The thunder was still off in the distance as we approached the sprawling Metuchen compound owned by Andrew Munro Scott and Jennifer Clark, but the air was heavy with anticipation. Six weeks earlier we had been told of the imminence of this event, and were asked to wait patiently for a signal to be given, as much depended on the proper interpretation of lunar cycles.
Two days ago the paper had been slipped under our apartment door as we slept. I found it in the morning, bearing only the word Biodynamie written on it in some kind of charcoal-like ash, and a chill ran down my spine. I knew the time was at hand.
Yesterday Lisa found a sealed packet of instructions sitting on her office chair after she returned from a trip to the fax machine. Inside were driving directions and a long list of what we should and should not wear ("no gold jewelry... no watches of any kind... loose-fitting clothes that you can move well in..."), as well as a request that we not alter the carefully balanced atmosphere of the event with negatively-charged industrial winelike beverages.
There were also pages and pages of material about the zodiac, mixing of 'fundamental medicine' in variously clockwise and counterclockwise directions, the preparation of horn dung by burying dung in a cow's horn over the winter in order to fill it up with the necessary vitalizing energy, dynamizing the ashes of target insects, and a great deal more. We sat down that night and got through as much of it as we could, and my dreams were dark and full of ominous imagery, poisoned grapevines reaching out to me, crying out for rescue from chemical pesticides, shedding bitter tears that looked like wine, or blood, or both.
Today we find ourselves racing the thunderstorms as we make our way across the desolate New Jersey countryside. We are late, and are happy to see the WLDG's own SFJoe hesitantly walking up the great stone steps as we arrive. We call out his name and he turns with the shadow of fear in his eye until he can make out our faces. We proceed through the grand archway together, happy to have company in this quiet, echoing place. Up ahead we can hear the voices from the enclosed porch, people speaking low, the occasional guttural laugh.
Our hosts greet us, Andrew and Jennifer clad in brown robes. Joe 'His Vouvrayic Majesty' Dressner is there as well, scowling furiously at something in his glass, and Robert the Prince of Ungulates comes to quietly greet us. Oleg whispers in our ear "don't fight the first one, it only hurts at first," and Don and Melissa Rice, accompanied by the ominously small Alan (a little person doing some kind of odd slow-motion dance), nod by way of greeting. There is also a mysterious hooded figure, smiling cryptically, and seeming to run the event from behind the scenes.
Oh wait... it's just Connell.
Suddenly I am grabbed roughly, many calloused hands thrusting a glass into my hands, pouring, making me drink a Lolonis Carignan Redwood Valley 1998. It's a medium garnet color, with sawdust and dark sour cherry-candy on the nose. Tastes tangy and crisp, there's decent balance, but the fruit is simple, tart and on the thin side, and the thinness is accentuated by the fact that the stuff smells like a sawmill. I used to buy a bunch of Lolonis's zins, but the last two wines of theirs I've had (this and the 97 Orpheus) have truly been wines only a termite could love.
Oleg is right; it only hurts for a minute at first. Then I am released and Andrew beckons me on down the steps into the dark, dark basement. I crack my skull against something vague projecting from the ceiling, and look up through red mist to see his eyes gleaming as he shows me the sacrificial animals that we are going to let blood later in the evening. They wave their legs at me, not knowing their fate. I shudder, head still ringing, and we go back upstairs to find more wine.
By the time we return they've got Black Sabbath on the sound system, and we are sat down at a pentagram-shaped table for the horn dung soup, which is attractively decorated with little purple flowers. Jennifer, for reasons known only to her, decides to douse Lisa with cold water. Is this an occult wet t-shirt contest, or are we being tested somehow?
A Domaine de la Sansonnière (Marc Angeli) Anjou Blanc 1992 is poured as a distraction: it is a medium-pale straw-lemon color, has some interesting honey, chalk and lemon-tea hints on the nose and gets my attention with some grabby-tart chenin fruit right up front that turns racy and lean through the midpalate and finishes medium-length and lemony. Not a heavyweight, but a bright, pretty, amiably crisp chenin that goes well with the creamy horn dung soup.
With the occult yowlings of Ozzie Osbourne thundering in our ears, we assail the first of the evening's Joly wines, a Becherelle Savennières 1997 and 1992. Both are a pale straw-gold color; the '97 is quieter on the nose, with some buttery honey and Earl Grey tea notes tinged with limestone, tight but silky-smelling. In the cakechute it's a bit rounded at the edges, slightly soft and velvety-waxy around a tightly wrapped core. A muscular wine that has good heft and weight in the mouth, it's wrapped up tight but it's not unfriendly at all, richly flavored and clean.
The 1992 is a good deal more aromatically complex, with a smoky-flinty quality that the younger sibling lacks, along with the limestoniness and honey-butter hints. The 92 doesn't seem to have the sheer muscliness and density of the 1997, but it's got a bit of complexity to make up for it. I prefer the younger wine, but this is still very nice.
Just when I think I understand what's going on, there is a change of pace. The Tomasello Winery Traminette Atlantic County 1999 is just such a thing. Pale straw with a slight greenish cast. Callahan weighs in: "Smells like New Amsterdam Ale," and he is right, as there's a distinct yeasty beer-head aroma to this one, with hints of yellow apple and gardenia florality. Tangy, a bit listless and giving only a slight nod to its gewrzy parentage, this has a hint of sweetness and no real finish to speak of, but it's not bad. A light, simple little floral softie, although a bit of a vicuna in this lineup.
It is time now for the main event. The lights are dimmed. The faux-Satanism of Black Sabbath is replaced by the authenticity of Mercyful Fate (Lords of Glam Rock, Underworld Division). In sweeps a hooded Mr. Connell, who bangs thrice on the floor with his staff and announces the beginning of the Coulée vertical. We meekly submit.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1991: Pale straw-lemon color. The first whiff off this one is strongly marked by a sulfurous brimstone aroma, effectively hiding what lies underneath. With some time it recedes a bit, revealing celery-seed hints along with the requisite minerals, and a sharp snap-pea greenness underneath. Very odd, and not very pleasant. In the gob it's a crisp wine, crisp to the point of hardness, with tart fruit and a lemony-stony-sulfury finish. It's hard to cotton to a wine that is this sulfurous, so we move on to the next with a bit of trepidation, with Dressner explaining that oftentimes the problems with these wines are caused by Joly not saying "putain" enough, or at all.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1992: Pale straw-lemon. This is much better. The nose is spry, honey, yellow apple and minerals on the nose, lacking the greenness of the '91, more yellowfruity. Tastes rich and yes, it's hard, but it's got a velvety skin to cover its steel spine, and it's a fine match with Dutch Mess (salt cod-fish in cream sauce), a compact, rich wine like a steel spring. Delicious; strong and young and richly complex chenin. I go back to it after the others, and think it seems a shade friendlier and more accessible than the later wines, although not as big and dense as some.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1989: Pale gold. More honeyed than the previous two, with orange and lemon-rind notes above a less stony base. Bit of oxidation here, traces of apple-juicy flavors in the midpalate, seems a bit older than it is, but it's still got a lot going on, a lot of stuffing and fine acidic balance, although it's softer than either of the first pair. With air even more of a honeyed character emerges.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1990: Pale straw-lemon. This is a wine with a lot going on. Swirling brings out the waxy-pineapple tropical hints over the chalky-lemon-honey base, along with earl grey tea and a hint of that snap-pea greenness. Not as hard as the 91, not as soft as the 89, this hits a fine middle ground, with the coiled-spring density that is present in all these wines not intrusive or overbearing but decidedly there, giving a sense of weight and strength.
And they just keep coming...
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1996: Pale straw-gold. Oh my. Strikingly rich, deep nose, so much going on... yellow nonspecific apple, beeswax, honey, tea, lemon oil, light chalkiness. After thinking the others were muscular, rich wines, this takes muscularity to a new level, dense and powerful and built for the long, long haul, but letting you in on its secrets even now. Wonderfully balanced for such a big wine, seamlessly integrated, with no element out of balance, a weighty mouthfeel and a spine like Trajan's Column. With a bit of air, white and yellow-flowery notes emerge. Most impressive, most impressive indeed, and my favorite so far, although ages from being properly ready to drink.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1985: Pale straw-gold. This is showing much more open and expressive than the bottle some of us had a few weeks ago. The nose is still rich and vigorous, but not as whispery-quiet this time--stony honey and minerals in lemon oil, with a trace of smoky nuttiness. Still a bit quiet and tight through the midpalate, rich and long and more layered than the younger specimens, but comes alive once more on the long, blooming finish.
Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant Moëlleux 1995: Corked. We all groan with disappointment. Except Callahan, who laughs and taps the bottle lightly with a cloven hoof. Such things amuse our little Princeling of Darkness, and on that note there is a call for a sacrifice to be made to appease the cork gods.
A trip to the basement is made to procure the victims, and, one by one, small chitinous animals are first killed, then broken into bits with our bare hands and ritualistically eaten with drawn butter.
As sacramental wine, we choose a Domaine de la Bongran (Thevenet) Cuvée Tradition Mâcon-Clessé 1996: Pale lemon color. A bit of a startling departure from the Savennières, the smoky-lemon-pear-butter nose quickly warms up in my noseholes, showing light green hints and matching the creaminess of the buttery sacrificial animal flesh very well. In the midpalate more pear and some baked Golden Delicious apple with butter lightly rubbed on it. After the colossal 96 Coulée this seems a bit of a rootbeer float of a wine, but only by direct comparison, as it's creamy and fruity and round and friendly, with a touch of sweetness. Good stuff, but I still have the remembrance of Coulées past in my mouth.
Dressner is waxing philosophical about his upcoming heart surgery, laying the groundwork for the Joe Dressner Memorial Pro-Am Paulée de Vouvray in the year 2001 ($900 gets you dinner, a brass band, and a charity auction to win a dinner with 'Danny' Allias, apparently an ITB figure of some kind) so that his heirs won't have too much to do. He claims to have had a fine, full life of bringing quality wine to the American people at reasonable prices and hopes to meet his Maker with confidence, should it (heaven forbid!) come to that. He then beguiles us with wonderful stories from his many weddings (all to the same woman), including the famous 'Transvestite Orchestra' story from the fourth-wedding Strasbourg nuptials. We laugh appreciatively.
Heavens, here's a Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec 1986: Medium gold. Wax, honey, apricot on the nose, hints of orange rind and Lipton brand tea. This wine seems far more mature than the 1971 Demi-sec we had a month or two ago, indeed it seems a bit off form, tasting sharp and tart, a bit metallically sour. Smells much better than it tastes; this bottle doesn't seem quite intact to me, but what the hell do I know anyway?
The sacrificial portion of the evening being done, we get down to some dinner, some hot steaming chunks of cows' flesh, charred on the outside, bloody in the middle. It seems fitting and proper, and there are red wines to enjoy as well. Callahan is forced by his own set of occult beliefs to gnaw on a mushroom.
Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Gamay 1997: The Kane-approved gamay, this still packs a ripe wallop, dark purply-red color, with rich peppery-dark plum and berry fruit. Plenty of spine here to back up the gushing berryganza, piquant acidity and some sneaky-fine tannins. Smooth, ripe and rich, a big, almost over-the-top gamay that turns smoky-dark on a 41-second finish. Four and a half brightly polished cubic zirconia Prongs on a bed of green baize cloth, with the potential to add another half prong sculpted from oatmeal and baked in the oven if the wine develops in the cellar.
Domaine Desvignes du Tremblay (Janin) Moulin-a-Vent 1993: Medium garnet color; dark strawberry-plum fruit... crisp... at this point I am distracted by someone saying the phrase "...lesbian mermaids," look around to see what that's all about, and before I know it the next two wines are being poured.
I never did get an explanation on the reference. If anyone can clarify, please email me.
The acolytes have prepared a couple of old soldiers to meet their destiny. First we try the Domaine Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny Vielles Vignes 1978, which is a bricky medium-pale ruby, ambering at the rim and into the rim annex. Smells leafy-cinnamony, some leather and baked yam, with a green-brown leafy streak that turns toward pineyness with time. Fairly light in body, this is an earthy, feathery-complex wine, quite crisp, tasting of earth and leaves with some very fine glassy tannins sliding in almost unnoticed on the orange-yammy-leather finish. I think I hear some deriding this one as vegetal, but I don't mind the piney streak.
Next up is the Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1978: Bit redder than the ambering Saumur-Champigny. At first there is also a hint of pine here along with earthy-sod notes, but the nose soon segues into a dark pipe-tobacco phase, while a base of leathery cran-cherry fruit hangs out underneath and hints of eucalyptus flicker in and out at the high end of my nasal range. This is a richer, more impressive wine than the lighter Filliatreau, especially when it turns dark and tobaccoey after a half-hour or so. There's plenty of rich, layered flavors and a core of vibrant but interestingly developed cran-cherry fruit (this, for example, seems much livelier than the '85 we had a year or so ago, which had turned pond-watery). Very rich, very complex, very good.
Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Villages Sûr Spilite 1997: (A blend of cab & cab) Medium-dark garnet, with dark gravelly berry-plum-tar notes on the nose. Rich and ripe, a purply berryplum wine with a gravelly undertone to the rich purple fruit and just enough structure to back up the lush fruit. Some strong medium-rough tannins kick in on the finish. Two and a half chrome-plated Prongs, the first the size of a Buick LeSabre, the second smaller but shinier and in better condition, and the half-Prong so shiny you can see half your face reflected in it.
Andrew, in his late-night enthusiasm, is starting to raid the cellar. We beg for mercy, but he is pitiless, forcing more wine down our unwilling gullets.
What have we here? Why it's the original starfruit wine, the R de Château Rieussec Bordeaux 1989. It's a pale tan color, and yes, it's got some starfruity hints dancing about in a base of honeyed yellow flowers and minerality. Tastes tangy, with bright, lemon-edged fruit that has soft fruity-floral hints and a light creamy-waxy mouthfeel. There's wood here, but it's not quite enough to make me uncomfortable and there's a good level of cheeky-monkey acidity that leads nicely into a creamy, lemony finish. Pleasant.
Niepoort 'Senior' Fine Old Tawny: Medium gold-brown, with amber at the rim. Big smells here--lush, rich toasty-nutty nose, with darker shoyu and brown sugar hints underneath. Tastes as big as it smells, quite sweet and richly nutty-dark, with an orange rindiness flickering in on the midpalate and hanging in till the end of the flavor road. A big ol' tawny that packs quite a fine old flavorful punch.
And with that we sense an opportunity. Lisa points out the back window and shouts "Look! It's King Diamond, lead singer of Mercyful Fate!" and as the Occultists rush to see their hero we bolt out the front door, through the grand arch, down the stone steps, through the great gates and into our waiting automobile. They are not happy, and pelt after us with murder in their eyes. We are forced to defend ourselves, and the spraying Cloudy Bay bottles take a horrendous toll on them as we race off with a final cry of "Eat beverage, bio-boys!"
It's been a week or two since that dark night. Three days ago Lisa found the powdered ash of a cabbage moth in her coffee mug. The words Joly and Preparation 501 were scrawled on our mailbox. They are watching us, waiting, biding their time.
We keep to the well-lit paths at night. There is some safety in numbers. I have a bottle of Turley Petite Syrah close at hand at all times. They say it burns their flesh.
Pray for us.