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Life During Wartime

March 25, 2020 Leave a comment

This is the e-mail that went out to our Free Range e-mail list 3/23/2020 (links in this one were included in the the original e-mail), after which we’re officially caught up and Free Range e-mail blasts will be posted here, shortly after going out to our shop subscribers:

Hello Free Rangers,

On my tougher days I try to remind myself that, unlike a lot of people in the world, I didn’t wake up this morning in a war zone, or in a region on fire, or completely displaced from everything I’ve ever known. There have been a lot of days like this recently.

All told (tolled?), I am well aware that I am one of the lucky ones. While so many people are out of work and/or losing their businesses, we continue to thrive (gratefully!) amongst this wonderful neighborhood that helped us get off the ground seven years ago. I’m saying this now, as a few people have asked if they could buy gift certificates from us, seemingly to help infuse cash now for future products, rather than for gift giving. It warms our hearts to know that many of you feel this way about us, but having been deemed a necessary business, we’ve been able to stay open, and are doing quite well, by our own historical standards. And just to reiterate, while we are closed today through Wednesday, we will be open Thursday through Sunday 1-6pm (at the very least). Rest assured, everyone who works here will continue to be paid their usual full-shift amounts, regardless of hours worked, besides Derek, who will get a sizeable overtime check for his many hours of invaluable service this week.

Many local businesses are not fairing so well. Our buddy, Kareem, next door at Absolute Coffee is staying open, for take-out only. He is a hard-working, highly moral, multi-lingual immigrant just trying to live the dream, and his landlord seems uninterested in helping at all through the current crisis. So, if you need to stretch your legs, without straying too far from home, please go grab a cup of coffee or tea from him, and/or some of his delicious coffee beans to go, which he’s happy to grind for you on the spot, if you don’t have the ability at home.

You can also support our fine friends at French Louie (and Buttermilk Channel) by purchasing a gift certificate from them, and/or support their out-of-work staff(s) by donating to a fund set up to help them out: Here.

Now, for your amusement, by request from a number of you, the following were our two worst customer experiences (only two bad ones, really) since I last wrote:

1) A woman came in looking for Moscato. “Well, that’s easy,” I tell her, “as we only have one, but luckily for you, it’s quite tasty. It’s a frizzante, so it has a light bubble to it, and that quintessential white peachy sweetness. Foris was a true pioneer in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon and have been there since 1971, when they…”
“I’ve had that one,” she interrupted, “It’s bad.”
“Oooookay,” I replied and went back to restocking our decimated shelves, not bothering to explain to her the difference between her personal taste and empirical quality. I returned from the back, many bottles in hand to find her on the phone, standing directly between all 4 of our new no cell phone signs, and pointed to the one directly in front of her, at eye level, saying as gently as humanly possible, “We have a no cell phone policy.” She rolled her eyes at me, and left.

2) Two women came in the shop, with two spaniels (whom we offered treats, but their humans neither looked at us, nor offered response). Both Derek and I offered to help, separately, and were declined. The pair walked back and forth between the fridge and the shelves, taking up space, and making social distancing impossible. We both pleaded with them to do their shopping on the wall, and assured them that if they intended to open the bottles right away, we’d be happy to get them one from the fridge. They continued doing as they pleased, and then planted themselves in front of the fridge, as a pack, completely blocking the front door. Eventually, they left in a huff, and went home to leave us a 1-star Yelp review. Naturally, I replied publicly. Although, the review was so short that it very well could have been the lady from the previous incident. Whoever it was, she has literally never left a review above 1-star for any business.

Stay strong, keep hydrated, offer help to everyone to whom you have access, and take care of each other.

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

Holy F@ck…

March 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Here’s the e-mail that originally went our to the Free Range Wine & Spirits list on 3/18 (with a few added links):

Ladies, Gentlemen, Children of all ages (over 21 years),

I’ve said this for many years, but it is truer today than ever before: Any day you can you can walk away from is a good one. It’s getting really real out there. Unless genuinely forced to close our doors, we will remain open, though days and hours will be limited.

According to word that has come down from the Mayor’s and Governor’s offices, as long as we reduce our staff by half, and discourage people from gathering here, we can keep the business going. If cops or military show up, and inform us that we are closed, then we will be. Otherwise, going forward, we will be closed Monday – Wednesday, and open Thursday – Sunday 1-6pm.

In the name of discouraging gathering and/or lingering (and for our general collective sanity) we have instituted a NO CELL PHONE USE policy in the shop. Most people have been pretty cool about this request. And for those few who have been shocked and appalled at being politely asked to take their call outside, I’m guessing you’ve already unsubscribed and aren’t reading this. And quite frankly, if at a time like this, you can think about how put out you are by not being able to stroll around our little shop on the phone, you should probably go that terrible over-priced spot on Smith Street. You can do anything you want in there, because they don’t care about you.

Thank you all for the kind words and continued support and encouragement, we quite literally wouldn’t be here without you. Be safe, and take care of each other.
Also, take care of your shoes (if you’ve never been a Phish fan, you won’t get that one).

Most sincerely,
Jack
Proprietor
Free Range Wine & Spirits

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Op-Cred: Do Not Drink This Story

March 26, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to make sense of Bianca Bosker’s loathsome piece in The Times on engineered swill wine since it first darkened my inbox. I get that it’s opinion, but any editor who lets this kind of crap slip by should be ashamed. If there isn’t a better point to be made, maybe give that space to another writer, or even a remotely entertaining ad. I read a smart and fairly measured response by Rachel Signer, and very much enjoyed Eric Asimov’s sober assessment via Twitter. So now that the rest of the wine world has moved on and no longer cares, here goes.

What irked me so fiercely about that absurd defense of shit wine for schmucks is that it posed industrial engineered plonk in a direct continuum with the current natural wine fad. This completely disregards a profound array of good, honest, tasty wine that is neither, to no discernible useful end.

Many great winemakers are doing things right, being relative stewards of the earth, but still choose to intervene in the process, and/or add a tiny amount of SO2 for stability. These are very often the most consistently pleasurable wines on the market, and are completely ignored by this absurd piece of clickbait penned by the self-styled Cork Dork (a title ensuring that I’ll never read the book). It’s about wine and wine people, not the life and times of the Quercus suber, yes? Oh, I get it; it rhymes, and it’s easy to remember. Anyway, many climates require a little help to produce viable grapes, even if not necessarily every season, and many wines need a little stability so they don’t continue to ferment (or immediately start deteriorating), such that every bottle in the same case tastes different. Neglect and chance are not viable winemaking techniques.

Besides being the ethos of many wonderful dedicated juice artists ‘natural’ is a buzzword used to sell stuff, just as is ‘organic’, and to a lesser extent, ‘biodynamic’. The best of natural wine is most definitely a wonderful and welcome movement, but it’s also a trend to be generous, and a fad if we’re being honest. Many natural wine purists don’t differentiate between good/tasty/balanced natural wine and brutally acidic, unstable, undrinkable crap that happens to fit the criteria. Natural does not mean good, and never will, just as literally will never mean figuratively, no matter how many language shredding Philistines use the terms interchangeably.

Marketeers continue to confuse people for their own obvious ends. More often than I’d like, I’m faced with a customer demanding sulfite-free wine. When I gently (sometimes not so gently) explain that the process by which yeast turns sugar to alcohol also creates sulfites (naturally!), they often look at me as if I’ve just told them, “Your god is dead.” One customer simply told me, “That’s not true”. Since nothing good happens at the intersection of ignorance and certainty, I suggested that she shop somewhere that doesn’t mind lying to her, to preserve her fragile false reality, in order to make a sale.

Is organic farming and biodiveristy in soil a good thing for wine and for the earth? Yes, absolutely. But farming and winemaking are very different endeavors, and both are required to get fermented juice into a bottle. And there are many wines that are organic and/or natural that just plain suck. A shocking percentage of walk-in cold calls to my Brooklyn retail shop are by reps spouting off about how natural and organic their wines are. Which immediately begs the question: Are they any good?

To open a natural wine exclusive shop, bar, or restaurant, and leave wine off the list because of a pinch of SO2 seems to miss the point. There’s a huge difference between adding a little tartaric acid, deliberately manipulating the amount of water during vinification, or using a small amount of egg white to clarify (sorry [not sorry] vegans!), and straight up dumping flavor changing additives into an otherwise finished wine. There are many many wines that aren’t 100% natural, but are doing things mostly right, aren’t raping the Earth with chemicals, and are producing accessible, pleasurable wines.

There will always be purists, and I will always feel sorry for them and their dainty palates. If you ONLY drink Burgundy, or Italian wine, or natural wine, you’re just missing out on piles of pleasure by drawing hard lines where they might not need to be. It’s just as vexing as those who only drink un-oaked Chardonnay and insist that any wood is poison to that venerable varietal, when convincingly enjoyable wines exists on either side of that arbitrary fence. And the very best examples often display some creaminess, but without buttering over the fruit, and maintaining vibrant acidity. I would call it balance, but that term too has had a big steamy pile of dogma dumped on it by those seeking to define (and control) a categorized commodity.

Most wine consumers I encounter- the vast majority of customers at our fair shop- just want to drink something that tastes good and doesn’t have chemical crap dumped into it. Luckily for them, we feel that way too, and have lots of love for everything ignored by Bosker’s ill-conceived two treatises of wine. Beyond that noise, don’t ever believe anyone who tells you there’s only one way to make or enjoy great wine. And if you really want to drink a bunch of syrupy chemical crap, just go have a Coke and a smile, but don’t bother writing an article about how good you think it is.

A Night of Old and Rare at French Louie

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment
There are worse ways to end an evening.

There are worse ways to end an evening.

Been so buried under the retail business, that I’ve been quite neglectful of these pages this month. But I was sitting at French Louie, after a long day/week/month, enjoying some lovely rare bottles that have been in my Coravin stash. I have had nothing but fun and success with my Coravin, since realizing how important it is to keep the cork wet (from the inside) at all times, when not actively extracting. I did, however, make a couple of cases worth of extremely fine vinegar figuring this out. Overall, the Coravin is unquestionably the best money I’ve spent on my greater wine enjoyment since buying my first VacuVin many many moons ago.

But back to French Louie; it’s late, and I’m sipping on a couple of pinot(s) and one of the finest Bordeaux style blends to pass my lips in recent memory. The Panther Creek Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 1998 still has surprising weight, fruit, and acidity. It shows a lightly funky/earthy nose and then long dry berry fruit, and almost piercing acidity that extends through a long finish, though it wanes mercifully toward the end. This wine is barely starting to show any age visually, though the weight of the palate feels mature, and the acid leads me to believe that my last bottle of this one has another decade to live, at least.

Some corks say more than others.

Some corks say more than others.

The Nicolas Potel Volnay Taille Pieds 1999 is damned close to a masterpiece, though this one’s peak drinking window has years left in it. Deep, but subdued dark berry fruit gives way to dry forest floor, into a pool of ancient woodland herbs; somehow both lush and dry. For the darker/bigger side of Burgundy, it doesn’t get much better.

The star of the show, besides the unbelievably pillowy chicken liver paté, was the Andrew Will Sorella 1996. Tasting this blind, I might have mistaken it for a world class Napa Cab, twice its age; like the finest of blends of best-in-class ’86 and ’87 Napa Cab/Merlot/Franc. Blood of the Earth in the glass, deep purple tinged opaque garnet (admittedly, I’m a little colorblind), showing some clouding, but zero oxidation. Tart dry cherries, shot through with dried herbs, black tea, subtle earthen minerality, distant woodsmoke all tumbling into a tapering rabbit-hole finish for days. It’s still juicy, but dry and fully mature; though there may be secondary and tertiary flavors still in its future. This is a very serious wine, in the midst- perhaps the autumn- of its peak drinking years.

There was no impetus, no occasion of note, sometimes you’ve just got to treat yourself to some of the rarest bottles within your reach.

Breaking Old and the Perspective of Distance

June 8, 2015 2 comments

Bless me blogosphere for I have sinned.

It has been… a long, long time since my last confession.

I’m in the 3rd airport in six days, after not leaving Brooklyn for more than 24 hours in two years, and not taking a full day off since January 2nd. It has been glorious to get away, but best that Brooklyn is imminent.

Classic old guy gear.

Classic old guy gear.

Albuquerque is depressing. Luckily the speed limits are about as high as they get in this country, so one can get the hell out post haste. I’ve just returned from a couple of nights in Taos, where I enjoyed a wedding stocked with Merkin Vineyards Shinola Bianca and Chupacabra Red, some great chile relleno(s), and copious amounts of Taos Lightning Rye. The last for which I purchased a bottle-protective rolling bag, so I might transport some local spirits back to Brooklyn- more on that later. I fell hard for the long tall wedding photographer who shot 8000 digital images, while I shot a few rolls of good old fashioned analog- it felt great. Almost as much so, as the shockingly beautiful 23 year old brunette who guessed my age as 33. I asked her to marry me on the spot. It only occurs to me now that she said yes.

The first couple of days away from the shop the umbilical just wouldn’t snap, even though I was in idyllic Lake

South Lake Tahoe, NV.

South Lake Tahoe, NV.

Tahoe, drinking wonderful wine with people I love. 2 weddings without a single reading from Corinthians and thousands of air and road miles later, I don’t know that I’m recharged in any substantive way, but real distance from the insular world I’ve created on Atlantic Ave has given me fresh will to plow forth, hopefully with at least a soupcon of new insight.

With most of today to kill and only a couple hours of highway time to come down the mountain to the scorched strip mall hell of Albuquerque, I took a long detour through the tiny sublime Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, where strangers smile at you and say hello on the street. I clearly worried at least one security guard for my facial proximity to some of the works, but I was really just looking for the evolution of brush strokes over time, the density of pigment, and the amount of naked canvas showing through. I’m sure I was grinning like a moron, as I tend to when engulfed in sincerely rendered art, as I did over Sean Thackrey’s 2000 Orion a few days prior.

Post-wedding wine at its best.

Post-wedding wine at its best.

O'Keefe skull 6-2015

Quintessential O’Keeffe.

Before I wander too deeply into the self-indulgent geist, forsaking most things wine, I’ll sign off for now, but we’ll talk again soon.

Free Range Wine and Yo La… wait, what now?

July 18, 2013 1 comment
Behold the fampersat!

Behold the fampersat!

Wow, it’s amazing how opening up a wine shop in Brooklyn can disappear six months of ones life. So, for those of you who don’t already know, I am now the proprietor of Free Range Wine & Spirits at 355 Atlantic Ave, here in Brooklyn, NY. If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop in and say hello.

Also, for those of you who don’t already know, Maxwell’s– Hoboken’s greatest (only relevant) rock club- is closing its doors forever. Recently, the Pastels were slated to play there, with the Condo Fucks (Yo La Tengo’s alter-ego, playing mostly garage covers) opening. While it was sad that the Pastels couldn’t make it stateside for the show due to visa issues, it was glorious kismet that it ended up being an acoustic Yo La Tengo set opening for the Condo Fucks. The show was beautiful and profound and heartbreaking, and was far better assessed by Yo La Historian, Jesse Jarnow, in his review for Spin which you should read. I shot a fair amount of video footage of both sets, much of which is posted on my Vimeo page HERE. Apparently my footage of the very last song will appear tonight on Fuse News, Fuse TV’s 8pET music news show. Once that segment is posted online, I’ll link it.

More soon!

Cheers,

Jack

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