STORY BY PHILLIP SILVERSTONE
When I first arrived in the good old U.S. of A more than 37 years ago I had no idea where my saunter through life would lead. However, my first stop was slated even before my BOAC (may they rest in peace) hit the dilapidated edifice known in those days as Philadelphia International Airport. An old hangar crudely converted into an international airport terminal did not instill confidence in a young English lad arriving in the land whose streets were supposedly paved in gold. If a third world structure was posing as an international terminal, maybe the stuff about gold was merely propaganda projected by Hollywood at my local Odeon cinema. Anyway, my immediate destination was a liquor store in N.J., owned by my late father-in-law, himself something of a dilapidated edifice (I adored the man) who dominated the post prohibition New Jersey liquor industry for 50 years. He owned two stores, the former in Barrington, and the latter, where I was incarcerated for the next 3 years, in Lawnside. His name, by the way, was Victor Gerber.
So here I was, a 24-year-old, working 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year and bored out of my brains. After the first month, I considered self mutilation, by the end of the year I had sent Fidel Castro a marriage proposal, and within 18 months I was seeing a therapist, who suggested it was all a bad dream and I’d wake up in a shower scene the following season.
I was selling the same products to the same customers at the same time every day… products like Thunderbird, Schmidts and Joe Orliebs Beers, Boones Farm, Lancers Rose and Four Roses, not to mention Planters Peanuts (salted) and Lucky Strikes. There is a crucial moment when one’s intellectual motors slowly grind through their gear box until they stall, then your oil dries up and your dip stick drops off.
Bleak though this may all sound, during the dog days of the 70s something wonderful happened in this country. A chap called Bob Mondavi and a couple of brothers called Ernest and Julio Gallo began educating the masses on the benefits of drinking alcoholic beverages made from grapes (as opposed to apples, pears and whatever matter Manischewitz squeezes into those square bottles). While I was learning to live in America, and suffer disgusting beverages with deficient quality and ample alcohol, a curiosity for wine was surfacing throughout the baby boomer generation. Blue Nun, Mateus, Riunite, Pink Chablis, were names becoming common place in liquor stores and on wine lists. And then the inevitable happened. French wines were discovered. Wines which came from the most respected vines in the galaxy. Wines actually made from real grape varieties. Wines produced with tender loving care. Wines which carried the scent of garlic and Gauloises … OK so I was slightly delusional. Among the wines arriving on our shelves was a brand called simply B&G — Barton & Guestier. These wines were not only fabulous, they were seriously affordable.
And so it was, back in those halcyon days when John Travolta’s frame was modest enough to accommodate snug fit shirts and airplanes still served the kind of food you would permit to have intimate relationships with your stomach, I fell madly, deeply, head over heals in love with wine. Affordable, quality nectar was my salvation from an ocean of unpalatable, mediocre swill (by the way, in case you weren’t aware, Boone’s Farm can still be purchased in multiple colors for $3 a bottle!)
Phillip Silverstone’s column appears each week in this publication. “Time Out With Phillip Silverstone” is a weekly two-hour podcast heard exclusively on TuneIn radio anytime and anywhere worldwide either on the free TuneIn app for all smart phones and tablets (Search: Phillip Silverstone) or online on Tunein at: http://bit.ly/1gY2Ht4. “Follow” the show for weekly updates.
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