Wine tips from the Heinz-Kerry cellar
With her easy tact and predisposition to agree, she might be a diplomat or a counselor—if it weren’t for the one-liners that slip out, almost as if they’re sneaking up on her, and the highly contagious laughs that follow.
She should be laughing. Diane Martz, 43, in black jeans, tennis shoes and zero makeup, is as blend-in as they come. But she has the job we all want. She is keeper of the four Heinz/Kerry wine collections.
Martz’s appearance may be low-key, but her singularly lively voice and facial expression suggest the sort of energy she invests in a challenge.
It was the late Sen. John Heinz himself who set her on the wine road.
Martz’s father is former Lancaster newspaperman Russ Martz, known here in recent years as communications vice president for WQED, and now with the Heinz Family Foundation. He had come to Pittsburgh in 1970 to see if he could help John Heinz get elected in his first senatorial race. Diane was 7.
In the early ’80s, studying American history at Millersville University, near Lancaster, Diane was toiling as a summer intern in the senator’s office. “Tasked with driving him home to Fox Chapel from a town meeting in Latrobe,” she worried. It was pre-cell phone and too dark for him to read. What would they talk about? She knew he liked wine.
“Um, do you know any kinda red wine?” she ventured.
The next hour and a half was like drinking from a fire hose. He talked nonstop. As they drew up abreast Route 30’s now vanished Greengate Mall, he ordered, “Pull in here.”
It was 9:05 p.m. and the state store was closed. Miming through the window, Heinz convinced the clerk to shove a catalog through the mail slot.
All the way home, he marked the list and talked. “This wine shouldn’t be consumed by humans (at the time certain Portuguese whites). This you should try.”
She still has the annotated catalog.
When they arrived home, he said, “Come with me.”
In the wine cellar, he pulled bottles from bins and piled them in her arms. Among them, she remembers, were a Cavit Pinot Grigio and a Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Buy yourself a Robert Parker and read,” he urged.
“What about Wine Spectator,” she timidly asked.
“Take it with a grain of salt; they take advertising,” he said.
“I was 22, barely legal. I saw a ’59 burgundy and asked, ‘Can you still drink this?’ He said, ‘With abandon.’ And he’s right. That’s how you should drink these wines.”
After a few years she was asked to put the contents of the wine cellars into a database. “I love to learn. I was reading intensively and tasting. I had been hired as a caseworker for the senator in 1986, helping constituents with problems like taxes, immigration, etc. I became chief caseworker in 1990.
“When the senator died in 1991, I went to the farm where the sensitive personal records and effects had been sent, to archive them. We moved out of the Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and D.C. offices in such a hurry. Harris Wofford was moving in. We had a month to vacate.
“I worked briefly for Teresa Heinz in Washington, D.C. but didn’t like Capitol Hill. Mrs. Heinz said, ‘Come to Pittsburgh; work for me personally.’”
There Martz’s responsibilities evolved. She was helping to manage renovation projects and household staff. She acquired a master’s in archiving and became official archivist and historian for the Heinz family. She became curator of the family art collection. She was involved when the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries transferred some 850,000 pages of the senator’s personal papers into digital form.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, Martz explains, has always collected wine, too. The main collection is in the Heinz family farmhouse in Fox Chapel, which had been the late senator’s childhood home. Heinz Kerry has friends here and heads the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Family Philanthropies. Smaller wine collections are in the Washington, Boston and Sun Valley houses.
So for the next two decades, Martz, like a dog after a rabbit, pursued her love of wine. She read, asked questions, visited vineyards, tracked vintage changes, tasted.
Among her wine informants are a couple of favorite writers, both Brits: Jancis Robinson, whose Oxford Concise Wine Companion is a reference bible to many, and whose Web site is lively and fun; and the nonpompous English wine writer/ actor Oz Clark.
A recent buying trip scouting burgundies and Rhones included a memorable behind-the-scenes tour of the venerable Chateau La Nerthe, maker of fine Chateauneuf du Pape, served at Versailles. When pressed, Martz will only say that Heinz Kerry doesn’t like oaky chards, does like zins and shirazes, has been using more sauvignon blanc at parties and formal dinners recently. In Martz’s workds, there is a level of trust in her job, and this is about as inside as we are going to get.
Martz teaches classes and in-home sessions. Friends offer to trade dinner for pointers. She loves being at the stove herself — a cookbook recommendation is “Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible” (2005) by Anglo-Irish author Tamasin Day-Lewis.
Thus the cat is out of the bag. Martz has useful wine advice for Planet Pittsburgh.
People Have a Ham “Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving. It’s ‘Diane, we’re having ham.’ Ham and asparagus are toughies. I suggest Beaujolais — it’s nice and fruity with the salty ham. Any by George DuBoeuf will do.
“Turkey? This is American: Try zinfandel and chardonnay. (Zin shopping? Buy something with an R in it: Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum.) A personal favorite with stuffing and herbs is Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica Riesling.”
The question most often posed?
“’What’s cheap? What costs less than $10?’ I suggest, crack open your wallet a little bit.”
However here are a few hovering just above and below 10 bucks. Red Bicyclette, made in southern France, has a syrah and a chardonnay both sale-priced at $8.99. “The dirty, little secret? Gallo owns this label.”
She recommends second labels (less expensive wines made by prestigious vineyards): “Beringer’s Meridian has a chardonnay at $10.99, or $15.99 for a 1.5 liter. Geyser Peak’s Canyon Road has a sauvignon blanc at $8.99.”
Martz’s own daily quaff is Napa Valley Beringer Sauvignon Blanc, at $8.99, and Cline Red Truck (blend of syrah and mourvedre) at $10.99. “Stop drinking Woodridge; you’ll spend the same and have a lot more fun with Red Truck.” (See Diane makes a case for the holidays, page 53.)
Box wine: Banrock Station. “Tasted side-by-side, not as good as the Aussie maker’s bottled wine. But if you ever need to forget you have children, the three-liter boxes at about $17 (equivalent of four bottles) are very satisfactory.”
Must-try-to-believe: German Black Tower Riesling, $5.99. In the good, old days, “Black Tower was known as plonk of the worst kind, right up there with Blue Nun. It is still sold in what looks like a vodka bottle. Someone told me I wouldn’t believe it and I wouldn’t have.”
Pet peeve: Overpriced wine by the glass. Two destinations Martz likes for by-the-glass choices and prices are fish houses: The Original Fish Market in the Westin Convention Center Hotel on Penn Avenue- “The wine list is endless” — and Mitchell’s Fish Market in the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon. She applauds the possibilities at Sonoma Grille on Liberty Avenue downtown.
New Year’s resolution: “Drink what you’ve got and use your crystal to drink it in. You’re saving it? What, you’re not good enough for your own stuff that you bought and paid for?”