lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Monday, December 15, 2014

MORE rain (lots of it), a really really really good barbera from boeger, and the annual return of a beer that you'll wish you had in your town

turns out that you should never wish for rain without being specific about how much rain you're talking about. we are, at present, bailing as hard as we can and hoping for a drying-out period. the sacramento river is out of its banks and all local streams and creeks are flooding. here on the hill, we've had more than 8 inches over the past 10 days. thank you, lord, but just a breather, please.

having said that, on to other stuff of importance: wine and beer. a couple of weeks back we wrote about a particularly good sauvignon blanc we'd just had, that being boeger's el dorado sb from the 2013 vintage. the wine is, in our opinion, excellent, and a classic example of what California sauvignon blanc ought to be. we've heard from several of you who have since enjoyed it themselves, and we're happy to say everyone seems to agree that it's a great bargain at $15, give or take. several days after that posting we got a heads-up from greg boeger regarding their el dorado barbera, in particular the gold-medal 2011 version, which I have somehow overlooked. I say somehow because I like good barbera, and usually scout them out pretty conscientiously, but I slipped up on this one. however, even though greg closed by saying that he wasn't sure I'd be able to locate the '11, but assuring me also that the 2012 is every bit as good a wine, I was lucky enough to find a couple of bottles of the '11 model at a local specialty-type deli/food market here in our little city. I bought them both, and I can report that the investment was a sound one (not always the case with me: see citibank). I intend to look for a few more bottles, and to pick up a couple of 2012s as well. the '11 wine is very deeply colored, highly-perfumed (bittersweet chocolate, tar, dried strawberries), and very complex on the palate; surprisingly so, in fact, barbera typically being viewed as a wine to drink fairly early and often. in fact, the wine is still developing, and will almost certainly get even better over the next couple of years. my advice is to try it for yourselves. and consider laying a bottle or two back for awhile; probably a good bet.

and, as long as we're on the subject of beverage alcohol, it's time to say "welcome back" to sierra nevada brewing's celebration ale. for those of you who may not know, celebration is their seasonal fresh-hop ipa, made from fresh-harvested cascade, chinook, and centennial hops every year about this time. it's fruity, citrus-spicy, and straightforward, and there are a lot of folks who look forward to seeing it hit the shelves each year, ourselves included. if you're a beer lover and you haven't tried it, you should.
in closing, and primarily for those of you engaged in the management of private clubs, it has suddenly dawned on me that the industry is very quickly moving in the direction of the corporate model, i.e. "management companies". this trend has certainly been developing at a fairly steady pace over the last 10 -to- 12 years, and for good reason, I believe, but it seems to me to be gaining momentum at a very rapid rate now. as I said, I believe that there is much to recommend the model, particularly in the case of clubs that struggle to maintain membership levels and therefore cash flow. my direct experience with a corporate operator has been brief and limited, but I came away from the experience both times with a substantial level of respect for what I had seen and heard, as well as most of the with whom people I had interacted. landscapes unlimited and ClubCorp are the two companies with which I have direct experience and, though very different in the scope of their operations, as well as the mechanics of how they conduct business, both are certainly class organizations with sound ethics and policies. more on this later. I would also be interested in input from anyone reading this who has direct experience of their own.
that's it for now. stay warm and dry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

more rain (lots of it) on the hill, and boring white wines (it doesn't have to be that way does it?)

we wished for it and we got it: rain and more rain. in fact, it has now been raining pretty much steadily for the past two weeks, with an outlook of more to come. cabin fever is setting in on me, the dogs, and my wife, as well, even though she's not really an outdoorsy person. I think I'm going to take lulu, my red heeler, out for a tramp in the hills regardless; she won't mind being wet, and neither will I.

before that, however, I want to lodge a complaint: I'm really getting tired of all the insipid, clunky, candy-ish, coarse, and generally miserable white wine floating around. most of it is labeled "chardonnay", and I'm certain that almost all of it conforms to present laws regarding minimum content, etc., but that doesn't change the fact that a whole bunch of it is garbage. and make no mistake, there's plenty of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and riesling on the shelves that is every bit as miserable.

the only reason it's there, I have to think, is because someone is buying it. so there are two issues: first, that producers are content to continue pumping out dreck (for dollars, of course), and second, that consumers are willing to settle for second-rate wines when they really could be drinking something of value and interest at the same price point.

I should be clear on one point: I'm not really pointing the finger at the bulk producers who routinely pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of "jug wines" into the market, most sold in 1.5 liter format, or in boxes. these people are, for the most part, presenting their wines as exactly what they are: value-oriented bulk wines for quaffing with a pizza or chicken pot pie, or for sipping on a blanket at the local beach, some of which are consistently pretty sound and good values. rather, I'm talking about the folks who are bombarding the supermarket shelves with labels and bottles that appear to be the product of some marketing genius with an eye for bright-and-shiny but no idea whatsoever about wines or the differences between them. or, on the other hand, maybe he/she knows very well the differences, and so must find ways to sell second-rate stuff. either way, it's a shame, because it doesn't have to be that way.

why do we have to buy a mediocre $18 chardonnay, when an excellent $15 albarino or chenin blanc will serve us better? why is no one touting chenin blanc these days? there are some very good ones around: in California, Chappellet and Dry Creek, to name only two of the very finest, have been producing superb wine from this once-widely-planted varietal for many, many years, and both are fairly easy to locate. pine ridge produces an excellent chenin blanc/viognier blend that is fine an everyday "house" wine as you'll ever want. there are at least a couple of dozen other California examples with good distribution, and distributors have to beg retailers to give them a foot or so of shelf space because almost no one working in the shops or waiting tables in restaurants today knows anything about the grape or the wine it produces. there are also many excellent chenin blancs from south africa, where the grape is well-known and much appreciated, that are being imported these days, and they are beginning to find a toehold here, particularly on the east coast and in the south. try ernie els' example if you find it (it's becoming a popular restaurant item in some markets, florida particulary) or graham beck's "game preserve" chenin, which will be harder to come by but worthwhile if you can. and there are many more, so do yourself a favor and seek them out; abstain from chardonnay for a month, and devote yourself to discovering not only chenin blanc (and don't forget the fine vouvrays of france, the original examples of great chenin blac), but also viognier, and albarino (a grape of Spanish/Portuguese origins), all of which can be found as varietal labellings in most decent wine shops, liquor stores, and supermarkets. you'll discover remarkable wines at reasonable prices (particularly when compared to the prices of chardonnays of comparable quality), and you'll also find that each of these new discoveries points you to another and another. believe me, you'll be glad you did it.
and you can do the same with reds; I've got some complaints to lodge there, as well, but we'll save that for later in the week.
by the way, for those of you who have asked who I am, I've attached a link to my little consultancy's website (if it works). your comments are invited.

Monday, December 1, 2014

problems for olive oil lovers (maybe), and discovering ferndale

thinking back, it turns out that I spent a lot of time indoors this past week, far more than I had intended, due to the fact that it rained every day, some days just a slow drizzle and others like a bucket turned upside down.

with all that time on my hands it shouldn't be surprising that my idle mind wandered. I did a lot of reading and thought about a bunch of stuff, some of it stuff of substance but most just brain ballast. however, at some point during my reading and re-reading of each day's l a times (the world's best newspaper, by the way) I came across an article that had me totally focused, if only for a short time. it was an article by russ parsons in the November 24th edition, in the "daily dish" food section, and it dealt with the rather depressing reports being written and broadcast throughout Europe regarding the quantity (and in many regions, the quality) of the almost-completed 2014 olive harvest. projections are that due to weather conditions virtually every olive-producing country on the continent has produced a crop that is significantly and substantially below normal. compounding the bad news is the opinion that Italy, which at the highest levels without doubt produces the finest table oils in the world, will, with spain, prove to be the hardest-hit. expectations are that the best oils, if available at all, will be depressingly expensive and difficult to get.

this is bad news for all of us who enjoy fine olive oils. because even if, like me, you tend to buy  California oils in preference to those of Europe, simply because they're ours, you have to understand that growers close to home have suffered some of the same weather-wreaked havoc this past year. the ongoing western drought, in particular, has caused California crops to suffer issues of both quantity (down to varying degrees in different locations) and, in some areas, quality. this is according to reports from u c davis, which is good enough for me.
we won't really know what the big picture looks like for several months yet, here or over there, but forewarned is forearmed, as my mama used to say. keep your ears open, and if you have a knowledgeable specialty foods merchant that you favor it probably wouldn't hurt to ask him/her from time to time how the supply lines are looking. you could, if you were so inclined, lay in a two or three month's supply of your favorite oils; probably be a good idea to get some storage tips from said merchant, too, if you decide to go that route, since the best oils are every bit as sensitive to light and temperature as good wines. we'll keep abreast of this situation, as well, and get information posted as it becomes available.

the other thing on my mind right now is my good fortune at discovering the little village of ferndale, caifornia, population 1300 (+-). Ferndale is located just off hwy 101, about 6 or 7 miles west of the slightly larger town of fortuna, and a dozen or so miles south of eureka. (yep, more humboldt county stuff). Ferndale's claim to fame (or one of them; we found a lot to like about it) is its downtown area, and the blocks surrounding it, which is the most amazing and charming little Victorian time warp I can remember seeing. the little town is pretty much exactly the way it looked at the turn of the last century, except with modern cars on the streets. the exteriors of the houses and commercial buildings haven't been bastardized or architecturally corrupted, but seem to have been consciously preserved as they were intended to be when built, and most of the interiors (the ones we saw, at least) appear to be as well. consequently, there is nothing contrived about what you see; it all seems natural.
we had lunch at the Victorian inn, a 100+ year-old structure that pretty well dominates its end of the main street. it's a beautiful old building, seems to be well maintained, and has an excellent little bar where you can sit, drink, people-watch, and enjoy a really good plate of upscale pub-style something. I had a lobster pot pie that was as good as any I've ever had anywhere (and I've had a bunch of them), and my wife had a platter of fish and chips that was about the same. mad river brewing's steelhead ipa, by the way, is really good with lobster pot pie.

okay, that's it for tonight. going to try to attach a picture of mt Shasta I took off our deck last week showing off its first snows of the season. hope its not going to be too small.

more later.