The league of extra-oenophile gentlemen
The gentlemen started arriving at 5:30 p.m. sharp, conscientious – as are the gentlemen – to be quick. They were dressed in smart sports coats and crisp button-down shirts, despite the lingering heat of the day. Each man wore a triangular silk knot at the neck, an ornament once common to menswear enthusiasts (and dandies.)
Meet the card holders of DAFLEE, or – without its acronym – the men of Dumb Asscot Fermented Liquid Enjoyment Experience. Wearing Ascot is mandatory for DAFLEE members, despite the fact that it is 2021.
The first Friday after the summer solstice, they met in the square, nine men who eat, sleep and breathe wine. Each carried wine glasses and a bottle of juice, made incognito in brown burlap bags. Most of the gentlemen had complicated facial hairs that grew above their four-legged silken hands, and all admitted to being genuinely thirsty.
The menu to sip for the evening was to be Italian reds, a category chosen by the bearer of the coveted “Golden Asscot”. Carl F. wore the narrow band of golden silk around his neck, won fair and square in the last – and first – tasting of DAFLEE. “I am the current bearer of the Asscot d’Or,” said Carl F. loudly. “I brought a 2011 Benovia Bella Luna – made by a winemaker I worked for in the Russian River Valley – and it just blew them away. As an ascot bearer, I have to pick the theme this time around, so… it’s the Italian reds tonight.
Standing in front of Carl F. was Jeff Cramer, wearing the “Kirgyzstani Dunce Cap” on his head. It was a punishment for presenting the less pleasant bottle of wine at the last DAFLEE reunion, but Cramer seemed almost proud of the accessory. Perhaps it was the ascot mitigating what should have been Cramer’s shame, but he remained unfazed by the ignominy of serving an undrinkable 2017 zinfandel to his friends. Bad wine happens, even to professionals in the industry.
The founding principle of every Dumb Asscott meeting is a shared love of wine. They are first-rate winegrowers and sommeliers. Some pour it, others make it and some have it in their veins, such as Kyle Haraszthy, the great-great-great-grandson of Sonoma wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy and the founder of the city, General Mariano Vallejo. You’d be hard pressed to find a local more local than the great-grandson of the town’s two founding fathers, and Haraszthy – with his burgundy clutch and old-fashioned mustache – carries the mantle of history well. He started DAFLEE in search of bromance with like-minded wine lovers who could tolerate a bit of pomp as a hunter.
It’s a build that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At the first meeting, some shlub showed up wearing golf shirts and shorts. My God ! “He kind of got excited,” said one of the others with a shrug, before adjusting his scarf and pulling on his handcuffs.
The Dumb Asscots started with just six members, and allowed to bring a suitable guest to the next meeting if they wished. The guests all had to be involved in the wine industry in one way or another, and the beauty didn’t seem to be a disqualifier. The guests, however, could not be of female persuasion: the Dumb Asscots is strictly a men’s club.
When asked why their wives and girlfriends were missing, the gentlemen burst into unexplained laughter. “For some reason they don’t want to be associated with the words ‘idiot’ or ‘ass’,” one said.
“It’s a men’s club,” Haraszthy explained. “A group of gentlemen in lavaliere, as we do.”
As the pandemic continued over the past year, Haraszthy said he was in desperate need of a distraction. “We just really needed a reason to have fun. So at the end of March, when I felt like COVID was over, I was like “guys, let’s go. Deciding that ascots and formal wear could set both the uniform and the tone of the club, Haraszthy insisted his friends dress for their events.
“This is an intimate wine tribunal of industry professionals who come together to have a good time, while wearing ascots. Yes, it’s stupid, but we’re here to keep the fun, the humor and the camaraderie in the wine, ”said Haraszthy.
“The world of wine takes itself in a way seriously. That kind of reversal, ”added Joel Burt.
The evening continued, with two Barbarescos competing for first place. Being gentlemen, the men agreed to settle for a tie, although winners Jeff Cramer and (again) Carl F. arranged to fight at the next meeting in Kenwood, using pillows as weapons. “The winner of the pillow fight will win the Golden Asscot, but nobody thinks Carl F. is going to show up,” said Haraszthy. “He’s already claiming he can’t get by due to his ‘demanding harvest schedule,’ but Jeff was a 4H camp counselor and has a lot of pillow fight experience.”
The donkey cap went to Drew Goodgame this time, for serving a terrible 2021 Lagrein. “It tasted like ketchup,” Haraszthy said.
After a year stuck at home wearing sweatpants most of the time, all of the Dumb Asscots seemed happy to be cleaned up. They toasted and applauded, they sent cheers !, they seemed somehow transformed by their ties. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference after all; in wine, and in the world, small gestures count.
In velvet jackets and leather moccasins with a bit of silk at the throat, as a hot wind rustled the dashboards stacked near the nine bottles of wine offered, the gentlemen of DAFLEE – slaves of Bacchus and friendship and the indefatigable optimism of youth – rose their glasses in a last salute, and went out in the remade evening.
Contact Kate Williams at [email protected]