Davy The Winemaker


May 19, 1991|By ROB KASPER

The king of the wild frontier has become master of the discreet chardonnay. The fella who was born on a mountain top in Tennessee is now growing grapes on a hillside in California. And the cry "Remember the Alamo" may now be joined by "Remember the Riesling." Davy Crockett is making wine.

Pardon the hyperbole, but those of us who grew up watching television shows of Davy battling Indians and wrestling river pirates and patching up the crack in the Liberty Bell, get all worked up at the notion that Fess Parker, the actor who played Davy in the 1950s television series, is now owner of a California vineyard, Parker Station.

Just ask another Parker, Robert M. Parker Jr., the Baltimore county lawyer and renowned wine critic. This is a man whose words on the merits of a Burgundy vintage make the French chateau owners tremble.

The two Parkers are not related, except as fans of the coonskin cap. Parker the actor wore one when he played Davy in the 1950s. Kids all over America had or wanted coonskin caps, including Parker, the eventual wine critic and his wife, Patricia, who as a girl had a crush on "the king of the wild frontier."

And so not long ago when the Maryland Parkers tasted a bottle of Fess Parker's chardonnay, bought for about $12 at Troyer's liquor store in Hereford, they called up the actor in his Santa Barbara vineyard to chat.

"This is not something I ordinarily do," said Parker the wine critic, in a telephone interview. "But I was a fan of Davy Crockett." As for his wife, who claimed to know all the words to Davy's theme song, she said she was thrilled to talk to her childhood hero.

As for the chardonnay, which Parker says he plans to review in the June issue of The Wine Advocate, a national publication for wine enthusiasts that he writes for, Parker said it is a "good, not great, wine."

I know a few of the lyrics to Davy's songs as well, and when Fess Parker was in town recently along with son Eli, I sat down with them, to discuss pertinent issues.

Among them, consumption of alcohol. Specifically I wanted to know how was it that Davy could guzzle Kickapoo Joy Juice with Mike Fink and still win a riverboat race.

Parker, who is 65, is tall and tan, and not frivolous. He has penetrating eyes and a powerful grin. Facing those eyes and teeth, I recalled that this was a man who once "grinned down a bear." Or maybe he had "wrassled a bear."

In any event, Parker wrestled with my slippery question. First he chuckled when I sang the Mike Fink lyrics: "Girls run and hide, brave men shiver, I'm Mike Fink, king of the River." Then he said he vaguely recalled that Davy outmaneuvered Fink by secretly tossing out the joy juice while Fink kept guzzling.

I took this to mean that way back in the 1950s, Davy knew when to say when.

We also talked about history. Parker has a degree in history from the University of Texas. And Davy, of course, spent time in Texas, "heard of Austin and Houston and so to the Texas plains, he had to go."

Rather than the Alamo, where Davy died, we talked about whether Lyndon Baines Johnson stole the 1948 Senate election from former Texas governor, Coke Stevenson. Parker, whose family was active in Texas politics, said LBJ swiped it.

Parker also offered a personal historical perspective on the current notion that drinking any amount of alcohol is bad for your health.

"One of the things I've learned is that as sure as you'll find one expert who tells you what to and what not to do, another fellow will come along and say, 'Forget what the first fella said.' "

And finally we discussed wine-drinking demographics. By now members of the Davy Crockett generation are in their late 30s and mid-40s. Many of them are accustomed to wine and will probably try his chardonnay and pinot noir, Parker said.

But he said the generation he is tracking is the one that grew up watching another television show he starred in, "Daniel Boone." It was on the air in the mid- and late 1960s.

Parker figures the Daniel Boone fans are younger and probably less experienced wine drinkers than the Crockett crowd. And he thinks this Daniel Boone crowd will like his Riesling. "It is fruity, cool and crisp," he said.

I guess this leads to the conclusion that each generation has its own tastes in wine.

But another way of looking at it, when you remember that both Daniel and Davy wore the same headgear, is that each generation is attracted to a wine steward wearing a coonskin cap.

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