June 01, 2012

Chambers Street - NYC, Part 1

So I'm back from New York City and reflecting on a busy few days working the market there, which was great, and catching up with a place I've missed for too long. How incredible to spend my time going from wine shop to wine shop, and even pouring for a buyer at Chambers Street Wines with my distributor Todd. It means a lot to me to even think that that shop, of all shops, might possibly bring in my wine, at some point anyway. To be there would means a lot to me, as silly or uncool as that might sound. But maybe the whole reason for going to New York this time was to finish something from my last visit. You see, I'd never actually been inside Chambers.

My last trip to New York was nearly ten years ago, fall 2002 when I had an unusual visit to town. I used a certain name your price online service to get a cheap flight for the weekend for a college friend's wedding, and ended up with flights that got me into Laguardia on Friday just before midnight and left at dawn Sunday. The real problem was that I needed to be in Westchester county and had no money for a car, so I planned to train up there in the middle of the night, hoping to be met by another college friend who wasn't sure I'd be on that train. All I knew is that we had a history of appearing for each other in times of need. I got off at Chappaqua, the train departed, it was 2am and deserted. Except for Mark standing next to his car in the empty parking lot, grinning. Seeing him there was a great feeling at the end of a long day.

So I got a little sleep, we went to the wedding up the Hudson valley the next day and came back to Chappaqua for dinner. Now I needed to figure out a way back to Laguardia. Mark couldn't take me, the train didn't run early enough and a towncar was out of the question. My bright idea? Take the midnight train back to Grand Central and wander the streets of Manhattan for the night until it was time to take the subway to Queens. It would be just like my studies in Europe, where I got in the habit of taking long, late night walks through empty streets of London and Vienna, seeing the city a little differently than most people do.

Where did I want to go? Honestly, Chambers Street Wines. I didn't care that it was the middle of the night, the store long closed. Chambers had opened up the year before, not too much before 9/11, and I knew about it from Wine Therapy, the precursor to Wine Disorder, the most New York-centric wine discussion forum on the internet. Sorry inside joke. It's not just a forum, is it.

The Doghead, Robert Callahan, was the operative behind Wine Therapy and did the early website for Chambers. I loved reading his write ups on so many Louis/Dressner French imports that they featured, that you couldn't find on the west coast, that I was and remain fairly intensely interested in. I think they had Clos Roche Blanche Gamay for $7.99 or something, too cheap for most people to take it seriously. Those were good days for inexpensive, unknown wines.

With a bag over my shoulder, I took the subway downtown, got out at Chambers Street and went searching. And I couldn't find. Me. Direction boy. I can't recall not being able to find anyway. This was before smart phones and I didn't have the exact address, but it's a small area and I figured I'd find it. No luck. And all I wanted was to peer in the window like a dog locked out for the night. Even that would have been sweet for an irrational wine geek.

So I looked around and thought, what now? Of course, ground zero. World Trade Center. It's just a few blocks south and when I got there it was crowded. Remember, it's nearly 2am Sunday and, for the darkness, it looked like a decent afternoon's crowd at Pioneer Square here in little Portland. The flood lights were on the site, just a big pit then, but I'll never forget all the people, no one really saying anything. It's not like any other place.

I took my time there, reading the installations, remembering my first trip to New York as a teen when I had to wear a borrowed jacket at Windows on the World because of the dress code, mostly thinking of that day. Finally I turned away, walked down Wall Street and saw that something was getting back to normal in this town, two very drunk professional looking guys peeing on the steps of Federal Hall.

It was around 2:30am now. I was tired, I couldn't stop thinking about 9/11, the city was alive and deserted at once. I thought I'd walk out onto the Brooklyn Bridge. So over to the bridge run up, cyclists passing me occasionally as I went up the plank walkway, out onto the old bridge I'd never seen this close. Near the middle, I sat down on a bench, exhausted, the cars passing by, more bikes, some people once in a while, the early fall night air still warm or at least not cold, the river below and the giant buildings of lower Manhattan right there. I sat for nearly an hour, just thinking.

Heading back downtown on this trip, in the daytime, to pour at Chambers Street, that was sweet. I don't remember everything I was thinking about on the bridge back then, but it was October and I knew a late harvest was coming. I thought I might not be in New York in October much if I kept dreaming of making wine beyond my home experiments at the time. But I wanted to come back, at some point, with my own wine.

So here I was, at last. One of millions on the island on a mid-week day. But it felt special. And by the way, Chambers is at no. 148. And I'll be back long before another ten years pass.

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