Dan Berger, longtime co-host of California Wine Country takes center stage on the show today, with Steve Jaxon and Harry Duke. Harry Duke describes a 32-point sheet that Dan brought, full of stories from his life. Dan ends up telling about several of those stories, in this show and the next one a week later.
In the 1950s his parents won a Pepsodent toothpaste contest by writing 25 words about the brand in clever rhyming couplets. The prize was a lot of money. The family moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1949. Dan attended Fairfax High School where he was in a barbershop quartet that won the LA city championship. While a student at UCLA he sang in the a capella choir and even performed at the Hollywood Bowl. He also sang the Messiah in Amy Semple Macpherson’s temple for several years.
Journalist and Reporter
He became night sports editor at AP and covered track and field for AP at the Munich Olympics in 1972, where he ended up covering the terrorist attack as well. All the other correspondents were off their beats because of a lot of the events were over, but Dan was there.
Dan also covered a fatal plane crash in Samoa and got the story of how one of the few survivors made it out alive. He was working at AP in Los Angeles and told his editor “…if you need anybody, I speak the language.” Later his editor offered to send him there and asked him what language they speak. “English, it’s an American possession,” he replied.
He was a general assignment reporter and sportswriter. He was sent to cover the Patty Hearst kidnapping in San Francisco. When land lines were the only phones, he made sure he was the only reporter who could use the only available phone and he beat the competition by six minutes. Back then, that was an eternity for competitive reporters.
Track & Field, Football, Basketball and Baseball
He also wrote a book about basketball called Basketball, the Sports Playbook, published by Doubleday. They were publishing a series on different sports and the first draft of the book on basketball was a non-starter. The editor asked if Dan could write the book on short notice and he accepted the job. He sat down with his friend Pete Newell, the head coach at Cal, and wrote the book in three weeks.
One time, he was leaving the Dodger clubhouse, he was the only reporter who knew about the retirement of Don Drysdale. Another reporter asked him if there was any news and he simply replied, No. He was not obliged to share the scoop.
After ten years at the AP he took a job writing for the NFL, where he worked on their magazine called “Pro!” All the writers were great journalists but after a year he wanted to get back into real journalism.
The Corked Riesling
His interest in wine came from too many late nights covering sporting events. After games, all the sports writers would gather to go out to dinner and the only food was steak, potatoes and beer. He wanted something different, so they went out for seafood and ordered a bottle of German Riesling. He thought the wine smelled terrible. The waiter agreed it was corked. He said that Dan had a good palette, enough to have a career in wine. After he had been writing about wine for a few years, based in San Diego, he was invited to judge in Healdsburg in 1981. He moved to Sonoma County in 1986.
In 1982 Dan Berger founded the Riverside International Wine Competition. He was tired of the numerical scores on wines that meant nothing. He felt that gold medals from qualified judges meant more. Dan still runs The Dan Berger International Wine Competition, which published its results online going back to 2016.