"Education without intimidation." Patrick W. Fegan
Patrick W. Fegan was a good friend, confidant, and a giant in the world of wine introducing more people to the wonders of the fermented grape than can be counted. He was at my wedding in 1974, he helped my wife and me move from Chicago to Ithaca, NY, in winter 1978 and drove one of our cars there with us. We stomped through vineyards together, we tasted together, ate together, and got drunk together. And he was, at 68, only a year older than me.
Born in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago in 1947, he was the oldest of nine children. Fegan made his most important mark as the founder and owner of the Chicago Wine School. He was an excellent teacher and, according to his website (which I built for him), more than 22,000 students have passed through his doors. The number was probably much larger because I don't think he updated the site for several years before he retired a few years ago.
We were both founding members of the Society of Wine Educators and he was once named "Wine Educator of the Year" by the European Wine Council. He was a popular lecturer and speaker at events and festivals because of his expertise and his wit. He had a wry grin and dancing eyes, but he suffered no fools. I know.
He was a mischievous fellow, proud of his Irish heritage. Once we dressed in tuxedos and went to the grand opening of a McDonald's with a Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, much to the chagrin and delight of the staff. He loved pranks, and over the years I was the brunt of a few. He once serving me a glass of peach shampoo telling me it was a trockenbeerenauslese. It almost made it past my nose. Another time he served me a chocolate covered wasp. I retaliated by leaving a voicemail message that there had been a massive fire at Chateaux Margaux. He didn't notice that it was April 1 until after he called his editor and told her that he had a breaking story he was working on.
He had an incredible palate and memory for detail. He was brilliant at blind tasting and he was also a judge at many wine competitions. He knew more about wine than anybody I ever met, far more than I did, and he was the first in Chicago to pass the world's most rigorous winetasting exam administered by the Institute of Masters of Wine in London.
When he first got interested in wine in 1971 he moved to Bordeaux, France, and dived in head first, pruning vines. He attended the "Cours d'Oenologie" at the Université de Bordeaux à Talence, taking a short-course on the technical aspects of wine-making and wine-tasting. Since then he made trips to every major vineyard area in the world.
Patrick was a good writer and he succeeded me as a wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune when I moved to the Washington Post in the 1980s. In additon to writing for the Tribune, he wrote for Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, and his byline appeared in many other publications. In recent years he wrote about wine for The Examiner and he published a newsletter of wine events in and around Chicago.
In 1982, he wrote "Vineyards and Wineries of America: A Traveler's Guide" and in 1992, he published the first edition of The Vineyard Handbook: Appellations, Maps & Statistics. A valued resource, it contained detailed maps of practically every wine region in the world, with statistics of acreage, varietals, and more. He could have written many books, but he preferred teaching.
His first local wine gig was at Geja's Cafe. He put together their wine list there and later organized the Geja's Wine Tasting Championship, a blind tasting contest that helped make the careers of many winners. Like mine.
I owe you, Patrick.
There will be a wine industry memorial service for Pat: Sunday, May 15 at 1 p.m. at Geja's Cafe, 340 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614. RSVP 773-281-9101.