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Dad’s Cigar

June 19, 2011

Material goods are fleeting. It’s experiences that count. Not that I don’t appreciate the cold-brewing system that I imagine is coming my way for Father’s Day thanks to Mrs. Fussy and the Fussy children (after I explicitly told the missus that it was the only thing I really want).

But it’s meaningful that Mrs. Fussy is actually doing the buying. She’s willingly bringing into the house yet another gadget for my coffee-making pleasure. And for someone who doesn’t like clutter, that’s a very big deal indeed.

I don’t have a gift for my dad today. So instead, much like when I was a kid, I’m going to write him a card. Except unlike when I was a kid, this will be a very public card. You are welcome to read it, because while it about my dad, it is also about wine. And experiences.

In this case a cigar isn’t just a cigar. But it’s not that other thing either. You’ll just have to read on.

Growing up my dad always smoked a pipe. Well, maybe not always. But he was definitely a pipe smoker. He had a pipe rack on his desk at the law firm that contained a collection of pipes, and he smoked one on the boat.

At some point in my childhood he gave it up, but whenever I catch a whiff of pipe tobacco, it brings me back to those early years on the boat.

My dad and I don’t get to spend much time together these days.

I’ve got children living at home who need my care and attention, as does he. But he also has a grueling job that places inhumane demands on his time. It’s a job that can require him to hop on a plane to anywhere at a moments notice. All of which make it exceedingly difficult to schedule a trip to Florida for a visit, or for him to come here.

So I’ve learned to cherish those rare occasions when the two of us can be alone together. They are precious, and I know that everyone in his life wishes they too can have more of those moments.

One of those times was at a favorite French bistro in San Francisco (which has since closed), Jeanty at Jack’s.

I had been living in California for a while, and by that time I had learned a thing or two about food and wine. We had mussels to start, and my dad thought they were some of the largest and plumpest mussels he had ever seen. He had just come back from Switzerland and was telling me about his newfound love of aperitifs.

We were looking at the wine list for dinner, and I chose a bottle of something special.

For me this was a big deal because for years of my adult life I was terrified of wine lists. It’s a long story. And my father isn’t exactly a wine slouch. Many years ago he bought one of those big wine storage refrigerators and solicited the help of a local sommelier to stock it with good Burgundy and Bordeaux.

I picked a big, French-inspired Californian wine. It was Bonny Doon’s Le Cigar Volante. The vintage escapes me. But while this is one of those wines that does indeed vary significantly vintage to vintage, the fundamental idea is the same bottling to bottling. It’s a Rhone blend of Grenache, Mouvedre and Syrah.

The very first time I had it was with Raf at Chez Panisse, and it seemed like a good choice for my father (who likes his wines big and French), to show him what California could do with grapes.

It’s a serious wine with a funny name and a funnier story.

He loved it. Really loved it. So over the years I have managed to send him a few bottles. I even found some at a good wine shop near him in Florida. Now whenever I see this bottle of wine, I cannot help but to think of my father, and that great time we shared at a quiet table in San Francisco.

Maybe one of these days dad will decide to slow down a bit. I’m not entirely sure where he is today. I think he may be off to do some work in Los Angeles, but it’s hard to keep track of him. I will call him and hopefully get a chance to catch up.

Regardless of the limited amount of time we currently get to spend together, I’m very grateful for the experiences we have shared. Every day there are things I encounter that remind me of my dad. From the smell of his old aftershave, to the sounds of halyards clinking on masts, to the taste of Cel-Ray, to the sight of his old guitar.

Without a doubt, he has been one of the strongest influences in my life. And so much of who I am today flows out of my relationship with him, it’s not even funny. Except for that part about being driven by work. That seems to have skipped a generation.

Happy father’s day, wherever you are.

I love you,

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