Donn Reisen, John Coltrane, Wang Wei, and the Kindredity of Wine

Very early on in my tenure at Ridge Vineyards, I made the decision to play only The Jazz in the Monte Bello Tasting Room.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this decision was noted and noticed by a notably wider circle than just the one comprised of my colleagues in the tasting room. Of particular note, it was most decidedly noticed by the man who was not only my boss, but also the then-president of the company, Donn Reisen.


Donn Reisen

It was a gift of innocence, I suppose, that had largely left me unworried about bothering Donn up to that point. Of course I’d heard a rumor or two; how he’d once harshly berated a staffer for inappropriate application of a flashlight during decantation of a library Monte Bello, for example.

Yet still I blundered on unawares, too green to worry, too naïve to be afraid.

And then along came Donn.

One afternoon, there he came, strolling in, in that shambolically purposeful yet hobo-esque way of his, right into the middle of the empty mid-day tasting room, as I was wiping down counters and re-arranging menus, and listening to The Jazz.

He ambled in, paused at the very center of the rug that was in the very center of the room, and cocked his head towards a corner of the room where there was perched a small speaker. And he listened. Listened as Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” streamed through the pulsing mesh of the small black screen.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

And after a miniature eternity, he then turned to me and said, “I think the saxophone is the most expressive of instruments; the most like the human voice. It’s beautiful.” And then he walked out.

That was over four years ago, but I still feel the mojo of that moment as if it were yesterday.

Not the moment of Donn approving of the music.

The moment of Donn feeling that music, recognizing in it something that connected directly to his own humanity

There is something so potent about this sort of recognition, this moment of cognizance that something outside of oneself somehow not only speaks to oneself, but is oneself.

There is a poem in “Short Houses With Wide Porches” that attempts to speak to a version of this …


Early morning, and like a driving range

before the golf-ball-skimming-truck

has made its first pass

over the previous day’s late drives,

the broad, multi-shaded green

of sea is dotted with white dots;

birds: pelicans, egrets, gulls, sanderlings—

but it’s the dolphin arc

from ripples well inside the buoy line

that sets my body trembling;

an excitement that bespeaks

our shared lineage, the ancient

mammalian rite of recognition;


Kindredity. A made-up word, of course, but one whose meaning, is, I believe, a clear one.

Kindredity: A state of feeling kindred to something else; related by descent, associated by origin.

This was, I believe, Donn’s state while listening to “A Love Supreme” in that moment.

And I wonder now, as I ponder on this all, if that isn’t in fact what draws us to wine itself in the first place?

Is it somehow true that the wines we love the most are the ones we somehow find ourselves in? The ones which induce this state of kindredity?

It is more than a mirror, more than wishful thinking. It is not so easy as “I think I’m bold and strong, and so I like a bold and strong wine” or “I’m sensitive and complex and I prefer my wines the same.”

And it is more than mutual attraction, more than compatible idiosyncrasy. It is not so easy as “You’re mysterious and I’m attracted to mystery” or “You’re powerful and I’m submissive.”

If the poem’s narrator and the poem’s dolphin are somehow united in “the ancient mammalian rite of recognition,” what is the modifier of rite when the same sentence becomes about wine? When a taster and a wine are somehow ritually united, what describes the rite?

What is our kindredity with wine?

I wish I could ask Donn now what I didn’t know then. But alas, I cannot. He is gone.

What I can do, is turn to the great Chinese poet Wang Wei …

Dear stone, little platter alongside cascading streamwater,
willow branches are sweeping across my winecup again.

And if you say spring wind explains nothing, tell me why,
when it scatters blossoms away, it blows them here to me?


Snowy Stream, by Wang Wei

(The poem above — “Playfully Written on a Flat Stone” — was translated by David Hinton, and can be found in his book “The Selected Poems of Wang Wei”)

for more about David Hinton’s unsurpassedly excellent translations, please click here:

and for more about Donn Reisen:

Categories: History, Ridge Memorabilia, RIDGE Staff, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine & Literature, Wine & Music, Wine & Philosophy, Wine & Poetry, Wine & Spirituality, Wine and Jazz, Wine Tales

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