November 11, 2009

Cowan Cellars and "Florida" Jim Cowan

There are several stories of internet wine geeks making the leap into commercial production. The common one, if anything like this is really common, is a younger guy following his passion for wine, leaving the day job and, with significant help from contacts made in the online wine community, committing himself fulltime to learning the craft of winemaking on the job and starting his own business. The best known examples include Andrew Vignello of A.P. Vin, Jamie Kutch of Kutch and Jeff Ames of Rudius, all Calfornia-based producers.

I've written about the exceptional story of Ray Walker, who's taking things a step further by moving to Burgundy to produce his Maison Ilan wines from the Cote d'Or. I'm hesitant to include myself among such characters because I'm not leaving the day job anytime soon. But it's clear that without the online wine world fueling my interest and providing lots of great industry contacts, I don't know how I would be doing what I'm doing in launching my own wine label Vincent.

Then there's Flordia Jim Cowan, an online wine legend whom I've only had the pleasure of meeting once several years ago here in Portland. Florida Jim first came to my attention in the 1990s on the original incarnation of the Wine Spectator discussion forums. Along with a merry band of travelers from all over the country who came together for Russell Bevan-led "Bacchus Wine Tours" in Napa and Sonoma counties, Jim developed into a serious wine geek known for frequently posting modest but nuanced accounts of the wines he drank and food that accompanied them.

Somewhere around the late '90s Jim experienced a palate shift away from the most lumbering of California wines to more lithe and perfumed wines of France, Austria and elsewhere in Europe, wines that often cost a fraction of what he previously preferred. What a great thing, no? Actually, there was some surprising backlash in the online community. Was Jim under the spell of geeky wine snobs who disdain overoaked wines with erudite condesention? These world class bargains Jim wrote about - would he turn his back on them a year from now as he appeared to do with wines he previously favored?

Of course, the suspicions were as unfounded as they were off base. Jim's an independent thinker and that wasn't changing. He called them as he saw them, and it made sense that his evolving taste in wine might marry with another aspect of himself that we knew well online -- his writing. So gone were the notes of Napa cabernet, and in came reports of cru Beaujolais and Austrian gruner veltliner that I, for one, found deliciously inviting with their nuance and delicacy.

Years passed and Jim's reports of wine and food and life with wife Diane as they traveled between homes in  Florida and western North Carolina became internet favorites. I met Jim on one of his well documented road trips with Col. Bob Couzzi across the U.S., visiting online wine friends and sharing wines from all over the world. Jim's travels often led back to California, and as his old friend Russell Bevan himself made the leap from internet wine geek to serious wine producer, Jim began working harvest and learning the craft himself. Jim also connected with Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, whose atypical California wines because Florida Jim favorites. You can't learn from a better source than Steve Edmunds.

Back to present day and the lastest post from Florida Jim on life after his latest harvest in northern California. This is classic Florida Jim, and if you find it interesting, dig around the archives of that or several other internet wine forums for more. Or try this link. Today's post inspired me to document here what I know, or think I know, of Jim's journey in wine. Jim has a way of simply conveying the essence of his experience, what's important and meaningful to him, without much fluff. His Cowan Cellars wines -- syrah and sauvignon blanc from the Dry Stack vineyard in the cool Sonoma country AVA of Bennett Valley -- sound reflective of their maker. I've yet to try them, but look forward to an opportunity. Maybe you too?


Bob said...

I've met Jim once and only once myself. It was at John Jenness' house, and I have to say that he's one of the finest and most genuine human beings I've ever met. He'd never say the things I've said to you about the airport :-).

Vincent Fritzsche said...

LOL! Jim would have showed up earlier, and had he not, he wouldn't have pouted about it. Damn I mad that day.

We need to campaign for a Jim Cowan visit to the PacNW.

Florida Jim said...

What a nice surprise. I googled cowan cellars, just to see if it would show up on that search engine and found this very gracious post.
Thank you.
I will try to get back to the Pac NW, hopefully soon, and will be sure to drop you a line when I know a date certain.
Keep up the good work.
Best, Jim

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Jim, nice to see you found this post. Hope all's well with Cowan Cellars.