I was at a charity wine-tasting event in Templeton last month and met a pleasant woman who was pouring a distinctive red: a late harvest syrah she called Buck's Boogie. I assumed she had named her dessert wine for the late Buck Owens, the Bakersfield country music giant who for years owned undeveloped wine-country acreage in Paso Robles.
"Not Buck Owens," said Jenni Abascal, a Bonnie Raitt lookalike who co-owns Vines on the Marycrest, a microvintner sequestered in the rolling hills just west of Paso. "Buck Dharma."
You might say, as others have, "Buck who?" But, as a child of the '70s, I recognized the name instantly: Buck Dharma is Donald Roeser, the virtuoso shredder who has played lead guitar for Blue Oyster Cult for four decades. Excited to have made a BOC-conversant acquaintance, I started babbling. Abascal stopped me. "My husband, Victor, is the Buck Dharma fan, and he's not here," she said. "I don't know a thing."
I took her business card and moved on to the next table.
About 18 hours later it occurred to me that Blue Oyster Cult had a Sept. 24 date at the Kern County Fair. I wondered if the talented Mr. Dharma realized that a winemaker had honored him in this way. I called Janet Sanders, who is coordinating publicity for the fair, and asked if she could set up a meeting of the winemaker and the music maker. She looked into it, and everything was arranged.
In the meantime I paid a visit to the Abascals' winery, a decidedly mom-and-pop enterprise that sits next to their charming little house just off Nacimiento Lake Drive in Paso Robles. They're building a new tasting room -- and while construction continues, they've squeezed a tasting table into the winemaking facility. Jenni poured samples for my wife and me while Victor scooted around on his forklift, moving huge vats of plump zinfandel and grenache grapes from one end of the warehouse to the other. It was here that I realized the true depth of Victor's devotion to BOC's axman: On the wall above the tasting table, framed lovingly, was the photo of a big, honey-colored dog lying peacefully on the cool concrete floor of the warehouse, wine barrels stacked in the background. The old dog, deceased three years now, was named Buck Dharma.
Monday night Victor met my wife and me at the Padre Hotel for dinner; then we headed over to the fairgrounds. By 7:30 p.m. we had queued up behind a half-dozen others for a meet-and-greet with the band. That's what they called it, anyway: It's not supposed to be a meet-and-chat. It's a greet-and-move-along-promptly.
For Victor, 49, this was a big deal. He'd seen Blue Oyster Cult in concert at least six times, but not once in the past 25 years, and he'd never been this close to the musicians. (Dharma and lead singer Eric Bloom are the only original members of the band who remain, inspiring some to refer to this latter-day incarnation as "Two Oyster Cult.") Victor had brought along four bottles of his wine, including two bottles of Buck's Boogie. But now, 12 feet away from the band members, he couldn't be sure which one was Buck Dharma, who was obviously shorn of his '70s mullet and porn-actor mustache. Victor finally settled on the short guy in the middle; three of the others were clearly too young to be members of a band formed in 1967, and the other old guy had to be Bloom.
At ground level, it didn't seem possible that this unassuming 64-year-old in the black T-shirt was the same guitar god who could make his instrument sound like a tsunami taking down a skyscraper. Dharma is just 5-foot-2 and soft-spoken -- a polite Jewish kid from Long Island who just happens to play guitar like Usain Bolt runs.
Victor, finally waved in, walked straight over to Dharma. The guitarist didn't seem to know who he was or why he was bearing wine, but appeared flattered when he realized what was happening. The two men sat down and talked wine and rock 'n' roll for five minutes. Then Victor pulled out the photo of his departed dog. Dharma, picking up a pen, actually seemed touched. "In memoriam / Buck Dharma," he wrote, adding the band's familiar hook-and-cross logo.
Victor Abascal's day was complete. Maybe his life.