lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

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.