Thursday, October 12, 2023

My California Wine Adventures 6


If you can remember back to the late 1960s, and that was a lifetime ago, you might remember the Smothers Brothers. Musicians, comedians and social activists, Thomas and Richard Smothers, known to their fans as Tom and Dick, were on the verge of fame as entertainers. 

In 1967, "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" debuted on CBS, a move that catapulted the Smothers Brothers to stardom, and also introduced performers and writers to American television viewers such as Mason Williams, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Pat Paulsen, all destined to go on to fame.

What Tom and Dick Smothers didn't know then was Tom Smothers would eventually, at the urging of a "presidential candidate," become a Sonoma County vintner. 

Smothers Brothers at the Wine Experience 

Years later, the Smothers Brothers and I met for the first time.  In the early 1980s, I was editor of the Wine Spectator. The magazine was enjoying increased attention by staging events for wine collectors, such as the first "Wine Experience" in 1981, held at the Windows on the World restaurant in New York's World Trade Center. 

On the night of the grand tasting, the entertainment was New York Times humor columnist and avid wine fan, Art Buchwald, and the Smothers Brothers. While chatting with attendees, Dick Smothers, who was working the floor, stopped to say hello. I introduced him to my wife, Janet. He looked at her and said, "You're not the woman I saw him (looking at a surprised me) with earlier." And with a devilish grin, he disappeared into the crowd.

I smiled and said to Janet that it was time for the show, but I hadn't yet spotted   our three entertainers. After looking around the room again, I decided to check the men's room. It was packed to the door with men holding drinks and laughing. Over the noise, I heard Buchwald's croaky voice coming from a stall, bantering back and forth with the brothers. They were busying themselves at the sinks, lobbing unprintable barbs back to a sequestered Buchwald. 

Fortunately, I was able to persuade the guests to leave the men's room so the show could go on. 

Meeting the Brothers at Tom's House

The second time the Smothers Brothers and I met was for an interview at Tom's house in Sonoma County.  I had left the Spectator and was on assignment for Wine and Spirits magazine. 

Directions to the house were unclear, so I looked for landmarks while noticing in the rear view mirror the same two cars had been following me for miles. Finally, I found the house. Tom and I exchanged greetings, when I noticed Dick get out of one of the cars that was following me, and a woman got out of the other.

Tom looked down the sloping lawn, waved and yelled, "Hi, mom!" She looked up toward the house, ignored him and walked away.  I was about to say something, when Tom turned to me, grinned and said, "Yep, that's our mother, the one who likes Dickie best."   


During the interview, Ruth Smothers sat nearby leafing through a magazine, pretending not to be listening to her son's answers.  At one point, I asked how they got into the wine business?  "Pat (Paulsen) was showing Dick and me a new vineyard with vine saplings hidden inside milk cartons," Tom explained. "And all I could think was he wants us to invest in growing milk cartons."   

Instead, Smothers Brothers Wine became an active winery, but eventually disappeared from the market.  Tom Smothers surfaced again as a vintner, with his wife Marcy at Remick Ridge Vineyards. However, they placed the property on the market a few years ago.   Remick Ridge had an exclusive arrangement to sell all of it organically-grown grapes to Arrowood Winery.

The Yo Yo Man 

Even with his busy career of televisions shows and touring, Tom Smothers somehow found time to learn a few tricks with a yo-yo.  His hidden talent became part of the brother's comedy routine and resulted in Tom producing an instructional video, called "The Yo-Yo Man," which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. 


Janet and I were having dinner one night with friends at Cafe La Haye, a popular restaurant just off the Sonoma town plaza. We had just finished eating when we noticed some excited chatter from a crowd just inside the front door to the restaurant. Our waiter said that Tom Smothers was making one of his impromptu appearances as the Yo-Yo Man.

Intrigued, I joined the growing crowd and watched as Tom delighted the diners, performing tricks with a collection of yo-yos he seemed to have in every pocket.  At one point, Tom had two yo-yos going at the same time when he turned, and asked me to hold one of the yo-yos, which he slipped into my jacket pocket. And with that, I became part of the "Yo-YO Man" act...but I didn't get to keep the yo-yo in my pocket in lieu of pay.

If you happen to be in the Sonoma Plaza on a warm summer night, you might just see the Yo-Yo Man "walking the dog" with one of his many yo-yos. 


Next blog: Lodi Rising

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