Fess Parker Has Left the Winery

When the news broke yesterday that actor and winery owner Fess Parker had passed away, we knew we had to write about it. That’s because Anne met Parker  when she did a profile on him for the May 2004 issue of Wines & Vines magazine.

Yes, Parker’s Santa Inez winery has been roundly (and sometimes justifiably) satirized and criticized for populist, mediocre wines that only sold because of his name. But not all of his wines were that bad. Some were even pretty darned good. We haven’t tasted them in a good long time, so can’t say where they are nowadays.

But there is no question Parker used his name to sell wine. Why not? The name had value,  and he was fully conscious of it and made a point of using it. More to the point, he purposely became the face of the winery that his children actually ran, not to mention the two hotels he owned and his other businesses. Behind all that folksy charm (and he was charming), the man was one savvy businessperson.

He told Anne in their interview that he  asked Walt Disney for 10 percent of the merchandising money from the Davy Crockett series that made him famous and got it. Granted, the merchandising industry was still in its infancy. Disney had been making some nice change off Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys since the 1930s. However, Parker’s request was remarkably astute for the time – and he had no way of knowing that sales of coon-skin caps were going to go through the roof.

Fess Parker Winery certainly isn’t the biggest, nor the oldest winery out in the Santa Ynez Valley. But it’s always been one of the most popular and probably has been a significant drawing point that got people out of nearby Solvang and out touring the surrounding hills and other wineries, particularly when the industry was relatively new. That’s why Anne went out there the first time.

We tended to avoid the place after that because it is one of those slick operations that we don’t really care for and the wines weren’t good enough to get us past that. And it was also usually crowded, and we hate that. But maybe it’s time to check in again – after the fuss has lessened. In the meantime, we raise a glass to Fess Parker and say our prayers for his soul and his family.

You can find Parker’s basic obituary here on the Yahoo site – both Yahoo and MSN.com picked up the Associated Press obit.

Call Us Elites

Oh, man. Wine bloggers all over seem to be having all kinds of fun over a February 13 tweet from wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. The tweet reads, “lots of top wine merchants are heavily discounting once very expensive Aussie shirazs..out of fashion among the anti-flavor wine elites, 10:05 AM Feb 13th via web.” Seriously, that’s the cut and paste we did from Parker’s Twitter page, twitter.com/robertmparkerjr, although you do have to scroll down and hit “more” to find it by now. Or you can just click on the date link above.

We laughed our backsides off when we heard about it. Robert M. Parker calling someone else (with a sneer no less) elitist? Say, Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. You know, it costs $99 a year to subscribe to his website <erobertparker.com>? His main publication, The Wine Advocate, is $75 per year, and in his defense, you do get a lot of issues (something like 80). Nonetheless, it’s hardly what anybody would call accessible. And populist is about the last word that springs to mind when you think of Parker.

The big hoo-haw, of course, is that Parker is well-known for his preference for heavily fruit-forward wines. The anti-flavor part of his comments reflects the reality that subtler, more complex wines don’t tend to leap out of the glass the way he prefers. And a lot of folks love taking pot shots at him because he is incredibly influential.

What bothers us is his attitude that his taste is the only one that counts. If you don’t agree with him you are either anti-flavor or you don’t know anything about “good” wine. Feh. But on the other hand, we’re also bothered by people who like to shoot Parker down for his preference for strong, fruity wines. There’s far too much “my taste is better than your taste” elitism going on in the world of wine as it is.

It’s time to get over it. Seriously. There is a place in the world for fruit bombs – usually with barbecue or something spicy, such as Indian or Thai food. Or just to drink alone. In fact, that’s one of the reason we call such wines cocktail wines. They don’t generally go well with food, except for sweet and/or spicy, but they are quite nice for sipping on their own. But there is also a place for the subtler, more complex, rich-tasting wines that do go with food. There’s even a place for white zinfandel.

So, go ahead and share what you think about the whole issue? Do you think Parker’s influence is waning? Is it even an issue? The comment box is below.

Rounding Up the Paso Rhone Rangers

Well, we’re back home and mostly recovered from checking out the 30-odd wineries present at the 2010 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience, which happened this past Sunday.

It was a particularly good day for us. We caught up with some old friends, discovered a new-to-us boutique winery and that’s before we got to the event tasting!

The Rhone Rangers is a national education and advocacy group of about 200 wineries and other folks dedicated to educating the wine-buying public about wines made from the 22 varieties of grapes that come from France’s Rhone Valley. The principal grapes are syrah, grenache and mourvedre on the red side, with viognier, roussanne and marsanne on the white. The wine we Californians are producing do tend to heavier and fruitier than, say, a Chateauneuf du Pape (one of the major producing areas in the Rhone Valley, it’s pronounced shah-toe-nerf doo pop and means the Pope’s new castle).

But one of the things we’re getting excited about is that more and more wineries are working toward developing a food-friendly style that’s closer to the original French style. And we certainly saw that at Sunday’s event, put on by the Paso Robles chapter of the Rhone Rangers.

Imagine two rooms, with tables ringing the walls, and behind each table is someone from a winery pouring wine into your glass and trying to talk over the noise in the room and answer questions, while you’re trying to balance a wine glass, your notepad and pen, and… It’s a real blast.

We did get in on a press pass because these events are about selling wine and introducing people to some of the smaller wineries that are not as easily found on the magic maps. As for who we tasted, well, we’ll be posting those over the next few weeks. But if you want to check out the Rhone Rangers, click here for their website. And, no, we did not taste all the offerings, nor can we get to every event out there. Our livers would never forgive us.

OddBall Fun With Rubber Chickens

Our friends at Twisted Oak Winery are at it again. They recently had their Take Your Rubber Chicken to Work Week competition. Fear not, you can still participate by voting for the finalists here, as long as you do it before Feb. 17

Alas, we couldn’t compete. As you can see, our rubber chicken Floyd misbehaved egregiously when he accompanied Michael to his day job with the City of Los Angeles Archives.

 

And, frankly, being in a position to give Twisted Oak publicity, it’s really not fair if we enter. Too bad. We love owner Jeff Stai’s wines and his decidedly twisted outlook.

 

Hey, Indy, where is this supposed to go?