Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Losses To Wine Culture, Here And Abroad

- Grab a hat. Practice your dance steps. Prepare to share or at least hear giddy stories about the jovial and colorful Ralph Kunkee, who died last month. Officials and graduates of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, where he had a long and influential career teaching and researching the microbiology of wine, have settled on Jan. 7 as the date for a memorial service and celebration of the life of Ralph Kunkee. It begins with the memorial service at 11 a.m. in the Buehler Alumni Center at the southern reaches of campus, to be followed by the celebration in the Sensory Building of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Organizers stipulate that persons who plan to attend must register here so they can be sure to have enough food and wine for everyone. There will be no charge for the events. More information is to be posted on the department's Facebook page. The dancing, incidentally, no doubt will be to the Village People's "Y.M.C.A.," with which Ralph Kunkee liked to cap a party.

- In this homage, veteran wine writer Dan Berger reports that plans also are taking shape for a memorial service for another grand old man on the wine scene, writer and teacher Robert Lawrence Balzer, who died last week at 99. In addition, Michael Rubin, a seasoned Napa Valley wine publicist, posted this telling anecdote on his Facebook page:  "I think they invented the phrase 'one of a kind' for the late Mr. Balzer. One of his charms was the ability to laugh at himself. He told of a wine trip to Australia back in the 1970's. Somewhere off tracks way back in a wine region that took a small plane to reach, he'd gone to lunch with his hosts in a local pub. Often attired in eye-catching garb, he was wearing bright red pants, a checked red vest and a large red bowtie. He said he was in the men's room standing at a unrinal when a dusty local in blue jeans and boots walked in, gave him a thorough up and down look and said, 'Say, mate. Wore on a bet, didin't ya?' Rolbert knew everyone, at a time when that was possible, and his books on California wine remain classic historic looks at a sleepy industry before the explosive 1970's and onward. He wasn't alone in thinking he'd make it to 100. A personality from a very different time." Also, the Wine Spectator's James Laube provides this affectionate and comprehensive look at Robert Lawrence Balzer's impact on the California wine trade.

- Thailand isn't exactly recognized for its wines, but it does have a nascent winemaking trade. One such brand goes by the name Mythical Garden in Thailand, Radee in the United States. The wines are made with fruits other than grapes, notably mangosteen, pineapple and litchi. I was looking forward to visiting the facility where they have been produced during a forthcoming visit to Bangkok, but just learned that the plant was inundated by about five feet of water during the city's prolonged recent flooding and has been abandoned. Production may resume eventually, but for now it's on hold, says one of the principals behind the product. In the meantime, persons looking for a rare kind of wine during the holiday season - and one that basically is about to be extinct, at least for awhile - they best get over to the grocery store Corti Brothers, where Darrell Corti still has about a case each of the mangosteen ($31.50) and the pineapple ($27); the litchi is sold out.

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