The 'Henry' Winkler Vine

A hell of a drunken time

The past few days has found me in the wonderful care of old friends, one of which was Dan Person. Dan's a hell of a guy, fast on a bike, quick and precise, and an avid brewer or beer wine and spirits. Because of his love of fermentation, Dan, having graduated with me from the U of I biology dept., went on to the masters program in viticulture at UC Davis. For those not in the know, Davis borders Nappa and is known to be the best wine education in the world.

So it was with great happiness that I've spent the last few days enjoying the fruits of Dan's passion, or rather the fermentation of Dan's fruits. Most notable among the experiences was the Winkler dinner which serves as the primary fundraiser for the extracurricular drinker's program at Davis... an institution dedicated to student education, which just happens to necessitate intoxicated visits to wine country.

The Winkler Dinner is attended by a number of hob-nobbable people from the wine industry who pay $175 a plate dinner to enjoy a 6 course meal, 6 flights of wine, and auction beneath the famous Winkler Vine - an acre large grape vine held on a 7 foot trellis. The members of Dan's group act as labor for the event and I was lucky enough to be one of these laborers.

Now its important to realize that I was not being taken advantage of, quite the opposite. The 'labor' I provided was a rather simple task to which I am already accustomed, catering, and the event was ridiculously overstaffed. We had about 1 laborer for every 2 dinners. So, in between synchronized plate settings, a large contingent of us stood around in back waiting for the chefs to bring over extra plates of scraps. Now, these were no ordinary scraps; my favorite was picking from an oily pan the torn and tattered morsels of seared Kobe beef (from those famous pampered to death cows in Kobe Japan). These scraps were on the order of $200 a lb. and would have been worth the cost of labor on their own, but there was more.

The only hardships of the night were the heat and a moderately enforced rule that we were not to drink until after dinner was over. However, when dinner was over - drink we did. I'm not sure I can appreciate the wide assortments of Cabernets, Merlots and Zins that we enjoyed, but I surely did appreciate hearing the UC - Davis'ers comment on them. It comes across as nearly ludicrous when you hear people mentioning the 'phenols', 'tannins' and 'green pepper' flavors that hit their nose and pallets on the wine's first tasting. But in a wonderful equalization, my rather blunt pallet and their subtle sensibilities led us both to the same state of plastered karaoke belting - like cats in heat. And that, my friends, is a rather beautiful thing.


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