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...