RIP Joe Dougherty.
Yesterday afternoon I received the shocking news that Joe Dougherty is no longer of this world. I say shocked because Joe was one of those people I never imagined wouldn't be around; as both a friend to us but also to a staggering amount of the growers we work with, Joe seamlessly interweaved himself into both our personal and professional lives on such a profound level that it's impossible to envision who we are today without him.
I really wish my father was here to detail the early days of SFJoe's rise to prominence in our lives, as I don't have much insight on the matter. I have however been around Joe my whole life and have plenty to say.
I'm sure my dad met Joe Dougherty through wine. I know I met Joe Dougherty because of wine. And yes, SFJoe had an insane cellar, was the most knowledgable person about wine I've ever met and was always ready to open a bottle that most people would never dream of having the opportunity to try. But when I think about Joe, I never think about wine. Joe was one of the most fascinating human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing; I often joked that he knew everything about everything.
But unlike a smartphone or Google search, Joe wasn't just a scripted fact-sheet; he knew how to pull you in with the details. This could range from casual observations to humorous anecdotes and sometimes get as precise as the molecular composition or chemical reactions in food, wine or anything with molecular composition or chemical reactions, which is basically everything. No matter what you were talking about, you would learn something while laughing about another, all while drinking some Vouvray.
What was great was that you never felt intimidated by his intelligence or knowledge. Instead you felt welcome, invited to a world you had no idea was as interesting as it is, a world of details you constantly overlooked until Joe brought them to your attention. For example, I once opened a bottle of (surprise!) old Huet that Joe had brought to Terroir in San Francisco. I was convinced it was corked, but Joe busted out some empirical research he'd done because he'd often noticed that old Chenin Blanc tends to get fungal aromas and flavors with age that many associate with cork taint, and that it blows off after about an hour or so. He also went into some next-level chemical reasons behind this that went way over my head, but that I appreciated anyway. As the hour passed, my skepticism subsided when lo and behold, a wine I found undrinkable was now showing beautifully!
For years, there has been a running joke of introducing Joe to growers as the "Average American Consumer". This gag has its origins in Joe joining us annually on our trip to the Loire valley every winter. Because Joe never had a professional stake in in wine industry, he was always the only consumer on the trip, so Joe (Dressner) and Kevin settled on "Average American Consumer" when introducing him. It was of course tongue-in-cheek, since most average consumers didn't have libraries of back vintage Huet or could guess blind that the moelleux François Pinon just poured us was a 1954 just off one sniff (a truly remarkable moment I'll never forget, especially François' face lighting up in surprise and delight). The "Average American Consumer" also didn't have to step out for 2 hour international phone meetings in his car out in the dead of winter and didn't understand the chemical structure of a wine more than the person who had made it. But hey...
In so many ways, Joe was the embodiment of all my favorite wine lovers and affianados. I think Joe's profound love of wine, besides the geeky scientist stuff, was that he had a firm grasp of how important it is in this world. Wine was an excuse to bring people together, to share stories, to excite the senses, to laugh, eat, drink and be merry. To live and to celebrate life. It's no surprise that his love for lively wines led him to lively people, be it my father, Eric Texier or David Lillie. Everything intertwined so perfectly.
Joe, you'll always be family. You will be sorely missed and I'll be drinking some Vouvray tonight for ya!