SA's 'Mr. Riesling'
Published: January 25, 2012
How does a college English instructor get to be a respected wine authority and purveyor? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
In 1978, after several years teaching the subject at Pan American University in Edinburg, Fernando de Luna, better known to his friends as Woody, left the town where he "had to drive up to Austin for any books, records, wine" and spent the better part of a summer in Europe — a logical destination for someone nurturing an interest in wine. By the end of the summer he had abandoned all thoughts of pursuing a Ph.D. "I knew that I wanted to do a wine bar and/or retail store," he says.
But it didn't work out quite that way at first. His eyes firmly set on Austin, de Luna had a job within 10 days of arriving — as a wine buyer for an importing and distributing company. He stayed until opening his own store on South Congress in 1983. "We served the likes of John Connally," he says, but that didn't save the shop from the oil bust of 1987. "I closed the store, sold three cases of vintage Port and took the summer off."
De Luna worked several other wine jobs after his personal bust. Then, in January of 1994, he was approached by Alan Dreeben of Block (now Republic National Distributing) to do a newsletter and be a wine educator, the reason for the CWE (Certified Wine Educator) pin that still adorns his lapel. More travel, tasting, and reading followed (de Luna has passed the rigorous tasting portion of the Master's of Wine Program), but in 2011 another turn in the road presented itself. His position at Republic was made redundant.
Some changes, though, have been personal. "Riesling was the first wine I started really paying attention to. Then I lost track of it, but by the early '90s my palate was bored with Bordeauxs, Burgundies, and big California wines." It was during this period of palate fatigue that de Luna was reintroduced to riesling's best producers ("it was like rediscovering a new world," he says) and gained the sobriquet "Mr. Riesling." But it would be 20 years before he would be able to realize his dream of "being a wine merchant in the typical English style: you taste wine, then pass your finds along to the consumer."
The new offices of Vintages 2.0 reflect the personality of the man: an Asian screen, Orientals on the floor, a bookcase with wine references, a handsome desk… and an adjacent storage room in which boxes of wine are stacked awaiting delivery or pickup. Our discussion takes place first over a glass of minerally 2008 Kimmeridgian, a chardonnay by France's Jean-Marc Brocard, followed by a "2010 declassified Morgon," the Raisins Gaulois X (Vin de France), sporting mineral and cherry qualities. Neither is more than $13 or $14.
"If I find something I think is good, I'll take a position in it; I can always drink it myself," says de Luna. Periodic tastings are a good way to determine if it's drink or sell. Though his palate may be refined and impeccable, his website, vintages2.com, isn't yet fully developed, but a note to email@example.com — or ring him at (210) 410-0296 — should get you on the list. A barrage of offers and observations will ensue. Just think Carnegie Hall.
Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.