lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Parade of early winter storms brings sweet rain and big snow to Sierra and Cascades; and Husch's evergreen Dry Gewurz just keeps on pleasing...

As I write this, I'm sitting in a long-past-use-by-date old office chair that I inherited from the young woman from whom we purchased our previous home, and which I've dragged across Northern California for almost 20 years because I can't figure out how to get rid of it. I'm also looking out the window of my little home office at a fog-and-mist-shrouded hillside that drops down to a mountain highway approximately a quarter mile below us, and which I presently can barely see between the fog and rain. The CalFire station directly across the highway is invisible now, and the only way I know that it's still there is because they just went through their every-Sunday ritual of testing all their various sirens and other warning/emergency sounds-producers a short while ago. I'm able to say that they all continue to work fine.
Our rains have been pretty constant for the past several weeks, with only an occasional break of a day here and there where we've seen some sunshine and clear views to the north and east, so it was a
pleasant surprise the day before yesterday when we got a sudden respite from the rain and fog, and lo and behold, there were our two big mountains, Lassen to the east and Shasta due north, both completely blanketed in pure, blindingly white snow! Holy smoke! We haven't seen that in two long years, and had almost forgotten how strikingly they appeared in winters past. Pretty cool, and very welcome.
However, the coming of the snow and ice in the high country also means that activities on both mountains shift focus dramatically, and they do it very quickly. Many of the secondary access roads are closed or irregularly maintained, and only those individuals familiar with winter mountain travel should undertake casual or poorly-planned driving trips into those areas where such knowledge is needed. The ski parks and other commercial outdoor recreation sites around Shasta are well maintained and managed, and skiers, boarders, and others who enjoy the alpine lifestyle flock to them each and every day during the season, particularly at weekends, and if you plan to go you should take any opportunity to make reservations and other arrangements in advance. Take a look at the website for a comprehensive view of all that's available in and around the mountain and in the pretty little town of Mt. Shasta City; you'll find all the usual mountain town stuff, including good food, drink, and cozy places to rest.
Most people find significant differences in the feel of our two big Norcal mountains, and I understand that completely. To me, Lassen seems to be a friendlier mountain, if that makes sense. It is substantially less massive, for one thing, and doesn't have quite the fierceness of demeanor that Shasta can present, especially during inclement weather. Too, Lassen is managed and maintained by the National Parks Service, and features excellent camping and recreational facilities, and excellent trail systems, which make it very accessible and usable for the average tourist. Shasta, on the other hand, is not a national park, but is a part of Trinity/Shasta National Forest, and is maintained by the US Forest Service. Facilities are fewer and less family-friendly, and one gets the feeling of being in the real wilderness once away from the roads and parking areas, which isn't necessarily always the case at the more-visited and busier Lassen. I suppose a more concise way of putting it is to say that Shasta is a mountain for mountain people, while Lassen is more a tourist's venue. Both, however, are beautiful places, special in their own ways, and should be visited by anyone travelling Northern California. We'll take closer looks at both in the next several weeks.
Due to weather we've been kept close to home (indoors for the most part) for the last two weeks or so, but yesterday we couldn't take it any longer and had to make a break for it, I gathered up my pal Lulu (see picture above), threw old towels in the back of the car, put on trail shoes, and off we went. Given that weather was still iffy, we elected to make the short drive to Swasey Recreation Area, just a few miles down the road, and the nearest true wilderness to our hill. It appeared that we probably had a couple of hours before more rain moved in, so we struck off from the trailhead and took the Wintu trail eastward and up the side of the rise toward Mule Mountain. The trees, mostly cedar and pine, were still dripping and there was a good deal of water standing in low spots; the streams were running freely, cold and clear, for the first time in almost a year. Lulu, who is an old girl for sure, and who frequently takes 10 minutes or so to work out the kinks and stiffness when she decides to get active, was frisking along like a puppy, and finding interesting scents everywhere she turned. Birds were singing, squawking, and flitting around like mad, and squirrels were hopping through the trees and chattering at Lulu as she raced around their trees and chased them when she found them on the ground. The sun kept peeking through the canopy of trees, but couldn't quite sustain itself, so that we mostly were navigating through shade and shadows; as the afternoon wore on it got colder, and after about an hour and a half we intersected the Meiner Loop and started back to the car. We made the trip back a little quicker than the trip out simply because it's mostly a gentle downhill trek on the Loop to the trailhead. We could occasionally hear the flock of mountain bikers who frequent the area on a regular basis, but only encountered one of them during our entire hike, much to Lulu's delight, since she considers them a blight on her forests even though the great majority of them are good neighbors who treat the trails and their fellow users with respect. At any rate, we got back to the car just as the sun disappeared for the day, and the temperature started to drop as we stood watching a pair of horsewomen load up and prepare to call it a day. Time to go.
Swasey is only one of many trail systems that are scattered across our part of California, all of them, as far as I know, well maintained and used by thousands of outdoor lovers regularly: hikers, trekkers, trail runners, strollers, mountain bikers, horse lovers, and a host of otehrs who simply love being outside in this beautiful place. I recommend that those of you coming to our part of the world who love these same things spend a little time checking out the hundreds (if not thousands) of websites maintained by various interest groups touting them all, so that you can more thoroughly enjoy your time with us.
Finally, a note to you fellow lovers of our Norcal wines. A favorite of mine, but one that too frequently slips my mind, is Husch's Dry Gewurztraminer, the most recent iteration of which is the 2014 Anderson Valley Dry Gewurz, a pretty wine that can easily be loved by pretty much everyone. Husch has been producing fine wines, particularly sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and gewurztraminer, in blessedly rural Mendocino forever, since before even the pot growers discovered the area, and they continue to do so. Thank goodness. Because they make very good wines and sell them at fair prices, a combination of facts that the folks who bring you Workingman's Wines set great store in, as you know. And this model is no different: pale gold color, a fresh, spicy-grapefruity nose, and soft peachy-grapefruity flavors that linger and bring a nice expansive crispness to a finish that is a perfect and perfectly-assembled foil for the richness of holiday and winter foods. And, at $14, give or take a buck, it is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Try it, you'll be very glad you did.
We'll be back very soon...


Friday, December 4, 2015

Snow on Lassen and Shasta, winter rain for the Valley; 2012 Mt. Tehama Shiraz (another base hit); and preparing for El Nino...

Wow! We're finally beginning to see some normal seasonal weather, complete with cold rain, a little sleet, and some snow in the higher elevations of the foothills and mountains, so far mostly at 4,000 feet and above, and it feels most of you know, it's been a while for us here in California, particularly here in the far North Valley. Looking out the window, both to the north and southeast, I can just begin to see that the patchiness of the snow fields on Shasta and Lassen have been smothered over with significant levels of new white stuff, but whether wet or powder is a mystery at present. The ski resorts were hoping this storm would dump enough to get them open and humming after a couple of disastrous seasons, and skiers and boarders all across this part of the state are packing into cars, vans, and SUVs at this very moment and heading out to try their luck. Hope it goes well, folks. Happy snow!

Pleased to say that we (I) finally got focused enough to locate a wine we've been looking forward to trying for some time now, that being the 2012 Shiraz from Mt. Tehama's winery in Manton, near Shingletown. I've been trying for a couple of months to find time to make the relatively short (and pretty) drive from here in Redding to the winery, but still haven't been able to pull it off as of today. I'll make a point of it within the next few weeks, though, and report back here after I've done so; I'm very impressed with the two wines I've tasted to date, those being the 2012 Petite Sirah, reviewed here several months back, and now the Shiraz, and I'm looking forward to meeting the man behind the effort, Alain  Teutschmann. Alain and I have been in fairly regular contact for a while now, and I'm intrigued by what he's accomplished to this point, particularly since I have a fondness and attachment for Rhone-style reds that goes back more than 30 years, having been a long-time friend of Sonoma's Foppiano family, makers of what I condider to consistently be one of the half-dozen best red wine values in Calidfornia, that being their estate Petite Sirah. Don't misunderstand: I'm not ready to put Alain's wines in that category yet, but one day he might find himself there if he keeps doing what he's doing. After all, the Foppianos have been making their wines at their home just outside Healdsburg for more than 100 years, so they have a sizeable head start.

Having said that, let's get to the Shiraz. First, it's important to remember that although they sound very much alike, and share some basic characteristics, particularly their typical deep color and depth of flavor, Petite Sirah and Shiraz (or Syrah) aren't the same and shouldn't be judged by the same yardstick. Nor, for that matter, should Australian Shiraz be directly compared to French Syrah, because the traditional vinification styles differ and the final products, though usually recognizable as brothers and sisters, are different, as most brothers and sisters are. So, having thoroughly muddied the waters, let's proceed. Mt. Tehama's 2012 Shiraz is a very nice wine, and will be even better in the future; I'm sure of that. It is deeply colored, literally purple-black, and richly scented with black fruit notes and some vanilla and allspice. There's still a little heat in the nose, which lingers for the first half hour or so, so it's best to get the wine into the glass to breathe for a bit before you get into it seriously. Decanting would be a good idea if you had the time, but certainly isn't necessary; the wine begins to soften and open in the glass before you know it, but retains the Rhone-ish earthy bite in the finish all the way through the bottle. A bit more bottle age will moderate that particular characteristic.
The dark fruit, particularly a ripe plumminess overlaid with strawberries, is the dominant profile on the palate, and the wine finishes with some oakiness overlaid by the same dark fruit beam that runs through the entire wine. Very nice now, and, as we said, will continue to improve for a while in bottle. I'm not sure which of the two I prefer, or even if I do favor one over the other; they are both very good, and well worth seeking out. The price is right, too. For those of you working on winter wine lists, especially by-the-glass, this is an opportunity to tag a wine that;s right for the seasonal fare your kitchens are going to be producing, and to show your customers/members that you can do something other than follow the herd.

As promised in our last letter, we're about to launch our series on North State tourism attractions; first one (Mt. Lassen and surrounds) will be up this weekend. Also, I hope we can coax Chef Dan into providing something for next week...we had some great feedback on his White Cheddar soup, so I know there are several folks out there waiting...


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Brick's Barbecue...another example of fixing something that wasn't broke; Matson Vineyards' 2012 Chardonnay Trinity County and far Norcal tourism...what's the problem?

I'll admit that I'm not the smartest guy in the world; pretty much anyone who knows me will second that emotion. However, I have had some small degree of success at food and beverage operations of many types and sizes, mostly because I was smart enough to hire good people and stay out of their way most of the time, so I feel that I have some basis for expressing my opinion oh this subject: Why the hell do so many people with perfectly good restaurants/cafes/diners/food trucks, etc, feel compelled to change or dramatically alter their format in some fashion, usually resulting in either abject and swift failure or a slow and lingering death that leaves everyone shaking their heads and mumbling to themselves?  This, to me as an operator, is the absolute height of lunacy. I suppose that it has worked for somebody, somewhere, at some time, but I don't know when or where.

As you have probably guessed, something has happened locally to set me off (again). Specifically, the fact that a perfectly good little barbecue dive that was always busy (at least when I was there, which was frequently) and served up wonderfully tender, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs, great burgers, and addictive fresh-cut fries, has been ruined, and for no apparent reason that I can see. The friendly little joint (maybe 40 seats inside plus an elevated bar area with seating for maybe 10 and a patio that could accommodate 15-20 in the right weather) has been abandoned for a "bigger and better" space on the other side of town left empty when another wanna-be steakhouse went belly-up a few years back; big, big mistake. The place is cavernous, cold, and rarely even semi-busy, at least when I've been there. The old crowd, made up of locals on their way home from a softball or soccer game, bikers passing through on their way to who knows where, hikers and kayakers heading for the mountains, old golfers like me stopping off to pick up dinner-to-go after an afternoon away, and a wide assortment of others just relaxing and enjoying themselves, has pretty much been replaced, but I'm not sure by whom, because I haven't really seen them. The menu, too, is "new and different". sort of like a Chili's, but not as imaginative. Don't know how long they'll last, and it's a shame, but when it goes it won't be a huge loss except to the people depending on it for a check. You'd think folks would learn to leave well enough alone, but they never seem to.

Some good news, now: I just stumbled upon a bottle of Matson Vineyards' 2012 Chardonnay (Trinity County), and the wine is remarkably tasty and well made. And, as a bonus, it actually tastes like chardonnay, which is a big step up from several of the varietal bottlings produced by other wineries in this part of the world over the past decade. Pale gold color with some green tints, a ripe meyer lemon and vanilla nose, and a medium body with fairly forward chardonnay fruit and a firm, slightly warm finish (which will probably soften after a bit of air in the glass) make for a nice pairing with light soups and shrimp dishes, or cold chicken salad with crusty sourdough. Nicely done. We'll be interested to taste some others from this Redding-area winery, and we're wondering why it's taken us so long to find them. A little embarrassing. You can check them out for yourselves at

Final recorded thought for the day: Why is there such a seeming lack of interest in far Northern California tourism? Seems so, anyway. And not only on the part of the tourists and vacationers, themselves, but there also seems to be a real absence of creativity and energy on the part of those who should be promoting it, meaning those who live here and sure as hell need the cash flow. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who recognizes the facts: high unemployment, low per-capita income, ditto education, no real industrial base (not a bad thing in some ways, but a real draw-back for those looking for work), lots of homeless and displaced folks wandering the streets, and on and on. Sure, we draw a fairly significant number of fishermen, kayakers/rafters/tubers/and other assorted water sports enthusiasts on a seasonal basis, or did before the drought really got a stranglehold on us, but not much more as far as I can tell. Why is that? Are we too damn lazy to do the work required? Are we just not smart enough or industrious enough or imaginative or ambitious enough? I think not; in truth, I believe it comes down to a fundamental inferiority complex that is pervasive in our part of paradise. Get a map of our state, then draw line from the Pacific coast just west of Santa Rosa to the east/northeast through Sacramento and proceeding gradually but certainly all the way to Reno, just over the line in Nevada. I firmly believe that everyone north of that line to the Oregon border (except Napa and Sonoma, of course) has a weird little inferiority complex, one based in the mistaken notion that because of the fame, glitter, and glory that has been heaped on all the kinfolk to the south, the San Franciscos and Santa Cruzs and Santa Barbaras and Malibus and Los Angeleses and San Diegos, that they are unworthy of comparison and unable to compete. This, of course, is nonsense, and has to be put right. The far North State has a tremendous heritage, one to be proud of, and is going to have to learn to blow its own horn very soon, before the depression sets too firmly to be broken up. Beginning with our next post we're going to take our own stab at the problem and begin exploring some shiny Norcal jewels; first up, Mt. Lassen and surrounds.

See you very soon...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

California rain: too much, roo fast, and mostly in the wrong places; another really good sauvignon blanc (I know, I know) for poor people like us, and more golf stuff...

Well, we got some of that rain we've been hoping for; however, as usually happens to us California sinners, it didn't happen exactly as we had expected. What we got was another demonstration that even though the rain gods do have a sense of humor, it's a little skewed from center. Southern California, where very few of the state's major reservoirs reside, got hammered: water fell out of the sky in truckloads, then promptly raced down the drought-and fire-denuded hillsides, gullies, arroyos and canyons and blasted through homes, across roadways (burying hundreds of cars on I 5 in a sea of mud), and generally wreaking havoc before making its way to the ocean and disappearing.

Here in Norcal, however, where all of the state's biggest lakes and reservoirs sit virtually bone dry, just waiting for a Big Gulp, we got sprinkles and mist and one three or four minute deluge early Saturday morning that vanished into the parched earth so quickly that if you hadn't been awake to see it happen, you'd have no way of knowing that it did. And, to top it all off, those forecasters who are promising us a powerful El Nino this winter are also now saying that the rains it brings will likely be concentrated in the southern part of the state rather than way up here in the lonely and forsaken north, where we actually have the capacity to store it as water or, in the mountains, as snowpack. Thank you, rain gods, for another good laugh. We can only hope that if you see how hard we're trying to change our ways and be better people maybe you'll give us a break on this and move a few of those storms north of the Bay. . Just sayin'...

 Okay. Moving on. I'm reasonably certain that many of you are getting tired of reading about sauvignon blanc here, and I promise to lighten up after today. Problem is, sb is, like zinfandel, one of the few places to look in today's market for really good wines at honest prices, although I'm also seeing some new activity in petite sirah, tepranillo, pinot noir and gewurztraminer from developing (or not-yet-gentrified) growing areas in California and Oregon, as well as some very good, inexpensive reds from South Africa and Portugal. But, having said all that, I still have to congratulate the folks at SeaGlass for their 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara. Bright, fresh, aromatic, and lots of true sb fruit make for a nice white that's versatile enough to carry off cocktail duty before serving as an excellent accompaniment to everything from roast chicken to seafood gumbo. And, at $9.99 on sale, it's not only reasonable but a steal; I'd buy it up to $13 and feel good about it.

Back to golf for a minute. I ripped the good folks operating golf courses in Maricopa County, Arizona, in my last post for what was reported to be an unconscionable consumption of water in the maintenance and upkeep of those facilities. I'm not backing off that criticism, I want to be clear about that. However, I do want to mitigate what I wrote to a degree. After re-reading Ms. Shaffer's article, and trying to get all the details organized as best I could, I couldn't arrive at what I considered a fair idea of exactly how to interpret what I was seeing. For one thing, the article was written in such a way that it was unclear whether the 80 million gallons/day figure applied strictly to Maricopa County courses or to all those included in the "Phoenix area" which consists, apparently, of two other counties as well as Maricopa. Nor was I able to determine (or find anywhere else I looked) how many courses lie within Maricopa; according to the Arizona Golf Association there are 220 in the "Phoenix area", but exactly what that means, I don't know. Also, how many of that 220 are full 18 hole courses or equivalent? Again, don't know and can't find out without a lot of time and effort, which I don't have right now. One thing is certain: even though Arizona is a golf mecca for many, there ain't 220 regulation 18 hole golf layouts in any three counties, so we can put that aside. And, no natter how you try to explain it, 80 million gallons of water per day is an absurd number, and people need to get a grip on themselves. Maybe it's time for the operators in the area to give some serious thought to taking a more worldly approach to their management practices and begin looking at how many courses in other challenging climatic areas are maintained and presented. Sooner or later we're going to have to find a way to wean our playing population off the "Augusta mentality" that permeates American golf culture, particularly at the private club level. There are a number of designers, owners, managers, and superintendents who understand this and who have been trying to spread the gospel for years, but progress has been verrrrry slow, and resistance remains verrrrrrrry strong,particularly in most affluent clubs. The day of reckoning is approaching, though; water rights holders in California are already beginning to understand that they don't hold the sacred documents they always believed they did, and times are going to get tougher before they get better, if they ever do get better.

Time use our heads and get ahead of the curve, boys and girls. More to come...

By the way for those who have asked for off-site email contact, it's    

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Visit from the relatives, venting some anger at certain of my professional family, a nice sauvignon blanc from Sterling at a really nice price, and the drought...

I'm back, if you missed me (and even if you didn't) after a long-awaited visit from my sister and brother, and their respective spouses, all the way from my (our) home turf in the great state of Texas, which I love dearly. It was good to see them; we don't see much of each other at all these days, mostly weddings and funerals, because of the distance from here to there, so we always want an opportunity to be well-enjoyed by everyone. Unfortunately, due to the significant level of chaos caused by the millions of fires (seems like that many, anyway) burning across Northern California at present, we didn't get to do the wine country tour they had been looking forward to, and I'm sorry for that. I hope we get a chance to do it for them sooner rather than later.

Moving on, I have to take an opportunity to vent some steam toward a handful of my professional brethren, who continue to put the golf industry in the crosshairs of environmentalists and conservationists (and lots of other people, as well) by way of their unconscionable waste of water during times of drought when tens of thousands of Westerners can't get enough water to perform some of life's most basic functions. I have in front of me an article by Brandi Shaffer published several days ago by Club and Resort Business magazine in an online posting, which highlights the fact that the Phoenix area golf community of courses (Maricopa County) were found to have used an average of slightly more than 80 million gallons of water per day in a 2010 US Geological Survey report, which is more than twice as much as the second place water guzzler, Riverside County (California), at least according to this article. I would tend to believe that Ms. Shaffer is accurately reporting the survey's findings, since C&RB has proven reliable in the past. This report is compiled every five years according to the AP so we should see an updated version in the near future, which will, we can hope, reflect a substantial reduction in that number as superintendents, boards, and management companie respond to the worsening crisis caused by the devastating drought impacting the western states.I feel certain that this will be the case, because at heart most professional property managers in the golf industry are responsible individuals who are conservationists at heart. Most of them will, if allowed to do so, and if funds are available, do as many of the things that they know will reduce their property's demand for water as possible and practical. Taking certain areas off the irrigation grid and allowing them to return to native grasses and other vegetation, installing more drought-tolerant turf cultivars, eliminating some "aesthetic" water features, increasing mowing heights in some areas, as well as at least a dozen other initiatives on the part of course owners and managers can have significant positive impacts on water consumption with absolutely no decline in playing conditions (and many times conditions are improved through these actions). I know that there are a lot of people scrutinizing the activities and actions of those of us in the golf industry each and every day, as they should, and articles like the one I've just highlighted only serve to enhance that scrutiny. Therefore, I urge each of my fellow industry professionals to do all possible, and to proselytize relentlessly, to persuade those controlling the purse-strings and making decisions regarding policy and planning, to find new, more, and better ways to manage our resources and be better citizens. Our game has struggled with image in the past, and still does at times, but it's changing as the public becomes more aware of the initiatives and day-to-day efforts of golf facilities to lead and innovate as we work our way through these times and position ourselves for the future, so let's turn up the volume.

On a different subject, I can,t remember the last time I tasted a wine from Sterling Vineyards that really impressed me until recently, when I picked up a bottle of their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley.This is really tasty stuff, especially at the price ($14.95 here in Norcal, which puts it squarely in the "workingman's wine" category that we love so much ($25-28 max); problem is, it may be drying up as I'm not sure how close they may be to a vintage change. So I urge you to get in touch with your Sterling wholesaler if you're an F&B type, or just hike on down to your friendly local wine merchant's place of business if you're simply a wine lover, and pick up a bottle or two before it disappears. Bright color, a mature citrus-and- wet stones nose, and lush, firm fruit that is typical Napa-ish in character, with Meyer lemon and a long persistent finish that is perfect with chicken any way you want it, but seems particularly suited to a curry dish.Try it, you'll like it...and take care not to overchill it...

The drought marches on. although most people continue to do what they can to be responsible and continue to reduce their usage. More next time...

By the way for those of you who jumped on Chef Dan's wonderful white cheddar meal-in-a-bowl soup a couple of weeks ago, we'll see if we can't persuade him to do another contribution in the next letter.



Monday, September 14, 2015

Chef Dan comes through, the new monster fire in Napa and Lake, and a box wine for zin lovers who know the difference (honest)...

Okay, as promised (or semi-promised, at least) here's a recipe to be copied, used, and cherished forever, at least by those of you who love and understand great soups. I warn you up front, however: this is not your grandma's gentle little creamy kinda-cheesy concoction that you remember from your sniffly-nosed childhood wintry stay-home-sick days that made you feel all warm and cozy. Nope, this is a rich, weighty, almost-a-full-meal-in-a-bowl version of an old-style Canadian rancher's soup that we fussed over for a number of days before we felt we had it right, and I still marvel at the level of perceptiveness that Dan Gilbert brought to this process: he was able to clearly understand how he needed to approach and solve the problem just by listening to me explain as best I could how I wanted it to taste and how it needed to work with the wines being featured on that specific night. It was perfect in the end, and was probably the most talked-about and discussed item on the menu, which was impressive. So, here you go, compliments of Chef Dan Gilbert...

                                    Black Diamond Aged White Cheddar Soup          

                                                         (serves 8)

1 leek, duced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 1/2 cups sauvignon blanc (a medium-weight wine with some grassiness is desirable)
1/2 gal rich chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of cayenne (optional, but preferred)
pinch of kosher salt and white pepper
16 oz grated Black Diamond Canadian White Cheddar
Roux (4 oz butter, 4 oz flour)


Saute leeks and celery in canola oil for 3 - 4 minutes, add sauvignon blanc and cayenne pepper and reduce by half, add chicken stock and heavy cream, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes; add a pinch of kosher salt and white pepper and ehisk in half the roux (soup will become creammy and smooth); you may add more roux if needed. Whisk in shredded lack Diamond cheddar, making sure all the cheese melts and binds together (consistency should be a light to medium thickness and silky); strain with fine mesh strainer.

Return to low heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently; if soup seems to be too thick, it may be thinned with chicken stock or sauvignon blanc; soup is ready to serve. Garnish with a whole wheat crostini. Serve with a medium-to-full sauvignon blanc albarino, or chardonnay

Those of you who are working on new fall and winter menus will want to look closely at this one...

Unhappily, Mr Fire is back among us and is currently kicking butt across wide swaths of wine country.including Napa (again), Lake (again), and Amador counties. The Valley fire (Napa) erupted late Saturday evening and has burned approximately 95 square miles as of this morning's CalFire report; it has already destroyed the little town of Middletown just north of Calistoga, and has burned more than 400 structures. CalFire is calling it a monster and Governor Jerry has declared Napa and Lake counties disaster areas again. Seems that Calistoga and Kelseyville have been designated as regional shelter centers for the hundreds of families that have been evacuated, and normal activities are in turmoil. No one can say what the impact of these fires will be on this years' winegrape harvest, but word is that a number of growers and wineries are struggling to deal with the labor crisis caused by the absence of workers who are looking after their families and property that may be in harm's way or serving as volunteer firefighters. How long this new disaster is going to be with us is far from certain; as of this morning CalFire says it's at 5% containment, but the winds are up and it keeps jumping their lines. As for the Butte fire (Amador), it appears to be almost as nasty as the Valley; one saving grace, I suppose, is that it's burning in an area that's less heavily populated (and tourist-travelled), but it doesn't appear to be any closer to containment and could do any number of things before it's all over. We wish the best for our many friends in the Napa area, and hope everyone stays safe and well...

A happy note to close this letter: we just picked up a copy of Bota Box's latest offering of their "Old Vine" Zinfandel ($18.95 for the 3l box), which is the 2013 vintage; not only is this a good, well-made red wine, which is frequently all you can hope for from a bulk package with a varietal label, but this one actually tastes like a pretty decent zin! Rich fruit, good color and balance, and a berryish finish that is old-time California through and through. It's worth your while if you like having a tasty red on hand that can be gulped down with burgers and pizza without feeling the guilt associated with uncorking a $25 or $30 bottle for your unruly friends to disrespect.

I think that's it for now, but more very soon...


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wine country and the drought, the (rapidly) changing face of residential landscaping in the West, and the coming of the El Nino monster...

Drought + hottest  summer on record + fire  ...what do you get? EARLY HARVEST!!!

So, pretty much everybody who grows wine grapes in California is now up to his or her butt in harvest, weeks and weeks early, due to the effects on vinifera of little water and a whole lot of prolonged heat. It's going to be very interesting, and a little nerve-rattling, to see what the overall quality of this vintage will be, because if, as many scientists presently believe, this growing season is a precursor of what climate change (yes, deniers, it's real, regardless of what Bush and Cheney told you) is likely to make commonplace, then we need to take note and begin learning how to deal with it as it will be. This 2015 harvest's final judgment is, of course, still a mystery to us all, even though most grapes destined to become sparkling wines are safely in,picking in Napa having begun as early as July22 (Mumm, I think) as are many of the aromatic varieties such as sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, albarino, viognier, etc., harvesting having begun during the first week of August. We will be spending some time in both Napa and Sonoma later this month, as well as the Shenandoah area, so will get a good look and feel for what to expect overall from some folks who are knee-deep in it, and will bring that back to you.

The pall of wood smoke that has been hanging over our end of the valley for the past month or so has been pushed to the east (temporarily, at least) by winds off the Pacific during the last week, bringing cooler temperatures (80s and 90s instead of 100 - 113) but no moisture, at least none that made it over the Coast Range. Many of us are now coming to the realization that lawns and gardens are the least of our worries: they're done. Now we're coming to understand that our trees are entering crisis territory, as well, and we're losing sleep over how to deal with that set of problems. We have several cherished trees on our property, most significantly a 60-foot beauty of a western sugarcone pine that shades the front of our house, and a hundred-year-old valley oak that anchors a big piece of our hillside between the house and the road. We have determined that we will do all possible to ensure that these two trees, in particular, survive this drought: we, like many of our neighbors, have for the past several months been re-purposing and re-using every possible drop of water that runs through our piping: dishwater, laundry water (when possible), even "stale" dog and cat water. We have taken landscape that had been irrigated for decades out of the loops, even to the point of allowing a space I had hand-graded and seeded to fine fescue with the intent of creating a backyard practice putting green go back to dirt and rock, all for the purpose of conserving additional water for our treasured trees. So each and every day we gingerly carry plastic tubs and buckets of murky dishwater or water gathered from other purposes, like washing windows, out to our trees and carefully pour it along their driplines in the hope that these extra few hundred gallons each month will help them weather this nasty experience. We'll see, I suppose, if we live long enough.    

 It's truly a fascinating new world here in the West: almost anywhere you go, whether it's the grocery, a gas station, the pharmacy, a bookstore, or standing on the practice tee at your local (dusty) muny, the conversations overheard will almost invariably turn to the drought and its challenges within a short time. You can bet money on it. People are attacking their particular concerns in different ways, and it's interesting to note that the folks who seem to be most actively engaged are the very ones you might expect to resist change: bless my soul, Jimmy, it's older Californians who are stepping up to the plate in droves...ripping out water-sucking lawns in favor of New Mexico/Arizona-style seriscapes or at the very least replacing thirsty turfgrass cultivars and ornamentals with more drought-tolerant varieties, and replacing outdated irrigation technologies with state-of-the-art systems pioneered by the golf industry. This is heartening stuff, as is much (though not all) of the data coming from Governor Jerry's office each month regarding how we performed during the preceding month in relation to the target reduction rates we've been given, which is generally pretty good. However, there are still pockets of resistors, mostly located in some of our more affluent areas (surprise!!!) who haven't yet gotten on the team, but they will very soon now that the heat is about to be turned up on their sorry asses...more soon on that.

The weather geniuses scattered around the world's brain tanks are still saying that the indicators are all still in place for the successful development of a powerful El Nino in the coming months, and that we here in California are likely in for a very wet winter (though it will not reach drought-buster proportions). This news is quite popular here in our little corner of the West, as you might expect. However, we've heard this song before, so no one is passing out the pointy party hats yet; we'll see.

In closing, a note to my good friend and former chef (twice, in fact), Dan Gilbert, who is presently living and working in beautiful Santa Cruz: Dan, I was thinking of that cream of Canadian cheddar (I think we used Black Diamond) soup that you created for one of our vintner's dinner menus at Del Paso a number of years back. That is one of the most strikingly-flavored culinary creations I can ever recall, and is one of the few dishes that some people still comment on from time to time. If you'll pass along the recipe we'll publish it here for the benefit of the F&B types (and anyone else who cares to try it) who check in from time to time. Let me know...

That's all for now...    

Monday, August 17, 2015

California burning, but getting better (we think), foreign readers, Boeger 2012 Barbera is perfect, and Mt. Shasta as home base to Lemurian survivors (?)...

Yep. fires are pretty much everywhere you turn; so many, in fact, that the no-good environment-destroying asshole illegal marijuana cultivators can hardly breathe up there in the national forests while they're defiling our countryside, but what the hell,they've got to make a living, too. Right?

But, putting them aside, we are still on fire pretty much all over our state, but most particularly here in the far north end of the valley. Poor Trinity County is catching the most hell at present, with more than 40 individual wildfires (most caused by dry lightning in the mountains) burning, most of which are now classed as elements of fire complexes. The Fork Complex. located due west of us +- 45 miles near the mountain community of Hayfork, is burning slightly more than 34.000 acres now and is still only 55% contained after a month; the Route and South complexes, near the little town of Hyampom, together total 49,000 acres and are both at roughly 35% containment; the River Complex, in far western Trinity wilderness, is now burning 41,000 acres, having grown another 2,280 acres overnight, and is still only 18% contained, according to CalFire. These are most critical to us here in Shasta County because they're nearest, but they're only the tip of the proverbial iceberg: all-in we've got more than 145,000 acres burning here in the North State at present, while our friends and neighbors to the south, southwest, and east of us are battling their own blazes, and north of us in Oregon they've got a few of their own to deal with. Happy summer! Merry drought! At any rate, the several thousand firefighters in our part of the state are doing a hell of a job keeping the monsters away from homes and people, with fewer than 200 structures having burned so far, at least here in the north, and no more than a dozen or so injuries thus far. Unfortunately, 2 firefighters have died to date. They need a break or two, but there's nothing on the scope at present.

While we're on the subject of fires and firefighters, I do want to take a minute to vent my total disgust with the new breed of morons we're suddenly seeing flying their pieces-of-crap drones into fire areas and subsequently causing the grounding of helicopters and air tankers working in support of the ground crews due to the very real hazard these shit-for-brains clowns pose to the safety of the flight crews. Already this season, and I only know about California, there have been more than 20 drones spotted by air crews flying fire support, some within fewer than 100 feet in proximity, causing at least 8 groundings of badly-needed tankers and helicopters while they wait for the bozos to fly out of the area. This is criminal activity, plain and simple, and has got to be stopped and people sent to jail; the problem is locating these ignorant asses and apprehending them, since they are likely miles away from the scene of their crimes, and difficult to identify. The public is beginning to respond to the appeals of help from law enforcement agencies, and several have been turned in and arrested. Hopefully this trend will continue and expand before someone is killed when a $150 piece of junk flies into a tail rotor or goes through a windshield. Just sayin'...

Okay, moving a matter of curiosity, we would be interested to know what it is in these posts that has attracted the attention of our several foreign readers. We know that we have more or less regular viewers in the UK, France, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Portugal, Israel, and Italy, as well as an occasional visitor from the Philippines, and we're very pleased about it. But we also are very interested in knowing more about you, so if you would reply and tell us something about yourselves we would be grateful.

I know that I've spent a considerable amount of time during the last several months commenting on wines from both Boeger and New Clairvaux wineries, but you should know that that's probably not going to stop soon. The reason is simple: almost across the board both produce wines that are consistently excellent and very fairly priced. What more do you want? Especially those of you working to put together interesting by-the-glass programs for members and guests who are again beginning to pay closer attention to the right-hand side of the list. And, to that subject, just another word to the wise: The Boeger 2012 Barbera, which we've had our fair share of this year, was just tasted again (not tasted, actually, but enthusiastically drunk down with a fat, greasy Turri grass-fed beef hamburger) and is at present absolutely perfectly ready, at least to my palate. I don't know if  Greg Boeger agrees with me, and it doesn't really matter since it's such a subjective thing to debate, but he was right when he nudged me toward the 2012 as the 2011 began to disappear. This  has got to be one of the half-dozen best red wine buys on the shelves today, and I recommend that you get some for both yourself and your wine lists before it disappears like the '11. Greg, how's '13? Strangely, that's always been a lucky number for me...

And so, to close another one out, just a short note re Mt. Shasta and its connection to Lemuria. (Hard to believe that I'm even writing this, actually.) As I wrote a few weeks back, I'velost my mind and have begun searching around various sources for published material regarding the various legends and tales linking the mountain with the strange and the unusual, especially its supposed role as refuge of one of the last known colonies of survivors of Lemuria. I found several books listed with various ebay o/p and rare booksellers and, after doing a very modest amount of research, bought a couple. One of those, "Lemuria - The Lost Continent of the Pacific", published by the Rosicrucian Press in the 1930s (I know, puzzled the hell out of me, too) and subtitled "The Mystery People of Mt. Shasta" is quite an adventure. The author, one Wishar S. Cerve, which turns out to be a pseudonym for the anthropologist H. Spencer Lewis, tells a good tale, and makes a great number of wild (and unsupported) claims in presenting his case, such as it is. And, apparently, there is a fairly large number of believers scattered around the world, some of whom continue to present their position online on a persistent basis. It's an interesting phenomenon. I'll re-read Wishar's book when I get the time.

Okay, that's it for now...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Images (maybe) of China fire near Happy Valley...

These are from the Redding Record Searchlight;s staff. China fire is pretty much contained at present, which is timely because it has allowed many of these firecrews to move to the Trinity fires which now are burning better than 57,000 acres about 60 or so miles up the road. I think these are all CalFire people.

I'll try to get some images from the Rocky fire up later today; it has turned into a monster that is now creating its own weather system and doing pretty much what it wants to do. For anyone really interested in excellent fire photo coverage, I recommend you go to the LA Times' site and check out the portfolio their staff photographer Genaro Molina has put together in the past week of the Rocky fire and the folks fighting it, as well as some of those who have been driven out of their homes. Pretty great work.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Trinity fires double in area overnight, more dry lightning in forecast, and drought closes one of America;s great golf courses...

Okay, forget everything I told you yesterday concerning fire acreage in the Trinity Alps area; all those fires doubled in size overnight due to the tinderbox conditions and the fact that many of the individual fires are so remote that fire crews can't reach them at all,meaning that helicopters and air tankers are the sole means of fighting their spread. Several of the fires burning in the Hayfork/Hyampom areas have merged, creating new complexes that require complete re-evaluations of the firefighters' tactics and strategies. And, to top it all off, the Rocky fire, in Lake County, has turned into a true monster well over 40,000 acres all on its own, and is still nowhere near contained. It will likely be much larger by this time tomorrow. Not sure how many structures have burned to date, but here in the far North State the number of homes that have gone up is somewhere near 50 at present. I saw my first out-of-state commercial firefighting vehicles this afternoon, heading west on Hwy 299 toward the Trinity fires, probably Hayfork, a company called "Firestormers" with Oregon plates on their trucks. Not a good sign.

I just learned that Stevinson Ranch Golf Club closed its gates a couple of weeks ago due to a lack of irrigation water. The Stevinson family, almond farmers in the Turlock area for several generations, who built the course in the '90s with the assistance of the late architect John Harbottle, felt it was no longer a viable business model given the expense of acquiring water, and that they were far better off refocusing on their core farming. Don't know if there's any chance it will be brought back to life at some pint in the future, should the drought ever break, but I, along with thousands of others, truly hope that could happen. The course was a perennial presence on every "Best of..." American golf facilities listing almost from the day it opened, and the resort was first class, as well. We'll miss it.

Good night, and more soon...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Golf in the West deals with the drought, Norcal on fire, and Cooper Vineyards' superb 2012 Primitivo

As with most crises, the drought is bringing out the best and the worst in folks, including those of us who are the stewards of golf in the West. I'm pleased to say that, so far as I have seen thus far, golf is conducting itself pretty well, with very few embarrassments having come to the surface as of yet.
According to the National Golf Foundation, whose numbers and data I've always found reliable, there are approximately 15,500 golf courses in the US; of those, approximately 900 of them reside in California. That sounds like a bunch of golf holes, and it is; when you start talking about water usage, however, the data can be staggering to the uninitiated.

In at least one previous post I began looking at the potential ramifications for golf that Governor Jerry's conservation mandate might bring, and noted that even though the golf industry has been at the leading edge of the issue for a number of years, particularly the USGA's Green Section, golf courses by their very nature are going to require a lot of water, no matter how hard they try or what they do. I also pointed out that a number of courses, both private and public, had taken steps to reduce their impact on demand for potable water, taking tens of thousands of acres of land off the irrigation grids, carefully fine-tuning and better-managing their irrigation systems, converting to the use of recycled (gray) water for irrigation purposes, and replacing thirsty turf cultivars with drought-tolerant varieties that can thrive under more extreme conditions. Most superintendents are conservationists by nature, and work hard to be good stewards of the land in their care while still providing high quality playing conditions, which is the final and most critical factor by which their job performance will be judged by the folks who decide whether or not they get to keep those jobs.

All that being said, the fact is that every one of those golf courses, all 900 of them, require a lot of water nearly each and every day. It is not unusual, particularly during spring and summer, for the average 18 hole course with, say, 80- 100 acres under irrigation, to pump 800,000 - 1,000,000 gallons a day, Some a little less, but some significantly more, depending on location, cultivars being managed, and a host of other factors. So, needless to say, they get a lot of scrutiny from neighbors and assorted activists and other interested parties, and they know and understand why.

Judging by the information we're seeing in print from reputable sources thus far it seems that the industry as a whole is trying very hard to comply with the Governor's directives. Some more than others, of course. My personal experience, playing a number of different courses here in the North State, is that of seeing a great deal of dry, dusty, browned-out areas (especially practice areas and large tracts of rough) that were green and vigorous just a year ago; tees and greens, of course, have to be maintained at all costs, but almost everything else seems to be under the microscope at this point. We'll see how things develop as the drought deepens. The upside is that we're beginning to hear rumblings from weather services that we may be seeing a stronger-than-originally-believed El Nino system building, and that a very wet winter could be in our future. Let's hope.

As of today fires are burning all across Northern California: here close to home, in Shasta, Trinity, Lake, Humboldt, and Napa counties in particular, there are more than 70,000 acres in flames at this moment, distributed among some 90 separate fires and fire complexes, give or take. The Rocky fire, in Lake County, accounts for approximately 22,000 of those acres, and as of right now is only 15% contained; the China complex, comprised of the Happy and China fires, in the Shasta County Happy Valley community and its surrounds, has been brought under control, but wreaked significant havoc on the area just to the south and west of us; in Trinity County the mountain communities of Hayfork, Hyampom. Denny, and several smaller towns were being evacuated this afternoon as the Rail and Barker fires burned around them (totaling 1700 acres give or take), and the River, Fork, and Mad River complexes burned above and below those infernos, with no sign of containment. The Wragg fire, near Lake Berryessa in Napa County, is still burning, as well, and was at 8,000 acres +- the last time we checked, but was at 90% containment at the time. More thunderstorms carrying dry lightning are expected tonight and tomorrow in the mountains, so who knows what happens next? What we do know is that resources are stretched about as thin as they can go: CalFire, BLM/Forestry Service, county and local fire departments, and local volunteer fire departments are all fully mobilized, and have been for almost two full weeks, 24/7. Governor Jerry has called out the National Guard to provide additional manpower, but their usefulness, while appreciated, will be limited due to the lack of training specific to the problem. Forest Service has lost one firefighter so far. We just need a break: some moisture (rain, in particular) is critical, as is the need for folks to use their heads when outdoors in fire-prone surroundings. Bottom line, though, is thanks to the firefighters, one and all, for what you're doing, and may the Lord watch over all of you.

To close on a happier note, I wanted to give you all a heads-up regarding Cooper Vineyards' 2012 Primitivo Tesoro, Estate Bottled, Amador County. I was  touted on this wine by the proprietor of The Wine Spot, a friendly little wine bar in the old downtown area of Eureka we discovered on our last trip, and where we spent several hours tasting and just listening to locals gossip on a slow afternoon. The woman behind the bar turned out to be the daughter of the owners, and a character of the first magnitude. We spent a significant amount of time fascinated by her reminiscences of her days as a timber driver for a logging company (I swear), as well as tasting a few of her recommendations, this Primitivo among them, and I will always be grateful for that. The wine is a classic example of the varietal (which is rarely seen, even here in wine country): deeply crimson-colored. with a rich and focused bouquet of ripe blue-and blackberries, tar, and citrus peel, it literally explodes out of the glass; very rich and rounded fruit flavors almost attack the palate, with strawberries, dried blueberries, sage, ginger, and vanilla coming and going as it settles in your mouth. The finish is very long, and very pleasant, and you're not happy when the bottle is done, unless you happen to have another, which I don't. I'm not even sure this wine is available except at the winery and to select accounts; I can't find it listed on their website, but I plan to call and inquire (beg) if it is to be had. I paid $40 for the bottle I bought at Wine Spot which seems entirely reasonable now that I no longer have it, and would gladly pay that for a few more. I recommend that those of you interested in esoteric and/or exotic varietals check the Cooper website for your selves; my guess is that given their success with htis wine, there are a number of others well worth trying. I certainly intend to do so.

More soon...

Friday, July 24, 2015

And off we go!!!...hillsiders get our first fire of the year, but lots more where that one came from; back to good ol' Ferndale; what the .... are Lumerians?; and a fond adieu to D. Trump...

Lots of excitement here on the Hill and around the surrounding countryside recently. We got our first taste of fire season last week; a relatively small (about 18 acres) but persistent brush fire broke out just off the Sacramento Rail Trail in a section that parallels the Sacramento River a few miles above the Keswick Dam. The area lies roughly 5 miles or so due east of us, and is clearly visible from our deck, so we had a pretty good look at the ongoing effort to beat the blaze down, which occupied CalFire, Shasta County Fire, and Redding Fire for quite a while. CalFire had at least 2 helicopters dedicated to scooping water out of the river for drops into the fire site, and one agency (not sure if it was CalFire or BLM equipment) had 2 air tankers dropping retardant concurrently. Not sure how many ground troops and engines were involved, but at least one inmate firefighter was injured in the effort,  and the show went on into the night. I know it sounds like overkill for an 18 acre fire, but that;s not the case:due to the ongoing drought the forest fire fuel loads are the worst since records have been kept, and the point of origin was very near a large subdivision that runs almost to the river. If it hadn't been contained early it could have easily wiped out a number of homes and done harm to residents, as well. Our California fire agencies are some of the best in the world, and it seems likely that we'll get our money's worth from them this year. So, for all you morons who bitch, complain, and put up your moronic signs protesting the annual CalFire fee (tax, if you will), just shut the hell up and pay it. Get one less tattoo this year if that's how you finance it, but close your mouth and do it. Thank you.

We had just returned from our latest trip to the coast when the fire occurred, so it was non-stop excitement for a solid week between the two. As always, life got sweeter from the moment we dropped into Trinity Canyon on the drive over until we topped out on Buckhorn Summit on the return, Eureka seemed to be a little more energetic than usual this trip, and Trinidad a little less so, but everything balanced in the end, and all was as it should be. We also made the trip down 101 to Ferndale once more, and spent more time trying to see the town as it's seen by those who call it home than we've done in the past. Time well spent, as it turned out; the little town has quite a history, some of which we'll get into a bit deeper after I've had time to do some more research. Although it can seem to some to be a little macabre, and maybe places better avoided to others, you can often learn a lot about a town or city by studying its cemeteries and graveyards, and Ferndale is one of those. Anyway, we'll get to that in the next week or so.

To change the subject, but maybe only slightly, a quick note regarding my building fascination with Mt. Shasta. Most of my reading so far has been centered on the mountain's place in the human history of Northern California and southern Oregon: the native tribes of the area, white settlement, the logging industry and its havoc, and mountaineering in its various aspects. However, as I've mentioned here in the past, there has always been detritus scattered around in books, newspapers, magazines, and on the net relating to shall we say "out of the ordinary happenings" in the vicinity, specifically UFO sightings, odd lights in the skies over and around the mountain, reports of encounters with strange beings on the mountain, etc. These, of course, have stuck in my mind and fired new interests, even though I never spent any time chasing after them for fairly obvious reasons, at least to me. However, several months ago, while running an Ebay search of the Books section I was surprised when several titles popped up that referenced the Shasta/ Lumerian connection, of which I was totally ignorant, I have to admit, and about which I don't know a whole lot more yet, even though I am now the owner of more than one of those books. I think I had some vague recollection of hearing at some much earlier date (probably the late '60s or early '70s, recalling some of the people with whom I had brief association in those days) references to this mystical/mythical lost continent which existed concurrently with Atlantis, but in the south Pacific. Legend has it that the land was populated by an advanced civilization of beautiful beings, who may have been even more creative and artistic than the Atlanteans. To make a long story short,at some point the continent vanished into the ocean, like its Atlantic counterpart, and the civilization was lost. Turns out, though, that there has been, since at least the late 1800s, a developing theory (at least among Lemuria believers, of which there seems to be a fairly large and clannish number scattered across the world) that survivors of the cataclysm fled to what is now Northern California, and made a new home within the mountain we now know as Mt. Shasta. And, again according to myth and legend, the descendants of those survivors are still there, and thriving inside their mountain home. Occasionally they venture to the surface and interact with people they encounter on the mountain, or nearby, and these encounters are source of the infrequent stories we see published in local newspapers and broadcast on small-market television stations that refer to the Shasta "UFO" sightings and/or encounters with strange folk. So, this opens a new door on the mountain, so to speak, and promises to be a very interesting sidebar to the whole Shasta culture. We'll see.    

To close, I just wanted to say my personal adios to good ol' Donald Trump, who has embarrassed himself, his family, and his country yet again, but this time with such an absence of class and conscience as to offend in one way or another most decent Americans. And, as it happens, the Donald discovered that he was incorrect in stating that the golf world supported him tremendously "because we "all knew he was right"; on the contrary, we didn't all know he was right, nor did we support him, and he has now been sent packing by both the USGA and PGA, and we can all move on.

Coming up...trying to understand what has happened to one of California's most venerable wineries (and one of the wine industry's best old families), Sonoma's Foppianos.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fire season is here, drought gets worse but people (most) are trying hard to cope, the US Senior Open at Del Paso CC, Honig's near-perfect sauvignon blanc ...and more Mt Shasta coming soon

CalFire helicopters are now almost as thick as CHP and Shasta Regional Medical choppers in the local skies, a sure sign that fire season has officially begun. In my opinion, for what it's worth, CalFire has right-of-way at present; marijuana grows  and car crashes (CHP and Shasta Regional)) are problems, true enough, as are stabbings, gunshot wounds, heart attacks and strokes (again, Shasta Regional) but given the fact that the forests are crackling-brown dry and there isn't any water to fight them with, I put the fire threat at the top of the list at present. Therefore, everyone needs to stop whining, pay their CalFire tax assessment, and stay out of the way when they're trying to work.

The drought has become a part of our culture here in California, as is proper, I suppose. All of a sudden everyone's a conservationist (of water, at least), including most of those who were calling real conservationists tree-huggers, or worse, just last year, before the ugly truth of our predicament became so evident that even morons and dumb-asses couldn't cry wolf with a straight face any longer.

I'm pleased to see that most, if not all, of my brethren in the golf management industry are doing their parts. A number of us saw this day coming years ago, even before the advent of this particular drought, and began trying to communicate to our boards and committees the need to begin planning and preparing for the ray when the West's water problems would finally come home to roost. Some listened, but many didn't, and those are the courses and clubs scrambling for their lives today. Oh, well.

Speaking of golf, I'm od'ing for the next few days on coverage of the US Senior Open, being held at Del Paso Country Club, in Sacramento, where I spent a major part of my career, and where we were the management team and series of boards responsible for the total reconstruction of the golf course and renovation of the clubhouse. The project consumed about four years of my life and almost $10 million of the club's money, but saved it from decline and irrelevance, as can clearly be seen from its full membership and financial well-being (at least I assume so) in a miserable climate for the industry in general. I haven't been to the club in several years, but Fox's tv coverage is making it very clear that the golf course has matured beautifully and appears to be superbly conditioned, thanks in large part to the dedication and hard work of Superintendent Mark McKinney. I'm proud of you, Mark, and your crew; just keep doing what you're doing, and congratulations on the Open. Well done.Congratulations, too, to all those past club presidents and board members who had the courage to work with those few of us, meaning staff, architect Kyle Phillips, and the early half-dozen or so Green Committee members who saw the vision, to spend the hundreds of hours required to develop the concept, prepare the presentation, and then persuade the general membership to pony up the funds to make it all happen. Congratulations all!!! It was very difficult, and sometimes unpleasantly contentious, as all politics tend to be, but it had to be done, and so it was. And now DP is again in the national spotlight as it approaches its centennial year; a long, strange trip, indeed.

To close for the day, a heads-up to all the sauvignon blanc lovers who read this letter: I have again been reminded (by selfishly enjoying a bottle all by myself over the course of this afternoon) how consistently fine Honig's wine is, as it ever was and will ever be, I suppose. This most recent vintage of the Napa Valley sb is absolutely superb, and perfectly true to the house style. Color is brilliant green-gold, with a highly perfumed citrusy-mown grassy nose that continues to blossom and expand for a while after opening. On the palate, the usual fruit basket, juicy and fresh, with lots more of the citrus/pineapple/vanilla notes on the palate and in the long, lingering finish. It's as good as any sb I've had in the past 10 years, and far better than most. Do yourselves and your members/customers a big favor and buy it for you summer/fall menus; your staff will love you, too, because they'll be able to sell it without fear in their hearts.

Good night; more very soon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Yep, Farmers' Markets are back in season, preparing for the coast, and a remarkable effort from New Clairvaux...

No question about it, it's springtime in the West. I know that for a bunch of reasons, but the one that has my full attention at the moment is the fact that I've spent the best part of the last three Saturday mornings wandering aimlessly around my little town's farmers' market, just checking out who's back from last year and the year before (pretty much everyone, even though it's still a little early for the folks who farm higher up in the foothills). I'm really happy to say that my friends from Colima's Tamales are already dealing steamy happiness from their tiny booth, even though its location has been moved some 20 or so yards to the south and now butts against an outer wall of City Hall, and is definitely harder to find. The pie lady (For the Love of Pies) is also back, thankfully (bought a small cherry pie last Saturday and letting it age out a bit in the refrigerator), as are the people from the alpaca ranch. Strangely,  I find myself being drawn, slowly but surely, back to their booth each time I'm at the market; the stuff they sell, all kinds of alpaca wool clothing, like socks, scarves and mufflers, caps, and other hokey stuff, just feels like it's reaching out to me more and more every single time,,,it just looks so damned comfortable...

I'm really happy to say that we're in the midst of preparing for our first road trip of 2015, and of course we're headed back to the coast...Trinidad/Arcata/Eureka to be exact. We'll be sleeping/cooking/drinking wine/pondering life's mysteries at our usual spot, the Emerald Forest Lodge most of the time, but there'll still be plenty of opportunity for field trips and checking out local restaurants and dives. There are also several vintage bookstores in Eureka that warrant browsing, as well as fascinating little surrounding towns (like Ferndale and Loleta) that need more exploring. Those of you who love the lore and history of your states (Texas and California in particular) will know, remember and venerate folks like Ray Miller (Texas) and Huell Howser (California), who were certainly the most revered of the modern "populist" travel writers/television personalities in their respective venues (and, at least in the case of Ray Miller, the most historically precise) of the last several decades, and their work has inspired many hundreds more of us to get out and see what we've been gifted. I urge you to join us, if you haven't already.
I also urge those of you Californians (or folks who wish you could be) who haven't seen PBS's broadcasts of Huell Howser's "California Gold" series of road trips around the state to visit their website and buy copies; I know they were offering them for sale not long ago, and probably still are due to the series' huge audience; if so, pay whatever you have to pay, and be happy to have them. You won't be sorry.

Before I go, I want to  acknowledge another very fine example of imaginative (and delicious) winemaking from New Clairvaux and, I assume, Aimee Sunseri, that being their 2014 Nouveau Tempranillo. True enough, it's nouveau as it can be, with the fresh, yeasty-strawberryish nose you expect from nouveau Beaujolais, only spiced in the center with the metallic leathery scent of the tempranillo grape rather than the roundness of gamay. Too, on the palate the wine is crisper and more authoritative, and not as friendly, as its Beaujolais inspiration, and it finishes with a little bite, but it is very enjoyable and could be a good friend to grilled salmon, chicken, and burgers of all description. We recommend it for summer wine lists, especially for those looking for interesting by-the-glass alternatives to the usual boring light reds and coarsely made roses. Give it a light chill and enjoy with your cold chicken salad...

Okay, that's it for now, but we're pretty much recovered from our OR and recuperative adventures now, and ready to get back to it. Thanks for sticking around, and we'll be back soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Adventures in eye surgery, Mt. Shasta north face, and a very nice Norcal gewurztraminer

As a few of you noticed, I've been quiet for a few weeks. This was not, unfortunately, due to a vacation in the south of France (or even the south of California), but instead to my having gone under the knife for surgery to repair damage to the retina of my right eye. I won't bore you with the details, but I'll tell you this: I don't intend to take it up as a hobby. Having said that, I'll also tell you that the surgery experience was, like many in life, a lot less unpleasant than I had expected it to be, thanks to a very good anesthesiologist. In fact, the recovery period is a bigger pain than the actual surgery due to the fact that you spend the first week staring at the floor for half of every hour so that the gas bubble that's in there to keep the retina properly positioned while it heals remains where it's supposed to be. Anyway, all is progressing well thanks to Dr. Rinkoff and everyone at Ashland Community Hospital in Ashland, Oregon, and now it's time to get back to work.

A side note to the travelling back and forth from Norcal to Ashland was the opportunity to get several good looks at the north face of Mt. Shasta, which was the one aspect I had never seen before now. It's a very different look than either the west or south elevations, with a pronounced "volcanic" appearance that is not so evident in the south face, especially. I'm looking forward to spending some time on the north side this summer when we take our semi-annual photo tour of the area; our Shasta gallery is devoid of anything from that side, so we need to fix that.

Bad news from CalFire, but not unexpected. Due to the ongoing (and worsening) drought conditions they are predicting a very bad fire season for the north state; in a report yesterday they said that forest fuel conditions are already at levels not normally seen until late June-early July. As you might expect, different people are reacting in different ways to the new water restrictions: lots of tears and bitching from some of the state's more affluent and/or privileged folks, but for the most part people seem to be committed or resigned to the new reality and are trying hard to comply. It certainly appears that the governor means business on this issue, as do the water authorities, so I'm guessing that we'll begin seeing large penalties levied on abusers very soon, which is what it generally takes to convince everyone to straighten up and do the right thing. We'll see.

Speaking of doing the right thing, the folks at Alpen Cellars, in Trinity County, seem to be doing just that, at least with the first of their wines that I've just tasted, that being their 2013 Trinity Lakes Gewurztraminer. This is a very pretty wine: medium gold color, with a fresh, understated but unmistakably floral/spicy nose that tells you to pay attention. On the palate the wine continues to show subtle gewurz characteristics that linger through to the finish despite their restraint. Overall a well-made wine with true varietal character that will serve equally nicely as a summer cocktail wine or a great wine list item for those of you with sauced chicken dishes, curries, or cold crab and lobster on your menus. At present I know nothing about Alpen Cellars' distribution, but I'll do some research over the weekend and get back to you; I suspect that it's limited and regional, but we'll see; I also intend to taste another couple of their wines over the next few days, so we'll pass that along, as well.

In closing, a heads -up for you all: local farmers' markets are beginning their seasons right now, so get out and support your friendly agriculturists. You'll get better, fresher, healthier foods, meet a lot of cool folks, and probably be a better person for it. It's the American Way.

I'm out for now...

Monday, April 6, 2015

More California water (and the lack of it) rant, and 2012 Martinelli "Bella Vignas"pinot noir...

Turns out that we Californians have hit just about every front page in America this past weekend...everyone's ooohing and aaahing over Governor Jerry's water mandate and speculating as to whether the end has come for the Golden State. Not likely, although there's plenty of pain in our future, both immediate and long-term, I'm afraid, most of it of our own making.

Water, unfortunately, like air, is one of those incredibly important things that most of us never give much thought to unless we can't get enough of it.And that includes the folks who we've elected or hired to run our country for us while we do more important stuff, like watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta and puzzle over Kim Kardashian's latest fascinating doings. Frequently we look up from these important pastimes to discover that the people who were supposed to be watching out for us haven't been; they've been watching Housewives, too. That's where we in California find ourselves today.

Here we are in the middle (?) of a historic drought, and surprise!, we discover that our state's leadership has neglected to plan for such a contingency. True, occasional stabs have been taken at pushing such an agenda through Sacramento's rabbit warren of offices, but nothing much ever got done in the end: partisan politics, graft, and other nonsense usually got in the way of the public good, as will happen.

Having said that, we regular folks haven't done much in the way of conservation, either, at least not many of us, and usually not voluntarily. Until very recently, that is, when a few independent thinkers in various scattered industries began to look around and see dark clouds (not rain clouds, however, the other kind); they began to wonder what might happen if a truly serious drought did come along...what if water truly did become a huge and historic issue, when even the farmers of the Delta and Central Valley couldn't get what they needed (not only to support themselves, but California as an entity, depending as it does to such a great degree on its agriculture for food, revenue, jobs, etc.). What the hell would we do then? How would people in New York get salads?

Guess what...welcome to that day. The upside is that the California common man and woman seem to understand the problem far better than the leadership, and to have the intestinal fortitude to respond in a positive "let's pull together" way. Again, far better than the leadership.

As for industry in general, it seems to be responsive, as well, and willing to do its part. Or at least the reports we're seeing indicate as much. As for me, I can only speak for my own little corner of the world, that being the hospitality/golf industry, which I know fairly well, having spent 30+ years of my life immersed in it..What I can tell you is that the golf industry, rather than being the callous, moronic haven for uncaring rich pleasure-seekers that it is typically represented to be, for the past 20 or so plus years has been a leader, hand-in-hand with some of the world's leading universities, in the research and development of new drought-tolerant turfgrass varieties, many of which you see on a daily basis in street and highway medians, on the lawns of public buildings, in parks, and in hundreds, if not thousands, of other locations that contribute to the beauty and serenity of our daily lives. More on this in a soon-to-follow post, but trust me when I tell you that the game of golf and the millions who play and enjoy it have spent much of their treasure to advance the science of a greener world that requires less water to maintain and support. Self-serving? To a degree, yes, but not purely. We (I include myself in the group) could have done what served our selfish purposes at much less expense had we chosen to do so, but didn't. That's not to say that everyone has been on board: they haven't. Hundreds of clubs and courses have gone their merry ways, spraying water in every direction and doing all in their power to find cheaper ways to acquire it. In the world of private clubs, where many of the worst offenders are to be found, too many lazy boards of directors have been ill-served by their management teams, particularly some superintendents, who are the people being paid to properly manage the properties, and have left until too late the opportunities they had to lead, rather than be led, as will happen now.

Anyway, that's enough ranting for tonight; fair warning, though, there's more to come...

In closing, a quick nod to good old Martinelli in Sonoma County for their 2012 "Bella Vignas" Pinot Noir. This wine has been sitting in my racks for a while now, but I just got around to pulling a cork with a beautiful piece of wild-caught king salmon a day or so ago. Lucky me. Another beauty from this old Sonoma family who, with the Foppianos, Rochiolis, and a very few others represent the last of the pioneer winegrower-makers in the Russian River valley. The Bella Vignas wines are Martinelli's effort at producing an approachable "house style" pinot noir and chardonnay from a blend of grapes from several different vineyard sites; they are relatively inexpensive when compared to the single-vineyard small-production wines that the family has built its reputation on, but still pricey (in the $40-50 range) when measured against our standard for "workingman's wines" of no more than $25-30. Nonetheless, we all deserve a treat now and then, so this is one of mine. Medium-to-deep burgundy color, a quick-to-blossom nose of cola, wet earth, and vanilla, and clean and focused cola, bittersweet chocolate, tar, and cinnamon on the palate make for a pretty wine that's drinking well right now, and is classic Russian River Valley in style. For those of you looking to add a big-name California pinot to your wine list at a price that still leaves folks a little room to breathe, this could be your wine. Not sure what distribution looks like, but it's got to be thin given the production limitations (738 cases according to the winery), so you'll probably need to lay in a couple of cases to protect yourself, if you can get it at all. The winery's website is

I'm out for now; water rant to be continued shortly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Governor Jerry's 25% water use reduction directive and the golf industry...holy smoke, Batman, it's a reality check for us all!!!

Well, I knew it was coming, and that there would be a loud chorus of squeals of alarm accompanying the day, which I can already hear, and so it has: we in the golf industry are at last going to be held accountable by someone for the quality of our stewardship of a great deal of the world's water. Many, many , many tens of millions of gallons of the world's water each and every year, in fact, right here in my own home state of California, and we're only a small piece of the puzzle.

Or at least I'm being led to believe that's the case. More homework needs to be done before I can fully understand what's happening, but it seems that Governor Brown's directive to the citizens of the state to reduce water usage by a full 25% in the face of the devastating drought afflicting us will apply equally to the state's golf courses. On the face of it, fair enough.

And, speaking of fairness, it has to be recognized and acknowledged that many of our country's courses, public and private, have been working diligently for a number of years now, since long before it became fashionable in the politically correct camp to wave their water banners high in the cleaner air we're all enjoying, to reduce water usage through better management of irrigation practices and by replacing their "thirsty" turfgrass cultivars with new plantings of more drought-tolerant types, thus permitting additional reductions in water applications. Those course owners, boards of directors, and the superintendents responsible for implementing and managing those changes, all deserve our respect and thanks. However, not everyone in the industry has seen fit to participate in this initiative, which can, in truth, present financial and political challenges, particularly in the private club sector, that require some courage and leadership to attack, And, as in all other walks of life, not all club executives, board members, or superintendents possess the required qualities.

It is going to be extremely interesting to follow this tiny piece of the water crisis through the twists and turns of the arguments and lawsuits to come. There are many thorny questions that will have to be addressed: the one that comes first to mind, and that will certainly be one of the hottest of the hot buttons, will be that of golf clubs and like facilities that own or lease senior water rights, some going back more than a hundred years. what effect will this have on them? Will they have to face reality, like all the rest of us, or will they get some kind of pass? Think of the stink that issue will generate if the answer turns out to be the wrong one...

Clearly, there's lots to learn yet, and we'll revisit this more than once since, as many of you know, water management has been one of my primary professional concerns for more than 20 years now.

By the way, we'll be violating the "workingman's wine" ceiling once again within the next few days as we jump into a couple of bottles from my latest shipment from one of my favorite wineries in the entire world, Martinelli. Stand by for that...

I'm out...


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Yep, spring has returned to the North State, the Dead at Hofheinz Pavilion '72, the Mule Mountain/Wintu/Meiner's trail complex, the drought, and another beauty from McNab....

I have to admit that the last 30 days have taken some of the edge off global warming, at least temporarily, because the weather in Northern California has been generally SPECTACULAR. A few cloudy, overcast days (like today), sure, but overall just pure robin's egg blue skies, sunshine, and daytime temps ranging from mid-60s to 80. Thank You, Lord, for that. However, having said that, I would like to express my thanks, also, for the downpours, complete with plenty of thunder and lightning, that recently have been banging around my windows and scaring my dogs silly. We need a whole bunch of these days, and sooner rather than later, lest we experience the whole Dust Bowl scenario again, except this time in reverse. No one, not even Steinbeck, if he were still able, wants to deal with it...

Taking that as a jumping off point, let's consider the opportunities that abound here in the North State (if we continue to exist in our present condition) for those like me and thousands more who love the outdoors. Just in my little neighborhood (which does, in fact, consist of several million acres of mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and other such God-granted blessings) there is a multitude of green, isolated, silent and lonely places for a person to go to reflect and examine themselves and their lives. One of those is a spot my dog companion Lulu and I have recently discovered and now haunt weekly, the Mule Mountain/Wintu/Meiner's Loop trail complex in the Swasey Recreation Area a few miles west of Redding, just off highway 299. I haven't yet done the math required to figure out how many miles of trail are actually present within the borders of Swasey, but it's a bunch: my guess, based on my and Lulu's wanderings, is that it probably totals somewhere around 25, maybe as high as 30. And they're beautiful miles, all of them. The trails wind through, over, and around the surrounding foothills, right now green and blooming with scattered meadows of wildflowers and native grasses. There is one primary creek flowing through the complex, running cold and crystal clear at present, and you can expect to see at least two or three folks panning for gold in various sections of its run on any weekend day. This creek crosses the trail system in so many places that I have yet to figure out whether it's all one body of water, or if there might be several smaller tributaries at work. Elevation changes are fairly gentle, with only a few climbs that qualify as "taxing", and there are many places where small meadows and grassy slopes double as picnic areas for those hikers who want to stop and enjoy a peaceful break in their day. All-in-all, the Swasey Area complex is a hidden North State treasure for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a casual day in the hills away from civilization and all its nonsense, but still close enough to the night lights of a moderate-size city to afford some pretty decent restaurants and good sleeping accommodations. Check it out if you're a travelling hiker, mountain biker, trail runner, or if you just like to be outside. If you have trouble finding information, contact me.

Just acquired a cd release of the Grateful Dead's November 1972 show at Hofheinz Pavilion at the University of Houston. I was at that show, and it was probably the best live concert I ever saw. If you're a fan, you can get a copy at the Dead's official website ( Typical great variations on Bertha, Sugar Magnolia, etc, and a once-in-your-lifetime 25-minute takeoff on Playing In The Band. Really good stuff.

More bad news today regarding the drought: the mountain snowpack is now at 5% plus or minus, a significant change from the last dismal report a month or so ago that put it at 19% plus or minus. It certainly appears that things are going to get a lot worse before they improve, and we might as well get ready. The state has already begun implementing serious restrictions on water usage, and the pocketbooks of offenders will be punished to varying degrees of severity depending on location and type of offense, but it's coming sooner rather than later, and it won't be pretty. Fortunately, most people seem to grasp the gravity of our situation, and are reacting accordingly, doing their best to conserve, but there remain a number of slimeballs and clowns who don't believe that the laws applky to them. Peer pressure and "water vigilantes" will rectify most of those issues during the coming summer months, but it's going to be be a brutal year no matter what happens, especially for farmers and ranchers. We'll see what impact it has on agriculture, most particularly the wine industry, as the growing season progresses. Irrigation isn't an issue with many growers, particularly those who "dry farm" vineyards specifically for fine wines, but is a much larger factor for those who farm on a commercial basis for the production of bulk wines and table grapes. The latter are likely to suffer substantial losses. We'll see.

Speaking of wine, we enjoyed another bottle from McNab's latest mailing a day or so ago: the 2012 Cononiah Vineyard Zinfandel. This one barely edges under our price ceiling for "workingman's wine" at $26 from the winery, but it's a very good value at the price. Deep purple-to-black color, a big rustic bouquet of blackberries, wet earth, rose petals, and tar, followed by rich and expansive black fruit on the palate make for a classic Mendocino zin that is reminiscent of some of the old Fetzer zins from their Talmage Ranch, as well as some of John Parducci's wines from the early and mid-'70s. Again, we don't know exactly how well distributed McNab's wines are since the winery hasn't communicated with us to date, but they're worth seeking out, and very good values. They may not be practical for those of you working on wine lists, but perhaps the winery will help us out on this.

I'm out for now...Shasta remains quiet with no UFO activity reported. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Shasta/Lassen Wine Trail? Maybe...A promising zin from Burnsini, an excellent pinotage from McNab Ridge, and still no UFOs to be seen.

As you know, I've spent more and more time chasing after wines in our far end of the Valley recently than I ever expected to, but the fact is that I keep stumbling over really good efforts, some of which are better than average by just about any measure you want to use considering the prices asked. Now I'm wondering exactly what we're supposed to be calling this little pocket of wine country; in the eight years I've lived here I've never heard the geographical area identified specifically in reference to its viti/viniculture. Maybe there's something out there, but if not, perhaps the Shasta/Lassen Wine Trail fits as well as anything else; the two mountains are certainly our area's dominant geological and geographical features, and sort of anchor everything else, including the lakes and rivers. so I think I'll use it as a catch-all unless and until someone can correct me.

Anyway, we're pretty pleased to report that we've just had what may be one of the most promising reds to date, that wine being the 2012 Tehama County Zinfandel from Burnsini Vineyards, in Cottonwood, a small town just a long 2-iron and a pitching wedge south of Redding. This is a good little wine: color is deep purple-red, nose shows some blackberries-and-tar notes that are a bit closed for the first hour or so the wine is open but blossom out pretty quickly after, and the fruit is rustic and spicy, with just a tiny bit too much residual sugary-stuff on the finish at first, but that, too, seems to integrate itself into the wine with air. All-in-all a good effort that speaks well for the future, and a really nice surprise at $12.99 retail. Perfect wine for barbecue and burgers, which just happens to be one of our favorite ways to spend a summer evening, strangely enough...We'll find out more about Burnsini in the near future, as well as taking a look at some other of their wines, and pass it along; in the meantime, however, you can visit their website or call them at 530-347-4765 to learn about distribution or to order wine direct from the winery.

And, before we get off-track, another excellent example of upstate expertise from McNab Ridge, in Hopland: their superb 2012 Pinotage, the single bottle of which we were in possession disappearing quicker than any red wine we've opened in the recent past. Not to say that anyone in our little group embarassed themselves with a display of greed or selfishness, but at least one taster did come very close and will be more closely watched and supervised in the future. Be that as it may, however, the facts are these: the wine is medium-to-dark purple in color, with a nose of wild strawberries, blackberries, vanilla, and a hint of butterscotch that blossoms immediately as the cork is pulled, persisting as long as there's wine left. On the palate there is a load of ripe, lush fruit, with the strawberry-vanilla character of the bouquet carrying through, along with a hint of coconut and dried flowers on the finish. For those working on spring/summer wine lists, this is a gift: it will serve you well in many different situations, from cocktails and light hors d'oeuvres to lighter, gentler summer menu items that leave many red wine lovers slightly confused and desperate when trying to order something suitable and interesting. We recommend it highly. McNab's distribution still seems to be a bit spotty, so I suggest you go to to their website or call them at 707-744-1986 for information or to order direct.

In closing, more bad news for you Shasta UFO fans: still no activity to be seen, at least on our side of the old girl. Can't speak for the folks on the north side, but all seems quiet at present; generally, when anyone anywhere claims a sighting it makes all the news outlets in our part of the state, so chances are that there haven't been any portals opening or such goings-on recently. We'll keep our eyes open and ears to the ground, however, and update you periodically.

I'm out for now...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Remarkable wine from Martinelli, a pretty sauvignon blanc from Roth, a very good Shasta County olive oil, and a note to our Ukraine reader(s)

Rarely do we spend much time talking about wines that don't fit our "working man" parameters, one of the most important being a price ceiling in the $25 range, give or take a buck or two to account for market variations. We're making an exception to that rule today, however, because we have been taken completely off guard by a wine we had the pleasure of enjoying during the past week, a striking zin from Sonoma's Martinelli family winery which absolutely falls beyond the borders,.but we're looking at a really pretty sauvignon blanc from Alexander Valley's Roth Vineyards that lies well inside the fence, as well. First, though, I have to say that I come into this review more than a little guilty of prejudice: as many who read this or know me are aware, I love Martinelli's wines. I can't remember ever having been disappointed or unhappy with anything from them. As for Roth, this is an early encounter for me, and if this wine is representative of what they do then you'll hear more in the future.
First, the zin: Martinelli's 2012 edition of their Vellutini Ranch wine which, at least to my mind, is the one zin they produce that can show striking stylistic variations from vintage to vintage. Always very good, but sometimes very different from what you believe to be the norm. At any rate, the 2012 is a knockout at this particular point in time, being deeply-colored with a lush bouquet of ripe blackberries and violets after about an hour's air, but opening faster if decanted. On the palate it's slick fruit, expansive and ripe, finishing fairly quickly but with blueberries and a little wood. It probably won't improve much beyond the next year or so, but drinks beautifully now and is a great addition to any white cloth wine list, especially one that features venison or boar (Colorado folks, pay attention). The more you think about it, the better it gets, and I hope to buy some more before it's all gone.

Next up Roth's 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which may or may not be the current vintage in release, but is likely representative of what the winery is producing from the grape. We were very impressed, especially at the price, which was a more than reasonable $13 at my local corner specialty market, which is not noted for giving anything away. The wine is crisp and fresh in the nose, with some grapefruit, and shows a good deal of the same just-bottled crisply varietal grassiness on the palate, finishing with a distinct peachy note. All-in-all, for the price, excellent. For you wine-listers, this would be an excellent cocktail or aperitif wine, and the price is right.

We want to take this opportunity, too, to give you all a heads-up regarding a local olive oil producer we've been watching for the last year or so. We were so impressed with the oils when we first discovered them that we weren't sure that the consistency would be there, given that our initial conversation with the owner had us convinced that controls might not be absolute, and that quality might vary from batch to batch. We still don't know whether control is total, but after almost two years of demonstrated consistency of production quality, we're ready to give whole-hearted recommendation to the oils of our neighboring Happy Valley Olive Oil Company. The oils are delicious; clean, peppery, fat, and lush on the palate, and wonderful accompaniments to rustic breads and cheeses. I will learn more and get back to you shortly regarding varietals, locations of the groves, etc. For now, I simply say that they are very good, and you should make an effort to find them, particularly if you're a Norcal reader. Happy Valley is a small rural community just south of Redding, and is one of those little Norcal villages that locals get a funny look on their faces when you ask them what they know about it, but whatever else they're up to out there, these are very good table oils and deserve to be known.They can be reached at 530-246-4104; I don't think there's a website yet, although I was told one was being developed several months back.

Finally, I want to acknowledge that we are aware that we have at least one, and maybe several, readers in Ukraine. We want you to know that we try to understand how difficult your lives must be at present, and we wish you the best of luck and hope that you and yours will remain safe and sound throughout this very difficult time. We would like to hear from you from time to time, if possible, so that we know you're safe and well.

I'm out for now.