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6 For The God Dionysos I Am Thankful

6 For Dionysos let us be thankful.

For this god of civilization, rising from the east, traveling ever westward, rising with the sun, divining the moon, god of ecstasy, of poetic dreaming, of architecture and mysticism, of rest in times of need, of springing into resurrection , divinity of madness and of song, dance and flight and fantasy: I am thankful for Dionysos. Where would I be without him?; without the vineyards of the world?; without the millions of vines, hundreds of thousands of artists and artisans working, doing, fulfilling the promise of the god?

At this time of year the harvest of the the god must give great pleasure to the weary vineyardists, hearing the wild fermentation and smelling the divine aromas arising from their efforts, from fermenters and casks, from pithoi and jugs. Dionysos is at work. Dionysos is about to arrive. In fact in those vineyards devoted to carbonic maceration vinification he is already here, the first wine of this year has arrived: Nouveau wines, made by sealing the grapes without air, together with their yeasts, so the yeasts go mad with hunger for the grape sugars they smell profoundly in this captivity. In their frenzy they cannot wait, they will not wait, they do not wait for this divine meal. Boring into the grapes the miniscule ferments begin to eat within the grape the wonder summer has wrought within, sugar. Being overwrought in their feeding wildness, the ferments belch while consuming their divine meal, belch carbon dioxide and alcohol, bursting open the grapes. And thus does Dionysos’s magic transform these un-pressed grapes into a wondrous wine of fruity flavors and fragrances of roses and persimmons. Nouveau Gamay is particularly, headily delicious. I am thankful it is arriving as I write. By tomorrow I surely will have found several to enjoy during this thankful week.

Once, in 1984, when I was the western US agent for Bouchard Pere et Fils wines from their estates in Burgundy (akin to being the Sorceress of the West) the Ahwahnee Hotel in California’s Yosemite National Park and I hosted Yosemite’s first Beaujolais Nouveau wine weekend. The Ahwahnee already poured Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy by the glass, and they wanted to be the first National Park to have a Beaujolais Nouveau festivity. Mindful that Yosemite is one of the grandeurs of California, I wanted this festival to include some California Nouveau wines too. So I went to meet with my friends, Robert Pecota in Calistoga and Charles Shaw outside of St. Helena to ask them to please join us in celebrating the first wine of the year. Then both were alone in making the real “Beaujolais style” nouveau wines with the Gamay Noir au Jus Blanc grape in the US. In fact for Chuck Shaw’s winery this 1984 nouveau would be the first of a long tradition. We all met in Yosemite in July, with wine-writer Robert Lawrence Balzer, and planned the Beaujolais Nouveau event for the release of the new wines in November. Mid-November Jean-Francois Bouchard, the fils of Bouchard Pere et Fils, flew in on the Concord to bring the first cases of his nouveau wines. Charles Shaw and Bob Pecota brought their in by car up over the snowy passes into Yosemite Valley. Joining us to discuss foods that accompany well these young fruity wines was America’s darling, Chef Jeremiah Tower from his Star’s restaurant in San Francisco. Writing about it was James Suckling, newly elevated to staff writer at the Wine Spectator. Writer-showman Robert Lawrence Balzer played the master of ceremonies. And all the rest of us there in the exhilarating Ahwahnee hotel enjoying these new wines with delicious Thanksgiving dishes. For this first wine of the year I bow to Dionysos.

No thanksgiving would be truly celebratory without Champagne. I am thankful for Champagne. Another GrandeDame of Champagne, Madame Lily Bollinger, should be thanked for her advice given while describing her pattern of life: “I drink my Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” – Should we not be thankful for Madame Bollinger?

Thanksgiving is not quite here. Maybe tomorrow I could find another small excuse to be thankful for Champagne?

Julius Caesar, be still. Your time will come.

Madeleine de Jean,

The Night Julius Caesar Invented Champagne.


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