Jonathan Cristaldi

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July 21, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Bismark Ranch, Mayacamas Mountains

I’ve been to some pretty spectacular places in my life:

But nothing compares to Albany, NY Bismark Ranch, a vineyard some 2,000+ feet up the Mayacamas Mountains. Behold:

Bismark Ranch, Mayacamas Mountains, Sonoma County, CA

Ned Hill, a third-generation vineyard manager who manages sites all around Sonoma, allowed me to tag along (I had to leave the three-piece suit behind) as he visited the site. So, with my Timberlands laced up, stylish Calvin Klein jeans, and vineyard-green button down, I headed with Ned, up the mountain.

As we made the drive up a one-lane, fairly treacherous road, I wondered who in their right or left minds thought to trek up this mountain and plant grapes. Ned went ahead and wondered the same, but is surely thankful. Bismark Ranch is a prized possession. Some very well-known wineries source their fruit from this site (you may have heard of Continuum Estate). We were up there checking Cabernet for Ram’s Gate Winery, a new winery opening its doors in September.

“Watch out for Rattlesnakes.” That was Ned’s only warning. He had to check on the Bismark site to see what clean-up work needed to be done, check on temperature readings and check on the new grape clusters forming. He took off around the vineyards on his four-wheeler. Told me I could take his truck around if I wanted. But there wasn’t a driver, so I decided to walk about. The weather has been unseasonably cool, for the entire valley, and especially for this spot up on the mountain – I didn’t mind, but the grapes might. They need the temperature boost to hit that perfect Veraison.

The soil is a mineral-rich powdery white volcanic ash that changes color as you walk from block to block. It’s white here, and 30 feet that way it’s red, and 40 feet over there it’s gray. Pretty amazing. The complexity of flavors imparted to wine, that come out of this site, amount to the complexity of a Melville novel – ponderous, magnificent, forward-thinking, delectable. Oh, and the views… well… One can make out San Francisco, which is one full hour drive south of the site. I told Ned that I have special contact-lenses, which allow me to see incredibly far distances and that I could even see New York City just to the east. He didn’t talk to me after that comment. Or maybe I never made that comment.

Maybe it’s time to watch this video.

Then it’s time to let the photos do the talking:

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July 19, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Bottling with Hardy Wallace (2010 Dirty and Rowdy Mourvedre)

Hardy Wallace, Criminal Winemaker 2010 Dirty and Rowdy Mourvedre

Hardy Wallace is 100 points on that, where that is living the good life. Which good life? Why, the one where you take grapes and turn them into booze juice! And not just any booze juice – the incredibly refined and silky, delicious booze juice of the ages: Vino.

It was on this past Saturday, the sixteenth of July, that Mr. Hardy Wallace did ask me to join the assembly line and help him bottle his 2010 Dirty and Rowdy Mourvedre. His first vintage! His first stab at making what my grandfather called, “A proper cup of coffee.” And what a stab indeed. The wine is delectable, delicious, delightful, full of spirit and hoozpah! I had no idea what to expect and so it was only natural that about thirty seconds after my arrival, I was pumping bottles full of Argon gas (I mean, what else would I be doing on a day of bottling?)

Argon! (Great for eliminating Oxygen! Bad for trying to breath without Oxygen!)

We begat our work at 10:00am (well, 9:00am, though I claim to have been told 10:00am), and continued hard through 6:30pm. First we bottled scrumptious 375ml bottles of “Gracelet” from A Tribute to Grace Wine Company (Winemaker Angela Osborne). Oh my. Talk about good. Talk about brilliant!

As Hardy’s wine was being readied for siphoning out of a stainless steel tank, the barrels where the wine had been stored were being cleaned out and the vibrant color of the lees trickling forth caught mine eye. Lookeeyee:

Heedless to say, the day was exciting and now… I want to make a wine! We had a fine and good time. Lunched on burritos, joked about the debt ceiling (our own debt ceiling) and talked of future vintages to come (all while the eyes of Dr. T. J. Ekelburg stared us down). The process of bottling is not exactly the most comfortable ride for wine, which is why it needs a good few months to settle down. I likened the journey to a transplanted tourist in NYC being shuffled through a New Year’s Eve Time’s Square crowd. Once through the other side you’re a bit jostled and the allure of the Big Apple has worn off. But head back to the hotel, have a shower and a cocktail and then head to dinner at Cipriani. There, everything is okay! And in a short time the wine will be too.

Hardy is off to the Sierra Foothills (Shake Ridge) and I would suggest following his activity here.

The 2011 Olympic Bottling Team:

Tripp Donelan, Kate Graham, Jason Lambert, Angela Osborne, Hardy Wallace

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June 29, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Like all the poets, I’ve come West… to find gold in them there hills…

The decision to come west was instantaneous: had to happen. Never mind the setting sun and the implication behind every piece of literature that assumes to go west is to begin the march toward the inevitable return (dust to dust)… the green light at the end of the dock… anyways, it was Nick Cave who sang, “Death is not the end… not the end… ”


Bi-coastal. To live the bi-coastal life. I’m a bootlegger, I said. I own a chain of drugstores, I said. I am an Oxford man, I told you. I live here for a time, then I live there. Conneggetions. That’s the idea. Make and meet them. The driving force – the eternal human necessity to know more than what you know. Okay. Great. Scene two…

Bought the plane ticket, called everyone I know. Through hell and high water, as the saying says, the discussions led to the hilltop. Zarathrustra from the hilltop, I said.

Ended up with a gig: coordinate; consult; create; events; opportunities; new concepts; for a new winery opening it’s doors in Sonoma. That’s my mission, he said. Should you choose to accept it – I accept, I interrupted. I accept, I said.

So until Harvest, this is what it looks like:

One week with the Muellers: a taste…

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Several days with the Morgans: some sips…

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This is wine country. This is California. This is where I will make my home. Me and all the homesteaders, though the homesteaders have evolved. There’s no more hoarse-drawn wagons, but there are old dusty photographs and somewhere in there is the spirit of the ever-evolving endgame: Frank Sinatra sung about it. I read about it in the papers and in books and saw the idea on the faces of homeless men and women. I heard about it when I was standing on the edge of the universe and Wallace Stevens was there and he was trying to sell me insurance. I’ll take it, I said. I’ll take everything you got. And that’s how the story of the great western migration ended up here, at the end of this sentence.

May 2, 2011 4 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

L-Train Luncheon (May 2011)

You may have seen this article in The New York Times, published May 3, 2011.

Photo by Yana Paskova for The New York Times

On the first of May we hosted a “luncheon” on the L line of the New York City subway. The subway is a familiar place, providing a necessary means of transportation for many New Yorkers. Its stairwells, turnstiles, platforms, trains and unpredictable elements are all-too-familiar to its dedicated patrons. One begins to know the exact time of travel from one destination to another. One begins to intuit the conditions of a ride, anticipating smooth stretches and knowing when to brace for a jarring turn. Through a series of familiar gestures, presented in commonplace locations in unfamiliar ways, we set out to challenge a habitual experience.

We are committed and determined to push ahead, boats against the currents, providing unique and unforgettable experiences… And so we leave you to ponder what might be next…


Follow up thoughts: May 2, 2011:

On Sunday, the first of May, I had the privilege of “performing” on the L Train from 8th avenue to New Lott’s Avenue near the end of the line. In character as a front-of-house captain, self-appointed Master Sommelier and Supreme Badminton Champion, I poured water, served haute cuisine, offered cracked pepper and escorted walk-ins through the “dining room.” Let’s call it the true manifestation of a “pop-up dinner” since the blogs and papers have been bloggin’ and papering about pop-up dinners. Let’s call it “art,” for the sake of art. Or performance for the sake of performance. Or let’s say it was a modern-day attempt at understanding Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

This past December (2010) I was in L.A. with Michael Cirino and Daniel Castano of A Razor, A Shiny Knife to host a dinner. After we successfully served a multi-course meal paired with moonshine-inspired cocktails, we took to our rental car to drive around Hollywood Hills and other various hills, getting lost amidst lavish mansions and tailgating the occasional celebrity tour bus.

The topic of discussion? What’s next? What do we do now? If memory serves me correctly, no one was driving, and as we were sight-seeing, the spark of a wild idea popped in my head: “We should host a dinner on the subway,” I said in time for one of us to take control of the car. “How did we all get in the backseat?” asked Castano. However it happened, this past Sunday saw such a renegade idea come to life and unravel without a hitch.

I’m thankful to A Razor, A Shiny Knife for helping to execute the concept — and to all involved in the affair.

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