by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 6, 2017 8:42 AM

It’s no secret that Kevin and I are into wine. We have an entire, temperature controlled room in the house devoted to it. Our vacations of choice lately have all been to wine country where we spend days visiting various wineries, tasting and buying more wine for the wine room. It is one of the great passions we share together.

Over a year and a half ago, as one of his Christmas presents, I bought Kevin six Barbera vines. They arrived at the end of March 2016 and he planted them in the small vineyard area he had painstakingly created. In essence, he had built a large planter on the western side of the house. It was about 20 feet or so long, and 8 feet or so wide. The ground on which it’s built slopes down the hill, so to level it and shore it up, he built gabion walls using the plentiful amounts of rock we have on the property. He had a dump truck filled with soil drop its load at the edge. The two of us then shoveled and smoothed and generally readied the area for the big day. The day of planting.

He dug holes near where he’d plant each vine and placed a PVC pipe inside so that he could water from the top and ensure that the vines would receive water from below as well as above. Once the vines arrived, he followed the instructions which consisted of soaking them in water for three days and then placing them in the ground. Let the watering and growing commence. 

Except they didn’t grow. They died. So we ordered more vines which came and we soaked and planted and watered. They, too, died. He was frustrated and a little deflated. His great dream of starting his own vineyard was turning into a nightmare. By the third set of vines, which also died, he was done. It obviously wasn’t going to work. Nothing was going to grow in this climate even in the special soil he had delivered. That soil is now what he thinks was the culprit. It was too rich, too organic. Vines like to work for their nutrients and their water. We didn’t make them work hard enough.

Our little vineyard began to grow weeds from neglect. The vines, long withered and dead, were absconded by deer and rabbits and javelina. All that remains are the PVC pipes and the gabion walls, and Kevin’s disappointment.

Several months ago we were at Mesquite Valley Growers on East Speedway. It’s one of the most prolific nurseries I’ve ever visited, offering virtually any type of plant a person could want. We were there to look at getting some flowering plants for the big pots we have on our deck. We wanted some color, a bit of a subtle flair to offset the desert color of the house. Naturally, we also needed something that could take the intense heat of the summer. We found orange solar flares and bought them. While we were there we also noticed grape vines. I suggested we buy them. If we couldn’t grow them in the desert soil, maybe we could grow them in pots on the deck.

Kevin said no. I was persistent. Eventually he relented. We bought two Cabernet Sauvignon vines and planted them, one each in the large pots off on the deck off of his office. I watered them, I looked after them. And they lost all of their leaves, all of the tiny grape clusters they had sported when we bought them home. He didn’t say it but I know he was thinking: “I told you so.” 

But I wouldn’t give up. I kept tending to them, watering them in the morning, talking nice to them, urging them to grow. And sure enough, one day, I noticed a new leaf starting to spring from the gnarly vine of one. I felt cautiously optimistic. Within a week or so, the other, too, had started to sprout. Within a month, both were green and leafy and fabulous.

So we now have vines that are growing. We don’t expect to have any grapes that we can use for at least two more years. But we’re on our way. The beginning of Michel Vineyards has finally begun. That’s worth celebrating.

In which Lorin discovers her best reason yet to drink wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:26 PM

I was doing a little reading today when I was supposed to be doing a little writing. This happens often when I’m tired. I can spend hours not writing. I can find any number of reasons to continue not writing. I start laundry, I make phone calls, I surf the ‘net. I send out emails that do entail some writing but it’s minimal allowing me to get through them fairly easily, though each one takes me longer than it otherwise would. At 1:30, the doorbell rang. Usually my first thought is: go away. If someone is ringing the doorbell it usually means they want to either sell me something (religion; magazines; girl scout cookies) or want to sell something for me (real estate agents who want me to list my house). Either way, I’m not buying and I’m not selling.

When Maguire was alive, the doorbell used to be cause for not-wanted sales people to run away quickly. Nothing says go away better than an 80 pound dog bounding to the door, feet flying in all directions, ears fully forward, tail straight out, fur standing straight up, seen through the window, barking his fool head off. I used to stand at the top of stairs and laugh as the bell-ringing offender scurried off. Even in his vintage puppy days, he would still amble toward the door, nothing really flying, but ears still fully forward, fur standing somewhat up, barking his deeper, wisdom-filled, get-off-my-lawn bark. People were still intimidated but not always as scared.

Today’s ringing doorbell only brought me to the door. I wasn’t running with limbs flying, though my ears were somewhat alert. My hair wasn’t standing straight up and my tail – well, let’s just leave my tail out of this. Also, no barking. The only reason I even ambled, and I did amble, to the door rather than ignore it entirely was because I needed a break from all of my not-writing, and I knew it was the delivery guy from the California Wine Club. Each month we get a delivery from the club, red wines from many boutique wineries, usually in the state but always from the west. They come right to the door, announced by the doorbell. The previous day, they are announced by an email that says to expect the shipment. This is good because one has to sign when one gets a wine delivery.

I signed my name, took the box, bid the delivery dude adieu, or hasta la vista, and ambled to the kitchen to open it up and see what delectable delights awaited my palette. It was wine from Tobin James of Paso Robles. Since we only get red, we got four bottles of Titan Hills Fiasco, a reserve red wine from 2008. It’s a blend of Syrah (55%), Zinfandel (25%) and Barbera (20%). I have no doubt we’ll be trying it shortly.

Since I needed to get back to my non-writing, I grabbed the newsletter that always accompanies each shipment, and headed upstairs. It’s called Uncorked, and its main story was “It’s a party in your glass at Tobin James Cellars.” I settled back into my desk chair and started flipping through, stopping when I found an article about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Turns out they are numerous. For instance, 1,379 people in an Icelandic study who drank moderately were 32% less likely to get cataracts. In the European Journal of Neurology, Belgian researchers posted their study of 1,431 people with multiple sclerosis and their findings that the ones who enjoyed wine also enjoyed less inflammation.

Wine, according to the University of Spain, can help keep you skinny, or at least “lower the risk of obesity.” It can protect the body against some cancers, due to the phenolic compounds, or antibacterials. It can also reduce the chance of stroke.

But the biggest news I found was this, and I quote: “There are major findings like reduced mortality for moderate drinkers…” If I drink wine my chances of mortality are reduced. Pause for effect.

I won’t die if I drink wine. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what it is.

Honey? Pour me a glass.

The grapes of rath

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 23, 2012 11:18 PM

Some days I have subjects that offer themselves up for posting. Some days, it’s easy. Other days, not so much. And then there are days when a fun play on words or a headline pops into my brain absolutely unannounced and unsolicited and I am left with the need to craft a post around it. With that in mind, dear readers, welcome to today’s post.

Of course, the obvious reference is to the great depression era novel written by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, which is decidedly not cheery and not at all celebratory. It’s been quite some time since I read it (and truth be told, I’m not a huge Steinbeck fan), but if I remember correctly, it was about the struggle between the powerful and the powerless. The Joads, led by Tom Joad, were a poor family driven from their home by drought and the dust bowl and headed to California, the land of sunshine, honey and grapes, at least in the northern part.

Evidently the title has some roots in The Battle Hymm of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, as in “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored....”

Those lyrics reference a passage in Revelation, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression, which seems accurate considering the subject matter of the novel. Here’s the passage: “And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Then there’s more about blood and horses and a thousand and six hundred furlongs, none of which did I like nor understand.

Still, notice the vines and winepress reference. It’s about grapes.

The novel itself uses the phrase at the end of chapter 25 when Steinbeck is writing about the deliberate destruction of food in order for the merchants to keep the price high: “… and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

It’s all very solemn stuff.

But what of the grapes of rath? I wondered if it could have the same cyclical meaning. And is my wont, I decided to do a bit of research. Rath, it seems, is from Middle English, which is not to be confused with Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Rath in its most archaic meaning is used to describe growing, blooming or ripening early in the year or season. I can see how grapes might be part of that process. This was making me believe that the rath in grapes of really does have to do with grapes and not the metaphor of grapes.

I dug a little deeper.

In Irish history, the word rath was used to describe a circular enclosure surrounded by an earthen wall. A winery perhaps? The description goes on to say that the enclosure was often a dwelling and a stronghold in former times.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats, a personal favorite of mine, wrote in The Wanderings of Oisin:  “Much wondering to see upon all hands, of wattles and woodwork made, Your bell-mounted churches, and guardless the sacred cairn and the rath, And a small and a feeble populace stopping with mattock and space, Or weeding or ploughing with faces a-shining with much-toil wet; While in this place and that place, with bodies unglorious, their chieftains stood.”

Bruce Springsteen released an album in 1995 entitled The Ghost of Tom Joad. The title track as well as most of the album sought to draw comparisons between the dust bowl, which drove people like the Joads west, and modern society. It’s also not very cheery, though Springsteen remains another personal favorite of mine because of his storytelling. In my musically uneducated mind, his storytelling is what makes him the star that he is. That and the late Clarence Clemmons. Alas, that’s best saved for another blog post.

So to recap, the grapes of wrath is a struggle for equality. The grapes of rath could be the fruits grown within the confines of an earthen wall. I can’t help but wonder if the grapes of rath were offered instead of the grapes of wrath if we wouldn’t all be much happier.

Something to think about on this quiet afternoon. 

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