Jennifer Rosen had an amazing array of interests. We met her in the early '80s, when she and sister Robin Chotzinoff covered a Chippendale's show: Jenny provided the photos, Robin the words. Robin went on to provide many more words as a longtime staff writer for Westword, but we always followed Jenny's career. Make that careers.
She lasted three weeks as a corporate receptionist in Denver, then went on to work as an Appaloosa rancher, a private detective, a saddle importer, a dressage-show performer and pay-telephone magnate before she embraced the family business of writing. In the 1990s, Jenny achieved world-wide acclaim with her irreverent, informative and often hilarious wine columns, publishing two books, a wine trivia game and weekly entertainment for the 50,000 followers of her www.corkjester.com website. Her numerous awards include the 2005 James Beard Award for Internet Writing on Food, Restaurant, Beverage or Nutrition (read the winning column here).
An early marriage to Chuck Selvy of Parker produced her son, Nick, who spent his childhood on horseback and his teen years acting in Denver theaters, all with his mother's encouragement and support; he'd recently moved to Costa Rica to be with Jenny. Her 1997 marriage to Mike Rosen of KOA radio and the Denver Post ended in divorce, but both Jenny and Mike admitted to lingering affections.
Jenny died December 25, 2011, in Playa Avellanos, Costa Rica, of an apparent drug overdose. Her immediate survivors include her son and her sisters, Marina (who lives in Denver) and Robin (who now lives in Austin -- and sent us these memories of Jenny:
My sister Marina, my nephew Nick and I have been holding an ongoing memorial for Jenny on Facebook. (Check out the In Memory of Jennifer Rosen page.) I have been in a shitty mood since Jenny died -- angry at her, unspeakably furious at her addiction and increasingly confused as I discover more and more things I didn't know about a person I thought I knew better than anyone. But the Facebook funeral is lightening the atmosphere. Loving attention as she did, Jenny would clearly enjoy what people are writing about her. At this point in the party, though, she'd have poured at least one glass of wine, so who are we to mess with tradition? I asked one of her former flames, Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel of Chateau Potelle, to suggest a wine to pair with Jenny's memory. Jean-Noel is bilingual, but also very French, so his suggestions are exuberant and eccentric -- and humble. He didn't suggest any of his own fine wines, and you'll see why:
"I had given Jenny a magnum of Chateau Canon 1959 (her birth year) and a fantastic vintage. She probably still has it! I think the wine should be Italian, a brunello del montalcino. Or California! A Napa Valley Cabernet. Unless it is a malbec from Argentina, because she was a girl of the world. I would not suggest a household name of Napa, because she was just a contrarian."
Makes sense to me.
In spite of reading every word Jenny ever wrote, I remain for the most part a wine ignoramus, which she always considered an honorable position. As an anti-snobbery crusader, she believed wine was about enjoyment, as opposed to one-upsmanship or money. Every year at Passover, she turned the four cups of wine into a hilarious-yet-poetic wine tasting, and once, at Thanksgiving, she ran a sort of wine empowerment seminar for the entire extended family, culminating in a dramatic reading of a rhyming ode I'm almost sure she called "All You Need to Know About Wine in 8 Minutes." We were stunned by her brilliant wit, as well as her Oscar-Wilde-meets-Shotgun-Willie's delivery. She entertained and shocked us. Also, and I don't know about the rest of them, I actually learned something. Years later, I can guess pretty accurately whether the wine in my glass came from Europe or somewhere on my home continent. New World is grass and sharp light and things in bloom. Old world is mold and mulch and mushrooms and things returning to the earth.
It would be nice if there were some kind of heaven for wine writers, but I'm not holding my breath and Jenny found the whole idea offensive, smacking, as it does, of religion. Nevertheless, she liked to travel, and she didn't like to be bored. So what the hell, Jenny. May you taste the Next World, and may it be as fascinating as you were. Salud!
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And now, a taste of Jenny's writing:
Russian Roulette To each his poison
You think your life is complicated? Then step, for a moment, into the shoes of Vladimir Putin.
You're running a country of alcoholics. The Russian people drink over four billion bottles of vodka a year -- enough to fill a cargo train stretching from Moscow to Yakutsk.
To combat this problem, you figure if you raise taxes on booze, not only will your people drink less, but you can use the added revenue to fund anti-binging programs. But something weird happens. Your official distilleries are working at only thirty percent capacity, yet you hear whispers about a mysterious "third shift," i.e., morning and afternoon for the state and night for themselves. After all, a producer nets only about two rubles from a 120-ruble bottle of legally-made vodka. While he could pocket close to sixty making it on the sly.
With close to 40% of vodka production off the books, you're losing an estimated 60 billion rubles a year. At least in the good old soviet times and even before the revolution, the health of your nation was sacrificed for big bucks, not small potatoes.
And your people are still drinking like fish. Which is not surprising, with vodka prices at an all-time low. So the next thing you do is raise official vodka prices. But this leads to another unforseen problem: counterfeits hootch.
Unlike what official distilleries produce in their off-hours, this stuff is deadly. Drinkers have been collapsing with liver damage from Pskov in the north-west to Irkutsk in Siberia, where patients are being turned away from hospitals with full beds.
What exactly is it they're drinking? Well, look, you tax alcohol for human consumption at 135 rubles/liter, while industrial cleaning alcohol gets only a 16 ruble/liter bite. So what goes into those bottles is everything from car-window de-icer to chemical rust remover to disinfectant - all eight times more profitable than selling drinkable alcohol.
This poisoning epidemic is pushing the annual death toll to over 40,000. In a country where average male life expectancy is only 57 years to begin with, this is, shall we say, somewhat inconvenient. One need only look at the recent brew-ha-ha over the KGB agent in Britain, which you had absolutely nothing to do with, by the way. But the real problem here is fraud. Fake products control over 94% of some of your food and drink sectors. To address this problem, you decide to banish all wine from Georgia and Moldova; which currently accounts for about half the wine your people drink. Plus, to get really tough, you issue a new stamp: from now on, it must be applied on Russian soil to any and all liquor sold in your country. And rather than stagger or delay this reform, you decree that all bottles with old stamps be immediately removed to warehouses or destroyed.
But something goes wrong. Apparently not enough stamps are printed, and there's a problem with distribution. You haven't allowed time for imports to get in, get stamped, get shipped and get shelved. Suddenly, your citizens, who have just recently begun acquiring a taste for good, reasonably priced wine from around the world, are faced with bare shelves. What's more, they can't even drown their sorrows in vodka, because even your official vodka producers have been stopped in their tracks by the stamp back-up.
Meanwhile, Georgia and Moldova are not taking the news well. Jeez, you only wanted to protect the health of your people! Well, OK, and those two upstarts had it coming, what with their political shift westward, trying to distance themselves from your influence.
But considering up till recently they've been selling over 80% of their wine to you, they're a little bent out of shape. Their traders are going bankrupt, they complain, and bottles of perfectly good wine are being run over by tractors and destroyed. And now, Moldova has the nerve to threaten to blackball you from the World Trade Organization! So grudgingly, you let their wines back in. Georgia, though, no way! And now you don't have to, because the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization claims nine out of ten Georgian wines sold abroad are counterfeit. Ha! At least you won that one. Even if it does drive your comrades to slugging down bottles of bootleg Windex-ka.
Whew, what a day! Time to kick back and have a drink. Ah! But, you know, your stomach is feeling a little funny and, hang on...is vodka really supposed to be this shade of aqua...?
We're raising a glass to Jenny. Join us.