Intentionally Unintended Consequences.
For a bunch of guys hanging around Philadelphia with each other in 1776, declaring Independence from England was surely not what most of them thought they’d be doing when they sent a few disgruntled letters to the King a few years earlier.
The rest … they say … is history (sorry, couldn’t resist.)
200 years later on May 24th, 1976, a gathering in Paris made a different sort of unintended history.
Using America’s Bicentennial Celebration as a good reason to try some California wines alongside a few iconic French wines turned out to be a revolutionary way to celebrate the impact those guys made in Philadelphia all those years ago.
History loves irony.
In an unusual twist, an Englishman living in Paris and his American collaborator stumbled—almost accidentally—into the history books when their little tasting turned the wine world upside down.
As Steven Spurrier said to me after the dinner in his honor at Stone Tower Winery last month “as an Englishman, I usually didn’t go out of my way to celebrate America’s Independence.”
“as an Englishman, I usually didn’t go out of my way to celebrate America’s Independence.”
Humble wine merchant becomes historic wine legend
In Steven Spurrier’s Memoir Wine – A Way of Life, the Judgement of Paris chapter begins with “Grandpa, why are you famous”. I hadn’t read the book when I met Steven, so I had a good laugh remembering that I told him that my kids had asked me earlier that evening “Dad, why do you love wine … and why do you have so much of it?”
I had squarely placed the blame on him.
Or, to quote Madeline Puckette from Wine Folly in SOMM 3, “It’s Steven F’ing Spurrier!!!” Exactly!
Before he became “Steven F’ing Spurrier”, he was owner of the fine wine shop Les Caves de la Madeleine, and teacher and advocate of fine wine at his L’Academie du Vin—the first independent wine school in France.
Steven Spurrier is a wonderful story teller and he has quite a few good ones to tell.
The Obligatory Judgement of Paris Recap.
This post is not meant to be another Judgment story. There are tons of those … including one recently written by the subject of this post.
You should read Wine–A Way of Life and learn all about it directly from the source. But for context sake … let’s regroup.
Even if you don’t like wine, you’ve been impacted by the Judgement of Paris. After all, It’s kinda a really big deal.
The tasting was intended to show that quality wines were once again being made in California. The blind format was chosen to remove bias so the California wines would not be dismissed outright. Spurrier hoped they would get some positive marks but when the CA wines placed first against the top French wines, it became another shot heard round the world.
The tasting that Spurrier and his Acedemie de vin director Patricia Gallagher put together, featured 10 red wines and 10 white. When all was said and done, the upstarts from California had finished 1st in both categories. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was the top white wine, and the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon was voted best red.
Is it really that big of a deal?
Ummm … Yeah! But, don’t take my word for it.
Example A: A bottle of each is now part of the collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History! How cool is that?
Example B: The 114th Congress honored the 40th Anniversary of the Judgement and our English friend (hero) in House Resolution 734 for the “the impact of the California victory at the 1976 Paris Tasting on the world of wine and the United States wine industry as a whole.”
It’s repeated and mimicked and copied everywhere. Just last year, my wife indulged me by joining me in “The Judgement of St. Michaels” that the resort we went to for our Anniversary repeats many times each month.
Big win … In my first blind tasting I called where each wine was from (training wheels were provided).
Reality check … despite my early success, I’ve yet to repeat my rookie luck.
Things we can blame the Judgement of Paris for:
- Better Wine … French … and American … and Australian … and Chilean … Argentinean … New Zealand … and, AND, AND!!! Today, we can get a delicious bottle of wine from just about anywhere in the world at a price point to match any budget.
- Economic explosion … Before the Judgement, there were 350 wineries in California, today there are are more than 4,000.
- In 2016 America drank 949 million gallons of wine … In 1976, only 376 million gallons. That’s nearly 600 million gallons more!
- Outrageous real estate prices in Napa Valley … and eventually anywhere quality wine grapes can be grown in America.
- Speaking of which … wine grapes are planted all 50 states!
Bride Valley is the latest chapter in Steven Spurriers’s life.
Life is full of surprises.
I’m typically not a fanboy. But, I was so nervous/excited when I set out for dinner at Stone Tower that my kids were even picking on me. In fact, my introvert was working up the courage to move past being nervous so I could introduce myself, but like a true English Gentleman he beat me to it.
Spoiler alert, he is just another human … one who’s happened to do some pretty cool things while trying to find his way through life—just like the rest of us. After asking one “Judgement” question … you know … to seem professional, we shared wine and a wonderful down-to-earth conversation about life, dream projects, and whether or not all the hullabaloo ever gets old.
It’s clear he’s a pro at being a good guy.
In his own words
After reading Wine–A Way of Life, It’s easy to understand how he’s become so relatable. His journey has been filled with ups and downs and he openly shares them alongside lessons difficultly learned. The big underlying take away is that if you tenaciously pursue your passions and commit to getting up and trying again when you get knocked down, you’ll find a life packed with fulfilling memories in the rearview and big dreams to keep chasing.
The latest big dream has manifested itself as Bride Valley Vineyard. After years in the wine trade, Mr. Spurrier has turned
Once a teacher always a teacher.
When he owned his shop in Paris, he launched a school next door and hasn’t
Goals people! Whew! I’ve got to step up my game!
Life is meant to be lived, not watched from the sidelines. You can’t know how you’ll impact the game unless you play. Steven Spurrier is always in the game.
A wonderful wine, a delicious dish, and a personal story each paired perfectly by Steven Spurrier and the Stone Tower Winery team.
Wait! What about that amazing dinner at Stone Tower Winery?
Our intimate group of 50 folks was treated to amazing food, fantastic wines, and wonderful conversations.
Just look at the menu and pairings in the pics … all inspired by chapters in Steven Spurrier’s life. Everything was simply incredible.
Also in attendance were brothers Jason and Brandon Wise – the makers of the SOMM films and soon to be released SOMMTV streaming network. It was a nice surprise and paired perfectly with meeting one of my heroes
Stone Tower Winery is a pretty special place. It’s truly a world class effort. The owners and staff are genuinely nice folks to spend time talking to. But … That is surely another story!
Get it straight from the source
Rating: 3.75 outta 5
I have mixed feelings on memoirs. While it is always nice to get the story from the person who lived it, sometimes the writing makes it difficult to keep turning pages. There is a little of that in this book, but mostly, this is an enjoyable peek into the evolution of the wine world … not only from a person who lived it – but one who’s responsible for it’s creation.
If you love wine then add this book to your reading list.
Get it on Amazon: Wine – A Way of Life
2015 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine not just get to the point!
Rating: 4.25 outta 5
From: California; Napa
Grapes: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot
Taste: Soft yet complex. There is a subtle power in this one. The nose hints at fruit and herb. The flavor is blue, dark and spicy. Maybe cherry or blackberry. It lingers in a very soft and pleasant way. Delicious.
Other Stuff: If you’ve played my Presidential Tasting Game—and why wouldn’t you—you’ll understand what I mean when I say this wine is like George Washington. It’s an icon. It manages to be both subtle and have an irresistible presence at the same time.
This needs a little time to open up. I decanted and then tried at 30 minutes, then one hour, and at about 2 hours it was wonderful. Plus, it was amazing with the ribeye steaks from the local butcher.
When I told Steven Spurrier that I had a few bottles of Stag’s Leap Cab that I was saving for my kids, he said … “Not the 1973” … Well … of course not, but these 2015s do the trick for me (and my wallet) and I can’t wait to share a bottle with my sons in 8 years.