When talk turns to Louisiana, we don’t really think of wine. Mint juleps, sure. Falstaff beer, of course. Absinthe, it makes the heart grow fonder. But, be honest. When you think of Louisiana, you think of crooked politicians, complete with prison sentences.
Willie Stark is the main character in “All The King’s Men,” and he was pretty much traced from a cutout of former Louisiana Governor Huey Long. Broderick Crawford’s bellicose portrayal is – for my popcorn money – one of the best acting jobs in movie history.
Stark is a populist politician who forms a ruthless political machine behind all the dumb ol’ hicks he wins over with his “I’m just like you” jingoism. That’s right – it’s kinda like watching FOX News.
The story of Huey Long fascinates me, turns my stomach, makes me cry, makes me vote, makes me want to give up voting. It’s rather like my reaction to absinthe, only with voting involved.
In his song, “Kingfish,” Randy Newman sings in the voice of the politician, “Ain’t no Standard Oil men gonna run this state, gonna be run by little folks like me and you.” The joke, of course, is that little folks don’t run anything. They didn’t in 1930s Louisiana, and they sure as hell don’t in 2012 America.
I understand that John Wayne was offered the role of Willie Stark first, and turned it down – apparently with a lot of posturing about how he felt the script was unpatriotic. The role then fell to Crawford, who wasn’t so choosy.
In an ironic twist of fate, Crawford won the 1949 Best Actor Oscar for his performance, nudging The Duke out of the way. Wayne was nominated for his starring role in Sands of Iwo Jima. “All The King’s Men” was nominated for seven Academy Awards in all, and won three – Best Actress (Mercedes McCambridge) and Picture (Robert Rossen, Columbia) join Crawford’s win.
Now that I’ve unburdened myself, howzabout a drink? Some nice Louisiana wine would be perfect. Uhh, except that Wikipedia’s entry for “Louisiana Wine” is basically, “Huh?”
Louisiana hardly figures in the American wine scene beyond the 17 or so bottles produced each year by the state’s four wineries. It’s brutally hot and humid there and wine grapes don’t grow well in those conditions. Louisiana winemakers – all four of ‘em – rely mainly on grapes like Blanc du Bois and Muscadine, which tend to grow well in a swamp. That means our wine for “All The King’s Men” is… a beer.
Abita Brewery is located just a short drive north of New Orleans. A late entry into southern Louisiana’s rich brewing history, Abita has captured the hearts of ‘Nawlins beer drinkers with special brews from which a portion of the proceeds go to charitable causes. They made a pale ale to raise money for the restoration of New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and a pilsner is helping clean up the Gulf shore after the major oil spills Louisiana has suffered.
The Rest of the King’s Men:
Kingfisher Beer – Couldn’t resist, even though it’s an Indian beer and its namesake is a bird, not a politician.
Kingfish Wine – A Livermore, CA outlet flying under the radar. Their website features only an email address, like a speakeasy. “Hey, have Huey send over some more uh that wine stuff. Ah’ll pick it up at the usual place.”
King Estate Wine – It’s from Oregon, and they farm organically. It’s Ore-ganic!
Fisher King Winery – Not King Fisher, but Fisher King. It’s about as hard to grow wine grapes in Wisconsin as it is in Louisiana, although for different reasons. The winery has some connection to the medieval tale of the Fisher King – at least the king is on their logo, holding a sparkling chalice.