In Vino, Communitas


I’ve been drinking Red Cloud’s Finest, an organic Antigua Guatemalan coffee distributed by EL LAGO Coffee Company, since a friend gave me a pound of beans as a gift.  It tastes as good as any I’ve found, and the story behind the company is unusual, to say the least.

Joe and Terry Butcher dream of importing coffee the old-fashioned way – by sailing ship.  Their first voyage ended disastrously, on New Year’s Day of 2008, with their ship and its entire cargo of coffee beans going to the bottom of Sigsbee Deep, a place in the Gulf of Mexico where recovery is simply impossible.  They were missing a few things on that voyage – including insurance and a rudder stop – but the dream lives on.  Not only will they be carrying a back cargo of humanitarian and school supplies on their way to pick up their next shipment of beans, the movement back to wind-powered transport is one they’re convinced makes environmental sense.

I had read and heard of Terry and Joe, but never had the pleasure of meeting them until yesterday, when they appeared in a mostly-vacant lot in Clear Lake Shores, Texas, that used to hold boats.  They’d been joined by the Sea Scouts, a few flea-marketeers and a fellow selling a rather nice life raft (to provide that added margin of safety and security during the rest of hurricane season).

Their place of business had been destoyed by hurricane Ike, but they had their sign, and were handing out free cups of coffee while promoting their product.  I stopped and chatted, had a cup of coffee, and then noticed a cooler full of wine bottles.  Terry saw me looking, and pointed out a bottle sitting on the table next to the coffee pots.  It was from the Frascone Winery of Oak Island, Texas, another place almost literally wiped off the map by Hurricane Ike. 

While she and Joe hadn’t been able to salvage their hold full of coffee, they had helped to salvage some of the Frascone wine.  Now, they were selling it, with half of the proceeds going back to Jim and Glenda Frascone, who produced the wine in the first place.

The Frascone Winery in Oak Island certainly wasn’t the first Frascone attempt at wine-making.  In a web page devoted to his rather unusually-named Biker’s Blood  “outlaw” wine, Jim Frascone says,

“My wine-making started with my family back in the 1950s and 60s, when we were a close-knit Italian family living on the upper east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up across the street from my grandparents, aunts and uncles.  The entire neighborhood was Italian, and each family created its own speciality wines.  Some made dry dago red wines like my family, and others made sweet white wines like our friends.”

The family would have been proud of Jim and Glenda.  Their wines were made by hand, using a 120-year old wine press, with a little hand-squeezing (and foot-stomping) thrown in from time to time, just for fun.  The process didn’t differ much from that used in the old Minneapolis neighborhood, when the D’Aloias and the Frascone clan did their yearly pressing.

Like a closely-knit family, the friends, neighbors and employees at “Frascone South” worked, played, struggled and drank together, never imagining that their location as the Texas winery closest to the Gulf would be their undoing.  Everyone along the coast “knows” that a hurricane is possible, but that possibility seems remote and slightly unreal, until it happens. 

When Ike showed up, it wasn’t just the winery that disappeared. So did the Frascone home, their village, and a multitude of destinations dear to Texas birders, beachcombers and fishing enthusiasts.  Jim and Glenda’s daughter Maria, who had come back to Oak Island for refuge after Katrina, will now be helping her parents cope with a new disasterAfter the storm, Maria said,

“The difference between Ike and Katrina is that here, the water came in and left, and there it stayed for a long time.  But it was just as devastating here as Katrina. There’s nothing left.”

Which brings us back to the wine.  According to an article posted in Wine Spectator, nearly 1,000 bottles of Frascone wine were lost because of the storm.  But not all was lost – many bottles were pulled from fields and ditches, washed off, and placed in coolers.  Their labels, with the lovely Frascone crest, were gone, and it was impossible to determine which varieties remained except in the most general sense – red or white by color, certain wines by bottle shape.

It was at this point, the pulling-wine-out-of-the-storm-surge-debris point, that Joe and Terry Butcher showed up to take custody of some of what was left and begin selling it as a way of helping out the Frascone clan.  Since the bottles had no labels and were just waiting for a good-natured marketing ploy, it didn’t take long for a new label to be created.

Now known as Le Frutta dell’ Uragano (slightly mis-spelled, but never mind) the wine has been transformed into The Fruit of the Hurricane, with a label that reads, “Mystery wine salvaged from the Ike-Ravaged remnants of the Frascone Winery, Oak Island, TX”. 

I bought some, of course.  Who wouldn’t?  I don’t drink a lot of wine and I’m no connoisseur, but I know enough to realize that lying about in the sunshine in a ditch full of Gulf water isn’t going to improve anything except perhaps Old Muskrat (vintage, yesterday).  Nevertheless, I bought.

Last night, while doing a bit of reading about the Frascones and pondering the photograph on the label, I uncorked one of the reds.  It wasn’t muddy at all, but a beautiful, clear claret.  It wasn’t salty, like tears or seawater, or sharp and stinging, like a sudden upwelling of memory.  There was no edge of bitterness, like that which tinges a survivor’s grief, and there was a taste both clear and dry, like a day made perfect for recovery.

Gazing out across the placid water, I raised my glass to Jim and Glenda, and Maria, and Oak Island and Anahuac.  Their community has been tossed together, pressed down, poured out – but they’re good folk, and 2009 is coming.  It may be a very good year.


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Published in: on October 5, 2008 at 3:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Trés interesting. My Dad would enjoy reading about this. He used to make scuppernong wine for his personal consumption. He got very good at it, too! He still enjoys sipping and loves to try new labels.


    I was especially interested in the fruit wines. We used to have bottles of rhubarb wine around. I never was a fan of rhubard (except using the leaves as “hats” when I was a kid), but when it gets turned into wine it’s not too bad.

    Thanks for popping over – a delight to see you!


  2. Putting the face of hope on disaster. Now thats good journalism :)


    Too many people confuse hope with sugar-coating. I’ve been thinking a good bit about reality, and the need to face it in circumstances like these. It seems clear to me that hope depends on facing what truly is, not trying to wish it away. It’s a tough assignment, but do-able.


  3. Linda,

    Your words flow like a fine red wine! Great story!


    Wonderful to have you stop by! This is your kind of story, for sure. I’m glad you enjoyed it!


  4. Hi Linda,

    Thank you so much for writing about us -el lago coffee – and the Frascone’s winery. Like you I am not a wine conissour. I like the hard stuff -vodka straight with a chaser. But several days after we got the wine, every one was drinking it here at the dock. I tried some after everyone on the dock said try it you’ll like it. I don’t like wine, I told them – well, anyway, I tried some cherry – totally fantasic. I like frascone wine now , not other wine just the frascone wine and its mystery.

    I don’t know what you getting , but it won’t be dissappointing– not that old hard bitter taste of wine that has the taste of something in a big manufactured place with no meaning or love of the art of making wine – this was smooth and agreed with my palate. The deal of the mystery wine for me is – I never know what I am going to get. That’s ok – because I know all frascone wine is way more than excellent.

    I am not a writer by a long shot either , I leave that up to hubby, Joe. Anyway I have read some of your writings and they are great ! I just wished someone would or could have been around to salvage our stock” the coffee” which there wasn’t – —-when janice and steve gammit told us of this, we went to see and collect the spoils of ike. Luckily we got to meet mr. james frascone himself. I even helped him crate or container (IN A BIG METAL LOOKING TRUFF) some wine for a customer of his. The man gave him 150.00. Mr. Jim says no- too much- man said no, should be more- so i added a jar of their famous honey and looked at Mr. Jim. He shrugged and nodded- that was my go ahead to give them some relish too.

    While Joe and Janice kept piling the bottles of wine in the back of our saturn car, I saw a statue in the distance of the property – a SAINT MARY—I asked can I take this too? I collect religous stuff. At first mr. Jim said no- it belonged to his first wife, ( i think her name mary theresa) not sure , i said my name’s Terry too. Anyway, to make a long story short -before we left the devastated winery that nite, he told me take the statue, “I have no where to put it now , I have no home or place to put it. You take it.” Well Mr. Jim it’s here , I am just the caretaker of it till you can again. It belongs with you. I will see you get it back when you do have a place to put Mary – it is safe with me. I am just taking care of it for you . She is still watching over you from afar and so is your first wife too.

    Bless all who read and want to help the Frascones. I lost my home and everything I owned on a venture , freak of nature storm. A friend gave us a boat to live on and pay what we can when we can-we are very lucky- and I want friends of the frascone’s to please do the same – remember what goes around comes around. I want frascones to rebuild the winery. Ijust hope they got that old 120 year old family wine press out before the storm- and again thank you Ms. Linda for doing this blog.

    terry butcher

    ellago coffee

  5. Lovely writing here, and great stories. I’ll have to get some of that coffee and that wine. Thanks.

  6. Hi, Linda!

    How neat to see something from Terry Butcher, which just adds more to the story.

    The problem is, I got all sniffly again, reading about the St. Mary’s statue… I’m just going to have to start carrying a box of tissues with me, no matter where I go. You can find me by following the trail of used ones…. LOL

    Hi, Bug,

    I’ll have to get you a pic of St. Mary to go with the rest of the “package”. And remember – a little sniffling is good for the soul!


  7. Here’s to you, Linda, and your beautifully written post. Cheers!

    Good morning, tee,

    It’s always a delight to have you stop by. This is going to be my week for neighborliness – looking forward to seeing you at your blog soon!


  8. I was just thinking … though it has not a lot to do with wine … but people who live and work near water seem so open, friendly, comfortable. I miss living near the shore. Good to hear your stories!

    Good morning, oh,

    Of course, there is always the possibility that I simply prefer to write about the open, friendly, and comfortable people! We have our share of suspicious, unfriendly and uncomfortable sorts, just as every place does. But I do think involvement with the natural world tends to produce a certain attitude of easy-going realism. It gets tested from time to time, but it’s still there.


  9. Regarding the “movement back to wind power” here are a couple of quotes I think are appropriate:

    “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!
    I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
    – Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

    No doubt a fair amount of climbing up iron ladders can be achieved by an active man in a ship’s engine room, but I remember moments when even to my supple limbs and pride of nimbleness the sailing ship’s machinery seemed to reach up to the very stars.
    For machinery it is, doing its work in perfect silence and with a motionless grace, that seems to hide a capricious and not always governable power, taking nothing away from the material stores of the earth. Not for it the unerring precision of steel moved by white steam and living by red fire and fed with black coal. The other seems to draw its strength from the very soul of the world, its formidable ally, held to obedience by the frailest bonds, like a fierce ghost captured in a snare of something even finer than spun silk. For what is the array of the strongest ropes, the tallest spars and the stoutest canvas against the mighty breath of the Infinite, but thistle stalks, cobwebs, and gossamer?
    –Joseph Conrad (Mirror of the Sea)


    Ah, Mr. Edison. I wonder what he’d think of the current discussions on these matters.

    And that wonderful quotation from Conrad – such an appropriate reminder of the strengths and lmiitations of human attempts to confront nature.

    I had to smile at this – “doing its work in perfect silence”. There’s nothing quite like the experience of being at sea and suddenly hearing that noise that doesn’t belong – the little “tick”, the slight squeak, the whirr that never has been. It’s like an unexpected footfall in a forest, and in my own experience, the heart responds in exactly the same way ;-)


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