It’s that time again – waning days, crowds thinning, the rain and snow trying to sock in the high country – and everything kind of just slows down. November always feels that way to me: The bright summer sun is a scrapbook memory, powder days seem so far off. Rowdy Halloween ended the party season for a while.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and that leads to a month of constant running around, whether it is the neverending shopping season that bleeds right into the neverending slew of company holiday parties.
This soft, quiet time of the year – the three-week period between Halloween and Thanksgiving – is what I like to think as one of the most spiritual times of the year. It’s the perfect time to slow down, take in your surroundings, reflect, wind down and reenergize.
No writer brings the changing seasons with a monthly focus like Robert Frost. In his poem “My November Guest” he, apparently as the speaker, introduces: “My Sorrow, when she’s here with me, Thinks these dark days of autumn rain Are beautiful as days can be; She loves the bare, the withered tree; She walks the sodden pasture lane.”
Sorrow drives a hard bargain and revels in the stark, post-ornithological desert of November, when the birds have left the barren branches of leafless trees to fly south. Sorrow shrugs when the poet cannot see these rarest of beauties, as if he has no eye for this. Perhaps this is why she, personified as perhaps a former lover, “will not let me stay.”
The speaker came to know this blessing, though vanity caused him to keep that secret locked away. Though he could not tell her, he knew that her words were like the right spice, in the right amount: A dash of salt, a pinch of Piment d’Espelette.
Those of us in the tight-knit wine industry came to know, with great sorrow, as we learned recently of the passing of Seth Kunin, on Oct. 28, at age 50. The “larger than life” Santa Barbara winemaker was a legend in his own right, inspiring a legion of local and regional winemakers in the two decades after launching Kunin Wines in 1998, with hearty cool-climate Rhône varietals from some of that county’s most iconic vineyards, including Stolpman and Larner.
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Kunin found a little niche in the Roaring Fork Valley during that time, when newer, bolder wines were coming into fashion. Guys like Bill Bentley and Mark Fischer at Six89 were eager to explore these layered, sophisticated wines. I remember one meal in particular, on a very cold, post-snowstorm night. The food was so warm, succulent. I believe it was short ribs and polenta or maybe a lamb shank. The Kunin syrah 2003 came in with all its warmth and spices and just lit up that little party going on indoors on that dark November night.
And that leads me to just how thankful this wine life is for me. I am sitting here on a dark, quiet evening processing a weekend that too was “larger than life,” in which I attended an Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association tasting at the Golden Gate Room in San Francisco’s Presidio, one of the most breathtaking settings to take in a tasting, under the great expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge among all the lushness of “The Point.” There was a silent auction to benefit North Bay fire recovery resources (in which I won a scintillating vertical of Waits-Mast Deer Meadows Vineyard pinot noir), and the expanded field of Anderson Valley winemakers put on a solid showing. These wines, as a whole, just continue to evolve.
Another day, another drive, I headed north to Santa Rosa, where the nation’s league of wine bloggers assembled for a two-day conference on all things wine and social media.
I must admit, I was there to answer an invite for an after-hours gathering with vinyl and wine, put on by Jason Lede of Cliff Lede Vineyards and Cushing Donelan of Donelan Family Wines. Both wineries were in the heart of last month’s devastating fires. Donelan is located in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, literally across the street from an entire neighborhood that was turned to white ash. Miraculously, they survived. Their premier syrah vineyard, high atop the flanks of Mt. Saint Helena, in Knights Valley, was not so lucky. Forty-year-old vines are being ripped out as we speak. The Obsidian Vineyard is considered a total loss.
Lede filmed fires licking up to the back of the winery’s famous Poetry Inn Bed And Breakfast, above the intersection of the Silverado Trail and Yountville Cross Road in Napa’s Stags Leap District. The edges of their rock-and-roll named vineyards were singed, but somehow they survived the night of Sunday Oct. 8.
So, THANKFUL, we all are. In show of glorious praises, the wines they opened were nothing short of incredible. For fun we got into some ’09 Poetry cabernet sauvignon, magnum style. Several vintages of Mouton Rothschild from the '90s went down, as well as the same for Château Beaucastel and Clos de Caillou Châteaunuef-du-pape, a bunch of other Bordeaux, ’06 Cain Five, and a really nice 2014 St. Joseph. Can’t forget the Kistler and Ramey chardonnay, too.
And as if I couldn’t have another sip, I returned to my friend’s winery Sunday night to a flight of approximately 20 wines of varying grand-cru degrees from, say, 1997 to 2013, including a 2001 Conterno Barolo, a 1999/2000 Domaine Dujacs Clos Saint-Denis combo, a 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge, to name but a few.
It already feels like Thanksgiving.
Cheers! Remember: Wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org