In Episode 14, I made the long drive in late 1979 from San Diego to Pomona , to judge wines at the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition. After assaulting my palate for three days, it was back to San Diego to prepare for the first Wine Spectator Wine Experience in New York City.
Staging a gathering of wine enthusiasts, with informative and educational seminars on topics of interest to wine fans, and tastings of iconic wines, was not a new concept, but holding the event at the world famous World Trade Center in New York City, set a new standard for wine events.
Yet, Marvin Shanken, owner and publisher of the Wine Spectator, believed the first Wine Experience needed a unique draw, something that would set the Wine Experience apart from other wine gatherings. So, he reached out to noted New York Times humor columnist, Art Buchwald and Dick and Tom Smothers, creators and stars of the popular television show, "The Smothers Brothers" and owners of Smothers Brothers Wines.
Daytime seminars, covering a range of wine topics, were held in the meeting room, with commanding views of lower Manhattan and New Jersey. The panorama was clear, with little to no haze, permitting some spectacular views of the East River, Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island. The outside attractions created n unanticipated competition for the attention of the seminar attendees.
One of the big draws was a presentation by Dr. Maynard Amerine, then an emeritus professor at UC-Davis and a highly respected consultant to the California wine industry. The large number of wine trade attendees leaned in as Dr. Amerine talked about the state of California wine production and how it compared with wine making he had encountered on trips to Europe.
At one point, Dr. Amerine described a fact-finding trip he and some colleagues took to Spain and their visit to Vega Sicilia, one of Spain's most valued wine estates, in Ribera del Duero. In answer to a question from the audience about the quality of the wine, Dr. Amerine paused then described Vega Sicilia wine as "a dog's lunch."
You could have heard a pin drop, then nervous applause as Dr. Amerine returned to his seat. The learned man's low opinion of such a revered wine got the crowd buzzing.
That evening at the grand tasting in Window's spacious ballroom, Buchwald and the Smothers Brothers mingled and kibitzed and sipped wine and kibitzed, to the delight of anyone within earshot. Tom Smothers, aka "The Yo-Yo Man," attracted a small crowd of admirers, wowing everyone with tricks on a yo-yo he just happened to have in his jacket pocket.
|Tom Smothers, aka the "Yo-Yo Man" and brother Dick|
As folks became more comfortable with each other, there was a change in the crowd that I hadn't noticed. But Marvin did. "Have you seen our guests?" he asked me, nervously scanning the crowd. "Not lately, but I'll look around," I replied.
Walking past the entrance to the restrooms, I heard loud laughter coming from the men's room. The place was packed with laughing men, jostling to move closer to the stalls and sinks, while trying not to spill their wine. Art Buchwald was standing by the sinks, glass of wine in one hand, gesturing and bantering back and forth with Tom and Dick Smothers, who were in different stalls. It was a spontaneous performance, in an unusual place, that regaled the crowd with gags and humorous asides that are better left unsaid here.
With one successful Wine Experience behind us, plans were soon underway for the next one, in San Francisco. But for me, it was back to San Diego and the routine of putting out a newspaper every two weeks.
First, we had to move the office to an industrial area on the other side of the city. Turns out, that move was temporary. Marvin Shanken had been negotiating for office space in the newly constructed Opera Plaza, a few blocks from City Hall in San Francisco. He was a strong believer in "location, location, location" and this move put the "Wine Spectator" one step closer to what Marvin felt was the newspaper's logical place in California wine country.
Next blog: "There's wine in them there hills!
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