–by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: April 01, 2021
I first met Sylvanian Malcolm Richards when I wrote about his inspirational story as a stroke survivor. Not only does he serve as motivation for stroke victims, but for anyone who is battling obstacles. His work with the Stroke Life Center, The Ability Center, Victory Center and the Toledo Humane Society has positively impacted individuals and the community at large. Had I known back then that this unassuming gentle soul was in possession of about 3,000 bottles of wine, I would have insisted we meet in his cellar instead of over coffee.
I have once again massively failed to prove how tough my job as a writer/editor is to my dear friend Pam Ulrich, who accompanied me to Malcolm’s cellar. Malcolm is a hugger, a gentle giant, and in the time it took to uncork our first offering, we had bonded.
Malcolm served as head “Sommelier” and storyteller. He had one rule before we began our wine tasting journey. We were not permitted to ask him the worth of our samplings until the conclusion of our time together. This turned out to be an excellent rule, for if it weren’t followed, I would have had difficulty consuming the monetary equivalent of my mortgage and health insurance in liquid form.
Over a lovely 2016 California Chardonnay from ZD wines we neophyte wine drinkers learned the origin of his wine collecting. “I was dumb as a doorknob when it came to wine,” he recalled. “I was a Boones Farm drinker. Thankfully, I am a self-learner and a good listener. I have learned so much by being at the vineyards. In 1993 I accompanied a client on a wine train ride. The first vineyard we visited was ZD Wines. ZD Wines was acquired in the late 80s by two aeronautical engineers. In addition to the initials of the founders, many believe that ‘ZD’ stands for ‘Zero Defects, a term that applies to quality control. It’s so appropriate because it may refer to their wines as well as the rocket propulsion programs the founders worked on before going into the wine business.” Even though Pam and I do not possess the cerebral matter of rocket scientists, we immediately ascertained that the ZD we sampled was extraordinary, or as Pam would say in her best wine terminology, “yummy.”
After that first vineyard experience, Malcolm joined the ZD Wine Club. “Every vineyard has a wine club,” said Malcolm. “If you enjoy the wine, similar to the stock market, you may buy the futures where you commit to a wine purchase four years in advance. It quickly became a passion. Peggy, my wife, loves it just as much as I do. She is a 5’ wonder who I married 54 years ago. Our fourth date was our wedding.”
After his first stroke Malcolm cannot drink hard liquor and he gets tipsy after one beer. For some strange reason and a blessing, wine does not have this effect on him.
He shared that he and Peggy share a bottle every night, so the collecting continues. He added, “We have been to most of the vineyards in person to make our purchases. Some vineyards are open to the public while others require an invitation. Our collecting has given us so many experiences and brought so many people into our lives.”
Pam and I learned far too many things to process that afternoon, especially after a second sampling (who could resist) of an earthy bottle called The Napa Reserve. Yet a clear takeaway came from the tasting.
Malcolm explained, “Different parts of the tongue have different tastes. The tip and middle tastes are easier to acquire. The back of the tongue is the hardest to develop. I was saddened that my taste was affected after my stroke. Thankfully, my taste came back fully–yet another reason why I call myself, ‘Mr. Lucky’.”
We learned how certain pairings, such as chocolate and blueberries with red wine, can heighten your experience and how consuming a piece of fruit can totally change the taste of a wine.
When asked the obvious question of, “What is your favorite bottle of wine,” Malcolm gave us the obvious answer, “an open one.” We would pull any bottle off the shelf and immediately be mesmerized by tales of Robert Mondavi’s joint venture with the Rothschilds or the artistry and meaning behind the labels, most memorable being the one featuring the only nude of Marilyn Monroe.
One of Malcolm’s most fascinating tales surrounds the Briar Rose vineyard wine he owns. “Walt Disney’s best friend and cartoonist built his ‘valley girl’ wife a replica of Snow White’s cottage,” Malcolm recalled. “She had never been on a dirt road and when she got mud on her feet while viewing the property and cottage for the first and last time, she ‘lost it’ and told her husband to get rid of the cottage and land. Les and Dorian Linkogle, a very successful California businessman, bought the 15-20 acres of land in Temecula because his son was a dirt bike enthusiast. Out of boredom, he planted vineyards. One of his labelless bottles won the contest to become Harrah’s Casino’s VIP wine. His son, by the way, became Van Diesel’s stunt double.”
Pam and I could have stayed in the depths of Malcolm’s cellar listening with fascination as Malcolm shared his love of not just his wine, but of his family, faith and the people in his life. On our sunny Sunday in Sylvania with ‘Mr. Lucky’, it would be difficult to uncork a more perfect blend of occasional tears, laughter and full glasses of friendship.