Wine Ink: Elsom Cellars’ brush with terror in Paris
If you go
SODO, or south downtown Seattle, is home to a growing collective of urban wineries. The recently opened Jet City, by iconic winemaker Charles Smith, is a game changer in the dynamics of Washington wine. More will be written in the future but if you are headed to Seattle be sure to try and stop by the following tasting rooms:
Elsom Cellars: 2960 4th Ave South Seattle
Kerloo Cellars: 3933 1st Ave. South, Seattle
Structure Cellars: 3933 1st Ave. South, Seattle
Laurelhurst Cellars: 5608 7th Ave South, Seattle
Eight Bells Winery (in north Seattle): 6213-B Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle
Under the influence
Elsom Cellars 2009 ‘ISABELLA’ RED WINE BLEND $48
One of the unique things about Elsom’s wines is that they are ‘held’ by the winemaker and released when she feels they have had enough time to evolve.
This year, Jody is releasing her 2009 vintage-five years after they have been harvested. This cabernet sauvignon led blend, with significant malbec and a round of petit verdot, is rich and robust and a true treasure.
Spice and the earth of some of Washington’s best vineyards mingle in a wine that drinks well today and will be even better when Isabella goes off to college in another decade or so. To purchase, visit elsomcellars.com.
This is not your normal wine story. But then again nothing, it seems, is normal anymore.
My story begins on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, at around 4 p.m. in Seattle, four days after the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris. I had come to Elsom Cellars, an urban winery in the southern section of Seattle’s downtown, or SODO as the locals call it, to see Jody Elsom and taste the wines she makes from grapes grown in the vineyards of Eastern Washington.
As we tasted through her current release of 2009 wines, including a magnificent red blend named for Jody’s beloved daughter, Isabella, we kibitzed about Seattle, winemaking and other mundane topics until I innocently asked, “So how was your weekend?” The mood suddenly turned darker than her malbec.
“I was in Paris,” she said, dropping her gaze toward the floor.
Jody’s story began exactly 100 hours to the moment before our tasting. She had been in Paris for a celebratory weekend. On that fateful night she and a friend had just finished their meal (“I drank the house red,” she giggled) and walked out of the restaurant. The first sign that something was amiss was the sight of fresh graffiti that had not been on the walls of an adjacent building when they had arrived. The next sign was more ominous.
“It was oddly quiet until we turned a corner,” she said. “There was this crowd of young people sprinting down the street. We stepped aside and couldn’t understand them as they screamed and passed us. Then a huge crowd came behind and we thought ‘we better run too.’”
Imagine the panic and fear of sprinting in high heels down a Parisian street and not knowing why or where you are going. “Everyone was speaking French. We didn’t know what was going on but somebody said something about a bomb.” It turned out the group was haphazardly running toward the Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, just a couple of blocks away, where 15 people had died in the initial attack.
“Suddenly everyone turned around and then, not knowing it at the time, we were running toward the Bataclan (the theatre where the gunmen were holding hostages).”
She paused and saw the intensity on my face as she told her story; it seemed to propel her forward.
“My phone went off and it was my cousin in Seattle texting me to see if I was OK. I texted back ‘what’s was going on?’ She asked where we were and began to text the addresses of the places the terrorists were attacking. It felt like we were right in the middle of it. There were no taxis. The sirens were blaring. People were confused and panicked. I pulled up a map on my phone and we began the 80-minute walk back to our hotel, The Pullman, by the Eiffel Tower.”
When they arrived back to their hotel, the true horror of the evening began to unfold as they watched television deep into the dark night, texting back and forth with family and friends in Seattle to let them know they were alright. “We were just so amped up on the adrenaline we couldn’t sleep,” she said.
The weekend in Paris turned from celebration into an eerie scene. “On Saturday we walked all day looking at the sites but everything was closed. I went to a local market and bought some cheese bread and olives and three bottles of $20 Bordeaux. I was so excited to be able to buy the wine,” she smiled for the first time as she told her story.
Jody spoke of the Parisians turning out into the cafes to sit and drink wine in defiance of the attacks and the beauty of the sound of the bells ringing in unison across the entire city on Sunday afternoon before the Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral to honor the victims. “It says something. Wine is always there whether it is a celebration or a funeral,” she said. “It is such an important part of the life in France. It is something that I envy.”
I asked Jody, “When did you first feel safe?” A tear came. “Now,” she said. “I didn’t even want to get up and I think I kind of buried my feelings. But for me, my winery has always been my safe place, a sanctuary from anything bad that happens in my outside world. It’s a place I can escape and be safe. I try and make it that way for my kids, Isabella and Logan, as well.”
With that, Jody Elsom was back home in Seattle.
Note: While this story resonated and is timely for the times, there is much more to the story of Elsom Wines, and it will be told in a future column.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo., with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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