I have not posted in a couple of weeks as I have been finishing the new newsletter you will receive in a week or so. It was not my intention to post this week but last night I learned we have lost one of the writers who had quite an influence my chosen career. Since I am also attending the memorial service for another wine companion on Sunday I thought it appropriate to honor both men.
Michael Jackson, aka Beer Hunter, began writing about beer in the 1950’s. The post war period was when the world began to focus on efficiency and economies of scale over quality. It was through his 1977 book, The World Guide to Beer, that I learned that a world existed beyond the Budweiser and Miller universe that I knew. As you can probably guess I devoured this text and then went in search of the beers of which Jackson wrote so enthusiastically.
My friends Andy and Ed were willing participants in my search and we began to frequent Hub’s Pub on Colonial Drive in the mid-1980’s. We loved this haven partly because they would serve me (underage at the time) and they had 20+ exotic beers on tap, all for $1 during Friday night Happy Hour. I can’t tell you how many Friday nights were spent working our way around the beer taps, drinking a pint of something new while I recited the gospel of Michael Jackson. I would feed my friends the Jackson tale of the brewing technique, the type of malt, the use of hops and then we would debate the beer’s quality and complexity. It was during those times that I developed my passion for flavors, textures and styles that would ultimately lead me into wine. In fact my first visit to a wine shop (that I would eventually run) was seeking an exotic beer, Thomas Hardy Ale. While there I also bought a bottle of wine at the suggestion of the manager, the rest, as they say, is history.
Michael Jackson may have shaped the world of many beer, and later whiskey, aficionados but we also lost someone this week who helped make the Orlando wine scene a little better. Don Caroli started his wine career as a server at Walt Disney World. I don’t know at what point he became passionate about wine but I came to know him when Disney opened California Grill and Don became a fixture of the Orlando wine scene. Our paths only crossed occasionally during this time but there was no mistaking the impact his enthusiasm and passion for wine and food was having in the area.
From there he become a distributor rep where he covered the Winter Park restaurant territory. After a year selling KJ and Hess Select (which I always found ironic) he moved to a specialty division that focused on small production, fine wines. At this point he became my sales rep and we developed a professional relationship and personal friendship. For about two years he presented us with his portfolio, always giving his honest impression of a wine even if it was not positive. His passion superseded his need for a sale and he did not suffer fools or mediocre wine easily.
Late last year he suddenly resigned his position and quietly disappeared. We learned on Wednseday evening that he had died in Ashville, N.C. The shock expressed by so many within the industry, including his competitors, is testament to the level of respect we all shared for his palate and enthusiasm. His impact on wine may not have been as broad as the light shined by Michael Jackson but it was no less intense.