Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 10

"The more I see of other countries the more I love my own."  Mme Germaine de Stael, 18th century French-Swiss author


 In Episode 9, my Copy Editor and I had rounded out a pleasant visit to Alsace in 1979, then drove to Frankfurt, Germany for the flight back to Colorado.  After three weeks of driving, eating and wining in Europe, we arrived back at our home in Aurora, to an urgent phone call with surprising news that held the prospect of changing our lives. 

We were hardly through the front door when my mother-in-law anxiously told me of several phone calls from someone in California.  There was some confusion about the caller, but the message was clear: Call as soon as you get home!

There were very few wine publications in the late 1970s.  I was writing a weekly wine column then for the "Rocky Mountain News" and had heard of a new wine newspaper called "The Wine Spectator."  The founder and editor was a retired Marine Corps journalist named Bob Morrissey.

In the early days of the Spectator, Bob and his wife Mary Jane published the  Spectator in tabloid newspaper format (TWS became a magazine a few years later), out of their home in La Jolla, California.  

I quickly realized that the area code from the mysterious phone message and the code for the San Diego area were the same and that area code and the one I had for Bob were the same.  

Could Bob be calling about an article I had submitted just before going to Europe?  So, I put down my bags and picked up the phone.

When it came to business, Bob Morrissey wasn't fond of small talk. "Marvin Shanken and I would like you to join 'The Wine Spectator' as managing editor," Bob announced. 

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Farewell to the Rockies...

Marvin Shanken, the founder of the Spectator, was an investment banker in New York City, when he decided to get into wine and spirits publishing.  Bob told me later that he didn't have the money to grow the Spectator and Marvin had contacted him with an offer to sell and, as they say, the rest is history. 

Bob and I chatted about specifics for a few more minutes, all the time I'm thinking, we're both former military journalists, but Bob was a Marine major and I was an Air Force NCO ... could that cross rank/cross service gap work?  

There's still plenty of inter-service rivalry and I'm thinking, there's a big difference between the Marine Corps and the Air Forcelong and a major and a sergeant.

"I'm flattered, Bob, but I need to talk with Janet," I answered, hoping he didn't pick up on the nervousness in my voice.  When I hung up the phone, Janet (who much later became my Copy Editor), noticed the look on my face, asked if everything was okay.  

"That was Bob Morrissey. He offered me a job with "The Wine Spectator," I said, still a little shocked.   

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...onward through Utah...

After moving numerous times while in the Air Force, Janet and I decided that we liked Colorado and Aurora was going to be our permanent home. And one of our sons was still in school; Sean is now a winery owner and winemaker in Washington state. 

But Bob had said that Marvin Shanken was prepared to establish the Spectator as the top wine publication in the country and to sweeten the deal, I would go from being a modestly paid free lancer to the highest paid wine writer in the country.  That distinction was short-lived, of course, as Robert Parker would soon surpass me by a mile. 

My wheels then was a 1972 V-W Beetle.  I had just bought the car from a friend, so I decided to drive it to San Diego.  My wine collection in those day was modest, but I wanted to take every bottle with me.  The question was how to safely move the wines?  

People I spoke with claimed that moving vans were hell on wine, so I decided to wrap each bottle in insulation and pack the bottles securely in boxes, drop the back of the rear seat in the V-W, strap it down as level as possible, then fit the boxes in and cover them with blankets and insulation. 

With my bags stowed in the front "trunk" of the V-W, I said good bye to my family and headed west over the Rockies, southwest through Utah, through a tip of northern of Arizona, then southeast Nevada and Las Vegas, and into southern California, skirting Los Angeles and finally reaching San Diego. 

San Diego EAC – CEAC beautiful San Diego!


 Next blog:  While your attention was elsewhere...

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