Nov 29

You can take the wine out of the crone, but eventually you’re gonna have to put it back in

Of the many little methods by which the shriveling of civilization inflicts itself on a crone living way the hell out here, perhaps none is as painful as the jangling pang occasioned by the wine cellar running dry. As inconceivable as it may seem to you, gentle reader, the closest drinkable bot is a full hour-and-a-half drive from Dreadful Acres.

Which is not to say that there aren’t pockets of commerce closer by. The Picturesque Texas Hill Country is liberally dotted with the vestiges of ancient, history-crammed settlements, each containing a wooden church, a dilapidated feed store, the ghost of some colorful old pioneer, and a place to buy rusty old antiques. Somewhere in the middle of it all lies the pitiful excuse for a town they call Johnson City (yes, that Johnson). Though many miles hence, it is our nearest settlement. Here is what Johnson City’s main drag looks like at rush hour (Ladybird is buried out back).

Texas Stop Sign

The so-called grocery store in Johnson City is a Super S. The “S” stands for “shit.” I am sad to report that when it comes to the definition of groceries, the Super S and I diverge irreconcilably. Whereas I am inclined to regard groceries as food, the Super S considers its job done when it has laid in a few tired heads of wilted iceberg, 17 kinds of off-brand nacho-cheese tortilla chips, and some beer. Even their Cool Whip — a product that is already fake — is fake. Seriously, it’s something called Kool Kreme. As far as wine goes, there might be a dusty box of Franzia somewhere in the Johnson City Super S, but frankly I’d rather butt-chug the arsenic-water from the tainted well here on the farm. That’s not snobbery, it’s sanity.

About 20 miles more thither is a little red slice of Texurbia called Dripping Springs. Two years ago the whole Hill Country was positively verklempt with the news that HEB, a mondo Texas grocery chain, was going to open a big-ass supermarket in downtown Drippin’. I do not exaggerate when I say that the new HEB was all anybody could talk about for months. They don’t know this at the Super S, but we denizens of the Hill Country aren’t all Kool Kreme-huffin’ yokels. Our frivolous dreams of glossy red bell peppers and Brussel’s sprouts tinged with purple, cartons of sheep’s milk feta and sprigs of fresh thyme, jars of anchovies and extra virgin olive oil in real glass bottles from Italy — within a half-hour’s drive — were about to come true. On HEB’s opening day there was a parade and a fair and a giant pair of scissors cutting a giant ribbon. Then the whole town collectively fainted from euphoria overload when it was revealed that among the mostly-fresh-ish produce were plastic boxes of organic — organic! — Baby Spring Mix lettuce!

Whip InNo doubt it will shock you to the core, as it did me, to learn that this flippin grocery store stocks nary a drop of French wine. California, of course. Italy, reluctantly. Argentina, kind of. France, no. That’s because wine buying for large grocery chains is a classist affair, and apparently the buyers at HEB are under the impression that Hill Country Texans are all France-hatin’ rednecks who only use wine as purple food coloring when they make Everclear sangria.

Le sigh.

Anyway, this folksy little regionalist blurb is just to explain why I didn’t have time to write a post today; I was obliged by my French wine habit and HEB’s reverse elitism to hie all the way the heck into Austin to recharge my stash, a 4½ -hour tour when you factor in lunch and a brief interlude of reflection on a patio bar somewhere. Today I found relief at the funky and indispensable Whip In, South I-35’s premiere cheap French wine depot (pictured), where I was assisted by the funky and indispensable Mme. Wilson, who did not want her picture taken. Assuming the wine she sold me wasn’t poisoned, regular blogging will resume tomorrow.


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  1. Pinko Punko


    When I got here and started up the science thing that I do, I had approximately 4 pallets of hundreds of boxes of science crap and there was one stray package addressed to a Mr Howard E. Butt of San Antonio, and it was some sort of cheap perfume. I miss the days when I didn’t know that Mr. Howard E. Butt of San Antonio was in fact the HEB of HEB.

    What would be really classist of myself would be to describe in detail my excitement at the one time the antipasti/olive bar at the new “nice” HEB seemed like it was going to have oil cured olives, but it didn’t. Fascinating, I know.

    My HEB song: Hotel, Rotel, Holiday Inn!

  2. buttercup

    Now you’ve got me reminiscing for the good old Scurry County days when I had to drive clear to Post to get a six pack. Wikipedia tells me Scurry is no longer a dry county, though I doubt you’d find French wine in Snyder either.

    What’s your favorite? Got any recommendations that aren’t too spendy?

  3. Ol-Lozy Ram

    No sympathy here Crone-Sister. We drive 2 hours to Houston for replenishment. Spec’s loves us.
    Dripping Springs has a lovely RV campground we enjoy when we stop to visit our Austin friends… so be nice.

  4. Satchel

    … Oregon? We make a pretty mean pinot noir: http://www.oregonlive.com/wine/index.ssf/2012/11/oregon_pinot_noir_hailed_as_na.html

  5. Comradde PhysioProffe

    (1) I wish I could go back to not knowing there is such a thing as “butt-chugging”.

    (2) That fucken olde tyme moustachioed d00d on the orange poster is freaking me out.

  6. Ron Sullivan

    You dissin’ California wines??? Hmph.

    I wouldn’t accuse you of favoring Texas wines, mind you. I drank some Texas wine once. Don’t remember what winery, what wine, except that it was white. I don’t drink much white wine, but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be quite so reminiscent of mudflats at low tide.

    I say this as a person who spends an ungodly amount of time around mudflats at low tide. Good for birding, but I don’t want to drink ’em.

    Even our housemate who’d brought it from Houston gave up after a few swills. Little tiny swills. Swillettes.

  7. Owly

    As someone who lived in Dripping Springs for 5 years, I can tell you that the only reason everyone talked about the HEB so much was because it was the most exciting thing that has ever happened or will ever happen there. Dripping is huge now. Where was all that stuff when I was in high school? All we had was a Super S.

  8. Werble werblensis

    Well, be glad you didn’t spend time in Drip back before we even had a Super S, much less a Hebbers. The horrors of IGA were many, but I blocked out all memories of their produce with the shiny stickers they sold at check-out, which go great on windows, but may anger parental units that want to sell the house.

    Also, there’s now a Whole Foods over off 71 in that Gallerooroo, don’t they have fancy Frenchy wine? Nice scenic shortcut to take there from Johnson City too, via that road kinda across from the beautiful DQ in your picture (forget the road name) and then you pop out from Fithzugh on 12, Hamilton Pool, 71, Wine!

  9. Hattie

    We like cheap Australian swill ourselves,.

  10. gingerest

    Okay, hold up. “Brussel’s sprouts”? I have determined that “Brussel” is Dutch for Brussels, and since half the area is Dutch-speaking Flemish and the other half is French who get wacky and spell it Bruxelles, fine, but I think the sprouts are covered by the same apostrophization rule as Rhode Island Reds and Texas Hold’em. That is, them’s either Brussel sprouts or Brussels sprouts.

    Mmm. Wine.

  11. CaDreamin'

    After 27 years in Los Angeles county, I moved back to southwest Oklahoma to care for mom. I completely sympathize with your struggles out there in the Hill country. Hope you managed to get enough of your favorite wine to get you through the so-called holidays. Yer gonna need it! Carry on, Sister Crone. Well done.

  12. kathari

    I realize that this may take the fun out of touring the local countryside in search of beverages…


    (they DO have UPS in Picturesque Texas Hill Country, right?)

  13. Hippolyta

    If I lived 4 hours from the nearest bottle of decent wine, I think I would make fast friends of an online wine retailer. About a year ago it became legal to receive delivery in Texas. Not that this would ameliorate the ennui generated by being deprived the joy of puttering down an aisle surveying the stock, but it beats that drive all to hell.

  14. quixote

    I grew up in Cambridge, Mass. The white here-be-dragons part of the map really started after the Hudson, but it was already kind of faint and opaque after the Merrimac.

    Okay, so I’m doing field work in the wilds of Panhandle country where I got to talking with a local rough tough rancher who took a break from rounding up cattle on her ATV to talk to me. She could have knocked me over with a cigarette when the conversation came around to how hard it was to get good balsamic vinegar there.

    Maybe all the local grocery store owners come from Cambridge, like me, and haven’t got a clue.

  15. Tarr

    There is only one grocery store in the county where I live. Sad, wilted veggies and lots of unlabeled, newly dead animals available for food.

    I got a subscription to Amazon Prime and now the UPS man brings me edibles. Last time he was here, I had to loan him a chainsaw because he got stuck. I worry that I might get on some special list where UPS refuses to come.

    The UPS black list.

  16. The Crone of Cottonmouth County


    November 29, 2012 at 9:01 pm
    Okay, hold up. “Brussel’s sprouts”?

    Dag! A little slip of the apostrophe key and she’s all up in my grill!

    I tell you, the older I get, the less able I am to control spelling, diacriticals, and punctuation. I’m goin’ down, baby. Down.

  17. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    There better not be a UPS blacklist because if they ever banned me I would have to move back to Austin, a formerly excellent little city that has been ruined by more or less continuous international music festivals and auto races.

  18. pheenobarbidoll

    Grew up in a dry county, where the choices were – drive to the strip outside of Lubbock or drive 15 minutes to Los Ybanez and talk to the local bootlegger. (he’s in a snit now because Lamesa has allowed the Claibornes grocery store to sell beer .)

    Then moved to Odessa (aka Oddesolate or Slowdeatha) where we have 2 HEB’s, 4 Albertsons, 5 Lowe’s, 2 Super Walmarts,1 Target, 1 Super Mercado and a liquor barn on every corner. Oil boom towns churn out alcoholics, but we can find just about every type o booze one could imagine. If you’re ever in dire need, call up a place here and have em ship you some. Be warned though, while they may have some French wine, they’ll all have more brands of tequila than you could ever dream possible. This can make making margs much more complicated than it has a right to be, IMO.

  19. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    We used to visit my mom’s brother in northwestern Arkansas (around Lead Hill, Boone County). That whole region is a crazy-quilt of dry/not dry. We’d make a day of going down to the Buffalo River and riding the ferry over to Missouri so my Uncle Russell could get himself some fo’ties. Pretty country. When the bugs weren’t blasting away at two hundred decibels (them katydids must’ve been about the size of cement mixers) and murdering sleep, it was fun.

  20. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Hey Ron Sullivan, no California diss intended! I’ll suck up wine of any description as long as it doesn’t completely blow, and lard knows I’ve sucked many a decent West Coastian bot. I’ve bought those bots in wine stores or ordered’em in restaurants. But the thing of it is, with grocery store wine specifically, the California offerings are universally sub-par to the point of undrinkability. So my rule, when buying cheap wine in the supermarket, is to buy French. You might still get a crap bottle, but the odds are in your favor.

  21. tinfoil hattie

    Can we have a margarita thread someday? Proportions, brands, frozen v. rocks, salted or un-, etc.? I need about 50 margs right now. Spent 2 hrs at IKEA. Blargh.

  22. Karen

    Groovy blog… you Go There.

    My neigh-bor and i, who both have 50+ head boarding stables, wanted to have a blog called “Board to Tears”but we were afraid of being outted by all our boarders who intermittently drive us to drink, and delight us.

    Thanks for Going There first. We’re inspired.

  23. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Karen, I would read that blog with relish. But yeah, it might not be so good for business.

  24. kdgd

    I once convinced a non-Texan of my close acquaintanceship, whilst on a tour of Central Texas environs, that H.E.B. stood for “Hey Evr’y Body!” because in small Texas towns, the parking lot of HEB was the only place to hang out. A proud moment. He then refused to believe that it actually stands for Hower E Butts. Go figure.

  25. Ron Sullivan

    Ah, I see the strategy re: Cali wines.

    Poor us; we did some intermittent stints farmsitting out in the sticks last month. The farm’s a vineyard, mostly. We did some regional sampling, and here’s the mind-blowing part: Evidently, there are not only a gazillion tastin’-room wineries around Lodi; there are old vines, like, century-old some of them.

    Decent wines, too, though Seven Deadly Zins just only barely lives up to its name, and their Lust label is too damned pricey for the likes of us.

    Lodi itself has a pretty good brewpub too, though they oversalted the (brown) gravy on the chicken-fried steak.

  26. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    […] (brown) gravy on the chicken-fried steak.

    I am aghast and confused by this remark. Brown gravy on chicken-fried steak? What kind of a sadist have they got cooking out there? Luckily for me, in Texas there is legislation making it illegal to put anything other than library paste on chicken-fried steak.

  27. Ron Sullivan

    Rilly. The steak was perfect and the mashtatoes just right, so I’d’ve settled for brown gravy if it hadn’t been so damned salty I was hearing that old folke songe in my head.

    Srsly good beer tho’.

  28. Mary Caulkins

    We only have HEB in Victoria and it’s on a massive scale. I help out the wine and beer steward there by doing wine tastings. We risk our lives going in there during holidays, at 3:30 when school gets out and weekends. I’ve been driven to shop at the local Mexican grocery (which is ok but my Spanish isn’t great) or we have the mom and pop grocery called Dicks. It sounds like your Super S. *sigh*

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