When I was a younger man, full of ambition and boundless energy, I decided I wanted to go into the wine business. And so I worked as an unpaid apprentice at Shaker Beverages on Shaker Square. The company was founded in 1937 by The Baron Jorgen von Leutwitz and his wife, Bernice. Baron von Leutwitz had died several years earlier so the store was run by Bernice and two other ladies.
It was somewhat an enjoyable time…I carried cases out for well- heeled customers, (the Carriage Trade as Mrs. Von L. used to refer to them),dusted, unpacked crates of wines, put them on the shelves and generally was the gopher for that store. I never saw any carriages while I was there !
I never touched the cash register. And I was never told anything about the products I was carrying out. Nothing. When I inquired about this funny shaped wine with foil on the top, I was told…its champagne and it goes here. That’s a French Bordeaux…over there. That’s an empty box..throw it away. I was 35 years old, teaching at Cleveland State, and was a doctoral candidate at Kent State. Gopher Indeed !!!
But on a July afternoon all changed.
It was particularly hot and the store had a water cooled air conditioning system…very old and very expensive to operate…so it was rarely turned on.
But on that day Bernice asked me if I had ever tasted a good Bordeaux.
I confessed that I had trouble spelling it, but No, never tasted one, good or bad. So she went into our basement and brought back a bottle which I shall never, ever forget.
It was a bottle of 1969 Chateau Pichon Longueville, a Pauillac, the most powerful of the Bordeaux wines, but from a “bad” vintage of 1969. She had cases in the basement. She could not give it away. It was $24.95 a bottle.
Cassis, tar, tannin, tobacco, black cherry licorice ...it was a candy store in a glass. I kept going back and sniffing the wine, afraid to drink it.
The ladies were quaffing it down as if it were water, pouring themselves yet another drink, I guess waiting for me to say something.
“This is really great wine.” I said. “Well, it used to be…this was a bad vintage, wine too closed, I can’t give it away.” I was repeatedly told.
It was my wake up to fine wines. About two hours later I went back to my glass and tasted it again…and it was different, very different.
It was softer, smoother, the leather had been made into a high style purse, the tannin had ground against itself into less of a bite, more of a caress, while the fruit remained. It was outstanding.
Later I managed one of Shaker Wines stores at Severance Town Center.
I asked Mrs Von Leutzitz if she would be will to sell me a case of the 1969 Pichon Longueville and she said only if I bought them all…all 10 cases.
I did scrape the money together to buy them and within a month I sold all of the wine to the customers of Severance, not so well heeled as Shaker Square, but educated and with some disposable income.
That wine has haunted me ever since.
Now I rarely drink French wines. Too expensive. California, Argentina, Italy, Oregon have caught my attention and the attention of our customers.
In October of 2018 a new Bordeaux release was issued. As I was copying it for our customers I came upon a new offering of Pichon Longueville. I had never seen this wine offered before, in 40 years, no distributor ever bothered to carry it.
It was available, all 24 bottles, and I bought them all for our Connoisseur Club.
They are here for you to enjoy. A great wine in a great year.
But the 1969 vintage…it ages as well as I age, and keeps getting better (in my memory at least)with the passing years.