I was sad to read yesterday about the death of R.W. Apple Jr. of the New York Times. Not only was Johnny, 71, one of America’s great journalists, he was a great wine and food lover and a friend. I hadn’t seen Johnny in years, but I always kept up with his whereabouts through English wine merchant Bill Baker. Johnny had a small interest in Baker’s wine business, Rieds Wines in Bristol.
I first met him in 1987 during a massive anniversary party at Alsace’s famous winery Hugel & Fils. He was at my table, and I was in awe. As a journalism student, I marveled at the stories about his reporting prowess on presidential campaigns so well documented in the book Boys on the Bus. Little did I know that Johnny was an even greater gourmand. He went on to explain the finer points of French cuisine, as well as wine, to me during a Hugel dinner. I was in heaven, and we became instant friends, although I didn’t get many chances to spend time with him.
A couple of years later, Johnny invited me and my then-wife to cocktails at his house in Georgetown, D.C., with his wife Betsy. He was a wonderful host. I can’t remember what we drank--I think it was a German Riesling--but I do remember a funny conversation. We were talking about Europe and the thought of East Germany finally coming together with West Germany, and Johnny just shook his head.
“Johnny, do you think that the Wall will ever come down?” I asked, in utter admiration of his knowledge as one of the great political commentators of our time.
“James, we will never see it in our lifetime,” he said reassuringly.
A few weeks later, the Wall fell! I brought up the story with him a few times when I saw him afterwards, and he always gave a hearty laugh. The world has lost one of the great bon vivants of a generation. And I will drink a glass of wine in his memory tonight.
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