I never met Joe Dressner, but I knew a lot of the wines that he imported into the U.S. They were fresh, different, sometimes quirky, but always engaging. These are wines that demand your attention.
A year ago this week, I was in the Loire Valley visiting producers as harvest was in full swing. On the morning of September 17, 2011, I was on my way to meet with one of Dressner’s producers, François Cazin in Cour-Cheverny, but decided to take a detour to stop by Jean-Marie and Thierry Puzelat’s Clos de Tue Boef (another member of the Dressner portfolio). In front of the small, unadorned winery, there was an old 1950s/60s blue Ford Tractor with one of its headlights dangling from the socket. I whipped out my camera to take a few pictures. Out walked Jean-Marie Puzelat – a round, jolly man wearing overalls. He was laughing, amused that I wanted to take pictures of his “crappy tractor” (cleanest translation I could muster for what he actually said). We chatted, and he apologized for not being able to do a formal tasting, but asked if I wanted to taste through a few wines in tank. I happily accepted the invitation.
We talked a bit about the U.S. market, and when I mentioned that I was a fan of the Dressner book, he lit up. He explained how much he owed Joe for bringing his wines into the U.S., and as he talked about Joe, his voice changed. It was a mix of admiration and reverence, and he sported a wry, knowing smile as he spoke. I got the impression that he and Joe had shared some memorable (and probably late) nights together.
After my winery visits that day, I went back to the little gite I was staying in above L’Herbe Rouge to rest up for Le Bal de Vendengeurs — a harvest party hosted by a group of winemakers called “Les Vins du Coin,” which included Clos du Tue-Boef and Olivier Lemasson’s Les Vins Conté, yet another Loire producer represented by Dressner. (Many thanks to Etheliya Hananova for the invite!).
I checked my Facebook and Twitter account. That’s how I learned that Joe had passed away. Post after post from U.S.-based sommeliers, retail buyers, and consumers flooded my social media universe.
I went to the party with a bit of a heavy heart, knowing that Joe had really been a champion for some of my favorite producers in the region. The party was in a big outdoor area or “camping” about 10 minutes from where I was staying. I was waiting in line for a sausage and a glass of wine when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Jean Marie. He smiled and asked me how the rest of my day went. We chatted for about 5-10 minutes, but I don’t remember much of what was said. All I could think about was if he had heard about Joe. I thought for a brief second that I should tell him, that he would want to know that someone who meant so much to him had passed. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Winemakers, harvest workers, young and old mingled and danced on a brisk September night. Torches made out of trumpets and trombones warded off the darkness. A band, L’atelier de la casserole, played everything from jazz to Balkan street music, and drew nearly every out to the dance floor. There was this one chubby kid, probably no older than 8 years old, tearing it up while sporting an untucked button down shirt and red-plaid fedora. He looked happy.
I don’t know why, but it occurred to me that this is something Joe would have appreciated: a community of winemakers coming together to celebrate harvest and embrace the simple pleasures of life — food, drink, family, friends. And I also thought that this was something that, in no small way, Joe had made possible.
Joe Dressner passed away on 9/17/2011. More fitting and eloquent tributes from those who actually knew him can be found on the Louis / Dressner website.