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THE MISSIONARY TIMES



 

THE SEARCH FOR ‘VISIONS OF J’
(Part One: As We Stopped In For A Beer)
by J. R. Stokes
 

Anyone who has strayed into the lounge at the Freewheelin House website may have taken a glimpse at the ‘Freewheelers Stars and Likes’. The page is badly in need of updating (any day now) but item number 3 under my own particular ‘likes’ is ‘The walk from Southwold to Walberswick in Suffolk’. 

The little seaside town of Southwold on the Suffolk coast is an absolute treasure and the place has been something of a bolt hole for Marilyn and me since we moved to East Anglia from London some 30 odd years ago. We try to have a long weekend in Southwold about twice a year, usually out of season when an unfashionable eastern wind coming off the North sea bites at you and brings you back to reality. When you know that you are getting above your station, or when you feel that the whole world is on your case, Southwold can somehow offer a warm embrace – even in an unfashionable eastern wind! And that walk from Southwold to Walberswick, crossing the river Blyth with its adjacent gorse and reed beds, can make you feel that you have tarried on a wonderful journey for a million years instead of just half a day. 

One of the delights, for me at least, about Southwold is that the town has its own brewery, namely Adnams. The brewery is a small family affair and indeed it is one of the few remaining independent breweries left in England. There are various pubs and eating places in the town and each is served with Adnams’ ale from the local brewery and at certain times during the day horse drawn drays can be seen delivering barrels of the good ale to the pub round the corner. Good ale doesn’t normally  travel well over a distance but that few hundred yards from the brewery to, say, The Kings Head, or The Sole Bay Inn  does for the ale what chocolate does for coconut to make it into a bounty bar. Of course you may not like bounty bars, or real ale for that matter, but if you go to Southwold in the spring, in the summer, autumn or winter, real ale and bounty bars can taste just like your favourite fruit. Believe me. 

Over the last few years Adnams has branched out a little and, if your tipple happens not to be ale but wine, then the brewery has a shop with an extensive wine cellar displaying wines from all over the world. And if your tipple isn’t either ale or wine but you like book shop browsing then there are some great bookshops in the town; more of which later. 

For a number of reasons we hadn’t made our usual trip to Southwold in February of this year and for a number of other reasons, we felt that, by the end of April, we desperately needed some Southwold moments; so we booked into a B&B pub for the weekend starting  Friday 14th May. I have to say that our trips to Southwold are usually Bob free, I must  promise to leave the black eyed dog in the kennel back home and any Bob chat, Bob songs, Bob this or Bob that are pretty much forbidden. That is how it was meant to be for the weekend starting Friday 14th May…until I spotted an item on Expecting Rain the weekend before. It was the first item for Sunday May  9th and it read as follows: 

1 - The vines they are a-changin’ The Bob Dylan fanatic who is producing extraordinary wines in a neglected corner of Italy - (telegraph) (link found by Cliff Warnken) 

I was particularly interested in this item because, as I related in my article for Freewheelin 223, we are holidaying In Italy this year and, after we booked our holiday (honestly, dear) news came down the line that Dylan had entered into a joint venture with an Italian vineyard owner to produce a wine to be sold later this year and to be known as ‘Planet Waves’ with the labels on each of the bottles of the wine to bear Dylan’s signature.  The vineyard owner, one Antonio Terni, has already produced a wine which he has called ‘Visions of J’ and as I am hankering after visiting this vineyard whilst in Italy in the summer, any item on this subject is of great interest to me. 

The item from Expecting Rain lead to the wine section of the Daily Telegraph and concerned an interview between the journalist Jonathan Ray and the ‘Bob Dylan fanatic’ vineyard owner, the said Senor Terni. The heading of the article in The Telegraph read as follows: 

‘Jonathan Ray meets the Bob Dylan fanatic who is producing extraordinary wines in a neglected corner of Italy’

 

For those who are interested in the story – and to me this is a far more interesting Dylan venture than Victoria’s Secrets or American Idol – and for those who are not but are interested in Bob related tangents, the entire article is reproduced below:

 

‘The Marche, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, is best-known to British wine drinkers as the source of that ubiquitous pizza-parlour white wine, Verdicchio. It is also home to rich and robust reds such as Rosso Piceno and, best of all, Rosso Conero, a scrumptious wine made from Montepulciano.

 

Inexplicably, this lovely region between Emilia-Romagna and Abruzzo continues to be largely overlooked by British wine lovers. More fool them, because some real gems can be found in this beautiful land of mountains, rolling hills, medieval walled villages and sandy beaches.

 

Among them is the small-scale but top-quality Fattoria Le Terrazze. Owned by Antonio and Georgina Terni, this small winery lies at the end of a sweeping avenue of mulberry trees near Numana, a small fishing town on the coast some 14 miles from Ancona.

 

Fifty-year-old Antonio Terni, who is a nuclear engineer, yachtsman and Bob Dylan fanatic, looks an unlikely wine-maker. Tall, bearded and wearing faded blue jeans, he sports a leopardskin fedora and trails clouds of cigar smoke in his wake. His background is far from typical. “ I’m a Jewish Italian who was born in Argentina,” he says in perfect English. “My wife is an English Catholic who I met during the Falklands spat”.

 

“I am like the guy in the Beatles’ song, Nowhere Man. I don’t feel any particular allegiance, except when Italy play Argentina at football, when I am most definitely Italian.”

 

The 50-acre vineyard (of which only 30 are in production) was planted by Terni's grandfather in 1882 and subsequently nurtured by his father. The vineyards were completely renovated during the 1980s, when Terni decided that winemaking was more fun than nuclear engineering.

 

Le Terrazze produces three different Rosso Conero DOCs (the wine is named after nearby Monte Conero), and although a 15 per cent dollop of Sangiovese would be permitted, all are made solely from Montepulciano.

 

The standard, but fruitily rumbustious, example is followed by Sassi Neri, named after the nearby beach, which is black in summer because of the mussels there. “It's a rather good wine,” says Antonio, “only just behind Sassicaia (one of Italy's top wines) – well, alphabetically at least.”

 

The third wine is Visions of J, named after the Bob Dylan song Visions of Johanna, and made only in especially fine vintages (the last one was 1997). Terni likes to serve these reds cool rather than at room temperature, which inevitably sparks a good-natured debate with Georgina, his wife, who prefers the wines warmer.

 

All three wines go perfectly with the local specialities, such as rich pasta dishes, game, smoked meats or porchetta – roasted pig stuffed with herbs, garlic and wild fennel.

 

Terni has also come up with a Super-Marche, an unlikely blend of half Montepulciano, half Merlot/Syrah, called, in a nod to his previous nuclear engineering career, Chaos, after the theory. The first vintage was 1997, and it has been a runaway success, not least, reckons Terni, because nobody else has created a blend like it. It more than justifies its £20-plus price tag. A subtle 100 per cent Chardonnay called Le Cave completes Le Terrazze's portfolio, the total annual production of which comes to a mere 8,500 cases.

 

Later this year, in a further homage to his hero, Terni will be releasing a new Merlot/Montepulciano blend named after Dylan's 1974 album, Planet Waves. This project has the personal endorsement of the master himself, and the labels all bear Dylan’s signature. But despite Terni’s great excitement about the project, he doesn’t plan to increase production any further, because, he says, “I’d have to go round the world and sell it.” Nor does he plan to set up a website. “I believe that it is far more important to enjoy the journey.”

 

The truth is that he has other demands on his time. He calls himself one of Dylan’s Bobcats – the term given to only the most devoted fans. “He is the coolest thing ever,” says Terni, who has seen him in concert more than 80 times.

 

Where most winemakers prefer to immerse themselves in works by Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson or Robert Parker, Terni’s bookshelves are crammed with back numbers of Total Guitar and books with titles such as The Art and Music of John Lennon, and Nuclear Reactor Theory. When he isn’t listening to one of his 350 Dylan CDs he finds peace by strumming his electric guitar.

“My life is full of many pleasures," he says through a haze of cigar smoke. "My father never pushed me into the wine business. I made the decision myself and it's one of the best things I ever did."

 

Antonio Terni's wines are sold at Adnams (01502 727222) and Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300 ).’

 

The article filled in a few gaps about the Dylan/vineyard situation but my eyes became ping pong balls on stalks when I spotted those details about the wholesalers of the wine in the UK. There are just two wholesalers in the Country namely Berry Brothers & Rudd Limited, a very high class wine merchants of St. James, Street, London W.1. and the other…..Adnams of Southwold – the place I know and love and where I was going to spend the coming weekend.

 

Now, I am not the sort of guy who cheats on his wife but there was a promise about to be broken. How could I possibly leave behind all things Bob when I had the chance to search out that special wine, ‘Visions of J’ that was produced under a warm Italian sun with the strains of ‘Blonde on Blonde’ wafting over a vine laden hillside? And hadn’t I just recently completed 65,000 words on the very song, the title of which had been given to this divine juice from the grapes? It was all so close to home that I shivered with some kind of honed affinity between that bottle and me. I needed to drink that wine. Promises are made to be broken anyway!

 

So, clutching a copy of the article from the wine section of The Telegraph, I ventured into the ‘Adnams of Suffolk’ wine store early on Saturday morning 15th May. There weren’t many people around so I had the sole undivided attention of Simon, the very helpful shop assistant. Like the long suffering wives of Mark Carters ‘Sad Dylan Fans’ Marilyn had long given up the protest and she just raised her eyebrows from the back of the shop, the way the Queen does when one of her corgis gets savaged by Princess Anne’s bull terrier.

 

I showed Simon the article, pointed out the words Antonio Terni's wines are sold at Adnams’,  promptly asked for a bottle of ‘Visions of J’ and held my breath.

 

‘Mmmmm’ hesitated Simon as he punched some words into the store’s computer system ‘Don’t know that one’.
 

‘Well, it says here that you stock it.’ I remonstrated, getting slightly agitated the way I usually do when I think that shop assistants have their minds on the latest Corrie plot rather than looking after me. But Simon clearly wasn’t a fan of Corrie for he hit the right button straight away.

 

‘Yep, here it is.  Fattoria Le Terrazze…. We have some in stock… follow me to the cellar’.

‘I’m going down to the cellar with Simon’ I mouthed to Marilyn as the bull terrier ripped into another corgi. ‘Won’t be a mo.’

 

As it turned out we were rather more than ‘a mo,’ and when we returned from the cellar, the shop floor was strewn with dead corgis. I had two bottles of red wine in my hands but, grief upon grief, and despite an extended search, they were not the holy grail of ‘Visions of J’.   They were however from the Dylan inspired vineyard being the Rosso Conero’s that were mentioned in the article from The Telegraph. And, at over £10.00 per bottle, it meant that it was a sarnie and a packet of crisps for lunch rather than a prawn salad on the pier. I couldn’t get too depressed though: we were in Southwold after all  where troubles melt like lemon drops and that wonderful walk to Walberswick awaits

 

Before we left Adnams, Simon did try to find out more about the elusive ‘Visions of J’ but a search through his records could not produce any information and a similar search I subsequently made my self at Berry Brothers and Rudd website has also failed to produce the goods. There remains only one thing for it: a trip to the vineyard in Italy. Watch this space. In the meantime the, as yet uncorked, Rosso Conero will bring Antonio’s vineyard a little closer to home.

 

It was a while back but I did mention the bookshops of Southwold. There are a good few of them and they are the sort of places where odd kinds of books, at knocked down prices, can be found. In one of these book shops, I just couldn’t resist a rather fat looking book called ‘The Hippie Dictionary’. Almost 700 pages of hippie terms and explanations – a wordsmith’s delight. And, in the event that you think a Hippie dictionary is somewhat trivial and frivolous, then just get this from the author, one John Bassett McCleary about the Hippie era: 

‘I contend that the hippie era was the intellectual renaissance of the 20th century. I believe it came about because of an emotional rebellion against the mindless direction in which our world was headed. I believe the hippie era gave this world and human society a reprieve. Without the new emotions and outlook of the hippie era, the world would be a dull place today. Without the philosophies and ideals espoused during the hippie era and expressed in books like Nobody Knows My Name, On The Road, Silent Spring and 1984, then 1984 would have become a reality. The 60s counterculture postponed the oppressive police state that was overtaking society. Now many people feel that, unless we have another intellectual rebellion, 1984 and its political oppression will indeed hap­pen sometime in the 2020s. That is the reason for this dictionary; that is why I am reacquainting you with the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.’ 

Wow! Right on! (As we used to say). 

Obviously my eye went straight to the subjects listed under the 4th letter of the alphabet but before I get there, here are a couple of other interesting headings: 

‘Rainy day woman’ - (page 396)  ‘a marijuana joint. Supposedly from Bob Dylan’s 1965 song of the same name. An activity a lonely man might pursue to entertain himself on a rainy day.’ 

Whatever does that last sentence mean? Surely not! 

‘Tambourine man’ (page 478) ‘in some places, this meant a drug dealer. Origin unknown.’ 

Well, I think we all know where that one comes from, which leads me on to: 

‘Bob Dylan’. -  (page 148)  Philosopher, poet, songwriter, singer…  Dylan is considered the foremost spokesman of the hippie era. Starting with his first album, Dylan mirrored the personality of the age. Even his abrupt and controversial adoption of electric music at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival was an indication of the rebellious and experimental nature of the growing counter culture. Bob Dylan’s most important trait is that he is continually movin’ on…. One of the most 25 most influential people of the hippie era. Actually, he could be considered the most influential person of that era. I venture to say that he will rank on everyone’s list among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th Century and, then again, maybe the 21st as well…’ 

So, to recap: Bob Dylan: possibly the most influential person of the intellectual renaissance of the 20th century. I think we could all go along with that! And finally, on page 186 of The Hippie Dictionary: 

‘Freewheelin(g)’ – adventuresome. Of an open, positive and playful nature. Could be considered arrogant; yet, in the context of the hippie demeanor, it was just fun loving.’ 

Not sure about the arrogance but ‘adventuresome’, ‘open’, ‘positive’, ‘playful’ and ‘fun loving’; whether we are old hippies or young Turks; whether we get called Doctors or whether we get called Chiefs; whether we like to eat caviar or whether we like to eat bread: those terms will serve us nicely!

 
 
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