James Crum, Wine Mentor

By Glen Frederiksen

It was three decades ago that the wine muse came to me in an epiphany, leading to my thirty-year love affair with the fruit of the vine.

From left to right: Glen Frederiksen, our mentor James Crum, and Bob Johnson

As I found myself taking more trips up to Napa and Sonoma, I began to study the world of wine as best I could. I soaked up (pun intended) dozens of books on wine, and attended many community wine tastings.

By 1988, my passion for all things winey led me to look for more formal training. I found a class in Wine Appreciation that was being taught at California State University at San Bernardino.

It was a two and one half hour class taught weekly in the evening hours on campus by a chemistry professor, one Dr. James D. Crum. This rumpled Harvard alum brought a scientific approach to the understanding of the sensory evaluation of wine, yet his stories and anecdotes about his experiences with (as he called it) fermented grape juice whetted my appetite for more knowledge. I took his advanced course right after the introductory course, and also joined his two wine tasting groups, the Les Amis de Vin and the Riverside Wine Society.

Within a year, I was helping out as a wine steward at the National Orange Show’s annual international wine competition, which was directed by Jerry Mead, and then Dr. Crum. I continued to do this for a decade, before stepping up to provisional wine judge and then full wine judge. When, for health reasons, Dr. Crum had to step down as Director of the wine competition, I volunteered to take his place as Director. This I did mostly as an homage to my wine mentor and friend, and to see that all of the hard work he had done was continued. Because of Dr. Crum’s passion for Sauvignon Blanc wines, chief wine judge Don Galleano and I inaugurated a yearly award for the best varietal Sauvignon Blanc in the competition, and we called it the Dr. James Crum Award.

Dr. Crum’s passion for teaching others about wine rubbed off on me; since 1994, I have taught monthly classes about wine, led tours to the wine regions of California, traveled the world over to visit wine growing areas, and written often about the evaluation of wines.

Each time I raise a glass, Jim’s voice is echoing in the background, soft but perceptible, asking, “What is it that makes this a good wine?”

James, my friend, it’s all good… Cheers to you!

Learning to Experience Wine

By Bob Johnson

I drank wine before I met Jim Crum.

I’d often dine at the Sizzler, that iconic family steakhouse chain, and enjoy a nice glass of Chablis with my New York steak.

Yes, I was drinking white wine with beef long before it became cool to drink red wine with fish.

But that’s a horror story for another day.

Before I met Jim Crum, I drank wine. Dr. Crum taught me to experience wine.

He taught me to stick my nose in the glass, take several small but deep sniffs, and think about what I was smelling. What familiar aromas did it remind me of?

Did it smell like flowers? (If so, what kind?)

Did it smell like fruit? (If so, what kind?)

Did it smell like the earth? (If so, in what way?)

He taught me that those aromas often, but not always, translated into similar flavors. And he taught me to pay attention to those flavors, including the very last flavor that lingered in my mouth after I’d swallowed the wine.

Jim told me on numerous occasions that no two human palates experience wine exactly the same way, but that palates could be developed so they identified certain characteristics of wine consistently.

What did it take to develop a good wine palate? I loved Jim’s one-word answer to that question, which he uttered with a mischievous smile: “Practice.”

We all know how important teachers and mentors can be in our lives. When it came to writing, I owe a great deal to my high school journalism teacher, Ralph Stegmeir, and my first boss in the newspaper business, Joe Lyou.

In the world of wine writing, I owe everything to Jim Crum.

He provided me not only with “book knowledge,” which any teacher could do, but also with practical knowledge as I worked alongside some of California’s finest winemakers at the countless wine competitions and tasting events that he’d organize.

Just as important, he instilled a sense of wonder about wine that remains with me to this day. As he once told me, “Once you think you know everything there is to know about wine, a new vintage comes along.”

I will always be grateful to Jim Crum for one other reason: He is the man who taught me to love Sauvignon Blanc.

In his own inimitable way, he first taught me why to love it, and then he taught me how to love it — two very different, but equally important, concepts.

That is why Wine Lines Online is dedicated to Dr. James Crum — a man without whom this website would not exist.

A man I think about every time I pour a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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