Bernard A. Gassin never really did understand how I made a living out of writing about and drinking wine. Born in 1924, Bernie had a bit of a Depression-era mentality, and he always wanted to make sure things were OK for his family.
During one of my early meetings with him—it was more like an interview—he quizzed me about my curious line of work since, after all, I was dating his daughter.
“Well, I’m not going to be paid like a doctor,” I said, sensing that probably wasn’t the best opening line. “But I’ll do OK,” I explained. “And besides, I really like it.”
That last part seemed to sit well enough with him, and when I eventually asked him for his daughter's hand, he approved.
Over the years I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law. Kind, gentle and truly altruistic, Bernie was a big supporter of the University of Michigan, where he had gotten his education. I’d always been a fan of the Wolverines football team, which helped my standing in his eyes. So I was thrilled to ride his coattails one weekend as he took me to see Big Blue take on Notre Dame in a season opener, back when both teams were really good. We made a nice connection that weekend.
We also spent some time together at his Florida residence. He liked to fish in the ponds around his house, and we would pull quite a few bass out in a short time.
Bernie wasn’t much for wine, so he’d always have the waiter give me the wine list whenever we were out to dinner. Since Bernie never let me pick up a check, I always ordered modestly.
Except for one night at Charlie Trotter’s when, with both of Bernie's daughters, we were in the midst of a superb meal that had included veal heart, among other things. I couldn’t resist what was at the time a fairly affordable price for a bottle of Jean-Louis Chave’s Ermitage Cathelin. I wanted to see if I could impress him just once with a red wine. I needed a showstopper, and the Chave didn’t disappoint. I watched as Bernie took a sniff and sip, and I could see he got it.
He looked up at me and, in his dry style, said, “Not bad. I probably don’t want to know how much it costs though, do I?”
Later during the meal, I excused myself from the table under false pretenses in order to give the waiter my credit card for the wine. That was the only time I ever got away with picking up a check when Bernie was around.
Bernie passed away over the weekend, after a great run that took him all the way to age 83. I promise to take good care of his daughter, and granddaughters.
Winston Walker — Texas — December 10, 2007 12:08pm ET
Maryann Worobiec — Napa, CA — December 10, 2007 1:20pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — December 10, 2007 1:25pm ET
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Bruce Harvey — Syracuse, — December 10, 2007 8:15pm ET
Yaron Zakai Or — Israel — December 11, 2007 3:26am ET
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