You probably recognize the name Christopher Watkins. Not only is he the new director of ops at Roanoke Vineyards, but LENNDEVOURS readers will also now this writer/musician/artist as our poet laureate. He also happens to be one of my favorite people in our local wine country…and he’s someone with the energy and ideas to really help the industry grow and move to the next level.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
When I was 9-10 years old, my parents and I lived in Italy for a year (Florence, Venice and Rome), and we quickly learned from my father’s Italian friends that it was quite often the custom for children to have a little wine with dinner alongside the adults. I still remember the first time my parents poured wine into my glass at table; we were staying in a little villa up a hill overlooking the Duomo in Florence that belonged to a professor my father knew, and it was summer. I have no idea what the bottle was, but the look of it in the glass, the feel of holding the thin stem, the shrill bite of the wine in my cheeks, and the quick flush that came to my cheeks, was a thrill that’s yet to leave me.
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
There was a club in San Francisco that I used to perform at quite regularly, and the owner was a serious wine enthusiast. He went on to open a wine bar nearby, and got actively involved in wine buying for the restaurant. We had become solid friends, and eventually he invited me to come up to Napa and Sonoma with him to go tasting and purchasing. Being that he was in the industry, and the owner of an already successful wine bar that served only Californian wines (still a rarity in the early 90s) we were consistently given the behind-the-scenes VIP treatment; barrel samples, new vintages, library wines, etc. It occurred to me then that if ever I wanted to leave the life of a touring musician behind, wine would be a damn find place to land.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
I’m currently very into our new Roanoke Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the relative youth of the vintage, the wine is already showing intensely flavorful aromatics, and a fair amount of muscle as well. The architecture of the wine is superlative, and I am enjoying tremendously the opportunity to re-taste this wine day in and day out, watching its moves, admiring its development, and savoring its complexity. Plus, to but it bluntly, I am quite often capable of being a bit of a tannin freak, and I love the interleaving of strength and subtlety these tannins exhibit.
What has surprised you most about being a winery employee on Long Island?
How much I still have to learn! Between Richard Pisacano’s regional knowledge and experience, and Roman Roth’s Old World training and New World Skills, I constantly feel like I am studying at the feet of masters I can only hope to someday emulate.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
For Reds, I am a big fan of South African Pinotage and Syrah, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Oregon), Paso Robles Zinfandel (California), Italian Multipulciano D’Abruzzo, Chilean Carmenere, and Sonoma Petite Syrah (California). Specifically, Southern Right Pinotage, Bradgate Syrah, Sylvan Ridge Pinot Noir, Rosenblum Zinfandel, La Valentina Multipulciano D’Abruzzo, Apaltagua Carmenere, and Quivira Petite Syrah.
For whites, my absolute favorite sparkler in the world is a Spanish cava from Gramona. I also love Italian Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Babich is a great and inexpensive staple), and many, many Spanish Albarinos.
And all the other good wine in the world. Like Grgich Cabernet Sauvignon. Man, that’s good stuff. Did I mention El Malbec de Ricardo Santos? You haven’t truly drunk Argentinean Malbec until you’ve dealt with Ricardo Santos. I also enjoy very, very dry Vodka Martinis, with at least three good olives, preferably organic, from Santa Barbara, California.
Is there a ‘classic’ wine or wine and food pairing that you just can’t make yourself enjoy?
At the risk of sounding pugnacious, spoiled, dismissive, or just plain arrogant, I pay almost no attention to “classic” pairings whatsoever. I pair what I believe works, and rarely if ever follow any other model. Wow, that does sound precious, doesn’t it? Ah well…
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
Drinking a delicious bottle of wine with my lovely fiancée Amy Marinelli, anywhere, anytime, is always a magic experience. And if Son House just happened to come back from the dead to play guitar and sing with us, well, that’d be alright too. Or if we could go back in time to about the 8th or 9th century, such that we could be sitting outside Han-Shan’s cave in the Chinese mountains, drinking whatever kind of wine it was he was drinking while he wrote his Cold Mountain poems, I s’pose that’d be good as well. As long as Amy was there. And Han-Shan.