His name wasn’t Andre, but since I didn’t ask if I could use his name I have taken poetic license just to give readers a catchy title. It was mid-evening—just shy of eight o’clock— on a Friday night, holiday lights twinkling at us on Towne Center Drive, bracing (only in the SCV) Santa Ana winds and avoiding overloaded shoppers on cellular phones, we entered the cozy haven of Valencia Wine Company.
We were in time to hear Helen La Prairie sing one song with the trio and spy her husband, the owner, Guy Lelarge, working the room. His group wanted to make room for us. They truly did. But even though they only had about six bar stools around their table there was at least 24 wine glasses. Somebody was methodically working their way through the wine tasting list!
That was when Guy introduced us to “Andre”. Sitting alone in a wine bar made comfortable by everyone knowing your name, we joined him. Andre was celebrating his birthday. His friends were stuck on the 405. Would we celebrate with him? (Did he actually ask that or did we just assume?) Ed deftly slid a 2003 Chateau De La Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape out of an adjacent wine rack and we were soon making a birthday toast.
I poured wine into our three glasses and got to know our new friend. A French transplant eight years ago, working for a cement company that wasn’t CEMEX, divorced…and not too bad on the eyes. Guy came by for a taste; one of Andre’s three friends made it in time for a second toast.
Andre hated his commute to LAX that he and his friends had to brave frequently in their jobs. Finding that the 405 was unpredictable, even in the middle of the night, was something he had trouble adjusting too. He was training for the LA marathon, had an opinion on global warming and more up my alley, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
We told him we had been lucky enough to travel to France twice in our lives. The food, and the daily availability of excellent wine choices, challenging all other countries. How could the USA possibly compete with vineyards that had been around for centuries? Chateauneuf-du-Pape had been reportedly enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson when he traveled to the region as our Ambassador.
We have been drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape for more than twenty years. I haven’t aged any for more than five years and never have had a bad bottle. The shape of the bottle, somewhat squished/uneven, doesn’t allow it fit it in my everyday rack indoors, only in my storage cellar in the garage. This could account for why when it’s removed from the latter it never quite makes it to the former before it is consumed, whole.
Andre was pleased in our interest and our wine selection. He ordered a second bottle. Helen wouldn’t be coaxed for a second song. Guy’s friends had dinner brought in. I noticed the time. I started drinking water instead of keeping up with the men. I knew I had to get home to relieve the sitter by 10 o’clock; more importantly I wanted to get my eight hours of sleep in. I was worried about the bill and how we would divide our check up with, what I know realized, was a virtual stranger. Then I decided that I didn’t want to ruin the evening with my personal worries; I enjoyed one final sip of the luscious life-giving elixir and reluctantly told Ed to ask for the check. He didn’t grimace although there was still wine to be drunk, our goal is never drunkenness.
Then the final surprise of our evening came: Andre paid for both bottles! But it was his birthday not ours! Ed tried to haggle but didn’t want to insult our new friend. I was surprised but got over that real quick. I thanked Andre profusely, told Guy what had happened when we said our goodbyes, he replied, “What did you expect from the French?”
So I guess graciousness and gracious wine making goes hand in hand. Well thank goodness for that! I hope this column gets to Andre so we can return the favor next time with another French wine from Bordeaux or Burgundy, see how his marathon training is doing and if he’s found a solution to our 405. Or I could just convince him, and his amies, to stick closer to Santa Clarita where everyone wants to know his name!
Note: This story was originally written two years ago…not seeing “Andre” again until the 4th Annual Holiday Wine Tasting held by Lelarge at TPC Valencia. Oliver Thomas, aka Andre, had been thrilled to be written about. But, alas, I don’t usually travel with my columns to have a copy for him to keep. So this is my New Year’s wish: Dear Oliver, I hope the New Year finds you healthy and happy. I expectantly look for you everywhere I drink wine. And I earnestly hope to share another bottle with you, my treat…Yours, Eve.