It was around 11:30am on a Tuesday, I think. The restaurant's dining room had been converted wine tasting style: tables organized around the exterior, with dark table cloths covering them, bottles lined up on the surface, ice buckets on the ready to chill the whites and sparkling wines. A few folks were still working on opening the last few bottles. Though it was not yet crowded, people started to slowly shuffle in. I was glad to have arrived a bit early, since this was not just another swirl, taste and spit affair.
This was a Dressner tasting. The average quality of the wine would be much higher. Nearly every wine - regardless of one's taste - would at the least be a wine with some character. And, the people here would be serious. Some socializing, schmoozing, shop talk and shit talking, to be sure, but also lots of impressions waiting to be formed on some wineries whose products have no shortage of followers.
Also, fresh off the plane from New York, cancer in remission (or, at least under much better control after weeks of treatment) was Joe Dressner, public face of the importing company of all these delicious French and Italian wines. I wanted to quickly introduce myself prior to slurping and spitting. As we talked, I noticed someone in close proximity to us pouring themselves a taste of one of Dressner's Beaujolais producers.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing? That's not a tasting pour."
A younger guy looked over at this somewhat large guy with a big bald head filling out a kangol hat.
"Yeah, that's right, that's more than 2 ounces. You're tasting the wine, not drinking it. Who wants to show this guy how to do this?"
Thoroughly embarrassed, the younger guy did not stick around much longer, not while he was jokingly, but firmly, being skewered by Joe.
Meanwhile, I took my leave and moved through the room, as there were simply too many people who wanted to catch up with the wine importer, all of whom Joe greeted quite warmly and with the kind of personal questions you might expect out of someone who is both socially adept as well as in good health, not from someone who perhaps was known to be a bit prickly and whose bout with brain cancer was ongoing.
A few takeaways from that first and only encounter with Joe Dressner:
Joe was opinionated.
He was feared.
He was loved.
He was occasionally a bit of a jerk.
Joe was a warm soul.
It was his show, and it still kinda' is.
I extend all my best wishes to Joe's family and friends, as well as to his many admirers and folks who, like me, know the man more through anecdotes and second hand tales than anything else. You don't have to be known to be sorely missed, and I think it's safe to say that many folks in the world will miss Joe.