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Mr. Jones Revisited

Mentors are like artists or writers, sometimes their impact is not fully appreciated for decades.  Then, at times, it is passed on and lives for generations.  This could be the story of Mr. Ron Jones, a very normal looking young high school English teacher in 1965, with a fresh credential, trying to enlighten a class of 4th-year English Seniors, some looking for inspiration and others waiting for it all to end.  Though I found him an interesting teacher, it took years to fully understand the profound effect our time together had in developing some of my lifelong passions and, in many ways, guiding the way I look at things.

Mr. Jones had a typical mid-1960s high school teacher image, short hair, gray slacks with cuffs, a button-down dress shirt and tie and tweed jacket.  His look was preppy, but intellectual, one that would drastically change for teachers in the next few years. Jones had chosen, as one of his extracurricular requirements, to help with the football team and I would often see him at practice.  He was athletic and knowledgeable about the game, but his classroom persona revealed much more than just a jock teaching English.  The fall of 1965 was at the cusp of massive cultural and social changes in this country and, I believe, as a young man, he sensed and embraced them early.

During a week-long segment on poetry, Mr. Jones veered from the classics to discuss some new contemporary poets.  “Ya’know, he said, “many of the writers and poets today are singers and songwriters.”  Then, poetically, he recited lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, prose of a new day.  Half the class continued to be bored with both the new and the old, but Mr.Jones had my full attention.  In this moment, a teacher was about to inspire a student.  Months earlier, with no expectations, I had gone with a friend to a Bob Dylan concert.  The profound effect of his music had led me to other songwriters of the emerging folk rock movement and Mr. Jones just legitimized them all.

For the next few weeks, students were allowed to bring in music on Fridays.  We listened seriously to songwriters, discussing and interpreting their poetry the best we could.  Some students never understood or cared about it at all, foreshadowing future oblivion or a difficult adjustment through the next decade. At times, I thought Mr. Jones and I were having a conversation and others in the class were just listening. A typical classroom discussion was best summed up by one of my Friday submittals, Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from his new album, “Highway 61 Revisited”:

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says

“It’s his”

And you say, “What’s mine?”

And somebody else says, “Where what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God

Am I here all alone.”

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Passion for music of all kinds has continuously enveloped my adult life, always leaving time to explore the lyrics of great contemporary song writers like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and others who have chronicled our time so eloquently.  Amid many musical influences, Mr. Jones steered me in their direction and gave me permission to be open and accepting of something new.

Weeks later, this engaging teacher offered an intriguing extra-credit opportunity, one that got the attention of my friend Steve and I.  “There is a film playing at the Towne Theater, it’s called, ‘The Pawnbroker,’” Mr. Jones announced, “it’s not required but if any students are able to watch it and write a brief description of your impressions, I’ll give you fifty extra credit points toward your grade.”  With SAT scores lower than expected, we were both focused on our GPA’s and justifying a week-night movie as the road to an A was appealing.  “If you wanna do it, I can pick you up at 6:30,” Steve said as I nodded affirmatively.  Steve’s dad had recently given him a brand new, burgundy-colored 1966 Pontiac GTO as an early graduation present, vastly increasing my transportation opportunities.  The car was a beast that delivered less than eight miles to the gallon and even with fuel priced at twenty-nine cents per gallon, lack of gas money often restricted our travel.  Luckily, tonight was about extra credit and Steve’s mom pitched in a few dollars.

I loved the movies, especially when Paul Newman overcame adversity and prevailed over the latest antagonist or Jerry Lewis would portray a character among his breadth of idiots.  I loved movies, but had no concept of film as an art form until that rainy January night, my first time inside the Towne Theater, at the time San Jose’s only art and foreign film venue. The featured film was director Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker,” a dark portrait of a soulless man, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camp where his wife and children were killed.  The main character, Sol Nazerman, played by young actor Rod Steiger, operated a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem that also fronted for a pimp.  His experiences had left him totally detached from others or the world around him. I was expecting a more dramatic Hollywood ending where we watch significant changes to Sol’s life unfold into happily ever after. In this film, real change came slowly or not at all, with a small glimmer of hope left to the interpretation of the viewer. The “Pawnbroker” was stark reality, but, at seventeen, the most poignant film I had ever seen, a film that heightened my understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.

Eager to write a brief review of the film to secure the extra credit, I described the use of visual flashbacks to horrifically reveal Nazerman’s past, they helped me to better understand his behavior.  Unlike today, information and reviews were not available to the masses.  Viewers had to rely on their own perceptions. In a later discussion, Mr. Jones, admittedly a fan of Sidney Lumet, described how the director used various techniques to create a more powerful message.  It was the first time I understood the role or appreciated the contribution of the film director.

Remaining somewhat interested over the ensuing years, my curiosity re-emerged after I met my wife, Karen, an undergraduate student who also had an interest in film.  Hers was influenced by her parents, who would go to the Towne Theater to watch art films and mine from Mr. Jones.  Karen and I have remained avid film buffs for 47 years, beginning in 1969 with watching art films on campus or at the old Saratoga Theater, a metal quonset hut nestled against the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the village of the same name.

I never communicated with Mr. Jones after graduation but like to remember thanking him and telling him how much I enjoyed his class. Moving on with my life, I remained unaware that he had touched and opened a side of me that could have remained dormant forever.  Questions will always remain of what became of Mr. Jones.  Did he continue teaching in the public school system or drop out and live in a commune for the next ten years?  He may have written the screenplay of a film that I enjoyed, not that credits for someone named Ron Jones would raise a red flag.

Whatever became of him, Mr. Jones will always be remembered as a wonderfully effective teacher, one that opened a young mind to appreciate artistic expression of all kinds.

Enjoy “Influential” Wines




Michael Cervin, from www.intowine.com, recently rated the “top 100 most influential U.S. winemakers,” highlighting those who have made long-standing contributions as well as newcomers that are making strong impacts to the national wine scene.  While reviewing his list, I found some familiar names that have created wines that I have enjoyed and will

vista from Penner-Ash Winery

vista from Penner-Ash Winery

continue to pursue.

While a list of most influential winemakers makes for a fun read, the proof is always in the palate.  I thought it may be helpful to match some of the top winemakers with some of their specific wines that I have had the pleasure to experience.

These winemakers represent the Santa Maria Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma County, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, evidence of the growing de-centralization of power in the industry.  Many of these wines are so unswerving there was no need to list a particular vintage. The number indicates the winemaker’s ranking on Cervin’s list.

#58. Kenneth Volk          Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Kenneth Volk Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2005 ($36)

     Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir Garey Vineyard 2006 ($48)

Kenneth Volk Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles

Kenneth Volk Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles

Raised in San Marino, CA, Kenneth Volk made his name in the industry through his Wild Horse Winery in Paso Robles.  He has since sold Wild Horse to concentrate on Kenneth Volk Vineyards, producing boutique wines in north Santa Barbara County. At a recent tasting in Pasadena, I met Mr. Volk and enjoyed three fine pinot noir wines, the bold “Garey Vineyard” release, in my opinion, taking the varietal to a higher level.

Unfortunately, good cabernet sauvignon can be very expensive, especially from the Napa Valley.  The Kenneth Volk Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2005 is one of the “cabs” that I recommend in the $30-40 range.  From Westside vineyards, this wine is restrained, with softer tannins making it very drinkable now

#45. Neil Collins          Tablas Creek Winery

     Tablas Creek “Espirit de Beaucastal” ($55)

     Tablas Creek “Espirit de Beaucastal” Blanc ($40)

A pioneer in introducing Americans to the famous blends that originated from the Rhone Valley, Neil Collins was involved in importing Rhone vines to the U.S., enduring the quarantine and furnishing the research to encourage others to follow. Each vintage produces several high quality Rhone-blends from Paso Robles, many from vines propagated

2010 Tablas Creek "Espirit de Beaucastel"

2010 Tablas Creek “Espirit de Beaucastel”

from the original imports.  Tablas Creek produces a wide variety of wines, none more intriguing than the 2010 Tablas Creek “Panopile,” a mourvedre-dominant GSM blend that, like other vintages, is consistently rated in the mid-nineties. Admittedly, I have not yet tasted the wine whose meager 600 cases are reserved for members of their Vinsider wine club. Cautious with the restrictions of wine clubs, the high quality of red and white varietals, member programs and sustainable farming practices make Vinsider one that I would recommend.

My selections are the red and white wine from the “Espirit de Beaucastal” series, named for the French chateau that partnered with the Haas family to create Tablas Creek. Both wines display complex aromas and limestone-driven minerality that set them apart,


#43. Gary Eberle          Eberle Winery

Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($34)

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

Eberle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled

A patriarch of California, as well as Paso Robles winemaking, Gary Eberle’s eastside winery has been a leader in the region for decades featuring varietals such as syrah, zinfandel and viognier in many well-reviewed wines. Most vintages of the Eberle Estate Cabernet Sauvignon stand above, consistently ranked among the best California cabernet in the $30-40 price range.

#40. Lynne Penner          Penner-Ash Wine Cellars

Penner-Ash Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($45)

     Penner-Ash Oregon Syrah ($35)

After an early stint at Stag’s Leap in Napa, Lynne Penner became one of the first female winemakers in Oregon, spending many years at Rex Hill producing those nice pinots. In 1998, she founded Penner-Ash, one of the most beautiful and sustainable winery/vineyard operations in the

Penner-Ash Cellars Oregon Syrah

Penner-Ash Cellars Oregon Syrah

entire Valley.  During a visit last year, I was very impressed with the 2010 Penner-Ash Oregon Syrah with balanced tannins, rich texture and complex flavors comparable to any syrah from the vintage.  Most vintages of the Penner-Ash Pinot Noir Willamette Valley will deliver beyond expectations.


#32. Bob Cabral          Williams Seylem

Williams Seylem Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($52)

     Williams Seylem Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel ($52)


Bob Cabral, Director of Winemaking at Williams Selyem

Bob Cabral, Director of Winemaking at Williams Selyem

Clearly one of the big treats of any vintage is my annual allotment of pinot noir from William Seylem, a pioneer in developing the Burgundy varietal in Sonoma.  Named “2011 Winemaker of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine, Bob Cabral consistently creates high quality, medium-bodied single and multi-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay. In reviews of each release, the “Sonoma Coast” Pinot Noir remains one of their best values.  In recent years, Cabral has added a new varietal with the Williams Seylem Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel that, as one may expect, is among the best.

#19. Justin Smith          Saxum Vineyards

Saxum “Broken Stones Vineyard” ($89)


Justin Smith burst upon the wine scene a few years ago when his “Broken Stones” and “James Berry” Vineyard Rhone blends were included in Wine

Saxum "Broken Stones Vineyard"

Saxum “Broken Stones Vineyard”

Spectator’s top 100 list, the latter being named 2010 Wine of the Year.  Nearly impossible to obtain, an opportunity to taste the syrah-based “Broken Stones” revealed an elegant wine in perfect balance. Becoming pricy and rare cannot disguise the fact that it is a very special wine.

#11. Randall Grahm          Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon Cigare Volant Blend

     Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard

As a D.E.W.N. (Distinctive Esoteric Wine Network) member for more than a decade, I am never quite ready to move on from the Bonny Doon Winery and Vineyard family.

Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard

Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard

Founder Randall Grahm is legendary to the U.S. wine scene and opened wine consumers to a world outside of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay by introducing Rhone varietals to the Santa Cruz and Monterey County regions.  In addition, he has been a leader in biodynamic farming and replacing corks with screw tops in high quality wines.  Reading Grahm’s newsletter itself is worth the membership.

Although the classic “Cigare Volant” Rhone blend is a must, three single-vineyard syrah releases have recently peaked my interest including the 2007 and 2008 Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, a rich and balanced syrah from one of he state’s finest vineyards

#2.  Merry Edwards          Merry Edwards Winery

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc ($32)

Among  influential winemakers of the world, Merry Edwards became renown as a winemaker and consultant long before

Merry Edwards

Merry Edwards

she launched her signature label in the late nineties, focusing on fine pinot noir.  However, her Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc is noteworthy because it is, arguably, our country’s finest.  From the floral nose of orange blossoms to the full-bodied, rich flavors, pairing this wine with seafood turns a scallops or salmon dish into a culinary masterpiece.

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Leaders in the winemaking world are made from those who can create extraordinary wines and, directly or indirectly, make others better. Proof being in the palate, these wines impart the inspiration that we should expect from the influential winemakers of our time.