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The league of extra-oenophile gentlemen

The gentlemen began arriving at 5:30 p.m. sharp, conscientious — as gentlemen are — about being prompt. They were clad in smart sport coats and crisp buttoned-down shirts, despite the lingering heat of the day. Each man wore a triangular knot of silk at the neck, a flourish once common to devotees of men’s fashion (and dandies.)

Meet the card-carrying members of DAFLEE, or — unspooled from its acronym — the gents of the Dumb Asscot Fermented Liquid Enjoyment Experience. Ascot wearing is de rigeuer for the members of DAFLEE, despite the fact that it’s 2021.

On the first Friday after summer solstice they met on the Plaza, nine men who eat, sleep and breathe wine. Each carried wine glasses and a bottle of juice, made incognito in brown burlap bags. Most of the gentlemen had complicated facial hair sprouting above their silk four-in hands, and all of them confessed to being sincerely thirsty.

‘This is an intimate wine tribunal of industry professionals getting together to have a good time, while wearing ascots. Yes, it is foolish, but we are here to keep the fun, humor and camaraderie in wine.’ Kyle Haraszthy, founder of the Dumb Asscots

The sipping menu for the evening was to be Italian reds, a category chosen by the wearer of the coveted “Golden Asscot.” Carl F. wore the narrow strip of gold silk at his neck, earned fair and square at DAFLEE’s last — and first — tasting. “I am the current bearer of the Golden Asscot,” Carl F. said sonorously. “I brought a 2011 Benovia Bella Luna — made by a winemaker I used to work for from the Russian River Valley — and it just blew them away. As the ascot bearer, I got to pick the theme this time, so…it’s Italian reds tonight.”

Carl F., winner if the Golden Asscot for the 2011 Benovia Bella Luna he served at the group’s first meeting, shows off his coveted neckwear. (Photo: Kate Williams)
Carl F., winner if the Golden Asscot for the 2011 Benovia Bella Luna he served at the group’s first meeting, shows off his coveted neckwear. (Photo: Kate Williams)

Standing across from Carl F. was Jeff Cramer, wearing the “Kyrgyzstani Dunce Cap” on his head. It was punishment for introducing the least enjoyable bottle of wine at DAFLEE’s last meeting, but Cramer seemed almost proud of the accessory. Perhaps it was the ascot mitigating what should have been Cramer’s shame, but he remained unfazed by the ignominy of having served an undrinkable 2017 zinfandel to his friends. Bad wine happens, even to industry professionals.

The founding principal of every Dumb Asscott meeting is a shared love of wine. These are winemakers and sommeliers of the first order. Some pour it, some make it, and some have it in the veins, like Kyle Haraszthy, the great-great-great grandson of both Sonoma wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy and town founder Gen. Mariano Vallejo. You’d be hard pressed to find a more local local than the great-grandson of the town’s two founding fathers, and Haraszthy — with his burgundy pocket square and old-fashioned mustache — wears the mantle of history well. He started DAFLEE in search of bromance with like-minded wine lovers who could tolerate a bit of pomp and circumstance as a chaser.

Kyle Haraszthy, great-great-great grandson of Sonoma founders Count Haraszthy and General Vallejo, brings the second meeting of the Dumb Asscots to order. (Photo: Kate Williams)
Kyle Haraszthy, great-great-great grandson of Sonoma founders Count Haraszthy and General Vallejo, brings the second meeting of the Dumb Asscots to order. (Photo: Kate Williams)

It’s a construct that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At the first meeting, some shlub arrived wearing a golf shirt and shorts. Mon dieu! “He kind of exited himself,” one of the others said with a shrug, before adjusting his neckerchief and shooting his cuffs.

The Dumb Asscots began with just six members, and permission to bring an appropriate guest to the next meeting if they chose. The guests would all have to be involved in the wine industry somehow, and handsomeness did not appear to be a disqualifier. Guests could not, however, be of the female persuasion: the Dumb Asscots is strictly a gentlemen’s club.

Asked why their wives and girlfriends were absent, the gentlemen broke into unexplained gales of laughter. “For some reason, they don’t want to be associated with the words ‘dumb’ or ‘ass’,” one of them offered.

“This is a gentlemen’s club,” Haraszthy explained. “A group of gentlemen wearing ascots, as one does.”

As the pandemic wore on over the last year, Haraszthy said he found himself desperate for distraction. “We just really needed a reason to enjoy ourselves. So at the end of March when it felt like COVID was over, I was like, ‘guys, let’s go.’” Deciding that ascots and formal attire could establish both the club’s uniform and tone, Haraszthy insisted that his friends dress for their events.

“This is an intimate wine tribunal of industry professionals getting together to have a good time, while wearing ascots. Yes, it is foolish, but we are here to keep the fun, humor and camaraderie in wine,” Haraszthy said.

“The wine world sort of takes itself seriously. This kind of turns it on its head,” Joel Burt added.

The evening wore on, with two Barbarescos battling it out for first place. Being gentlemen, the men agreed to settle for a tie, though winners Jeff Cramer and (again) Carl F. arranged to duel it out at the next meeting in Kenwood, using pillows as weapons. “The winner of the pillow fight will take the Golden Asscot, but no one thinks Carl F. is going to show,” Haraszthy said. “He’s already claiming that he can’t get off due to his ‘demanding harvest schedule,’ but Jeff was a 4H camp counselor and has a lot of experience in pillow fighting.”

The dunce cap was bestowed upon Drew Goodgame this time, for serving a terrible 2021 Lagrein. “It tasted a lot like ketchup,” Haraszthy said.

Drew Goodgame was rewarded with the “Kyrgyzstani Dunce Cap” for serving an undrinkable 2021 Lagrein. “It tasted a lot like ketchup,” said Dumb Asscots founder Kyle Haraszthy. (submitted photo)
Drew Goodgame was rewarded with the “Kyrgyzstani Dunce Cap” for serving an undrinkable 2021 Lagrein. “It tasted a lot like ketchup,” said Dumb Asscots founder Kyle Haraszthy. (submitted photo)

After a year stuck at home wearing sweatpants most days, all of the Dumb Asscots seemed happy to be scrubbed up. They clinked glasses and cheers’d, they sent up hurrahs!, they seemed somehow transformed by their neckwear. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference after all; in wine, and the world, small gestures count.

Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down: the Dumb Asscot’s are serious--but not too serious--about wine. (Submitted photo)
Set ‘em up, knock ‘em down: the Dumb Asscot’s are serious--but not too serious--about wine. (Submitted photo)

In velvet jackets and leather loafers with a bit of silk at the throat, as a warm wind rustled the scorecards stacked near the nine bottles of proffered wine, the gentlemen of DAFLEE — in thrall to Bacchus and friendship and the indefatigable optimism of youth — lifted their glasses in a final salute, and sallied into the evening remade.

Contact Kate Williams at kate.williams@sonomanews.com.

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