My wine mentor was Dr. James Crum, a college professor who ran the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition for years at the Orange Show grounds in San Bernardino, Calif.
I had taken a wine appreciation course taught by Dr. Crum at Cal State San Bernardino, and apparently he saw some promise in me when I was able to pick out specific aromas and flavors in the wines he poured during each class session. I was particularly good with Sauvignon Blanc, which happened to be his favorite variety, so that probably didn’t hurt.
So he asked me and a few other classmates to join the behind-the-scenes crew at the annual competition. Initially, I simply opened bottles and poured glasses for the judges. Within a few years, I was effectively serving as the competition’s assistant director, logging in all the entries as they arrived at the fair grounds and making sure they were placed in the correct categories for the judging panels.
Dr. Crum’s enthusiasm for wine was unequaled, and it extended beyond drinking it and conducting an important competition. He also was a stamp collector, and spent a great deal of time (and money) building an impressive stamp collection devoted to the topic.
Like the accompanying photo (which also includes a stamp depicting raspberries) illustrates, Dr. Crum collected stamps devoted both to wine regions and specific grape varieties. If a stamp had anything to do with wine, he wanted it in his collection.
He even coined a phrase for his hobby, a marriage of “enophile” (a wine lover) and philately (stamp collecting). He called it “enophilately.” And being a professor, he knew how to research.
“Great Britain introduced the first formal governmental country-wide adhesive postage stamp in May 1840 (the famous penny black featuring Queen Victoria),” Dr. Crum wrote in an article first published in 1997. “France followed suit almost a decade later in 1849 with its first issue showing Ceres, the goddess of harvest, with grape clusters in her hair covering her ears.”
It wasn’t until 1950 that the United States issued its first “wine stamp” as part of the California Centennial Statehood Issue, “where a small bunch of grapes is quietly displayed in the upper left corner.”
But through the years, other countries have far outpaced America when it comes to “enophilately.” Dr. Crum’s collection included wine-related stamps from Hungary, China, New Zealand, Canada, Romania, Spain, Malta, Poland, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Germany, France and even Uganda… among other far-flung locales.
Dr. Crum was passionate about all things wine and passed that passion on to his students. Like postage stamps, wine appreciation is something that just sticks with you.