Of Marathons and Moutons
As is sometimes the case, this newsletter is only partially related to and inspired by wine (see the second story further down). Oh, and by Marathons! As you may have read, the Boston Marathon, perhaps the pre-eminent foot race in the world, concluded on Monday with huge amounts of News coverage even beyond the world of Sports reporting. What does this have to do with wine? Well, my father, in the foreground with a teammate running in the 1951 race, was an avid wine collector ever since that same time. Although I have a wine shop, he had a wine cellar, and what a cellar it was! New York Times Wine Talk It was written up in the New York Times (link above) when he sold and donated about half of his collection to his Alma Mater. I recently sold off the remainder of this cellar for my mother. BTW, let me know if you have a cellar which needs selling as I have a great recommendation. Amazingly a few leftover bottles, and hardly the best of the lot, still commanded well over a thousand dollars. Much of Pop's collection was Burgundy and Bordeaux including the best known of both regions including Domaine Romanée-Conti in Burgundy and many Chateaus in Bordeaux such as Petrus and Mouton Rothschild (featured in a the story and a picture further below). Pop somehow developed a passion for wine while attending Harvard University where he also ran Track. He funded his purchases by working on and selling a few cars (along with his brother and a friend) - one of which, a 1929 Rolls Royce Phantom, he kept for over 50 years. Everybody in the family enjoyed taking the Rolls out on a nice Sunday - often after Pop tinkered with something to start it up or keep it going. All four kids would hunker down in the rumble seat, popping up and imitating gangsters to amusement of other drivers (or at least a lot of horns were blown by them). That would occur on a spin around town and sometimes a trip to the Dairy Queen on the edge of Princeton N.J. - across from a cemetery which we all, rather non-reverentially, explored after our burger and ice cream. Ooops, sorry, that's another story. This story is about my father (who passed away last August) and some of his vivid memories of running the Marathon and of scouting out wine regions in Europe years later. He traveled and lived in Europe for business, and lived in various countries with my mother, and then three of his children, yours truly included. As many of us do, he had stories to tell and most of them never got old because it was so obvious that he was so truly enjoying the memory while telling the tale. This was especially true in the last couple of years of his life when memories often failed him, although not the best ones. They were about my mother, running Track, being a Lieutenant J.G. and gunnery officer in the Navy, his family and yes, that Rolls, as well as traipsing through wine regions and enjoying the fruits/grapes of that labor. Since you've also labored long and hard to get to this point I will pass along condensed versions of two of those stories, one distinctly about a famous winery.
The first tale is about his Track career at Harvard where he was initially put in shorter races until a new coach in his Junior year transitioned him exclusively to the Mile where he thrived. That same year he, for some reason, decided to run the Boston Marathon which at the time only had a few hundred runners - a far cry from Monday's 30,000+ runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Despite not really training for the event, other than putting in some longer miles than usual on his team training runs, he managed to go out and finish the race. In fact he came in 44th of only a few hundred, well behind the victor from Japan (interestingly six of the top ten finishers were from outside the U.S. even back then). This was a fact nobody in the family knew until I looked it a few days ago. Pop always downplayed the result but not the gratification he got from participating. The number is only important because he has always signed off letters and notes with the valediction "44". That number has been in use in our family ever since without even knowing that Pop was a 44! As far as I know he never made that connection but I'm glad it's there. What he really got the greatest kick from (a miler should, after all, have a finishing kick) was the fact that his coach blew up when hearing that two of his runners entered the Marathon. He vowed to kick them off the team if they did so again in 1952 and my father believed him, never returning to Heartbreak Hill as a runner. No matter, doing it once was enough for him and it provided a wealth of storytelling for another 70 years.
The second story is about a wine adventure he took in Bordeaux while on a business trip in the later '50s. He would often find a car, or this time a bicycle, to use to tour around wine regions on weekends. On this one he was trundling along an estate known to him and stopped a farmer on a tractor to ask if he could climb over the rock fence to try a couple of grapes. The farmer rather skeptically asked the poor French speaking American why he wanted to do that? My father told him that he collected wine, including those of Mouton Rotschild which was the estate. After a ten minute or so conversation about farming, wine and who knows what else, my father was invited to dinner by the farmer. So, he joined the truly legendary Baron Philippe de Rothschild for dinner, and undoubtedly wine, that evening and was invited to spend the night. I'm not sure if he purchased the Iconic 1945 Mouton Rothschild before or after this encounter but I remember him pouring it while I was in college as it had the distinctive "V" for Victory (WW2) on the label - I wish we still had a few bottles of that to sell! 1945 Mouton Rothschild This was the first vintage that the Baron asked an artist, Julian Philippe, to design a portion of the bottle's label. That tradition has continued ever since and has inspired many other wineries around the world to do something similar over the decades since. The 1952 bottle in the following picture (consumed in Oakland with my father and family) was of a "She Ram" by Surrealist artist Léonor Fini. Evidently she outraged much of Parisian society with her extravagant parties.
I guess Philippe enjoyed them, or perhaps just her art! I'll finish off a long newsletter by saying that my family misses my father's stories (and making fun of them now and again) and don't mind that we don't had First Growth Bordeauxs or Domaine Romanée-Conti in the shop (but let me know if you want any - they're out there). However there's plenty of other good, less pricey wine to visit us for. Feel free to tell us a story from one of your parents when you come by!