Thursday, March 14, 2013

Late Nights With Hudson, Doug, and Howard at EWE 2013

Hudson Cattell and I sat next to each other in two large comfortable arm chairs on the balcony overlooking the cocktail party in the large, three storied lobby of the Lancaster Conference Center, in Lancaster, PA.  We were attending the Eastern Wineries Exposition 2013. The din of chatter, the clinking of glasses, and the hushed footsteps of those walked by created an almost impenetrable white noise difficult to overcome. We talked in stilted conversation, both of u preserving our feet, having stood all day.

Last year Hudson Cattell capped what was essentially his Annus Miraculous. He was feted in this same conference center last year, celebrating a Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to east coast wine. In that same year, he published with Linda Jones McKee PENNSYLVANIA WINE: A HISTORY.

Cattell’s career is a storied one. Along with Lee Miller he started Wine East magazine, which he sold not too recently. He started out young with the wine industry, and essentially knew everyone. He knew or met Philip Wagner, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Charles Fourenier, Leon Adams, Mark Miller, Hamilton Montbray of Maryland, and many, many others. He came of age in a time when the east coast still had as many wineries as California. He came to love wine as wine was just beginning to take off in the United States. It’s been almost all upside ever since.

I asked him if there was anyone he didn’t meet whom he regrets that he did not. He shrugs, and mentions two names lost to history that fascinated him, but admitted that in the grand scheme of things, the names were probably not well remembered for a reason.

Hudson had been a ubiquitous presence all day, roaming the halls with his rumpled suit jacket and wooden cane. He wandered in and out of one meeting room after another, sampling the air, testing it for information. In some rooms he sat down. In others he waited, as if a bus was coming, and then left like he forgot he had an appointment somewhere else.

More than anything, the news to me, and to all of us, was that Hudson is working on his magnum opus. His ultimate work. For Cornell University he is writing the history of wine on the east coast. From Maine to Florida to the Mississippi, Cattell will tell the story of wine on the right coast, from prohibition to the present day.

I asked him a half-dozen questions, the upstart journeyman peppering his better with questions and thoughts, trying to pry out the wisdom locked within. He was obliging and polite, like an old tired dog who tolerates an unyielding puppy. Around the time for dinner, Hudson suggested we get to the diningroom lest we not get good seat. No problem. Hudson was whisked away to the prime table to sit that night with the more important members of the audience, among them Howard Bursen, winemaker from Greenvale Winery(?), and Doug Moorehead, that night’s honoree, owner of Presque Isle. I was left to wonder, several guests whom had guaranteed to save me a seat were not able to hold their promises, and I was left wondering the dining room looking for a place to land when Richard Leahy invited me to his table. Turns out I was with Hudson and Doug and Howard.

Douglas Moorehead was in the Army, stationed in Germany, after the Korean War had ended but before Vietnam had started. After a two year stint, he came back to the US and decided he wanted to make wine…wines as good as the ones he’d tasted while stationed in Europe. Doug, along with others, pressed the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a Farm Winery Act in that state. He was its main proponent. Pennsylvania was amongst the first to pass such legislation. Now it was time to do something about it.

Almost five decades ago, Frederick Johnson (Johnson Estate) and Doug Moorehead (Presque Isle Winery) pioneered the establishment of French-hybrid and vinifera vineyards, which are also happy in this terroir, especially those with Germanic roots, and they are increasingly being planted for the growing wine industry.

But there was another problem: buying equipment. Back then there were only large wineries. Small wineries had no small suppliers with whom to deal, so Doug began to sell winemaking supplies and equipment and soon started supplying a fledgling east coast industry.

Two generations of winemakers have relied on his advice and understanding, and the resounding phrase, “Ask Doug,” has been the catch phrase for hundreds of winemakers from the east and mid-west.

Doug is funny, self-effacing guy who has lots of great stories. He attended college with Rosie Greer, famed defensive lineman of the New York Giants and later of the Los Angeles Rams. “Nicest man you ever met,” says Doug. Doug knows or has supplied just about everyone in the industry in his lifetime. He is a treasure trove of stories.

And let me tell you, even after a full day of lectures and roundtables, and an evening of festivities, Hudson, and Doug, and Richard, and Howard were all there, Art Hunt too, at an after-hours party, with David Flacheck (great wine writer from Pennsylvania) and Richard Leahy laying down some incredible wines!

During the course of the day stories were passed around about Ham Montbray, Philip Wagner, and Dr. Frank. Lots of quick little stories and lots of laughter. The night was filled with one great story after another, all told with a glass of wine in hand.

But it occurred to me, I really can’t wait for Hudson’s book….because there are all these great folks involved in the east coast wine industry. A whole generation is passing or passed. And someone who was there needs to set it all down.