I don’t think Joe Dressner would have liked me very much, at least as a wine professional. As Eric Asimov put it in his obituary, “…he thought nothing of skewering those who sympathized with him, especially if they were overly earnest and lacked humor.” Now, humor I have, but I am definitely over-earnest, almost to a fault. I am incredibly gullible. Enthusiasm drives almost everything I do. I can usually only muster cynicism for very few parts of my life. I think Joe probably would have found issue that aspect of my personality.
The last time I saw Joe, he was tasting at Domaine Montbourgeau’s table at the annual New York spring Jura tasting, which must have been around April 20th of this year. The first time I had ever seen him in person was at his same event the previous year. I always felt too intimidated by him to introduce myself, even though we’re both members of the same internet wine enclave, as well as having mutual acquaintances. This is all to say nothing of how much I loved the wines he imported. Through his blog, as well as his e-feuds with prominent members of the wine writer and sommelier communities, I had been painted a picture of an exacting, inexorable critic who would plunge his knife up to hilt into whoever had pissed him off that day. Being targeted by Joe’s ire is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, no matter how well-resolved, at least from what I saw. As someone said on twitter, “He did not suffer fools lightly,” and I am often a fool.
As the equivalent of snot-nosed kindergartner in the wine world, I never crossed the playground to try to hang out with this older cool kid. I was worried he’d find me too much of a pencil-necked egghead. I do regret never introducing myself, shaking his hand. At some level, I’m also okay that I didn’t. Not because he really would have disliked me particularly. Because I know his precious time was probably better spent with other people. I know I have a window into who he was with every great natural bottle of wine I drink. I think he simply wanted everyone to to enjoy great wine.
The fact is that for sommeliers, retailers, sales people, and everyone in the wine industry of my generation, we live in a Post-Dressner era. America is the greatest wine-drinking country in the world, because of the simple diversity of what we’re able to enjoy on a regular basis. We have wines from all over the world. You simply don’t get that in France, Germany, Argentina, Croatia. I know this because I’ve traveled all those places, and they simply don’t hold a candle to the diversity of the American wine market. Even though Joe dealt almost exclusively with old world wines, he had one Chilean wine, Clos Ouvert, made from 90-year-old, dry-farmed Pais. Holy fuck. That is a singular, delicious wine.
The amount of times Dressner wines have physically stunned me are uncountable. Cazin, De La Souche, Cascina Degli Ullivi, Brun, Clos Ouvert, Clos Rougeard, Clos Roche Blanche, Overnoy, Texier, Causse Marines, Roagna, Occhipinti (Arianna, be still my beating heart, hah, who am I kidding, she will never read this) and the list goes on. Thanks to Joe, as well as importers like Lynch, Rosenthal, Theise, and Soares, I’ve never known a world where “fine wine” had to mean high point scores. He revolutionized and demonstrably shifted the status quo of the wine world. I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a restaurant and the only thing I can order is cult Shiraz or spoofy California chardonnay. My wine world began after 20 years of his agitation for unmanipulated wine began. Of all the people in the business my age (25) plus or minus five years, I know maybe one person who’s legitimately more excited about wine from university-trained, new world producers than the sort of winemakers that Joe championed. He helped start a paradigm shift in the way we, both within the wine professional community and the nation at large, think about wine.
Arianna Occhipinti’s Frappato from Sicily, which was one of the most enjoyable portions of a date earlier this year, especially considering the girl ended up having zero interest in me and I really liked her.
And so, this is what I mean by a Post-Dressner world, not one in which Joe is gone, but one in which his voice has been heard and has become a reality for wine professionals and drinkers everywhere. My parents, who are in their late 50s, dedicated K-J Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers for my entire youth, are slowly growing a cellar of grower Champagne, Chablis (I forgot the de Moors!) and Beaujolais. My best friend, not at all a part of the wine world, but an avid foodie, texted me a picture of Massa Vecchia no sulfur Malvasia he ordered (unprompted!) at a San Francisco restaurant. I ordered a bottle of Cazin Cour-Cheverny at a restaurant in Walla Walla, Washington. This simply would have never happened before Joe Dressner began working in the wine world.
So, thank you, Joe. You changed my life for the better.