September 22, 2008

The Planck Epoch and 8th Grade Algebra

The Planck Epoch is the earliest period of time in the history of the universe, from zero to 10-43 seconds. It's when everything started.

With wine, we all have a starting point, a personal Planck Epoch. That great Burgundy where we first sat up and took notice. That trip to a winery where we finally made the connection between the dirt of the vineyard and the juice in the glass. It's that moment of crystalline awareness where we realized something great had happened and we wanted it to happen again.

My moment? I pretty much missed it. Completely unawares. I wouldn't even know it had happened until years after. But in my defense, I was only 13. At the time, Doug Shafer was explaining why he was applying his U.C. Davis oenology degree to teaching my 8th grade Algebra class and not to working for his family's new winery. It was that moment where the seed was planted. Wine is interesting was the formative impression.

Doug's vineyard sabbatical lasted 3 years. No doubt, wine drinkers everywhere benefited from Doug's decision to return to the vineyards. But I'm sure the math scores at my junior high did not. Looking back on my 12 years of primary education, Doug stands out as a true highlight. He was enthusiastic and excitable. His lessons were memorable (especially the first one where he danced like a mad, tribal shaman trying to convey something about language, dance and mathematics). He was one of those teachers you write your college application essay about, describing the ones who influenced you at fundamental levels.

I was in 8th grade in 1980. So when I found a bottle of 1980 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, I could hardly resist. I paid more than it was worth, then emailed Doug to find out who had made it (remember he was teaching Algebra in Tucson, Arizona at the time). Fellow named Nikko Schoch made the wine and Doug suggested I use it for salad dressing.

And we almost did. Started out with a sharp nose and a balsamic tang. But we held out hopes and decanted the bottle anyway. After an hour, our optimism was rewarded. The nose opened up brilliantly with beautiful aromas of dried cherry, woodsmoke and vanilla brandy butter. It reminded everyone of Christmas for no specific reason we could point to. The fruit was surprisingly bright, cherry and cassis, and infused with cigar smoke, a dash of pepper and a few still biting tannins.

This was a more delicate Cabernet than the muscular ones Doug would later make to great acclaim, but it more than kept up with the bottle's inestimable sentimental value.


Andrzej Daszkiewicz said...

I think it's Planck, not Plank (famous German phisicist, Max Planck).

Great blog! I wrote about it on my blog in July.

Chief of Lab Research said...

Right you are. How terribly careless of me. Dziekuje.

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well. Thank goodness you had Yates and Work (and not me) to teach you how to write.

Thanks for your kind words.

--Mr. Shafer

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, Dave. Now get back to that Bubbledome. --Mike(y)