2013— St. Francis’ opus, if you would— one of its grandest of grand efforts, Bordeaux spectrum. A certain galaxy speaking from its delicious faultline, reminding me why I’m with wine. This offering actuates the poetic and demanding demeanor you expect from Bordeaux blends. I know, I’m biased. But this bottle’s its own space, its own place and perforation through time continuums. Mostly Cabernet, I think, then mettled with some of the other Bordeauxs. Could call my sister to get the exact blend but I’d rather not and just sip, let it speak to me— this wine reminds me of why I started writing about wine in the first place, why I started to blend my literary terrestrial with cet oenological peripatetic where I live. This contained savory code appeals not just to Meritage chasers, but to any wine lover or roamer or gawker seeking something that perforates their expectations, that teaches them, that electrifies them in ways that delightfully disturbs the way they encounter any new wine going forward. It’s obvious, my tie to this mammoth producer in Kenwood, but believe it or not I’m object in this step-set. And what I get, a contained and convincing red blend. An anthem, singing to all my receptors and analytical receptions. Just finished last glass. One more before bed. The smoke and cherry, chocolate dark atop espresso powder and power, just too inexorable to dismiss. St. Francis winery never speaks. Rather, demonstration and tangibility is its culture. And I’m here, before nightcap, convinced. I’m instructed on Bordeaux amalgamation and attitude— seeing myself in some vineyard, Kenwood or the Left Bank. What do I do? Glass, another. Meditate, alongside my Patron Saint. More I let it sit, after glass final poured, I see more tenacity and character, palate rhetoric and vocality. The wine now not only reminds but instructs me to play with time, to not just enjoy, but purposefully enjoy and understand what I’m sipping.
So I finally had the opening in my schedule to visit St. Francis, the winery I’d argue that started everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. My passion for and relationship with wine, my family’s involvement with wine, and everything wine in my life. I walked through those enigmatic doors through and under the bell tower, and to the bar, where my old friend Ronnie was pouring for two or three sizable groups and managing everything with a fluency and assiduous momentum that anyone in hospitality would envy. My flight took off with the Sauvignon Blanc, a 2014 which showed all the versatile and vivacious qualities I look for in an SB, a bottle with not just a peculiar persistence to its form and fold, but as well food-pairing capabilities and a stern collusion of tropical qualities and texture. Then the Estate Cuvée Blanc, a white Rhône blend which I’ve always enjoyed an not just from taking to white Rhônes perhaps more than others in Sonoma or Napa do– it’s just a finely revolving and musical white wine, with that acidic subtext and slight oak influence that grabs the sipper and instructs on a different way to converse with white wines. Then the Chard which I always love, then a storm of reds Ronnie insisted I taste. I tried to stop him but he wasn’t hearing it– the RRV Pinot, then the ever-famous Behler Merlot, the Lagomarsino Cab, Rockpile Red– everything telling me I need to fall deeper in love with wine and its story and stay close to St. Francis as a winery and why wouldn’t I as it’s always teaching me something new about wine and certain blends and varietals, and something even more rewarding about me as a wine-riled writer and how to see wine in my life.
St. Francis started out as a dream of founder Joe Martin and his wife Emma. I’ve always found their story and path compelling and telling to me, one always scribbling alongside what I sip and intersecting me with magnetic and encouraging people like Ronnie, and all through this industry– only the positive and the love and family-sewn story that brings people over that small bridge from the parking lot and through the doors under the so-known tower.
Once the tasting was over I walked around a bit, out on the patio and to the lawn, and around the parking lot a couple times, just thinking and remembering all the family moments precipitated here, and where I am now with my wined life, and how it all started in that tasting room, on both sides of the bar. When I used to pour with Ronnie and now just as an obsessed patron; one with a near-cult paradiddle to his ideations and speech whenever St. Francis lands in the conversation.
While finishing my entry here and remembering my latest elbow-on-bar scene I sip the Merlot, the ’12, one you’d find at several stores in this area and elsewhere. Dad used to tell me whenever he was on a trip and he wanted a bottle of wine he’d go to a local wine shop, always look for a “Frannie red”, he’d say. And it’s obvious why. Nothing nears this phylum and forward of grape interpretations, red or white. So I take another sip, find my Self in and on a new flight.
And on this Tuesday I find my Self in a more empowered mood than I’ve experienced or felt in days. Here in the adjunct hole, hut, parlor or whatever I let nothing get to me as I only see growth with the mmc project and launching the ‘vvv idea’ in days. The copycenter on the other side of that door to my right is all atwitter, people rushing and copying pages for instructors.. interesting. Have to edit-down the winemaker interview from yesterday, I’ll do that at the Starbucks on 12&Mission after the 370 class. We meet in just under 90 minutes to discuss our first taste of Sylvia Plath’s work. Sorry, was distracted by a message incoming on phone. I know I should let myself get pulled by a device, but I’m Human and am flaw-ridden.
And what else, this day… what else….. Nothing much other than Alice and I have been married 8 years, which I can’t believe, another sharp and stark reminder of Time and its vicious persistence only aging us but uniquely motivating the writer in ways many. May stop by St. Francis on the way to 12&Mission to pick up a bottle or two, and how symphonic, no? As St. Fran’ was the wine chosen for our wedding. Well, that and McManis wines, a couple of them. Not sure if I’ll do any tasting but I really should, always, have St. Francis in the cellar. Or, closet.
Already into Week 7. And how do I feel, what do I want? For it all to be over? Not really, as this morning while buying one of those accordion file holders for my papers I understand and blazingly saw that there is material in the student submission. Even in the weaker pieces– how they understand language and words and writing their own word and language to page. And, how so many teachers become frustrated and incensed with what’s on a page. I guess I understand the frustration of certain teachers, but more so I urge them to learn from it, and why the student struggles with the transference of words, thoughts, what’s “in there”.
The usual English adjunct, and the older Math adjunct in here with me. She, ‘English’, is at one of the computers. Around the corner, the edge of that tall grayish brown cubicle wall division. But ‘Math’ is just to my right, grading some submissions and doublechecking work with a calculator. She always looks at peace and quite communicatively connected to her work while he looks truly beat, disinterested and exhausted. I said hello to full-timer at SRJC yesterday, in the Emeritus hall and he laughed, mentioning something about “decrepitude”, suggesting he either wasn’t happy, was frustrated, or just surrendered. “And he’s a full-timer!” I thought to myself, walking outside to the 3PM meeting.
I again think of the “perfect world” discussion with Dad, at Monti’s a while back, where he asked about teaching vs writing. The answer was obvious about both and he urged me to write about wine, creatively as I do. So that’s what I’ll do and keep doing and writing crEATively for my clients and showing and sharing with people a different view and appreciation of what’s in the glass. So, yes, I will go to SF Winery, maybe even say hello to my baby sister– in fact, let me text her.
I should target a varietal or style when there.. something to review or study. So, then, obviously, Merlot. And SB. But what else? What about a blend? Bordeaux or Rhône or something odd or innovative? Not sure what they have it’s been so long. But I’ll walk in only with a Comp Book. And I’ll not everything, slowly, and with loving labor and finite detail to all nose and palate parts. The “End Game,” as Kevin and I discussed Saturday… for me: MY wines. So I study and with angry passion and intention. Oh I can’t wait. Yes, I will taste after class and report my findings to my sister and see if she has an opinion on my thoughts and translation of what she translated through varietal and style. Have several projects going now– need to make a list in my little black mmc book.
Heard from Katie, I’ll meet here there just before 3 and taste with her till about 3:15. Researching their site, I feel out of touch with my first favorite producer– so many new releases and projects and varietally-centered efforts. This is a re-immersion. A certain reckoning of my wined Self. Ugh– it can’t come soon enough.. so I center and meditate and wonder where I’ll be right when my daughter is born, a full-time writer, writing, Mike Madigan Author and business owner/blogger/wine consultant but not in the cheesy way, one offering honest and useful consultation, much I hate that word, on wines being poured, the order in which their poured, release dates and what be–
Just checked out the portfolio, and I am most excited to taste there with Katie. And, I just learned she was voted “Best Woman Winemaker”. How did I not know this? She’s a loft and stratospherically so with her career. And I aim to catch her. Not with some embittered competitive edge, not at all, if anything she my little baby sis inspires me like no one else does with wine and winemaking and showing me that you can have whatever you want in life, from your career. I think quite frankly she’s a paradigm that can’t be mimicked, certainly not copied.
11:43– shit. I need to get ready for class. Okay, breathe… where did time go? I know, I know, let Ms. Plath do the talking in what I orate in class, it will be here and her past and what she wants to share with us– the battles with Self and depression and the poetic urge to tell us all of it!
I’ve always loved Petite Sirah but this bottle contains more persuasive and proselytizing qualities than most PS interpretations I’ve tasted.. the inaugural contact is not just charming, it’s vocal and musical, with soft but thick and rich floral and chimes of cherubic chocolate framings. Or, lavender? Or violet. This wine is not just reflective of St. Francis’ prominent éclat throughout Sonoma Valley, and the wine world definitively, but as well the ’12 vintage, and the curious capacity that Petite Sirah carries. I, as do others, even the might master somms with all their accolades and menus they’ve designed and talks they’ve given, have always found the type itself a bit evasive, hard to define. But whatever it is, this bottle does more than the mere expected template judicature. Here I’m sipping innovation, a new interpretation.
And the traditional somm will strike! Move to protest and the self elevation inflammation.. “This isn’t Petite Sirah.. something so smooth.. where are the tannins? Why doesn’t it have more smokey notes? Why doesn’t it have…” Huh? Why does it “have” to have anything? Why not a new interpretation of the varietal and provide consumers with a new song? Again, I’ve always loved Petite Sirah, but this bottle by one of my favorite Sonoma County houses has me singing, has me thinking of what other reds they’ll provide me, the apotheosis of a ‘big red’, from the house of big reds. The texture I could carry on about for the entire entry. So what should I score it?… I have to score it something, grade it– “Aren’t you and English Professor? What grade would you give it?” It’s wine.. I don’t grade wine. I just enjoy. And the one’s I don’t, I don’t write about. This bottle, as stated, sings, captures, colludes. And I follow. In sip… Ok.. so….. 98 Points. Or do I write it “MM 98”?
cluedknot and sluggish, after dinner at Mom and Dad’s, and after viewing the house that we both want ours. I sip my night’s cap, Racer obviously and try to push through my tired talk inner; today, wishing I would have run earlier but I didn’t– BUT I did get over 1,000 words into novel, mostly dialogue, developing further Mr. Massamen’s character well’s his friend’s. And for the first time in my writing Life, a character taught me something, as I was writing his lines; what I should do and how I should view wine.. tonight, two wines tasted, a Syrah made by my sister’s friend (PRIDE) and the Pinot my sister bottled.. both with song and vibrant message, but I have to say the ’11 Syrah from Pride had me more observant, attentive, attracted. And then I ask myself, “Which could I sell easier through words, through posts to this blog, or just ‘period’?” I’d say the Pinot, on varietal alone and the body and progression of the wine is such that the pedestrian palate would be more reactive, conversant with its notes. But, that Syrah, to a learned sipper, which I somewhat see my Self, has more magnetism, more.. wine on mind, and what I can do with it; how I can write about it, bend it, drink more of it to become more unified in its symphonic sorcery, and why me? ‘Cause I want to write, and about it, about wine, sip it and think about it and sing from it.. and when on the Road, in my hotel room I won’t go out but stay in the room and write down singular words, whatever comes to mind while I sip, thinking of my son and my wife and any other child we have and what they’re doing while I’m out, on that Road, making money to pay for our new home.
I’ve decided, I do want to make wine this vintage, some Cab or Pinot.. thinking Cab. I love Pinot and yes I am currently in a Pinot basilica, but I’m one of the Bordeaux ball, and I have to dance so.. so….. I’ll again talk to Mark soon and see if I can secure a bit over a ton of Cab, maybe from Dry Creek.. or AV. And I’ll take notes each step, type and print and document my trail as a winemaker, even thought I’m nothing of a winemaker, just a writer wishing to make wine to write about the process and how his character changes– to get close to wine as principle.
I look at the wine, in the glass I hold angularly and think about all the time that went into what I’m about to sip, write about then forget. Those picking these grapes left their families at who knows how early, worked harder than most of us ever will (certainly this writer!). Want to write about that, too, I realize.. the vineyard crew. One think I can thank K—- for is the chance to film that, in ’12, waking early and leaving my family, but not to pick, just to point a camera and shoot.. need to revisit that footage; how they moved and the way the lights picked the certain scenes from the estate, the rounded landscape.. I’m again seeing, and it started this morning, in the dark, while my allergies me pummeled.
my day was very much defined by the visit to Williamson. Stopped by one winery, earlier, close to 11AM, and the guy acted like he was too busy for me, social awkward and pressured, when I told him I was just stopping by to say hello, and maybe do a tasting. His Room wasn’t open yet, so I understand, but there was no call for his disposition. Then I went to Lancaster to pickup my shipment and taste a bit. Walked into the cave with Amanda, a new employee to the estate. Hadn’t been in there since I worked there. She showed me all the corners of the cave and they all looked the same, but now they have a concrete egg, for fermentation (I’m guessing ML, but I could be wrong). Then I went to WW. Had me again thinking that I need to make whatever relationship I have with wine my own, whatever it is and whatever context it takes. Didn’t go to HBG as I wanted to get home, quick as I could, and write the letter to Dawn Williamson, well as the reaction piece to my time there. WAS tempted to go up the street to the golf course as I did my last day at the Sonoma Valley winery, have a beer, maybe a burger. But no. I came straight home. Had lunch, then the meanest most energizing cup of medium roast I’ve had in months. And here I am, writing the last entry for the day with the last of the cab I opened last night. Travel, in the hotel room with a bottle of red, writing, night before I’m to speak the next afternoon, tomorrow, a lecture on Kerouac and his punctuation shunning and embrace (embracing how he shuns conventional punctuation)– Tomorrow’s lectures to be short, as the students in both classes have to arrange their rough drafts, first of term, so after 1A I’ll come back to the condo and start writing my Gorgeous American Grim statement, 500 words at a time I’m thinking– shit, just remembered I needed to backup everything on this monster today, but I didn’t have time and I can say that honestly, I stayed busy, so I can’t be too whip-wavy with my actions, character. I need to just relax, enjoy the connection, or reconnection I made with WW today, and the wines I brought home, that Merlot and Rosé. When should I open them? Maybe this weekend, or Valentine’s weekend. I felt a resurrection in my Sonoma presence today, with wine and my relationship with it, and I realized it was never tarnished, not in the most minuscule of manners. Only have a TR’s worth left in my glass. Damnit, why did I sip it so fast, the St. Francis Lagomarsino Cab? This red is one that forces me to reconsider my own senses and how I interact with wine. And my conclusion, the “result”, if you might: slow down; enjoy; don’t asses, just experience and sip, think… And I finally have time to do just that, now. I can see that others see the New ME, after last Wednesday, how I love, love, love to be in love, with everything and everyone positive surrounding me; the forefront of reflection lies in a smile, or a collection of. I swirl the last sip in the glass, more than likely just over an ounce, smell… chocolate, cherry, vanilla, light oak and damp soil. The palate’s not important. Olfactory’s what adheres most to memory, and that’s what matters to the writer. I couldn’t care less what these winemakers that can barely write their own tasting notes and these sommeliers that can’t write at all would say. I’m noting what shakes me senses and currency, currently. That’s poetic, and to paginated.
vocally full glass of my sister’s red cuvée.. the one I mentioned earlier. Get-together at Bob’s, nice and diverse and communicative, all about wine. Didn’t get too far into the vertical, but I did encounter three vintages: ’95, ’97, and ’01. I didn’t know something that reprising and drawn could come from the Sonoma Valley AVA. But I learned, and I grew from tasting the wines year to year and now I have more material for ‘Krystal Vision’.. oh how I want to write that novel before the Massamen piece; and I had a thought, a lovely scope, flash just now, my whole literary and novelized career rounded from the lives of my sister and I; she, Krystal, and me Mike Massamen, and there it is, family on page, a “family business” as they love to say in the wine world but many times it’s just bullshit. But with my MSS it’d be truth, so truthful. The red tonight, more settled, more serene, more mirroring to my preferences, and what else am I supposed to look for? I’m a consumer just like anyone else and I want to sip wines I like, no? The effects of the red are staring to catch me, and I didn’t sip that much at Bob’s house, and I didn’t have a glass as day’s end, today, but I’m slowing, I see, but I’m fighting, potently. No distractions, just prose and stories and the people coming into the tasting room to taste but also some of them for answers, answers to what?… Who knows, it’s wine, that’s what I repeat to myself, but for someone from Iowa or South Dakota, say, it’s more; it’s mythic, it’s Gregorian, palatable Pantheon. And it’s only wine, that’s what I repeat to myself but I live here, it’s my life and I do see myself slowing, I have to type faster like Kerouac before he submitted his ‘Road’ manuscript.. how did he do that drunk? I’m barely bent and I keep having to delete and retype. Driving around the property with Sophie today reminded me of the spell and liturgy of the the vineyard and the Naturalism surrounding the commercial, the transactions, the wine club signings and all the ‘goals’. What? This is Heaven! And we trivialize it! We bastardize it! We reduce it to campaigns and banners and billboards on 12, or 29, or 128.. frustrated with what I see and in love at the same time, wine.. dividing my diligence, so sip whence…
Bed, sleep, sounding more than musical at moment. I need to finish this glass so I can close this night, the chapter that is.. and the bar, not full today, no as much as yesterday, and not as much material, disappointing. And the wine’s done, there, done, now I can close the day. Staring at the empty glass, I think of myself on the Road and having to give a lecture the next day and how I should be in trot of going to bed at more regular hour, like now, 9:23. Why am I not in bed? Tomorrow morning I’ll try to get little Kerouac to school early then to Kenwood to write, maybe some of that hit-and-miss coffee they have in the container in the back by the breakfast burritos. But I need to stay in this barreled bind, in wine, at all times, but tomorrow nothing of such sway! I’ll be running, then the next morning to ‘Road’ with 1A, then to ‘Sur’ with 1B.. I see completely all that’s me… Need sleep. Singular speedy shift, then I skip…
And I’m hardly surprised in this case as my sister was the maker of this wine. Quick notes, as more specifics are to be later typed: dark, heavier body than most Zin pursuers will be used to; dark notes, chocolate, maple, cedar– balanced, playful, and antagonistic. I won’t lie, I’m a fan of my sister’s wines. While at St. Francis, I tasted the only Chard they were pouring, the SoCo, and three Zins. This is the one I brought home. Was proud of myself for only getting one bottle, as I’m such a wine bagger. Paired this bottle with carne asada tacos. Now I want to research winemaking more, get myself to a knowledge level where I have the choice of starting my own “label” and knowing it’d be successful, profitable in the first year. But then I choose to write about it. Why spend all that money when I could just find one of my legal sheet blocks?
Another sip… a little hot. Think the alc is 15.5 or 15.8. A little higher than I’d like, but I can’t think that way as a consumer; winemakers won’t make wines for you. There’s a balance of expressiveness and artistic integrity, and then vintage/varietal representation and its marketability. She has a tough job, my little sister, one demanding and changing and unexpected, and around-the-clock. I used to be obsessed with Zinfandel, the only wine type I’d pull from shelves, but then I found bottles that were too fruity and too everest in alc, unbalanced and barbaric. But not this RR fruit; there’s a poise to its personality that would overshadow the alc even if it were in the 16’s. It’s hard for me to calculate and solve, but then maybe it’s not meant to.
I look at what’s left int he glass. And I don’t want to sip it– wait, am I writing my review right now? No. I don’t write reviews. I react. And this wine is vocal and elementally enigmatic about its accentedness. And it’s a Zin. Russian River’s known mostly for Pinot and Chardonnay, I guess. So with that little capsule of sagacity I can only be somewhat stunned with a Zin from their AVA. I keep staring. The color. How’d she get it to such fuliginous, and with oak-woven notes that can only a palate provoke– Ugh, I sound like a wine blogger now. This is the kind of wine I’d write to, that I’d finish a novel to. That’s I’d have in my hotel room, writing, watching unfamiliar streets from a high floor as I did in Paris, with my wife asleep behind me.
I’m just playing with the vampiric cloud in the glass, turning it clockwise, then counter, seeing how its shape changes and varied intentions become even more postmodern. Now, more smoke; then chocolate covered cherry. I used to write about a character who sipped this very form of red. What would she say? She sip slower than me. I’m a writer, a Beat– undisciplined and rattling– an incensed mamba. “Understand the voice,” she’d urge, then go back to painting.