Friday, February 6, 2009
Outlaw Winemaker Runs Into "The Law" in Texas. Was Justice Served?
I am an outlaw winemaker, who ran into the long arm of The Law in Texas. Was justice served? Was Justice able to serve wine to his fans? And what is it that Texas' women keep hidden in their boots? To find out the answers to these questions and more keep reading. I was born to be an outlaw. When my fugitive ancestors (distillers of illegal Scotch) fled to this country from Scotland, they changed their surname to “Justice” to throw the law off of their trail. They settled in North Carolina and took up tobacco farming and moonshining. I have no license from the TTB (that’s the Federal bureau that regulates alcohol). And I don’t know my ABCs (that’s the state bureau in California that regulates alcohol). The reason I didn't attend President Obama’s inauguration and stayed on the farm allowing responsibilities of serving the nation to pass me by is my confirmation hearing would have gone like this: Senator: “When is the last time you mailed alcoholic beverages across state lines without a license?” Answer: “Your honor, I don’t recall ever mailing alcohol across state lines. We normally ship things via Fed Ex. If I had shipped wine to a friend, I wouldn’t be able to recall because our quality procedures require me to do a thorough tasting first and I would have tasted quite a lot and not remembered a thing.” Senator: “Why is it that your tax return doesn’t show withholding of social security taxes from the illegal aliens you hired at your vineyard?” Answer: “Your honor, I use the same tax advisor as our Honorable Secretary of the Treasury, so I’ll let him answer that question. But, for the record, we don’t employ aliens – we only hire human beings.” So, while the rest of you were at the inauguration – or watching it on TV -- Bluey and I stayed home and threw a “Wino’s Ball” in our garage opening up the barrels for the coyotes, grasshoppers, mice and black widows who came. I called my friend and neighbor Joe the Wino to join us. “Joe, we’re having a little shindig over here to celebrate the new era. Why don’t you drop on by?” He was livid. “This country’s headed in the wrong direction.” Before he could hang up on me I interjected, “Joe, I’ve got a suggestion. Since you’re convinced your taxes are going up, why don’t you leave the US? Come with me to Texas this Friday. You can visit W. while I attend a software expo and pour wine. What do you say?” Joe, who owns a high-tech company in San Diego, thought that was a good idea and suggested we go in his jet and bring Bluey along for the ride. Without Joe, the “Wino’s Ball” carried on as best we could and when it became clear at dawn that Barrack and Michelle would not be able to attend this time, we topped off the barrels and started packing our bags to go to Texas, where we were organizing a wine tasting for our fans. Yes, Texas. Bluey and I make a pretty mean wine. In the words of “Armadillo” Dave, a transplanted Texan who now lives in the Santa Cruz appellation, “F_ __[expletive deleted] this wine is good!” Armadillo Dave and his buddies call it “outlaw” wine, naturally, and they love it. After Dave made his comments, I suspected that we had a brew that Willy Nelson and his friends from New Braunfels would appreciate and made plans to conquer Texas with the Blue-Merle--what Texan could resist the charms of our Longhorn-herding-canine and award-winning winemaker? Bluey and Outlaw, headed to Texas. Hee haw! Recently, as our faithful readers have noticed, the Winemaker’s Journal has descended into debauchery writing on such prurient topics as “Sex in the Vineyard” and “How to Pick-Up a Vineyardista.” Recently, I friended three priest friends on Facebook who have since become subscribers to this Journal. They did not voluntarily subscribe, mind you; I laid guilt-trips on them. I reminded them of the years of Sundays I was tortured by their sermons, and, if they wanted to keep receiving periodic shipments of our wine for communion and their Sunday dinners, they’d better sign-up as subscribers. (I am now convinced that hell on earth for a priest is having to read the weekly sermonizing of one of their parishioners.) With clergy now making up the majority of readers of Winemaker’s Journal, I experienced an epiphany and realized it was time to clean up my act. First, I appointed myself “Winemaker to the Bishop”, donating a tithe of all the wine we make to the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego and the Rt. Reverend James Mathes. Next, I vowed to repent the sins of licentious writing and outlaw living to follow a righteous path, and, to get the permits I need to sell wine legally. With these resolutions in mind, I boarded Joe the Wino’s Lear jet and we took off for the Grand Hyatt hotel in Austin, Texas with a case of the Blue-Merle’s finest in the cargo hold and Bluey himself at the cockpit controls as soon as we entered Mexico's airspace. I brought Bluey’s airman goggles and scarf so he could pretend to be Snoopy, the World War I fighting ace chasing the cursed Red Barron, dive bombing against gophers in the vineyard and shooting the terrorists down from the skies. As we entered Texas airspace over El Paso, I asked Joe, “With the recession and everything, is your board of directors giving you any problems about keeping this jet?” “Naw, I pay their salaries, so there’s been no griping at all.” He then gave me some facts about fuel economy. “With all the rounds of golf I play, I walk about 900 miles per year. “ Then he asked, “About how many gallons of wine, beer and moonshine do I buy from you each year?” “I’m not sure, but I’d guess about 20 gallons.” “Well, don’t you see?” Joe asks. “With those 20 gallons of alcohol I get 900 miles on the golf course. That’s 45 miles per gallon – you could call me a regular hybrid!” Joe bursts out laughing. He thinks he’s funny – my friend Jon sent me that joke on the internet last week too-- but since it’s his jet, I must admit he’s pretty funny too. Joe flew off to Waco to meet W. after dropping Bluey and me in Austin. After checking into the hotel, we decided to check out the town since the night was still young so we crossed the bridge and headed to 6th Street where we took in the late show at “Esther’s Follies” which had Bluey howling at their songs and good humor. Walking the streets of Austin several bands paid homage to the Blue-Merle inviting him into their venues for a sip of wine and a dollop of music. There were moments when we felt like we were in little India and little Beijing as University of Texas students and international techies crowded the cafes and streets. I could see why Joe came here to recruit talent – you could roll a bowling ball down the street and hit ten geniuses. Here is an engine of future economic growth. Unlike the me generation of the US with its entitlements to BMWs financed by excessive venture capital (which has dried up in this recession), one rising class of entrepreneurs will be represented by Indian and Chinese immigrants who live on practically nothing as they bootstrap their fledgling businesses. I had come to Texas to attend a national meeting of sales reps of SHI Inc., known as Software House International, experts at software, hardware and integration, not to mention partying after hours. These are good people who service software buyers throughout the country and I was glad to be there to show them our company’s software. With some 50 other vendors in attendance, I knew we would stand out from the crowd by offering a little country hit from our little winery in Blue-Merle Country. To help me out, I hired me a professional wine pourer from San Antonio, Ms. Connie, known as Texas Hot Pants and the quickest pourer in the West. She pours a mean glass of wine, has more gun-powder in her personality than Annie Oakley and has a wicked gift of the gab to entertain the guests with the wine while I washed their brains with my software. When the Blue-Merle sets up its wine distribution in Texas later this year, she’s the one tapped to be in charge. While setting up before the event some of the SHI reps came up and greeted me with hugs. “What’s that for?” I asked. “We heard you brought your wine,” they’d say. “Well come on back during the show and I’ll pour you an extra glass for that hug.” The strategy was working. Just after Ms. Connie suggested we keep a low profile – lest there be some obscure Texas laws we run up against – the Banquet Manager, who had been so helpful during set-up finding me a power supply and extension cord—come up to me with a lovely smile. She looked like she was ready for a quick pour. “I heard that you’re planning to serve wine?” “I cannot tell a lie to one as beautiful as the Yellow Rose of Texas.” “Well you can’t.” She went on to explain that there was a bar operated by the hotel in the same banquet room as the SHI event and there was a law that prevented us from pouring our outlaw wine in the same room where the licensed bar was operating. “We can’t allow co-mingling of the wine,” she said. “Do you allow co-mingling of guests?” “If you want to invite guests up to your room for a private wine tasting, that’s allowed.” Now that was an interesting proposition. I could see it now, telling everyone who came to our table to see the software: Private wine tasting in my room after the show, room 1402, with a view of the river, Austin City Lights and the State Capital building. I asked the manager, “What time do you get off work?” “4:30 a.m.” “Perfect, we’ll have a sip before I catch my plane.” So not wanting to mess with Texas, I put the cork back into the bottle and the manager left. “Connie,” I asked, “Was that a yes?” “I don’t think so.” “Look, now that I’m living a straight and righteous life, if my mouth escapes my brain and invites you up for a private wine tasting please slap me!” I gathered up some boxes that couldn’t fit under the table top and took them to the 14th floor room to get them out of the way. I was riding down the elevator on the way back to the exposition when it stopped at the 5th floor and in walked a strawberry blonde with a glass of Merlot. “Miss, did you know that you’re in violation of Texas alcohol laws?” “Do you mean walking around in public with an open container?” “No, something more serious than that. Co-mingling. You’re carrying around a glass of wine and the hotel has a bar serving wine and it’s not allowed for you to have your own glass.” I then gave her my elevator speech about how I was an outlaw winemaker and was planning of having a legal wine tasting in my room after the exposition. (The astute reader will note that I did not invite her for a private tasting although I certainly thought of inviting her to Merlot Mike’s next grape crush where she could supervise and define the making of “fine Merlot.”) Back at the exposition the sales reps made their rounds and my outlaw instincts resurfaced as I thought of discretely pouring from a bottle to our fans. It would be good for my outlaw image. I reminded myself that the 3-priests would be reading this (if not watching) and I survived the temptation. We demonstrated the software for the next three hours and held a raffle for the bottles of wine and we were so busy there was no time to eat. As soon as the bar closed at 9pm I proposed to Ms. Connie that we enjoy a well deserved dinner at our little table top display so she rustled up some meat from the carving station and some fromage from the cheese station and some crackers from another station and we sat down at our little table as the other vendors were tearing their displays down around us. I placed a candle on the table while Ms. Connie reached down and pulled a bottle of the Blue-Merle’s finest Petit Verdot Plus right out of her boot and poured a round for us and a few lingering sales reps. “So that’s what you Texas gals keep in your boots!” She corrected me explaining that down in the no country for old men where she lives not far from Tommy Lee Jones a woman’s more likely to keep a revolver in her boot than a bottle of wine. My phone rang at 4:30am and I remembered my date with the banquet manager. “It’s time to get up you lazy cowboy.” It was Joe the Wino. “You told me to meet you at the airport at eight. What’s going on?” “W and I are going hunting this morning. Wanna join us?” “Is Dick Cheney gonna be there?” “Hold on, let me check.” A few seconds later, “W says Dick’s gonna be there.” “Look, give W my best, but Bluey can’t stay still if he sees a bird. He’s a wine dog, and W doesn’t drink. Besides, I gotta get back home and get this pruning started.” So Bluey and Outlaw left Texas, without breaking the laws, much, and started the task of cutting, twisting, bending and tying the vines. (Will the vines get pruned before bud burst? Will it ever rain again in Southern California? Will Texas Rangers raid the Blue-Merle ranch? What will Joe the Wino say next? Will Bluey catch Mr. Gopher before he meets Mrs. Gopher and baby gophers over-run Blue-Merle Country? Be sure to tune in next week for the continuing adventures of Outlaw and Bluey to find out.)