The SOMM Journal

February/March 2015

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Page 37 of 92

{ }  37 About Paul Hodgins Scholar, author, teacher, award-winning jour- nalist and dedicated bon vivant, Paul Hodgins brings a wealth of unique experience to his "Good Libations" column in the Orange County Register's Food section. Hodgins was a professional musician and professor at the University of California, Irvine before taking a mid-career detour into journalism. With a doctorate in music and experience composing scores for dance and theater, Hodgins was well suited to the job of theater and dance critic at the Register, an assignment he has enjoyed for more than 20 years. Hodgins began writing about wine, beer, spirits, bars and cocktails about five years ago as part of Nancy Luna's Fast Food Maven blog at the Register. When the Food section was redesigned, he was invited to write a weekly column. He covers trends, products, places and personalities in the vast world of alcoholic beverages. Comparative tastings are also an important recurring topic. In his spare time Hodgins teaches journalism at Cal State Fullerton. He also composes songs, plays tennis badly and bicycles, usually competently. He loves to travel, especially to places where wine is made. We are proud to present the winner in The SOMM Journal's wine essay contest. Author Paul Hodgins wins a full scholarship to the 2015 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, February 17–20. Congratulations, Paul! The Spell of Wine by Paul Hodgins A FEW YEARS AGO, SAXUM VINEYARDS was the hottest win- ery on the planet. Don't take my word for it. When its 2007 James Berry Vineyard made the pinnacle of Wine Spectator's 2010 Top 100 list, the tiny Paso winery became everyone's must-have label. Several months before that honor was bestowed, I interviewed Saxum owner-winemaker Justin Smith at his winery, a modest bun- galow dominated by a large garage. Wearing old jeans and a work shirt with rolled-up sleeves, Smith greeted us in the driveway. His extended hand was stained dark purple. "Welcome to my tasting room," he said, gesturing toward the garage. Smith asked if we'd tasted the James Berry. We hadn't, of course. "You know, I just might have some . . . ." He rummaged under- neath an industrial sink and pulled out a dusty bottle of—hand to heart—2007 James Berry Vineyard. "Aha!" he said. He opened it. The room filled with the Rhône blend's intoxicating scent: spicy, flowery, exotic, earthy. We drank deeply out of glass tumblers. The only sound was nature's score of chirping birds and humming bees. Then we talked of families, food, travel and all the other things that friends chat about, especially when good wine mellows the mood. "Here," Smith said, tamping the cork back into place as we were leaving. "Take it for later." That night, sitting by a courtyard fireplace at the Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles, we gave our Saxum the respect (and glassware) it deserved. A nearby couple struck up a conversation. "What are you drink- ing?" the man asked. I told him, and immediately recognized the look of wine lust in his eyes. "Would you like to try some?" I asked. Soon our talk sauntered down friendly avenues: kids, travel, cuisine. The evening ended when the hotel finally dimmed the lights. Years later, I can still remember that magic day in detail. And I took away an invaluable lesson: Wine tells us about ourselves. It's an expression of the winemaker's personality. Jason's casual, no-fuss mastery of his art is perfectly expressed in his wine. And wine is at its best as part of a convivial social experience. After you're finished analyzing the bouquet, evaluating the tannins, dissecting the finish, turn off that part of your brain and just shoot the breeze, letting fine wine do what it does best: cast a spell that strengthens kinship, brightens conversation and makes good times even better.

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