Last week I was looking through old photo albums – and yes, I have “photo albums", unrepentant luddite that I am - for a shot of Klaus Neckerauer to use with that piece, and I found one but it wasn’t good enough to reproduce. In the process, though, I unearthed a beautiful shot of a bunch of us standing in the Singerriedel vineyard in the Wachau, along with Franz Hirtzberger, whom I then represented. This was in the mid nineties, I surmised, probably my first customer trip to Austria. I recognized my old, dear friend Hiram Simon (who was generously if tragically willing always to give me the benefit of the doubt!) along with the late Bill Mayer, the always forward-thinking Francis Schott of Stage Left in northern NJ, the redoubtable Steven Geddes, a dashingly youthful looking Tom Schmeisser, one of the smartest wine retailers I’ve ever known and certainly the most decent human being. Paul Provost was along as well, long-since retired from his own distinguished retail years – Paul and Tom bought German wine from me as far back as 1986. The picture made me wistful. I wondered who took it? Because that person was there also. Purely coincidentally there is a Facebook post today from Mr. Francis Schott himself. Last week I’m looking at him in a vivid picture and this week he thinks of me; nice “coincidence” or whatever it is when that happens. Synchronicity? Why not?
Francis’ words were generous and good-hearted. I try to resist nostalgia, as I can never forget Frank Zappa’s immortal words (“The world will not end by fire or ice, it will end by nostalgia and paperwork.”) and also because it’s the tacky gift-wrapping for something that’s actually a very sweet gift; those moments when you hover above your life, and see it as a through-line, as a whole. After twenty five years selling Austrian wine, it was lovely to remember how it felt at the beginning. Francis wrote:
“Here is a little-known story of an industry that was practically destroyed overnight, that rose from the ashes to be stronger than ever. Do note, that it had to reinvent itself, even the ones who were not part of the public health emergency that destroyed it. I was invited on a trip to Austria in 1996, along with 9 other American wine-buyers and sommeliers. Austrian wine was almost nowhere in the US back then. There was one crazy guy importing it and preaching.
I spent half a week with Terry Theise (thank you still) visiting 6 wineries a day and then feasting like a king at night. Rough work but someone had to do it. Remember, these wines were unknown to the world back then. It was only 10 years after the scandal. But they were beautiful and singular and something with great history, yet entirely new.
On that trip I discovered a new and exciting wine region, many extraordinary producers, met several friends I hold dear to this day. After the trip I spent a few days chasing Peter Schleimer and Steven Geddes MS all around Austria on a motorcycle as we reviewed restaurants for Peter's magazine Vinaria. Lunch-150 miles-Dinner-bed-150 miles-Lunch-100 miles-dinner-bed- 50 miles - lunch - back to Vienna! Holy cow! And Peter's magazine paid for the food! So Steven and I only paid for the 6 bottles of wine per dinner!
But here was an entire industry that had reinvented itself. From cheaper alternative to top quality and from dry to sweet and all with transparency and resolve. This deserves to be remembered more for how people of integrity recovered. Is there a lesson for us? Certainly there inspiration and a ray of hope. Drink a Gruner Veltliner today!”
Yup, drink a GV today and a Blaufränkisch tomorrow and a Riesling on Sunday though not only on Sunday, needless to say. Francis reminds me of how it felt to possess a gorgeous secret and then to share the amazement with other people. Sometimes skeptical other people! But sooner or later the truth of the wines would prevail. Back then I was bursting with delight at this thing I had found, this place, these people, this remarkable culture of wines, renewed, washed clean. I have to thank you, Francis, for restoring to me a feeling I tend to resist, to repel, because I don’t want to be “proud.” It doesn’t serve me, it isn’t useful to the tasks at hand. But reading what you wrote I let myself think “Pal, even if it was by luck or accident, you did some good things in your life, and you were willing to embrace the loneliness of the pioneer.” I am so grateful to every single person who made it less lonely, and joined in my delight at the shining new wines we were learning to love. Blessings on you Mr. Francis Schott.