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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 62 (November 21, 2005)

Monday, November 14: Yesterday Arlene Willis and I flew to Austin, Texas. Grapes for Humanity had donated US$25,000, to help evacuees from Louisiana to be housed and their children integrated into the local Austin schools.

Following Hurricane Katrina, over 200,000 homeless people were evacuated to the neighbouring state of Texas. This was the largest enforced migration of Americans since World War II. Some 7,000 evacuees were billeted in Austin, where they were first housed in the Convention Centre before being placed in motels and apartments around the city. The arrival of these African-American evacuees has changed the demographic in the St. Johns Community, a hitherto Hispanic section of Austin. The funds for this project are administered by a non-profit social agency, Community New Start.

Me with Bishop McCoy, who is 103 years old

After a briefing by the Executive Director Chris Plummer and Renewal Team Director Karen Parchman, we toured Hearthside, an extended stay studio hotel, where 300 evacuees have been placed temporarily. Here we met Bishop McCoy, aged 103, the resident of a New Orleans retirement home who was escorted out of the city prior to the arrival of Katrina. From his wheelchair, Bishop told us how he was born on board ship from Jamaica to the US, how his twin brother died at the age of thirteen and how his faith in God had kept alive all these years. He showed his room and played us a tape of a spiritual sung by Mahalia Jackson who, he said, was related to him. The recording was made on July 4th, 1939, and the accompanying pianist was his granddaughter. He himself sang bass. Bishop McCoy, in remarkable health with all his facilities, is concerned about finding an apartment so that he can be near his caregiver. I asked him if he liked wine. He told me he had never touched alcohol in his life.

Next Arlene and I visited the apartment of a woman named Alice, whose eleven-month-old son was asleep in a playpen. All the furniture in their three-bedroom apartment (which housed her two young daughters as well) was donated by the local community. Alice's husband, who has worked for the New Orleans Water Company for twelve years, had to return to the flooded city in order to keep his job. Alice broke down in tears as she recounted her story – how she was last to leave her house as the flood waters rose. Because she could not swim, she had to wait for a boat. Her husband put the two girls on an inflatable raft and steered them to safety. The family was reunited at the Convention Centre in New Orleans, but there was no food or water available, so her husband returned to their house, gathered up the family photos, and put some bottled water, cans of milk, Gatorade and bread into a cooler and swam back. While Alice watched babies dying around her she was able to feed her children and even traded some milk for diapers. The photos her husband was able to rescue now adorn the walls of her temporary home. She said her husband will live in a trailer until he finds a home for the family in New Orleans.

The link between Community New Start and the evacuees is Pastor Henricks, who runs a non-denominational church in the St. Johns Community – the poorest section of Austin, where there is 40 per cent unemployment and the highest incidence of school drop-outs and teenaged pregnancies.

In the afternoon, we visited William Pickle School to see the Smart Start educational program in operation. This is an after-school program run by teachers and volunteers under the auspices of Community New Start. This innovative program, which started in Shreveport, Louisiana, was replicated in Austin and well established before the arrival of the Katrina evacuees. One hundred and seventy children in three elementary schools in the St. Johns Community are enrolled in this project which now includes the children of evacuees. The students are tutored by teachers and volunteers, Monday to Thursday between 3 pm and 5:30 pm. The results are impressive: during the 2003–2004 school year, the average student's grades improved from C– to B+ in all subjects as well as from C to B+ in behavioural scores.

Tuesday, November 15: Up at 5:30 am in order to catch an 8 am flight to Chicago where we change planes for the flight back to Toronto. The plane is 55 minutes late leaving Austin and we have 45 minutes to make the connection in Chicago. They are calling our names on the public address system as we run down the terminal. Why is it that the gate you need is always the farthest away? They shut the aircraft door as we made our way to our seats. I think I caught a cold on the plane. My throat is sore. I have been invited to taste the wines that Vintages is presenting under the dubious title, "The Feminine Face of Bordeaux." They are all wines under the Dourthe umbrella and the winemakers are, with one exception, all females under 30. The reception wine is Château La Garde Blanc 2004 from Pessac-Leognan, a nicely oaked wine with sweet gooseberry and guava flavours.

Each wine was introduced by the representative from the winery.

  1. Ch. Joanin Becot 2001 (Cotes de Castillon)
  2. Ch. La Garde 2001
  3. Ch. La Lagune 2002
  4. Ch. La Fleur de Bouard 2002 (Lalande de Pomerol)
  5. Ch. Fontenil 2002
  6. Ch. Le Bon Pasteur 2001 (Pomerol – this was the star of the tasting)

Wednesday, November 16: Recorded my six items for 680 News and then to lunch at Hy's with Susan Young, one of the four children of Robert Young. The Young family's presence in California goes back to gold rush days. Robert Young, who acquired the estate at the age of 16, thanks to a financial guarantee at the bank by a wealthy uncle, pulled out the prune orchards and planted grape vines. He was the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, against the advice of his Italian neighbours, who advised him to plant Zinfandel. The Chardonnay he planted in 1967 has developed into the Robert Young clone, made famous by Dick Arrowood, who used Young's grapes at Chateau St. Jean and produced the first vineyard-designated wine in 1975, Robert Young Vineyard. In 1997 the family decided to make their own wine in addition to selling their grapes to Chateau St. Jean, Clos du Bois and others. Their first vintage was 1997, a Bordeaux blend called Scion. Two of the Robert Young Estate Winery wines are offered in the winter Classics Catalogue. At lunch we tried the Chardonnay 2003 (a big, fleshy wine with a ripe caramel and tangerine flavour and a nutty, toasty finish. A lovely balance of oak and fruit). Then we had the 2001 Scion (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot). It's a richly compacted wine with cedar, vanilla, plum and blackcurrant notes and a lifted floral accent. The flavour is sweet black fruits and milk chocolate, with a creamy mouth feel. Delicious but not inexpensive at $74.95. The Chardonnay is listed at $49.95.

A meeting this evening with the developer of the condo we're going to move into when it's built. We're trying to find a space in the parking garage to build a wine cellar. While we discussed the possibilities I opened a bottle of Alvaro Palacios Les Terraces 1999 from Priorato. Annabel called from Vancouver and said she was watching me on TV. The local Knowledge Channel is rerunning the 10-part series on port I did about six or seven years ago. She says my glasses look old-fashioned.

Thursday, November 17: Beaujolais Nouveau release day, though I can't work up much enthusiasm for this irrelevant, over-hyped event. I do like the Jeanjean Syrah Primeur from the Pays d'Oc though. Since I have to conduct a tasting of all eight of the new wines tomorrow, I'll have to get in the mood. Which will be hard, since my cold has become a six on the Richter scale... A reception for the volunteers and directors of Grapes for Humanity to thank them for their work on the Frescobaldi tasting and dinner last month. We raised about $150,000. The Pol Roger champagne soothed my sore throat but I am concerned about tomorrow night's tasting.

Friday, November 18: Pinot is favouring her left back leg, so we will have to take her to the vet this morning. My cold is worse. Am drinking lots of hot water with lemon as I work on my contribution to Tom Stevenson's 2007 Wine Report. Lots to write about the Canadian wine scene this year, beginning with the Constellation hostile take-over bid for Vincor. Will it happen? Those who know aren't saying; those who don't believe the deal will go through if Constellation sweetens their offer of $1.1 billion. The burning question is: If the Constellation bid succeeds, will this mean the end of the Frank Gehry winery at Le Clos Jordanne? When I asked Jean-Charles Boisset (Boisset, the largest Burgundy shippers, are co-partners with Vincor in the winery) he was non-committal. The tasting of the Beaujolais Nouveau and other new wines takes place at Dinnerworks, a singles meeting group, just across the road on Sheldrake Avenue. The noise level got quite high after the third wine. This year's Beaujolais Nouveau is quite light. The Vino novellos are better value.

Saturday, November 19: I am conducting a tasting of the gold-medal-winning wines for the Independent Wine Education Guild (all the directors have been co-opted into doing these tastings) at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show at the Convention Centre. The wines were: Peller Estate Crystalle sparkling, Chateau des Charmes Riesling Dry 2003, Henry of Pelham Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2003, Coyote's Run Cabernet Franc 2003, Mountain Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, Henry of Pelham Cabernet Merlot Speck Family Reserve 2002, Reif Vidal Icewine 2002 and Jackson-Triggs Riesling Icewine 2002. Could hardly taste because of my cold but the participants – 40 people – enjoyed the wines. I tried to taste some wines at the booths, but the only ones that could penetrate my cold were the Herman Weimer Riesling 2003 from the Finger Lakes and the Anselmann Siegerrebe Spätlese 2002 from the Pfalz that came on like a juicy Gewurz.

Sunday, November 20: Every year Mendy Sharf, a cognac aficionado, holds a tasting of four fine cognacs in the party room of his apartment block in Forest Hill. I've participated in this event for a dozen years or so, but it's been going for thirty years. It has become a tradition that Tommy Schwarz sings "O Sole Mio" (con brio) before we start. Somehow it makes the cognac taste better. This year Mendy supplied Brillet Hors d'Age Grande Champagne, Delamain Très Vieilles Grande Champagne Réserve du Famille, Otard Extra 1795 and Ragnaud Grande Fine Champagne Grand Réserve Fontveille. There are usually between 20 and 24 at the table (with cheeses and crackers and grapes) and, once we have tasted, we rank the cognacs in order of preference and then each person rises and shares his impressions of each with the group. The scoring put the Ragnaud top but I had it least because of the celery note in the bouquet. I ranked the Delamain number one for its creamy, caramel and rose petal nose, the best balanced of the four. But then my cold may have influenced my judgement. After the tasting we take a group photo which usually takes a long time, trying to marshal twenty-four cognac-influenced guys into camera-ready positions.




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