Trapper, Moses, and me

Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre in the classic TV series of “M.A.S.H.,” died last week. Besides acting, he had been  a highly successful financial manager. One venture, in the early 1970s, was a syndicate that included Peter Falk, Jack Webb, and James Caan, which established a 530-acre vineyard in Paso Robles, then mostly known for its hot springs.
          Vineyards were a savvy, tax-deferring investment, but Wayne, who admitted at the time that his wine knowledge was limited to knowing the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, got involved, even taking university courses in enology and viticulture. His enthusiasm—and financial returns—helped bring in new investors and revitalize the area’s historic wine traditions (and its annual rodeo became the only one in America featuring wine-tastings).
          We were slightly acquainted, so I wasn’t surprised when he called me one day in 1985 at my office at Wine Institute in San Francisco, but I was surprised at the reason: He'd gotten a phone call from Charlton Heston, who was appearing on stage in London in “The Caine Mutiny,” and was in a Captain Queeg-type lather. On his night off, Heston had had dinner with the American Ambassador--and been served French wine! He was indignant! He was outraged! He said the ambassador had claimed French wine was all they had in the embassy’s cellar. Not so, I told Wayne, I’d recently arranged a donation of wine left over from a California tasting to the embassy. Perhaps the ambassador had been misled.
          Wayne wasn’t mollified. “Do you really want to argue with Moses?” he said, laughing. Good point: I sent Heston a message promising that we were working to sort out the situation, and then called Geoffrey Roberts in London, the leading importer of California wine at the time, and asked him to send a mixed case to Heston at his hotel, with a note saying I was sure he’d enjoy it when he hosted the ambassador in return, and then to bill me for the wine. (A real gent, Roberts only charged me the wholesale price.) 
          Later, Heston sent me back a message saying he appreciated the quick response; I never knew if he was referring to my promise, or the wine he evidently enjoyed. Moses supposed, I disposed. That’s entertainment.

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