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Friends in wine February 15, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in food&wine.

When we moved to Laguna Beach in 1992, Lorraine and I immediately realised that there was something missing in this otherwise perfect community – a place to taste and buy wine.  We spent a good deal of time scouring Orange County for places which fitted our taste and budget, but we found ourselves longing for something local.  All this changed in 1997 when Steve and Carmen Ricker opened Len’s Wine Cite in downtown Laguna Beach.  I was at their very first tasting, even before they’d secured a licence to hold tastings on their own premises, and I didn’t miss many thereafter.  The store immediately felt like home.  Steve is a major wine zealot with a fine nose, both for wine and for bullshit, and he’s also possessed of a disarmingly charming personality and an infallible memory for what his customers like and don’t like.  There were many occasions where dinner guests arrived at our home with bottles of wine purchased from Len’s, having introduced themselves to Steve with “we’re going to Pete and Lorraine’s for dinner – what should we take?”

I became the informal “Bordeaux bigot”, always to be called on when the merits of Old World and New World were to be compared, and Steve would describe me as “the man whose goal is to find a dessert wine he doesn’t like”.  That particular quest continues, and I have no particular expectation that it will ever succeed.  I hope it doesn’t. Eventually, Steve felt able to call on me to help in the tastings, pouring for customers and sharing with them the dubious benefits of my knowledge.  They liked the English accent too.  And I got to taste some pretty spectacular wines, and even to take some home with me.

We made friends there –  it seems to be especially easy to like people who are passionate about food and wine – and we still see many of them, even though Len’s Wine Cite itself closed a while ago, much to the anguish of the regulars.

Over time, friends moved away, but we kept in touch with two couples, one now in Sonoma and the other growing grapes in Paso Robles (can you see the connection here?).  We were able to visit both sets of friends on our recent trip up the coast.  It was a really wonderful trip, and I’ll talk more about it in the next post.



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