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It almost sounds like a set up for a bad joke, “What happens when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a segregationist governor walk into a bar?” But it’s actually a great story, and I’ve included a link for your to enjoy it yourself this holiday, recounted in Doc Lawrence’s “pull up a log and set a spell” natural storyteller’s voice.

From: “A WINE TASTING FOR THE AGES: DR. KING AND FINE WINE: A HISTORIC MEETING”  by Veteran Atlanta journalist and broadcaster DOC LAWRENCE and his wonderful Sips Across America column and blog.

 

“On a rainy night in Atlanta, four men met somewhat accidentally in a wine store with a rear lounge. One was the great Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another was the segregationist governor of Georgia. They were joined by the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor Ralph McGill and the store owner, Jim Sanders, the foremost wine importer in the South at that time. Sanders, a gifted writer, recorded the events of that evening, typing everything on his ancient Underwood typewriter.”

As he approached death in 1999, Sanders told me the story and entrusted me with his manuscript. I promised to share it with the world and to this day believe it to be one of the most fascinating tales involving wine and its potential for peacemaking.

I read Sanders’ transcript of that historic evening on my Atlanta radio show and proudly share it as Jim Sanders intended. I hope you join in sharing this with others.

There are many things to love about this odd evening of wine and conversation, and how, in a small, intimate moment over fine wine (a rosé, a sauternes sampling and a 1957 La Tache –Now selling for $3000-4000 a bottle, if you’re having a REALLY festive MLK day) these four men from very different perspectives and walks of life were able to civilly converse, and put aside their differences if only for a moment. One of Dr. King’s gifts to this country is, he helped get us to a place where the conversation lasted a lot longer and the civility took root in our hearts not just on the surface. In the spirit of a life well-lived and a philosophy of which we are the lucky recipients, here’s some ideas for wine and food pairings you can try for Martin Luther King Day.

If you’re feeling expansive (and fully recovered from Christmas and New Year’s excess) by all means, follow Dr. King to the mountaintop of deliciousness and indulge in a Southern feast fit for a King (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

This is a great post from RJ Reeves Jr. in Scrumptious Chef “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Favorite Foods: Celebrating The Great Man On His Birthday.”

However, The Sonomaist is endeavoring mightily to keep up her New Year’s Resolution of simpler and lighter, so y’all will have to let me know how those southern fried delicacies worked out! As an alternative to RJ’s righteous blowout, here’s an easy, light Southern Butter Bean Soup Recipe from Elizabeth Kelly that is both a tribute to Dr. King, and, bonus, a great pair with an “unassuming and flavorful little rosé”  of the type that was on the menu at Jim Sander’s wine shop that fateful evening. Since the name of that particular wine has been lost to history (and let’s face it, do you really want a 50 year old rosé? Didn’t think so.) Here are three choices from blowout to bargain —

2010 MacPhail Pinot Noir Rosé ($20) Crisp with a funky, barnyard-y strawberry nose. Nice barnyard finish that pairs well with the earthiness of the butter beans. (87 pts.) * Link is to the 2011 vintage.

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé ($33) OR the 2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé  ($42) Both are toasty bright strawberry inflected sparklers, but the 2007 vintage has a bit more gravitas than the more straightforward but perfectly enjoyable non-vintage offering which tends more towards the berry and less towards the rose petal and smoke of the 2007. Let’s put it this way, the N.V. is brunch and the 2007 is dinner. (N.V. 86 pts./2007Vintage 89 pts.)

2009 Inman Family Brut Rosé Nature Sparkling “Endless Crush” ($68) If you really want to blow it out big (It is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, after all) you can’t go wrong with this incredible 100%  Russian River Valley Pinot Noir stunner. Bone dry but with beautiful mineral, yeast and raspberry notes, followed by a bracing key lime acidity on the back. This is a gorgeous wine to cellar for a few years, or, break out this MLK day, even better! (94 pts.)

It is well-documented that Dr. King’s absolute favorite food was pecan pie, a difficult food to pair with wine to be certain, but I think it’s interesting that Mr. Saunder’s recounts in his memoir that Dr. King came to the wine shop searching for Sherry and ended up sampling three Sauternes, both a bit off the beaten track, but great matches for, you guessed it, pecan pie! Here’s a great post from Wine Peeps with some fantastic pairings (Sherry and Sauternes, natch) for that most quintessentially Georgian desert.

I find that legendary historical characters are far more interesting when we can look at them as ordinary people who did extraordinary things (doesn’t that make them even more extraordinary? If they don’t have capes and still perform amazing feats of strength?) That’s what I love about Saunders’ tale, it was a small intimate moment in a larger-than-life man’s existence. I like to picture Dr. King checking his watch and hurrying home after this strange evening at Sanders’ wine shop and recounting to Coretta the crazy night he had, perhaps over a nice glass of Sherry and a generous slice of  homemade pecan pie. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day everyone!

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Dunstan Wines first crossed my radar screen at the 2011 Pinot Days event in Santa Monica California, where 100+ premium wineries pour their latest and greatest. Even among all the stellar participants, Dunstan were way at the top of the list, besting many producers I love and had been anticipating tasting for weeks (not naming any names.)

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I remember from that tasting that their Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir was absolutely lovely, managing to be both spicy and elegant all at once. But the real revelation was the Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, that Chris snuck out from an ice bucket behind the bar (These were PINOT days after all) recognizing a kindred spirit, probably because I mentioned my familiarity with the Durell property from Kistler (an extravagance I will allow myself occasionally because their chardonnays are apparently made of equal parts grapes and angel’s tears.)

As much as I enjoyed the pinot, the chardonnay was absolutely amazing. In the same league as the Kistler, at a far more accessible price point ($40.) This lead me to believe  there had do be something going on with those grapes. So, The Mister in tow, we went to investigate, and catch up with Chris again, almost two years later, on his blessed turf.

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Looking out from the porch onto the Durell Vineyard with a glass of the 2010 Dunstan Durell Chardonnay in hand is one of those beautiful moments that I want to be able to conjure whenever I’m stuck in hellacious rush hour traffic on the 101 or the guy across the street decides to indulge in some early Sunday morning chain saw tree trimming.

The Vineyard itself spans three Sonoma appellations: Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros offering a perfect balance of Sonoma Valley sun and Pacific Ocean breeze. It also happens to be a breathtakingly beautiful location, even by the standards of an area that specializes in “Kodak moments.”

The 2010 Dunstan Durell Chardonnay is the third vintage (2008 was their first produced from vines planted in 2005.) Even so young it displays great balance. Rubbery and buttery like a Montrachet with a flinty slate back and plush, voluptuous mouthfeel. This drinks like a chardonnay of double the price. And, like I say, there are winemakers out there who are doing just that. The Dunstan folks aren’t hoarding all this precious juice for their own label, they also sell to the aforementioned Kistler as well as Chasseur and Gloria Ferrer, among others. The Durell grapes also go into a vineyard designate at Auteur Wines, where their brilliant winemaker Kenneth Juhasz struts his stuff.

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The sand is chardonnay soil, the red is pinot noir soil and the black rocky “diablo” on the far right is for grapes sold to sparkling producers.

Durell Vineyard owner Ellie Price and Chris Towt

Durell Vineyard owner Ellie Price and Chris Towt

As much as I hated to leave that view, Chris was eager to show us more. We went back inside their lovingly restored guest house where he gave us a tutorial on soil, which doesn’t sound very interesting, but it is eye opening to see the differences in the dirt from whence your favorite quaff has sprung.

His eyes lit up and his smile broadened when I noticed a recent magazine cover featuring his lovely wife and business partner, Ellie, a U.C. Davis Viticulture and Enology graduate, animal welfare and environmental activist, equestrian, mother of two, oh, and if that’s not enough, she had the great foresight to purchase the Durell Vineyard from the man himself, Ed Durell back in 1998. Ed had wanted to use the land to raise cattle…his loss, our gain.

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As we tucked into the 2009 Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir, their second pinot vintage, I had to ask about the meaning of the horseshoe on the label. Well, it turns out that not only did Chris and Ellie first meet on a horseback ride, but, when they were doing one of their first plantings, they discovered an old rusty horseshoe buried in the soil. The name Dunstan is not a family name but refers to St. Dunstan, the blacksmith of legend who nailed new horseshoes onto The Devil’s hooves (this devolved into a long digression where we all tried to figure out why The Devil needed shoes to begin with, why he needed to outsource the work, being The Devil and all, and questioning how a U shaped shoe would even fit on a cloven hoof…and you thought all that soil talk was geeky!)

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Anyway, The Devil found the shoes to be painful and begged Dunstan to take them off (Again, he’s The Devil, you’d think he had some shoe removal skills…apparently not.) Dunstan agreed on the condition that Old Scratch never darken a door that displayed the horseshoe overhead. There’s another myth that involves Dunstan pulling The Devil around by the nose with hot tongs, but I, once again, digress. As for “up or down” on the horseshoe itself, for those of you in the market for guaranteed Devil-proofing, apparently it’s two points up in a “U” shape, to keep the luck inside dontcha know?

Okay, enough with my Satanic tomfoolery, back to the wine…

The 2009 Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir had a nose full of tar and roses, dark black cherry fruit and black tea with a long, lingering cracked black pepper finish. It was, in a word, fantastic.

They also make a rosé that’s only available as a mailing list allocation as well as a second label, Pip, that’s currently distributed in 13 states as well as served in restaurants (including the delicioso Rosso Pizza in Santa Rosa!)

As we rose to leave, Chris had one more surprise left in store. We went out to the old dairy barn which he’d converted into his own mad scientist’s wine lab. He was brewing up his own blend of cab-merlot made from Bismark Mountain and Rutherford grapes he’d scored in exchange for some cases of his own fabulous stuff (this in addition to running a winery and his own e-commerce company. Where do these people get the time?) He gave us one of his unmarked bottles to try. We haven’t popped it yet, but if those grapes were worth multiple case of Dunstan, it’s sure to be fantastic!

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