Saturday, August 22, 2020

"My Life in Wine" Episode 5

"The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars."
                                                  Benjamin Franklin

In Episode 4 of "My Life In Wine," I had spent five years (1966-1970) at a USAF Air Training Command television production facility in Denver writing how-to scripts for airmen students. In my free time, I began shopping for wine in Denver area shops; launched a fledgling career as a freelance wine writer for newly discovered wine magazines; celebrated Thanksgiving by writing about Beethoven and Austrian wine for a classical music listener's guide. Then, I was informed that my next assignment was at a Vietnam support base in Taiwan.

Officially, the base belongs to the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) but was shared in a joint-forces agreement with the U.S. Air Force, allowing the United States to support Vietnam from a nearby country.  Of course mono-lingual Americans found the Chinese name for the base, Ching Chuan Kang, difficult to pronounce, so they reduced it to the acronym -- "CCK." 

One of the odd aspects of being an Airman in radio and television production, assigned to Armed Forces Radio and Television, is your immediate supervisor could be a civilian or be a member of another service. Such was the case at AFRTS CCK. I was in charge of the radio station, but my boss was a U.S. Navy officer at network headquarters in Taipei.  

The Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek was officially at war with the Peoples Republic of China so the ROC Air Force was on perpetual alert, fearing an air attack from the China mainland.  There was a anti-aircraft battery in a field between the barracks where I lived and the radio station, making walking to work, at times, a challenge, because one step off the poorly marked path and you could be shot for trespassing.

Day to day life at CCK was mostly routine and uneventful, but then, just as my year was up and I was preparing to transfer, word leaked out that the so-called anti-aircraft installation was a painted wooden fake. And we were not told that the path we took to get to work, overgrown with tall buffalo grass, was a favored habitat for a poisonous Taiwanese snake.

So on that note, it was time to return to a more hospitable version of reality.

Still, on the way out, I also discovered that the local "wine," or at least what was called "wine," was a popular beverage that I suspect was anything but grape wine. In those days the Taiwanese government had a monopoly on the production of beer and spirits. Any beverage that was alcohol-based was made in the same place...and it tasted like it. I never found out what was in Taiwanese "wine" but I was happy to leave it behind.

So, in 1971, it was goodbye to hot and humid Taiwan and hello to hot and humid South Carolina and Charleston Air Force Base. The wing I was assigned to was tasked with introducing the C-5A Galaxy into the active Air Force inventory and my job as NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the Base Information Office was to promote the C-5A to the public.  
                             Lockheed C-5A Galaxy Photos |

Aside: The story of the C-5A Galaxy and its service at Charleston AFB is an interesting one, especially for those who like airplanes.  Huge cost overruns and cracked wings cost Lockheed millions and hurt the company's reputation, a painful reminder of Lockheed's current problems with the 737-Max.  I could write extensively about my association with the C-5A, Charleston AFB and South Carolina, but it has nothing to do with wine.

The job at Charleston turned out to be challenging, for a number of reasons, not the least was having to deal with subtle racism while learning how to adapt to life in my first flying unit since joining the Air Force in 1953.  While trying to figure it all out, I was enjoying life with my family and carving out some free time to restart my wine education.  

But the transient life of a serviceman and his family didn't allow for building a large wine collection. And I soon learned that the real danger of wine buying, at the local Piggly Wiggly store, is buying wine faster and in larger quantities than you are drinking.

During Vietnam, all armed services were struggling to meet recruiting goals. The Air Force met the challenge by expanding the Advertising and Publicity (A&P) program in Air Force Recruiting. For me, the expansion was an opportunity to do something different, so I applied, was accepted, graduated from recruiting school and received my first assignment in A&P at, of all places, Lowry AFB, Denver.  Once again, the assignment gods were smiling on me.   

Between A&P trips to support recruiters in a 12-state Midwest area, I began again to build my freelance writing credits, preparing for my retirement from the Air Force and  transition to a full time career in wine, hopefully as a writer. 

In 1976, I retired from the Air Force and accepted a position as a sommelier at the famous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, which didn't work out, so I returned to Aurora and back to writing about wine. In those days, Charles Court, the newly-opened dining room where I worked was staffed entirely by old-guard European-trained hotel people.  The view was, food and service were the most important considerations and wine was only  important if it boosted the total on the check.

The early 1970s was a time when the California wine boom caused a flood of interest in wine, and all of the growth without the "Wine Spectator" which was still six or seven years away, to guide and hold the hands of America's new wine consumers. 

Almost overnight, a proliferation of newspaper wine columns and wine magazines grew to meet this new demand.  Wine savvy readers increased subscriptions to the British "Wine" magazine and the short-lived "Grand Cru" magazine published out of Chicago. It wasn't long before  "Vintage" (New York City) and "Wine World" (Los Angeles) were attracting enthusiastic subscribers hungering for wine information and recommendations.

                            Rocky Mountain News

 I began writing a weekly wine column for the "Rocky Mountain News" in Denver while contributing to both "Wine World" and "Vintage."  It seemed then like every city of any size in the United States had a newspaper wine column, often written by people with limited skills as a writer and only minimum knowledge of wine. 

Other outlets for budding wine writers included airline in-flight magazines and a growing number of city and regional magazines that included words on wine to go with their local food coverage. Business as a freelance wine writer was picking up for me and I soon added the "Denver" city magazine plus another piece for the "KVOD Listeners Guide," to my credits. 

Meanwhile, I had enrolled in Metropolitan State College, in Denver, to complete my long-delayed bachelor's degree, graduating in 1979.  As a reward, Janet and I went on a three-week wine trip to the wine regions of Europe. 

In Episode 6 of "My Life in Wine," Janet and I visit some of Europe's top wine regions, then return to Colorado and find an offer of a major wine-job opportunity in California. 


Next blog: A return to Bordeaux and the Medoc and Graves.

Comments?   Suggestions?  Email me at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.