The wine we grew up with
© by Linwood Slayton

The journey continues. What part has wine played in your life?

In one of the the very first columns I penned as "Wood on Wine" I spoke about my humble beginnings as an adolescent drinking Thunderbird. I discussed how I "evolved" from T-Bird to Boone's Farm and Ripple back in the'day - in the late '60s and early '70s. In my column "The Evolution of an Oenophile" I wrote:

"Do you remember when we used to sip Bali Hai, Boone's Farm (apple), Ripple? Those were the "acceptable" wines of the time - wines sold for an affordable price for those of us on a shoestring budget in college. I can recall hanging out on the "yard" at Howard University in Washington D.C. and looking down my nose at the brothers who were guzzling Thunderbird ("what's the price? thirty twice!) or Mad Dog 20-20 (Mogen David 20% alcohol, I believe)."

The truth is that I cut my wine teeth on these affordable wines that had no pretensions and were made and sold for mass consumption. These were the days when wine was priced such that one need not worry about spending more than the cost of your food in order to enjoy the experience. Actually, they paired quite well with burgers and fries, chips and pretzels.

I had the distinct honor and privilege of hosting a wine dinner on March 26, 2003 at COMMUNE Restaurant in Atlanta featuring the wines of Gallo of Sonoma Winery. What made the evening distinctive and most pleasurable was the presence of a lady who is the granddaughter of Julio Gallo: Carolyn Bailey. My guests and I were treated to a brief but delightful wine history lesson as we learned that her grandfather, Julio, and her grand-uncle, Ernest, began their wine venture in 1938 and how this blossomed into a huge business today some 65 or so years later.

Many of my guests were amazed to discover that they, like me, began their wine journeys drinking wines made and marketed by the Gallo family: Thunderbird, Ripple, Boone's Farm ... many were also surprised to learn that these wines are still made and marketed today.

Of course, our individual and collective palates have grown significantly in the ensuing 30 or 40 years such that none of us can remember the last time we consumed these vintages. No, we are now so much more sophisticated in terms of what wines we choose to drink. Imagine the reaction if you were invited to attend a wine dinner featuring Thunderbird or Ripple.

I have been dialoguing with various folks associated with Gallo for several months. My belief is that their product line is so diverse that it appeals to a wide spectrum of wine consumers. Believe it or not, many folks drink Gallo wines not knowing that they are doing so. Anapamu, Frei Brothers, Rancho Zabaco, Turning Leaf ... all are under the Gallo umbrella. However, most casual wine drinkers tend to be brand-driven and will buy and consume wines with which they are familar if only because they want to ensure, as much as possible, that they will get value for their dollars.

Like it or not, we tend to associate quality with certain labels, whether deserved or not. My mission in putting together the Gallo wine dinner was to acquaint my friends and colleagues with Gallo and to show them that Gallo is a winery that meets the myriad needs of most wine enthusiasts. Wine education is an important cog in the wine journey for me as well as many of the people with whom I share a passion for wine. Enter Ms. Carolyn C. Bailey, with marketing and public relations for Gallo Sonoma.

Imagine, if you will, growing up in an environment that lived and breathed wine. One where wine was deeply entrenched into your daily regimen. One where all meals were served accompanied by wine and where the children were exposed to wine at the tenderest of age. Imagine further that you are a member of a family of three generations steeped in the winemaking tradition and where employment in and commitment to the wine tradition is available and expected.

I have been wanting to converse with folks at Gallo about ways to heighten their visibility in the African-American market here in Atlanta and, of course, across the country. African-Americans consume a fairly substantial amount of wine at all ends of the price-quality spectrum and particularly at the middle and upper levels. Yet, little if any, marketing and educational thrusts have been evident relative to reaching this segment of the wine drinking population. Why not Gallo since most of us began our wine journeys with Gallo?

These were some of the thoughts in my head when I put together the wine dinner a few days ago with Gallo of Sonoma and COMMUNE Restaurant. When I was asked to do something to take advantage of Ms. Bailey's presence here in Atlanta, I could not pass up the opportunity to "put up or shut up".

Here's the menu:

GALLO WINE DINNER
COMMUNE
Hosted by Linwood Slayton
March 26, 2003

Assembly and reception
Pinot Gris, Gallo of Sonoma Sonoma Coast 2001

First:
Baby field lettuces, champagne-lemon thyme vinaigrette, blackberries, goat cheese fritters

Chardonnay, Gallo of Sonoma, Russian River Valley 2000

Second:
Commune spiced ahi tuna preserved lemon and white bean ragout, cilantro puree

Pinot Noir "Reserve" Gallo of Sonoma, Sonoma County 2000

OR

Pan-seared beef filet, morel mushrooms, celery root and potato gratin, red-wine reduction

Cabernet Sauvignon, "Stefani Vineyard", Dry Creek Valley 1997

Third:
flourless chocolate cake hazelnut ice cream

Cabernet Sauvignon Port, Rancho Zabaco, Northern Sonoma 1997


Commune Restaurant
1195 Howell Mill Road N.W.
Atlanta
Chef Thomas Ricci; Govantez Lowndes, Proprietor

What can I tell you, other than the evening was truly special and everyone attending left with a sense that they had experienced something unique and memorable. The food and wine were simple yet elegant. The communal dining experience served to enhance the sensory stimulation. The wine talk and education from both Ms. Bailey and Gallo regional representative Tara Bates added substantially to the awareness of all.

As often happens at wine dinners like this one, many of the attendees were quite unfamiliar with (or just didn't like) red wines. By the end of the evening, I was elated to see most tasting and commenting on the Pinot Noir, the Cabernet Sauvignon and especially the Cabernet Port.

The evening reinforced my ongoing belief that if you provide an environment and have a quality product, quality people will partake and enjoy. I believe that Gallo's eyes were opened a little wider as well. I hope this event was just the first of many to follow as I continue this journey of mine and bring more and more good folks down the path as I go.

Wood

March 28, 2003

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