult for me as I fear major disasters are taking place unattended at work. Our vigernons are not on holiday and who knows what urgent faxes are being sent to our office as I type these notes. I'll go in tomorrow in the hopes of defusing several major crisis and avoiding imminent bankruptcy. I have a family to support, you know.