The Sad Demise
A tale from
The Winefullness Armchairs
(something to make you think as you finish this edition)
It was obvious to those who travelled the road with Steven Delmonico that he’d long forgotten where he came from, although the amount of people who had been allowed to stick around could be counted on Captain Hook’s lesser hand!
He’d started life as plain Stephen Smith, but knew that if his acting career was going to grow beyond the local theatre of his birthplace, somewhere in the middle of nowhere America, he would have to be ambitious and that would have to start with his name. So Steven Delmonico he became, and his real name was left forgotten along with his place of birth in the middle of nowhere America.
There was no doubting that he had talent, and that he would have made some sort of impression upon the acting world if he’d have let events take their course, but Steven was driven by more ambition than everybody else he knew, and that meant he was so self-obsessed that he didn’t really care about everybody else.
At first it was easy to hide his selfish nature behind a 'caring and sharing' image, but as his fame grew and he started to become ‘known’, he cared less and less about what those who lacked his drive thought.
Finally, he reached the top, received the best scripts, was seen at the right parties in the company of the right people and his life started to resemble all that he’d ever wanted it to be when he’d started to dream big in that very small town in nowhere America.
Now don’t think for a moment that with success Steven Delmonico was pacified or determined to rest on his laurels because when one is driven by such ambitious demons there is always something to achieve better or something to prove, and all this was not helped by an A-list gang of young actors in fell in with.
Around the streets of Los Angeles they were know as ‘The Hollywood Saints’ because people thought that to be that touched by fame and fortune one had to have been blessed by whichever God was popular. While a variety of sorts came and went, along with their popularity, at the heart of ‘The Hollywood Saints’ were five of the most famous names on the planet. All were men, because in their macho world they assumed that woman couldn’t keep up with their hedonistic lifestyles, and among the unspoken rules that governed them were the facts that they never appeared together in a film (they didn't want to take a chance on looking second rate) despite massive amounts of cash that was constantly being waved their way. If there was one thing they shared, it was a male need to try and outdo each other when it came to obsessive and competitive behaviour.
So, when Dee Simons got into cars, the rest either got a massively impressive fleet or the best mechanics were employed to make their engines roar louder.
Tyler Finch took them into the world of dangerous sports, and there were photographs flashed across the world’s press of ‘The Saints’ bungee jumping from higher and higher spots that would make readers squirm.
You might remember the time when four of them threw down oodles of cash for a flight to the moon because Jonathan Johnson had placed a deposit for a flight just outside Earth’s atmosphere (I honestly believe they never expected this one to take place, but the amount of bragging they did on film sets, in exclusive restaurants and every time an interviewer interviewed made it all worthwhile).
Karl Steel hadn’t waited to be last, much to Steven Delmonico’s annoyance, and rather than buying toys or indulging in pointless dares he’d decided that playing outlandish pranks on the innocent people of Los Angeles might be the way that he could outdo the rest of the ‘The Hollywood Saints’, and so began a time that became known in Hollywood circles as ‘The Time of Dread'.
Karl had started it off with a phone call to a gossip columnist who he informed about a glamorous, and moralistic, actress who went to parties with young men while sampling illicit drugs.
Tyler Finch tried to outdo that by taking a picture of Jonathan Johnson swimming naked, and Dee Simons let a bear roam along the beachfront properties of Malibu scaring the Hollywood community down there to a state of neurotic frenzy (the fact that the bear was harmless, had no teeth and had been given so many tranquilizers that it became addicted was lost with every subsequent recounting of the tale).
Before Steven could think of a suitably offensive prank that would make him the envy of his friends, Karl Steel beat him by organising for a firm of builders to head to the home of an elder statesman of the acting community while he was away on location to brick up every window in the old man’s house. Rumour has it that the heart attack he suffered a year later had its roots in this very event.
Steven Delmonico watched as his ‘friends’ set the pace, and though he smiled on the outside he seethed inside because he’d not come up with any ideas.
From the secret luxury of his opulent mansion high in the hills over Hollywood he knew that most of the others had pranked to the best of their ability in a way that would make it difficult to better, and whenever he thought of a practical joke he knew it would be seen as second rate, but he was determined to compete.
Compared with the bear or the naked photographs, the calls to the rescue services seemed incredibly funny to them, and downright cruel to anybody outside of their gang.
Over the course of a month Steven Delmonico, with the help of a small group of actors desperate to be associated with one of the most famous movie faces in the world, sent rescue services all over Los Angeles to deal with emergencies that didn’t exist.
Nobody could actually pin the mythical riot in Santa Monica or the phantom studio fire on Steven Delmonico, but most of the Hollywood community suspected he was somewhere at the heart of it.
In the normal course of events he would have been shunned, or his calls would not have been returned, but when his films were making more money than a small country everybody shrugged, looked to the heavens and talked about ‘boys being boys’.
Steven knew that it was time to stop his prank when the fire service were late to a hotel fire because they had assumed it was one of the recent spate of pranks, but he actually enjoyed the sense of power he felt every time 'the services' rushed across 'town'.
Now, you’re probably reading this and wondering what a tale about over-priviledged actors trying to outdo each other has to do with the world of wine, and I will tell you to sit back because we have not got to the viticultural part of this story.
That all started when Steven Delmonico, discovered the world of fine wine collecting! I think that it appealed his sense of snobbish showoffery. When he heard experts talk loudly about how much they’d paid for a particular bottle, and which Napa vineyards had been graced by the rich and famous the green-eyed monster had found another victim. He actually thought of buying a vineyard just off the Silverado Trail but the growing number of wildfires made him see sense; besides it was more fun to be seen brandishing a bottle in public like a fisherman showing his latest catch.
His new hobby was taken up by the others and soon they were rarely see in public without bottles being held aloft and comments being made about Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Colgin, Shafer and Scarecrow. You have to give 'The Hollywood Saints' their due. Until this moment they were certainly loyal to the wines of California.
Pretty soon, as is the way with ambitious men who were bitten by the grape bug they started acquiring wines that would form part of amazing collections that would impress each other. These were the times when they paid a fortune to turn a large room in their mansions into a ‘wine room’ where they would visit, sit in club armchairs sampling prized wines, surrounded by classic bottles as they talked with an enthusiasm that you often find grips an educated novice.
You’ve probably guessed that after a time this wasn’t enough and ambitions turned to actually building wine cellars under their palaces.
Jonathan Johnson was the first, and he beamed with pride as he lead his friends down a long flight of stairs into a chamber of glass and metal where his growing collection seemed to ooze from the rows of glass and metal shelves that surrounded a seating area that he hoped would resemble a London gentlemen’s club. He was even more pleased when he saw the looks of envy on the faces of his friends, looks that grew even more pronounced when he asked them to sit and sample a vintage of Margaux that had cost more than the average family car.
The following day the race was on, and the other four 'Hollywood Saints' gave their ‘people’ the challenge of finding the best wine cellar builders money could buy.
Tyler Finch was the first to complete and compete with Johnson, and his vaulted structure with original Italian marble from the same quarry that Michelangelo. It would have been so beautiful if it wasn't so pathetic!
The remaining 'Saints’ had to go one better, because while they admired the workmanship that made it feel as though they were sitting in a Tuscan cellar, and sampled a fine bottle of Sassicia, they knew that it would pale into insignificance when there unveiled their viticultural cathedrals.
About a month later Karl Steel invited them to a post-modern cellar that was dominated by gadgets that not only helped the sampler choose, but also delivered the bottle or glass, through a mechanism in the chair, to the drinkers side at the correct temperature, in the correct glass and with an accompanying list of suggested food pairings.
Steel was particularly proud of the fact that the seating was arranged to give the cellar the feel of something out of a James Bond novel, and he really enjoyed sitting facing his guests as though he was Blofeld outlining a plan for world domination. It also made a great place to bring the directors and producers one wanted to impress while keeping them in their place, and Karl Steel loved keeping directors and producers in their place while offering them a glass of perfectly chilled Cristal.
The cellar of Dee Simons was impressive because it was not just the size of a small nuclear bunker. The oak surrounds had been imported from England, the mosaics were Arabic in origin and the fixtures and fittings had been bought from a Bordeaux winery that had been forced to close. The cooling system was designed with the space programme in mind and his four ‘friends’ sampled a collection of rare wines out of the finest Austrian crystal.
While the other cellars impressed through the technology, the cellar of Dee Simons took the breath away because of its sheer size and it was obvious why it had taken so long to build.
At the start Steven Delmonico was lost how to top the wine cellars of the other ‘Hollywood Saints’ because each time he had an idea he realized that one of the others had got there first. The builders and designers were no help because their plans lacked the ambition he sought for the project. That was until he sat by his Romanesque pool looking down on Hollywood from the mansion he owned high in the hills.
He’d once seen a film where the pool moved at a touch of a button and a space rocket exited from a cavern underneath. He wouldn’t need that amount of space of course, but what if he bought a secret location high in the 'Hills' where the wine cellar could be secreted beneath a pool where a massive window was placed in a hollowed out mountain so that the view while tasting would be epic. It would also enable Steven to look down, from a distance, on all the unlucky stiffs!
The fixtures and fittings would be glass and metal, while the pool itself could be used to help maintain the temperature of the wine beneath.
Delmonico grew more and more excited as he though of all the possibilities his wine cellar could create, and instead of having it designed by specialists, he went straight to the best film designers to see what they can come up with.
Over the following months he admired visiting the tasting rooms of his friends happy in the knowledge that they would be astounded when they finally got to see his secret wine lair.
The designer he picked had specialized in the sort of motion pictures where superheroes kept their identities secret and their costumes and equipment hidden in the sort of lair he wanted building for real.
At first there was doubt that he would be able to achieve what he wanted, but the amount of money Delmonico threw at the project overcame any worries and the designs grew more and more ambitious as Delmonico dreamt up new additions that would not just give him a wine cellar that would be the envy of his friends. It to be the envy of the wine community to such an extent that a visit would be considered one of the greatest honours possible (blame it all on a visit to San Simeon).
While his cellar was being built, he set about acquiring wines that would befit such a location. He would often buy cases through a third-party for fear that he would be outbid if his friends knew that he was buying, and his collection grew from one thousand bottles to ten thousand as the finishing touches were being added to the wine cellar.
You name a famous wine and he had cases of the stuff. You name an excellent vintage and it was laid down ready for drinking.
Once the building was finished he then decided to consult a wine cellar expert who would put his collection into the order he wanted, which was by country, by region, by vineyard, by vintage and then in alphabetical order.
Finally, the day arrived when he invited his friends to look at the wine cellar he had built.
It had taken three quarters of a year to complete, and would have been longer if Steven Delmonico hadn’t kept throwing money at it and employing more and more workers to finish on time.
He’d spent weeks becoming familiar with the workings of the cellar so that everything would move effortlessly and move gracefully, and he decided that the wine of choice for the visit of his 'friends' would be bottles he had paid over-the-odds for, but had been owned by some of the most famous men in history.
At the appointed hour the four cars arrived after taking their passengers on a long and winding road that lead to a place they didn't know (because the glass in the limousine did not allow them to see out) and 'The Hollywood Saints' were shown to a small derelict shack and a antique pool. Here Delmonico waited to start the reveal as his 'friends' wondered why they'd been brought to this forsaken location halfway up a forgotten mountain.
The pool slid swiftly, silently and easily and he could see that the first part of his plan impressed them.
Without a word he headed down the stairs that had now been revealed, while beckoning the others to follow. They didn’t need to be told twice because they were eager to see how he would top the ‘pool trick’. Dee particularly enjoyed the 'terrible shack and antique pool' deception. That would keep any potential thieves away, that is if they could even find the place.
At the bottom of the wide stairway were a pair of heavy oak doors that contained ornate carvings of Bacchus, grapes and other assorted tasteful wine references. Steven Delmonico gave a gentle clap and the doors opened invitingly.
Once inside he led each actor towards a line of chairs that had their names painted in gold leaf on the back. The seats were arranged in a gentle curve that faced a craggy rock face. Another clap from Delmonico and they were now looking out through twelve-inch bulletproof glass on to Hollywood as the darkness slowly descended and the twinkling lights started to come on below.
On a table next to each chair was laid a range of glasses around the base of which was a disc that informed the taster of which wine they would be tasting and in what order Steven Delmonico wanted them to be tastes.
The first glass was a fine Chateau Haut-Brion that had once belonged to Napoleon and was rumoured to be the vintage he drank before the Battle of Austerlitz, not that any of them had a clue what had happened at Austerlitz (at least one of them had never heard of Napoleon!). Still they knew the wine was important because of the gravity with which Steven Delmonico spoke.
He asked them to take their time, lift their glasses to the large window and join him in a toast to Napoleon and the city of Los Angeles. As he looked at his friends, Delmonico knew from their expressions that he had built the finest wine cellar they had ever seen. Then the ground started to shake!
The designers had failed to take into account the chance of a Los Angeles earthquake of such magnitude jamming the pool mechanism shut so that 'The Hollywood Saints’ would have to wait for help to get out.
Nobody knows what was said or done as they realised their plight, but it is pretty certain that when the aftershock continued rocking the mountain until the earth moved, they would have been crushed by the rubble that came down on top of them.
Of course there were high level discussions among the rescue services about what they should do to find, and dig out the five actors, but these only took place when it was too late to do anything useful, and when the services realised that this wasn't one of the spate of pranks they'd been subjected to. Besides nobody had a real clue where they were located because the limousines that had dropped them off perished in a landslide that covered them as they made their way back to Hollywood.
The designer thought he remembered where he'd built his masterpiece, but Steven Delmonico had made sure he'd been driven in such a convoluted way to the location that his efforts to find the wine cavern always ended in failure, and the builders had always been shipped up to the site in the back of vans.
Occasionally a treasure hunter will come down from the mountain and claim that the bottle of Chateau d’Yquem he holds tightly is from the wine cellar of Steven Delmonico, but there has never been any conclusive proof.