Photo © Paul Costello
Over Pecorino crisps, collard-greens salad and herb-roasted leg of lamb, one of America's most creative young couples celebrates a fascinating new wine project.
Two years ago, when Scott Campbell stopped by the Wild Horse Winery, on California's Central Coast, he never expected that the visit would lead to one of the more peculiar professional partnerships in the wine business. A tattoo artist who has inked the bodies of Kanye West and Johnny Depp, Campbell was on a meandering road trip with the actor-director Lake Bell, now his wife. The couple had heard about Wild Horse through a friend, and while they both appreciate a fine glass of wine, their reason for visiting had nothing to do with an interest in tasting the Pinot Noirs that Wild Horse is known for, even the ultra-limited-production Cheval Sauvage.
"We were there," says Campbell, "to see a llama."
"An amazing llama named Floyd, who lives on the property," adds Bell, turning to her husband and flashing the floodlight-bright smile that takes up approximately 90 percent of her face. "I guess we owe a lot to Floyd, don't we?"
The two are having this conversation at a lunch celebrating the project that evolved from that visit to Floyd: Saved Wines, a collaboration between Campbell and Clay Brock, the former winemaking director at Wild Horse. Brock had met the couple at the winery, introduced them to the congenial llama, and struck up a fast and surprising friendship with Campbell. The two found common ground in how they approached their crafts.
"I enjoy wine, but until I met Clay, I wasn't really a wine person," says Campbell, a reed-thin, heavily tattooed 36-year-old with a dry wit. "I knew what I liked to drink, but whenever I'd read about winemaking, it all seemed so clinical. Phosphates and nitrates. Very cold. Clay made it human and romantic, talking about all these weird agricultural rituals that have no scientific grounds but have a real human component. I'm someone who loves superstitions and folklore and the juju that goes into things. That's a lot of what tattooing is about for me, and it turned out that's a lot of what making wine is about for Clay."
"On the surface, we live totally opposite lifestyles," says Brock, an earnest, exceedingly mellow farmer. "But Scott and I—and Lake, too—are very positive people who really believe in the energy you put into things and how it affects the outcome. He and I got to talking about wine and mysticism, and about how a lot of people, myself among them, still believe that the moon cycles can help you know the best time to pick grapes. It turned out that a lot of Scott's tattoos deal with old alchemy symbols"—one of which has since been inked on Brock's left foot—"so we found a connection, and soon enough, we were talking about working on something together. It's all kind of crazy, and yet it all kind of makes sense."
The two men kept in touch and eventually came up with a partnership plan. Brock would create two wines inspired by Campbell's personal drinking preferences—a dry rosé called Saved Magic Maker, and a rich, fruit-forward red named simply Saved Red Wine—and Campbell would design the bottles: stenciled collages of planetary and folkloric symbols done with the fanciful intricacy of his tattoos. (Saved is the name of his Brooklyn tattoo shop.) "Basically, Clay makes the wine taste good, and I make it look good," says Campbell. "At the end of the day, I'm doing this project because I find Clay inspiring. If he had a car wash and said, 'Hey, let's wash cars together,' then I'd be holding a rag right now." Campbell laughs. "Instead, I'm holding a bottle of wine."
The setting for today's lunch might seem incongruous: the Virginia International Raceway, which was, until recently, owned by Bell's father. A manicured alternate reality hidden among hilly forests, the raceway is also a resort, complete with a cozy lodge. "It makes racing really romantic, which is rare," says Bell. "For us, this is very much a family location—Scott first met my dad here—and the collaboration between Scott and Clay feels like a family affair, so it just made sense to do the lunch here."
Aside from Brock, his wife, Karen, and Bell's father, the guests include the couple's old friend Carlos Quirarte, co-owner of The Smile, a downtown Manhattan restaurant the couple frequents, and The Smile's chef, Melia Marden, daughter of the artist Brice Marden; she has been charged with creating the Mediterranean-leaning menu. The food is simple, but small details make every dish intriguing, from the hard-boiled quail eggs in the raw collard-greens salad to the balsamic vinegar mixed into the filling for the whole-grain cherry crumble.
Following a few laps around the kart track, during which no one could keep up with Campbell, everyone sits down to eat. Campbell uncorks a bottle of Saved red, explaining how all the labels contain a hidden reference to Bell: The sequences of tiny dots correspond to the placement of the letters of her name in the alphabet. "See, there's a subliminal Lake in there," he says. "The wine has really been around us throughout our courtship and falling in love and getting married, so I figured a subtle little shout-out was in order."
He Said / She Said
Favorite Pairing in the World
Scott: The rosé and fried soft-shell crab in New Orleans are kind of a perfect thing.
Lake: If I weren't vegan…I have relations, occasionally, with a lobster roll and a rosé.
Scott: I do soft-shell crab because I'm from the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. She's the Yankee. I'm the Southerner.
Lake: But we meet at rosé.
Food They Could Eat Every Day
Scott: The burger at Diner in Brooklyn.
Lake: But I'm vegan, so I can't say that.
Scott: She's a Monday-through-Friday vegan.
Lake: My favorite food is artichoke with drawn butter, which is not vegan, but it's lower on the spectrum of naughtiness than a burger from Diner.
Strangest Food They've Ever Had
Scott: There were grasshopper tacos in Mexico.
Scott: Yeah. And you've kissed this mouth.
Lake: I can't compete with insects. I mean, I've had conch, but who cares, when Scott's eaten a grasshopper? Ew.
David Amsden contributes regularly to the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He recently wrote about highbrow beer for F&W.
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