“Guts of Steele.” Shooting Star Blue Franc 2014

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I probably couldn’t walk erect were it not for the efforts of Matt, my chiropractor, over the course of several years. I threw my back out attending the Doudou Festival in Mons, Belgium, while abroad to attend the wedding of a friend. I was barely thirty years old. With the help of my traveling companions I did manage to hobble around Munich for the bachelor party the following week, and with the help of strong, unpronounceable pills I managed to stand upright while he committed to his bride back in Binche shortly thereafter. It was a beautiful wedding for one of my very best friends, and I’m so glad I was there, yet upon my return to the states I spent years having to call in sick to work when I couldn’t roll out of bed for the pain, until at last I was introduced to Dr. Matt who, over time — often visiting him as much as thrice weekly, was able to correct the issue. Today I see him every other week, and am pain free.

Last night, a different chiropractor came to dinner with my family. I’ve known Nick since well before he was “Dr. Nick”, and he could say the same of me. We were pledge brothers together in our fraternity, and our outlandish personalities and inability to control our mouths and tempers made us fast friends most of the time, combatants on occasion. I’ve always admired Nick most for his unslakable zeal for life. He’s a go-getter, a hard worker, and an extremely intelligent person. I don’t know anyone who responds better to setbacks than he does, or is better able to persist through difficult times. His smile is broad and painted on, and his handshakes, like his hugs, are firm and elongated. We don’t see much of one another, in part because he lives several hundred miles away on the other side of the state and in part because we both work hard to prioritize our families, so when he told me he was coming to town this weekend for a conference I was eager to have him join us for dinner.

Nick and my wife arrived to our home at the same time, while I was prepping dinner, and after a hug he immediately dived into the kitchen, helping me out by wrapping the chicken in bacon while I finished slicing up the brussels sprouts. We didn’t waste a moment catching up, and for a while Titus joined us, playing with his Sesame Street characters, which in turn reminded us of an inside joke from college revolving around Sesame Street and “The Masked Tuba Player”. Laughter is never in short supply around Nick, and the ensuing combination of reminiscence and much needed updating was the best possible end to a long week.

For dinner we had bacon-wrapped chicken breasts, carrots, and brussels sprouts charred atop the grill. I paired the meal with a wine I’d been excited to drink since it arrived, the Shooting Star “Blue Franc” from Jed Steele. I’ve had previous vintages of this wine and always enjoyed it, though I think the 2014 may be the best to date. It’s medium plus in body with a vibrant, dark fruit nose laced in spices. On the palate, a rush of ripe fruits — blueberry in particular, also blackberry, black cherry, sweet pie filling, hints of nut, and more abound.  A relatively low (yet high for the varietal perhaps) 13.5% ABV gives it something of an Old World feel, were it not for the massive and unrelenting fruit profile. The fruit is sourced from a single vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills called “Destiny Ridge”, and the wine never sees oak, yet boasts an admirable complexity regardless. In the $14 retail range, this is one of the best QPR’s I’ve seen in a long time, and it paired very nicely with our meal.

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I greatly admire Jed Steele, for much the same reason that I admire my friend Nick. This wine is a good example of what I’m talking about. Jed, the original Lake County wine pioneer, is making what? From where? Exactly. Blaufrankisch is a beautiful grape, popularized in Austria and Germany, but there’s very, very little of it growing in the United States today. And if that weren’t enough, he’s sourcing it from Washington State, which isn’t exactly adjacent to his Lake County, California, facilities.  It’s a daring move, but it has paid off in this excellent wine.

Similarly, Nick is a chiropractor, or rather, the chiropractor, in a tiny town in western Nebraska that wouldn’t have one otherwise. He could make more money doing less work in a litany of other places, yet he and his beautiful wife, now pregnant with their fifth child, would rather lead than follow, even if it’s difficult at times. I think that Nick and Jed would agree with one another that the path of least resistance is likely to lead to boredom, so they follow their hearts, employing their iron-clad guts of steel(e), marching to the beat of their own tubas, and instead pursue new things, things that interest them, leading the way for those to come. The rest of us are but the beneficiaries of their originality and perseverance.

Cheers to being an original,

Mark

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Afterword: Nick texted me when he got to his hotel, thanking me for dinner, and ending with “College us would be proud.” I thought back on the journey for a bit after that, the victories and failures, the triumphs and the ongoing pursuits. Was I smart enough even to doubt myself back then? Maybe not. Maybe I didn’t know what obstacles lay ahead, what monsters were laying in wait for me — but here on the other side and with most of them vanquished in one way or another, I have to think he’s right. We’ve done okay, Nick and I, and after nearly twenty years, the friendship remains, stronger than ever. That may be the thing that makes me proudest of all.

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