A TRIBUTE TO JERRY CLARK, THE WINE MAVEN (November 16, 1939 – April 17, 2019)

by Susan Manfull

Jerry Clark in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo by Jacques Navarre

Provence WineZine lost an important voice this week and I, along with many readers, lost a very dear friend: Jerry Clark, aka “The Wine Maven,” passed away on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.  He was 79 years young.

Jerry loved wine, he loved France — especially Provence — and he loved to write.  He embodied the qualities of the quintessential Provence WineZine contributor and PWZ was very fortunate to snag him.

Anyone remotely acquainted with Jerry knew that, aside from his beloved family whom his world truly revolved around, few subjects captured his passions more than wine. As he wrote in a PWZ article about creating one’s own wine cellar, he began collecting fine wine in the late sixties when “… [A]ll Bordeaux classed growths (save the handful of first growths) could be had for less than $10 a bottle.”  He started off with “a nine-bottle wooden rack” that he kept in the back of a clothes closet in his seventh-floor, air-conditioned apartment in New York City. From that point, his collection grew to an impressive and well-organized cellar in his home in Mystic, Connecticut where he and his beloved wife, Benedicte, and family moved in 1994. He also still has wine stashed in several wine caves in France, where he and his family lived early on and where, I suspect, he and his wife, who I would often hear him call “mon chérie,” longed to return.

Jerry collected not just wine, but wine-related paraphernalia such as wine bottle labels, posters, books, articles, movies, and rubber stamps.  I believe he even referred to himself as a bit of a pack rat, by way of explanation, when he showed me a stack of yellowed but chronologically-ordered newspaper ads from The New York Times, each in plastic sleeves.  They dated back to the early 1970s and confirmed the remarkably low prices for bottles, like a 1966 Château Lafite Rothschild for $18.  It was exactly what was needed for his PWZ article. Another time, he surfaced with a significant number of old catalogues and brochures featuring international and domestic wines, also used in a PWZ article.  His rubber stamp collection must have been expansive (in the category of wine alone) as a different image created from one or two or three stamps seemed to surface on each piece of US Postal Service correspondence from Jerry (of which there were many, especially in the form of postcards which, I am pleased to say, I kept all of).

Jerry was a very generous wine collector, hosting many wine tastings over the years and inviting many friends to enjoy his bounty.  These were highly organized tastings, always fun but with serious underpinnings.  I’m told they grew tamer over the years, making me wish I had known Jerry and Ben in the heyday of their early tastings. In recent years, he spent a lot of time revamping his rating scale, a seemingly tedious task but, when doing anything having to do with wine, I am confident Jerry was in his glory.  The last tasting, organized around wine from Rasteau (in the Southern Rhône Valley), was one of the best I have ever attended.

My path first crossed with Jerry’s over a postcard. It’s a perfect example of serendipity, one so far-fetched that you are compelled to wonder if it wasn’t meant to be.  For years after our family lived in Lourmarin, a small village in Provence, my daughter continued to send postcards to a French friend who collects postcards. She is the wife of our daughter’s soccer coach from our time in Lourmarin. It happened that Jerry and Benedicte frequently traveled to Lourmarin, too, and were also friends with the soccer coach and his wife.  It also happened that my daughter’s postcard arrived when Jerry and Ben were visiting their friends and that the wife showed it to Jerry because she knew Jerry also had an affinity for postcards.  Jerry recognized the last name as that of a man who had worked for the same printing press manufacturer that Jerry had although Jerry had been based in France and the man, my husband, was based in New Hampshire so, at that time, they didn’t really know one another. 

The next thing we knew, we were exchanging emails and talking on the telephone. When I first actually met Jerry, he was standing at our back door holding a case of wine. He and Benedicte had stayed a couple of nights in our home in Lourmarin while traveling in Provence and he was returning the favor with a few selections from his storied wine cellar. I cannot recall, with any certainty, when that was.  Probably about eight years ago but that image, so perfectly Jerry, remains ensconced in my mind’s eye:  broad smile, twinkle in his eye, chuckling a bit, generous, kindhearted, and bearing wine.

Jerry , Ben and Susan at Tardieu-Laurent in Lourmarin. Photo by Pamela O’Neill

I had the good fortune to meet Jerry and Ben in Lourmarin on several occasions. The most memorable of those rendezvous was a visit Jerry arranged to the internationally renowned Tardieu–Laurent, one of the premiere négociant firms in the Rhône Valley whose cellars happened to be in Lourmarin.   Jerry introduced me to Bastien Tardieu, son of Michel Tardieu who co-founded T-L, and we proceeded to have an incredible tasting. Popping open bottles and dipping into barrels all afternoon, it was dinner time when we finally emerged from the maze of barrels. Jerry lit the grill and opened a bottle of rosé from the local cooperative in Cucuron, quickly bringing us back to reality; but, thanks to Jerry, I had met Condrieu that day, and its minerality sprinkled with faint floral, stone fruit, and vanilla notes still lingered, indelibly changing my sense of Viognier forever. I will always think of Jerry and Ben when I sip Condrieu.

Jerry wrote for PWZ for nearly four of the five years we have been churning out articles. His column, Musings of a Wine Maven, includes 18 articles covering a broad range of subjects from the death of California winemaker Joseph Phelps to the alleged importance of vintage when buying rosé.  Jerry was particularly interested in – and skeptical about – wine competitions that yielded winners of questionable merit and lists of wines that were rank-ordered based on elusive criteria.

A keen observer and a pensive man, Jerry often homed in on details the rest of us missed and had the remarkable ability to create a story from just a small part of the big picture that typically captures the average person. For example, in January of 2016, while people like me were clamoring to get to Millésime Bio, the organic and biodynamic wine fair now held annually in Montpellier, Jerry scoured the literature to confirm that few wine consumers (in the U.S., at least) really care whether the wine they buy is organic, sustainable, or least of all, biodynamic.

As a sidebar and evidence that Jerry did indeed keep an open mind (even though it didn’t always appear so), he later changed his opinion about organic and biodynamic wines, even going so far as to embrace “natural” wines.  He credited six Lodi AVA Zinfandels — part of the Lodi Native collaborative project — made from sustainably grown grapes with minimal intervention in the cellar, as awakening his interest and a bottle of Tavel vin naturel produced by Eric Pfifferling of Domaine de l’Anglore as solidifying that interest.  From then on, it seems no one could get Jerry to stop talking about the very wines one would find at Millesime Bio.

With sardonic, sometimes snarky, humor, he always made me smile. Well, almost always.  We did butt heads occasionally. There was the time he wanted to end an article about rating scales with “Did the satyrs score the virgins?” We wrangled for days until I relented, and you can read his reply to the query he put forth in “Has a Good Beat…. Easy to Dance to.” Oh, how I will miss his humor.

One of Jerry’s best pieces was about the death of the esteemed Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemaker, Henri Bonneau. Jerry happened to be in Châteauneuf-du-Pape when Madame Bonneau told another winemaker with whom Jerry was talking that her husband was hospitalized and, later, hearing that Bonneau had passed away, he was able to alter his travel plans to return from Lourmarin to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for the service.  It was a very moving article that earned him First Prize for the “2016 Wine Blog Post of the Year” at the international Wine Bloggers Conference (now called the Wine Media Conference).

Jerry and I had a long-running, heated debate over whether rosé is a serious wine, culminating with an editorial piece entitled, “Can We Settle This Over a Rosé?” When you are writing for a blog largely devoted to Provence wine, the majority of which is rosé, I would say to my friend, you must at least consider that some cuvées really do demand your respect. It took multiple emails and many telephone calls between New Hampshire and Connecticut — and a lot of tastings — for us to (at least ostensibly) settle this matter, eventually espousing our respective opinions in the editorial.  It was terrific fun, and we agreed we would find other subjects to debate and write about.  We did find other subjects, but, sadly, we never got around to writing about them.

One of those subjects would surely have been whether the large and heavily capitalized wineries would change the delicate landscape of small wineries, cooperatives, and farmers that have long defined Provence. Would they buy too many small estates and gobble up too many of the grapes putting the cooperatives, long the bedrock of Provence wine, out of business? Jerry worried about this: is there a dark side to the explosive growth of the rosé business?  I didn’t have a chance to fully brief him about what I learned in our February trip to Provence:  The competition for grapes in Provence has become fierce, skyrocketing the price of grapes, and causing a growers’ market. Ah, Jerry, you always did home in on the elements that comprise the big picture on which the rest of us were focused.

How could you go so soon?  We had more subjects to debate, stories to tell, postcards to write, and wines to enjoy. Echoing the sentiments expressed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about grief, a subject with which I am now woefully familiar, it will be a long process adjusting to the presence of his absence.  I will miss him terribly, but I am grateful that our paths merged at the crossing of wine, Provence, and writing.  Nous te saluons, cher Jerry.

Jerry and Susan drinking rosé together in Lourmarin. Photo by Pam O’Neill

 

31 Comments

  1. I am so terribly saddened to read of Jerry’s passing. Thank you for sharing the background of how a great friendship grew from a random postcard, and blossomed over wine. My thoughts and prayers are with you and his family.

    • Thank you, Carolyne, for your lovely note. Sometimes wonderful friendships grow from the most unexpected places. We miss him already.

  2. Great article in tribute to a specialoenophile.

  3. Dear Susan,
    We’re sorry about your losing your good friend, colleague, collaborator and occasional sparring partner.

  4. So sorry for your loss. I remember, with fondness, several of his articles, and also the joy he brought to the wine tasting table. What a beautiful tribute.

  5. This is such a sad moment. I met Jerry 2 hours from our home in New York at Starbucks on a very rainy day, just about one year ago. We had just released our inaugural vintage 2017 Shoshana Rosé of Pinot noir. He reached out to me through linkedin as he was doing a story in vintage years of Rosé. We began communicating through email and very quickly became friends! When we met he handed me a piece of paper with notes on it about a woman named Shoshana. He shared with me that the fanciful name of our Rosé, which is named for our daughter with the same name, was the character in a story he had started to write years before but never finished it. We spent the next two hours talking about our families and the joy they brought us along with sharing that we both had recently lost family members. Jerry lost his son and I lost a very young brother. We talked about all of his adventures he had shared with his wife traveling the world. At the end I gave him a bottle of our Rosé and he said he was going to do a blind Rosé tasting and would only drink it with Susan and his wife. He kept in touch with me through email and linkedin. For only knowing him such a short time, he gave me so much encouragement with our brand new wine label and promised that we would make our meeting in Connecticut an annual event. I told him I hoped we could host him and his wife at our ranch in Sonoma county. Most recently we were amazed to find out we were connected through Susan who had done a piece on our very dear friends and winemaker, kale Anderson. He said “the world is a small place”Such a mensch! A lovely man with a deep soul. I will never forget his kindness.

    • Dear Marla,
      Jerry wanted us to meet and for all of us to share your wine. We must make that happen…and toast to our mutual friend. Thanks for this lovely remembrance. I will write to you under separate cover.

  6. Thank you Susan for this nice article on a very good friend and a great man.

  7. Susan – how fortunate we were to have had Jerry in our midst. I wish I had met him in person – it almost happened a month ago – as his passion for family, food, and wine were unparalleled. My condolences to you and especially to Ben and his family. May the wine pour freely in heaven.

    • David, I wish you had met Jerry and Ben…you would have enjoyed both of them very much. I know you almost met Jerry two months ago in Tucson. As you say, may the wine pour freely in heaven! Indeed.

  8. I first met Jerry in the late ’60’s or early ’70’s… Back in those days Jerry worked for Harris, a press manufacturer & we both represented out companies in a research section of the Printing Industries of America. Even then we knew Jerry was a serious wine buff, although as a group most of us saw wine as either red or white, sweet or not…but Jerry kept educating us & told stories of his latest wine cellar explorations. A kind & nice guy, but yes, I do recall that snarky humor. He will be missed… Neil Richards

    • Neil, as you write, he will be missed! I suspect you will think of him the next time you open a bottle of wine!

  9. Thanks to you, I met Jerry. It was a pleasure to share Provence WineZine with him and I’m so grateful that we will always have Lodi. I’ll miss including Jerry’s words on L’Occasion and reading them at Provence WineZine… his knowledge is immeasurable and we are blessed by his writings. Thank you for this beautiful piece.

    • Jill, thank you for your nice words. I am glad that I got to play a role in connecting you and Jerry. We all learned from him, didn’t we?

  10. I had the pleasure of attending several wine tastings with Jerry and Ben. He was a lovely man and so enthusiastic about wines, travel and the people he had met on his trips through France. Whenever I think of him I smile because he was always smiling!

    • So true about Jerry smiling. In the “program” that we received at his service –it was quintessentially Jerry — one line really made me smile. It accompanies a photograph of Jerry and a gaggle of wine bottles and reads: In his last weeks of life, he left explicit instructions that we should make sure to drink his “stash” so the Benedicte’s next husband couldn’t get it.”

  11. This is certainly sad news to hear. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking remembersnce of Jerry. What a life he lived! A full life rich in experience, long relationships with family and friends, successes, passions, talents, health and love. Here is a toast in his honor, “Live long and love deeply” I wish I were able to remember the nice toast he gave when Jody and I met you for lunch near Lodi a few years ago.

    • That was a fun lunch at Wine and Roses, wan’t it? I am so glad that both you and Jody got to meet him!

  12. Susan- This tribute was so profoundly touching to read, you captured him so well. He held your friendship in such high esteem and he always appreciated a good debate on his favorite subject, wine. I know as an editor he had immense respect for you, and I always liked knowing someone was keeping him in check (he had a way of meandering, probably from an over accumulation of knowledge). Thank you for capturing his essence and sharing a little piece of your history.

    • Oh, Florie,thank you for these nice words. Knowing your dad was an sincere pleasure. He kept me on my toes as an editor and smiling as a friend. My his spirit always walk with you.

  13. I have known Jerry since the 70s. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. His passing is a terrible loss to all those who knew him. I am sure when we all pass on too, he will be waiting for us with a few open bottles of his favorite wines.

    “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; Love leaves a memory no one can steal”

    Cheers Jerry, It was my pleasure and good fortune to know you

    • What heartfelt words, Richard. He was indeed the quintessential gentleman. I miss him already.

  14. Oh Susan. This is so terribly sad. The day I met Jerry at the Tardieu–Laurent barrel tasting in Lourmarin is etched in my heart, particularily the repas that followed chez Jerry and Ben, their generosity, our laughter. I was not only blown away by Jerry’s connoisseurship and keen palate but by his breadth of knowledge about the world of wine – its history, its trade, its players. And yet he could be counted on to unleash his humor at the absurdities, foibles, and peccadillos of the world he loved. Jerry will never know how very many people will miss him, even those he’s never met. When I think of him I’ll think of how he smiled with his whole face. I’ll think storyteller, authentic guy, funny as hell, and, of course, I’ll think wine maven.

    • Pam, you captured him very well. That was a most memorable afternoon that, with little notice, passed into evening, and night. Thank you for your lovely thoughts.

  15. Thank you for the beautiful and interesting tribute to my brother Jerry. I did not inherit the wine gene and I hardly know the difference between…..well, anything. Our most heated wine discussion was whether the old women we knew in Red Hook Brooklyn in the 60s mixed their red wine with Coke or Pepsi. He insists Pepsi and the Wine Maven is always right.

    • I am laughing out loud….maybe you didn’t inherit the wine gene but you definitely got the Clark sense-of-humor gene! Thanks for the smile and for the kind words. Your brother was a real treat to know.

  16. JERRY WAS GREAT !

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