The Heart of a Winemaker

Nick, Jean Hoefliger and Kim at the 2019 Alpha Omega ERA Event

“Enjoy the moments that truly matter, with those who matter most”

Jean Hoefliger

Every so often, you meet someone who’s energy is infectious.  Their personality blows through the door even before they wrap you up in a big hug.  It’s who they are.  As we sat in the tasting room at AXR Winery, we anticipated this energy, wrapped up in a six foot six inch frame.

To meet Jean Hoefliger is to experience him. Of course he’s a brilliant winemaker, with countless wines under his belt. But what you don’t get unless you meet him, is just how passionate he is about his craft. He breathes wine, the vines, the soil, aging and blending. It’s an endless energy, the ability to put together the words and stay just ahead of how fast his mind is moving because he loves this work. But as you talk to him, you learn quickly why this passion is so strong in him.

He knows wine is about people, it’s about experiences, it’s about the importance of sharing these moments with the people we love, creating memories and connecting in a way that only wine, food and shared experiences can.  

Jean is one of us.  He has a passion for life, for people, and for creating wines that will be enjoyed by future generations.  That is his purpose.  To make something that will continue to bring people together even after he and the rest of us are gone.

It’s the most noble of missions, and having spent time with him and having enjoyed his wines for years, he is succeeding in his mission and creating memories, including the memories we will hold forever thanks to the time we were able to spend with this hero of his craft.

“That Veal Dish”

Me & my Dad – September 22, 2108

“Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.”

Alan D. Wolfelt

I saw this photo of me and my Dad the other day, and it’s been on my mind ever since. It was taken on September 22, 2018 when my family gathered to celebrate my grandpa’s life on the 5th anniversary of his passing. Time with family, no matter how you came into his life, was what my grandpa always loved most.

I wanted to serve a dish that I remember my grandpa always loving; veal cutlets that are lightly fried and served over linguine with artichoke hearts, capers, crispy prosciutto and a lemony sauce. I distinctly remember my grandfather, sitting at the head of the table at my Dad’s house so many years ago with a goblet of red wine in front of him. Our family was gathered around the table and there was a large, shallow bowl in the middle of the table with so much veal and prosciutto on top that you never would have known that there was linguine underneath.

At some point in time, my Dad stopped making this dish and my Uncle Ben picked up where he left off, carrying the recipe on through the years. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary dinner, I consulted with both my Uncle and my Dad on the veal recipe. Truth be told, I was most looking forward to having them both there with me on the day of the dinner to help me finish the meal. To be cooking with them, making a dish that was theirs – one that my grandpa loved so much – was almost too much to handle.

All of that emotion floods back into my heart when I look at this photo, and you can see all that I was feeling that day when you look at my smile. Happiness. Love. Respect. They don’t even begin to cut it.

It’s that smile on my Dad’s face though that really just gets me. Quite honestly, there’s more that I see; more that I feel in that smile, than I could even begin to describe. It’s a matter of the memories in my heart that I will always hold on to.

I Believe

Yes kids, I believe in Santa. I’m not being silly or naive, but it is clear to me that Santa does exist. Santa is the magic that surrounds this time of year. It’s the generosity we show each other. It’s the gatherings with the people we love. It’s the feasts we share. It’s the hope and wonder in my kids’ eyes as each day moves into the next, all heading toward that magical night when they go to sleep in total excitement, and awake hours later thrilled to see wishes granted. It’s pure joy, and it can remain pure if we believe.

The idea of Santa, drawing from St. Nicholas himself nearly 2000 years ago, is what I believe in. It’s the warmth of the season, set in the coldest, darkest time of year. It’s the light in the darkness harkening back to the birth of the Christ child. It’s an idea, a state of mind. My children celebrate the season with us in the days prior to Christmas, but the magic is omnipresent. We gather with family over the course of several days, indulging around the table and sharing in the excitement. There is an overabundance of love, and the children can feel it. Sure there are gifts, but I’ve watched as they’ve grown to appreciate the look on others’ faces when they hand them gifts that they chose for the recipients. They couldn’t wait to give Kim her gift, one they chose, and to see the excitement on her face. They get it. They get the idea. They know Santa exists. The spirit of giving, of love, of family and gathering together is not lost on them.

My children learned this year about those who are less fortunate and helped select gifts for those who may not otherwise receive anything this year. They wrote out cards and were anxious to hand out gifts to the family. They made the connection, albeit in developing terms, that it’s not just about what you get. They see the light in the darkness, the joy of the season. This is powerful stuff, and Santa is a powerful energy. To understand it and appreciate it early on lays an amazingly powerful foundation for the rest of their lives.

So yes, I believe in Santa. I know Santa is real, and I see the power, wonder, and joy of Santa in all of those who surround me. I hope you feel it too. If not, I know Kim and I are happy to share it and show you that you too can believe.

Live the life you want your kids to experience.

The photo of my Grandpa that sits on the bay windowsill in our living room.

Laughter through the tears and a smile from an aching heart.  That’s what we’re facing.  Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of my Grandpa’s passing.  I remember every moment of the days and weeks leading up to that day, and the heartbreak when he passed in the early hours of Sunday, September 22, 2013.  The days, months and even years following his passing have been, at times, incredibly sad, where the tears have flowed like they did 5 years ago, and also wonderfully heartwarming, as I let the memories of all the time I was blessed to have with him flood back into my heart.  The last 5 years have been, in a word, bittersweet.

Gram_Grandpa with turkey
My Grandpa, with my Gram, carving the Thanksgiving turkey.  

His absence in our lives is palpable, but the mark he left is indelible.  Whether I’m making his Sunday gravy, enjoying a cool breeze, which he affectionately called “God’s air conditioning,” or looking at a photo of his infectious smile that’s sitting on the bay windowsill in our living room, he’s with us.  When my family gathers together with food and good times, he’s with us.  As Nick, his kids, and his family join mine, Grandpa is right there with us.  In everything we do at Fat, Drunk & Fancy, he’s with us.

My Grandpa, on my Dad’s deck on Lake Hopatcong, NJ where my Grandpa would feel the breeze from the lake, close his eyes and say, “Ahhh.  God’s air conditioning”.

For me, Fat, Drunk & Fancy is a tribute to my Grandpa and the mark that his warmth and love left on my heart.  It is a collection of my childhood memories and all the holidays, family gatherings, meals and conversations that took place at the dinner table.  It is a feeling, like the one I always felt walking into my Grandparents house where I knew I was home.  It is a taste, like the gravy my Grandpa finally taught me to make two weeks before he passed away.  Fat, Drunk & Fancy is all these things, all these feelings, all  these memories wrapped up into a gift that I want to give to other people, especially my two step-kids.  They get that feeling every time they enter our home.  They are a part of every conversation around the dinner table.  They lend a hand in making the gravy now and savor the tastes of great food and loving family.  They know how infectious laughter is and share in it openly.  They will be with us this weekend as we celebrate my Grandpa’s life.  Nick and I both hope they will learn how incredibly special this man was, not just to me and my family, but to everyone he met.  They never had a chance to meet him, and neither did Nick, but they will surely feel his presence.

I mean, what is there to really say about this?  My Grandpa was a character and liked to make people laugh.

There will be laughter, plenty of laughter.  The stories will flow like wine into a waiting glass.  With any luck, someone will snort.  Probably me.  Definitely me.  We’ll pull out pictures and listen to exactly how Grandpa came to be dressed in a hula skirt one day, and what was so funny in the picture sitting on the windowsill.  He lived the life he wanted us to live, and through this celebration, and through the way in which we live our lives now, his lesson is being passed down to my step-kids, and you can see the excitement, wonder, and happiness in their eyes that they are along for this ride.

The History of Lobsterfest

IMG_0579On a warm Saturday in July, 5 years ago, we decided we would have lobster for dinner as a way to change things up.  It was a welcomed treat for us along with Gram, with whom we were residing at the time.  I can’t recall what prompted the idea, maybe a show on the Food Network, or likely it could have been a “we feel like eating Lobster” kinda thing.  Regardless, one invitation went out to our friend Maya and the four of us set out upon this task.  We used four large pots of water, as the lobsters we purchased were HUGE.  We waited patiently for the water to come to a boil and one by one, Nick proceeded to drop each monster into its respective pot, with Maya and me waiting at the ready with the lids.  The second lobster decided he wasn’t going down without a fight and lurched his claw out of the pot, which sent me screaming and running out of the kitchen while Nick and Maya burst into hysterics while covering the pot.  Eventually all of the lobsters succumbed to their fate, we set up our feast on the table on my Grandmother’s porch, and went after these giant creatures.  I remember one of them was so big, and its claw so large, that Nick eventually had to take a claw hammer (no pun intended) to it to crack it open.  We named this unexpected mascot of the event, “Chernobyl claw.” As afternoon faded into evening and we were stuffed with lobster and other accompaniments, Lobsterfest was born.

Nick eat 2015
Nick “playing with his food”

The following spring brought thoughts of continuing Lobsterfest as a tradition.  Nick and I had moved into our current home, and the story of last year’s festivities had spread to other members of the family.  We now had a large yard, so we upped the guest list to 14 people and provided specific instructions: we provide the lobster, but the rest of the event was BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) and BYOS (Bring Your Own Sides).  In keeping with July in New Jersey, it was super-hot & humid, but sunny.  We ordered the lobsters from our local supermarket, this time already steamed.  Large tables were set up in the yard, and I decorated with all sorts of lobster-y accoutrements. We feasted on our delicious crustaceans among our guests, and as the day turned into evening, we cleaned up all the tables and set up beer pong, wrapping up after midnight.  

The 2015 Lobsterfest Crew

backyard eve
2015 – The 2nd Annual Lobsterfest

Being old pros in our heads, we decided to invite a few more the next year and our guest list went up to 18.  In the week leading up to it, people started to text me asking if we would reschedule if it rained.  I didn’t know what they were talking about as I never thought to look at the weather.  I said it would go on rain or shine…still never checking the weather, but instead just trying to convince myself that it would all work out.  The day came, and I set up the outside – it was beautifully decorated if I do say so myself.  It was humid, but it wasn’t raining.  Then I started to notice the clouds…and then the raindrops came…and the skies opened up from there.  As I tend to do when things don’t work out as planned, I freaked out.  Our house is less than 1000 square feet, and we had 18 guests to feed lobster.  Thankfully one guest showed up with a tent, which became our impromptu kitchen in the driveway (housing the huge pot and burner in which to cook the lobsters), and later as the beer pong hall when we moved it to the backyard.  While the guests all enjoyed it, I was a ball of stress the entire time, and honestly don’t remember it that well.  

group shot 2016
A few of us braving the elements in game of beer pong.

Last year we decided to move Lobsterfest to September, figuring that at least the temperature would be on our side and hopefully the rain as well.  We were right about the rain, but of course it was still hotter than Hades…like 90 degrees.  We again expanded our guest list and invited over 20 people.  This time friends came from other parts of the state and other parts of the country!  That was a first and also the first year I really felt that we had this event down to a science.  

The 2017 Lobsterfest Crew

Now in 2018 we are approaching the 5th Lobsterfest coming up this weekend.  The guest list is about the same, with some friends traveling from out of state to share in the festivities.  The weather looks good at this point, but now I’ll make sure I keep an eye on it as the week goes on.  Our lobsters have been ordered, I’ve started organizing the decor.  The menu is mostly set and I’ve started a shopping list.  We are ready to go.   

The standard set up.

Nick and I love hosting this event.  After Thanksgiving, it’s our absolute favorite.  We both talk about how we can’t wait until we have an even bigger home, so that we can invite more of our friends and families.  Now, there is one rule that makes this event a bit of a throwback to our youth.  No parents allowed.  It’s like a college party, though our palates are refined with the pizza having been replaced with lobster, but the partying style is the same, complete with beer pong and other games.  Sometimes pizza does make an appearance as a late night snack, so maybe it’s more like a college party after all. 

Through all the evolution of the event, the rambunctious fun, expansion of the guest list, and a party going late into the night, there is one constant.  Gram is always present, along with Maya, Nick and me  We are the original four.  No matter Gram’s age, nor the distance Maya has to travel to join us, Lobsterfest wouldn’t be the same if one of us weren’t there.  So this weekend, if you smell the sweet scent of steamed lobsters and hear the laughter of great friends and family late into the night, know it’s our traditional Lobsterfest.  Know it’s a blast and we hope to one day to have the space to invite every single last one of “our people”.  Know that you can make a tradition like this for yourself, because this is a tough list to crack!  Know also that these memories last forever, and can start with a small gathering on a summer evening, simply by changing up the menu for a special treat among special people.





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