one of the perks of being an editorial assistant at Columbia College Today, the official alumni magazine of Columbia College, for more than three years was the opportunity to attend the private wine tastings held by Ken Catandella, executive director of alumni affairs and development, whose responsibilities included overseeing the big-time events such as the yearly alumni reunion and homecoming. Ken, who is on the short side and has a mustache, is an eloquent speaker who loves to entertain audiences of all sizes with his knowledge of wines. as a connoisseur, he has traveled all over the world on his spare time to visit vineyards and to taste all sorts of grapes and vintages. he told me that wine knowledge required constant upkeep – ten or twenty minutes of reading here and there, a taste of this and that, good notes, etc. – and that he personally tried to get at least half an hour of fresh new wine material reading each night.
one of my favorite moments at the alumni affairs office was when Ken would bring boxes of wines to the conference room and offer them to the staff for incredibly low prices. i remember, as a curious sophomore, i would snoop around and taste the seven or eight types of wines that Ken brought and explained to everyone. at first, i used these wines to wash down the cheese and biscuits i had stuffed into my mouth, occasionally feeling the buzz after the tenth glass. but with every sip, i began to distinguish the taste little by little. by late junior year, i was buying as many bottles as i could carry each time Ken held these fire sales. and my curiosity for wine grew.
while the film Sideways seems to have made wine into a more accessible commodity, i’ve always appreciated the early exposure to the world of wine through Ken. from time to time, i would ask him which wines would go well with certain foods, and i would ask which vintage of a particular region would be a best buy at the moment. he always had answers and more. i can still remember the time he recommended a Picpoul to go along with Asian foods – especially Chinese and Thai – and boy, did that hit the spot. i still tell my friends that if you want “summer in a bottle,” they should go for a Picpoul (white). and remember – sauvignon blancs from New Zealand have the wonderfully citrusy flavor and more fruit than the California ones.
in anticipation for my upcoming roadtrip with Andy to Vermont this weekend, where we plan to visit three or four wineries and also make a stop at the Magic Hat brewery, i emailed Ken and asked him if he knew anything about Vermont wines and for any other general tips. he replied:
Of all the places to visit vineyards!!! Well, I actually know of only one vineyard in Vermont, but there are a few others (or so I am told). The one that I know is called Shelburne Vineyards, in Shelburne VT. They have a website: www.shelburnevineyards.com. Many of their wines are organic. I have had a couple of their wines…not great but not the worst I’ve ever had either.
The most important thing to remember…especially if you’re driving is to sip, or better yet, spit. Don’t try and drink a lot in one sitting. The vineyard also should not give you big helpings. Start with whites, move onto reds and end with dessert wines. Enjoy and be safe.
Heart-warming tips from the man who got me to enjoy wines. I hope Vermont isn’t as terrible as it sounds. At worst, we can always knock back some sweet, fruity wines back in our hotel room, which, coincidentally, is in Shelburne.
Speaking of my days at CCT, I realized that my final article written for the magazine came out a few weeks ago. It was my last Bookshelf Box piece on author Robert Emmet Long, who has written extensively on Merchant Ivory, the independent and critically-acclaimed film company. it was really inspiring to interview Mr. Long, who has spent a great deal of his life writing intellectual criticism in literature, theater, and film. and to see someone of his age (seventies) continue to write so prolifically is truly admirable. I really value the time I had at CCT because of the special access I had to a wide range of writers – from erudite scholars to pop noir writers to chicklet lifestyle guides – and how i was expected, at least one book at a time, to feel, or at least pretend to be, familiar with an author’s genre. knowing the right questions to ask can mean the difference between an engaging article and an uninteresting one — hopefully some people have found these writers to be interesting over the years.
well, it’s late and i must bid farewell. work isn’t so bad, and i found a nice place to drink champagne late into the night only four blocks away (a place called Flute) — anyone interested?