by Lorin Michel Friday, November 13, 2015 9:40 PM

As it was Friday and as we didn’t do our usual date night last night, we decided to go out this afternoon to spend some quality time, just the two of us. It is, of course, always just the two of us. But during the week we’re working; on the weekend, we’re working on the house. We spend 24 hours a day together, for the most part, and we’re both just fine with that. We’re lucky. We actually enjoy each other’s company. It’s always an adventure.

That’s how we live our lives. As an adventure. Hell, the first movie we saw together was Pulp Fiction. If that’s not an adventure, I don’t know what is. We love to go off on the motorcycle, exploring. For years, we did it without wills, as in Last Will & Testament. Adventurous.

We raised a teenager and got him through some harrowing times. It tested all of our wills and patience. Sometimes the patience waned, but we did it. It was an adventure that we don’t care to repeat and are convinced took years off of our lives. I don’t think either of us would change it, but we certainly wouldn’t wish it upon anyone else. 

We sold our house, packed it up and moved to Tucson where we basically know no one. We were going to build a house. It was an adventure from the beginning, from the debacle of moving on that August 23rd when we got no sleep the night before driving through the desert, to renting a house, signing construction loan papers and embarking on what has been the great adventure of our lives. This house has been frightening and wonderful, horrific and gorgeous. We love it and it still scares the hell out of us. It’s an ongoing adventure, one that we readily embark on, daily. Weekly.

Adventure is defined as “an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger. The term also broadly refers to any enterprise that is potentially fraught with physical, financial or psychological risk, such as a business venture, a love affair, or other major life undertakings.”

Today, we went on a mini-adventure, to a late afternoon showing of the new James Bond film, Spectre. It’s an adventure film of sorts, a spy adventure film. We like Bond. When we got home, there was a box on the front porch. It was a tall box, marked “This End Up.” It wasn’t a big box. It was addressed to both Kevin and I. I was intrigued. We brought it in and opened it.

Inside was a bottle of wine from a favorite client of ours. We worked together years ago, at Sebastian. I remember her as being one of the kindest, most generous people I knew. She offered me the use of one of her cars once, when mine was in the shop. We hardly knew each other at that point. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. Several years ago when I launched my website, she contacted me. We’ve been working together ever since.

Her product is Madflowers body oils. She also has a new salon opening in Malibu called the Glamifornia Style Lounge. We’re busy crafting its story and readying some marketing materials.

She knows we’re wine drinkers. A cousin of hers had discovered L’Aventure in Paso Robles and raved about it. Terah bought us a bottle just because. Just because we’re working together. Just because we’re creating some great marketing strategies. Just because we’re sharing the adventure.

L’Aventure is located in Paso Robles. Its founder and winemaker Stephan Asseo was the 2007 Winemaker of the Year in San Luis Obispo County. He makes Rhone style wines meaning that the types of grapes are different than in other areas. Syrah is the only red grape that makes consistently great wines from regions that grow Rhone grapes. Others grapes include Mourvedre and Grenache. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the L’Aventure wine that Terah sent is a Cote a Cote, a Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah blend. It’s from 2013. We already know it’s fabulous because of what it is and where it’s from. 

Our lives are an adventure. Our client and good friend Terah is on an adventure and has taken us along for the ride. She sent us a L’Aventure wine. L’Aventure means adventure. It’s kismet. It’s real. It’s just one more way we’re all living it out loud together.

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Steve Tyrell

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:15 PM

Many years ago, Kevin and I discovered a place in Westlake Village called The Napa Tavern. They had a sign on the outside that said they did wine tastings and we were always looking for good places to taste wine. Even though we went to the Wineyard nearly every Thursday, we still liked to try to broaden our horizons. After months of saying “we should try that place sometime,” we finally did. It was a cool, rainy Saturday afternoon. We ducked in out of the weather and stood for a moment taking the place in. It was a restaurant as well as a bar. In the back there was a fireplace; outside on the patio, a huge fire pit surrounded by couches. Both were blazing. It wasn’t that cold out but the rain made it raw. The fires, even though both were gas-fueled, provided a warm atmosphere. 

The bar was in the front of the restaurant. There were several tables and then a long bar lined with what appeared to be well stuffed bar stools. Comfortable. We took a table and glanced around some more. On the big screen TVs they were playing Casablanca. The sound was off, but just seeing the familiar faces of Rick, Elsa and Sam made us grin. We immediately loved the place.

They offered tastings where you chose three different wines. You could do predetermined flights or choose from a list of available wines for the allotted three. As red wine drinkers, naturally we chose reds. The flights arrived in individual red wine glasses. Deep and wide, with stems and glass equally long. The presentation was excellent as were the wines. 

As we sipped and watched the rain out the window, and Rick and Elsa on the TV, the fires blazing in the background, we settled into the kind of comfortable space that goes with drinking wine on a Saturday afternoon when the weather is cool and rainy and the world slows in motion. We couldn’t have been more content.

There was music playing. It was mostly standards and obviously from a play list. We’ve both become very big fans of the old standards. There’s something about the clarity of the language and the music, the joy and pain of it. I wonder sometimes if the appreciation of this music happens as you get older. I never cared a wit about standards until I was in my 40s. I liked jazz; always have. But I suddenly developed a love of Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and others. It has lasted.

As we were sitting there in the mellow splendor of red wine on a rainy afternoon, a song came on. It was “This guy’s in love,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune from the 1960s. We thought it was by our friend Billy Vera of Billy Vera & the Beaters fame. It was the same gravelly voice, a lazy lounge singer kind of ease that is non-committal and wondrous all at the same time. We didn’t have Soundhound at the time so we asked the bartender who was also our waiter (it was a slow afternoon) and he pulled out his iPhone, held it up to the speaker, and announced that it was Steve Tyrell.

We had never heard of Steve Tyrell but we quickly became fans. Big fans. He’s the perfect kind of standards singer. His voice has that groovy kind of feel. It’s not great, I wonder sometimes if it’s even good, but it’s mesmerizing. We have since bought a number of CDs as well as downloaded a number of them. I created our own playlist on iTunes, standards all with Mr. Tyrell in heavy rotation, and we listen often. 

We were listening last night. It had rained all day, violently at times, but the evening had become calm and cool. We had the windows open. We poured a glass of wine, and I turned on the iPod. Steve Tyrell came on. Evidently he’s still in love. So are we. And that’s always worth celebrating.

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Kevin and the magic keyboard

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 24, 2014 10:39 PM

I did something incredibly stupid on Sunday night. I spilled wine on my computer keyboard. I’m still cringing and still beating myself up. Kevin had poured me a little bit of Zaca Mesa. We had opened a 2009 Syrah for dinner on Saturday night but we hadn’t finished it. I had it sitting on my desk, to the left of my computer as I was gathering my stuff together to take into the living room. I had worked in my office most of the afternoon but it was time to pretend to have a life.

I reached over to unplug the laptop and I don’t know if the cord was somehow wrapped around the stem of the glass or what. All I know is that the glass tilted to the right, spilling the wine across the keyboard. I panicked. I shouted for Kevin. Grab some towels! I grabbed the glass and righted it, took my hand and swiped it across the keys pushing as much wine off as I could. I raced into the bathroom and grabbed a towel, and ran back into the office where I began soaking up the wine. Kevin, dog bless him, said “pick it up and turn it upside down.” Brilliant. Wine poured out. I couldn’t believe how much. It was maybe a third of a glass to begin with and there was still some in the glass.

Wine ran down my arms and onto my white shirt. It was as if my machine was bleeding. Worse, it was as if I had killed it.

Kevin ran to grab a can of compressed air and started blowing at the keys, dislodging all that hadn’t flowed out of its own accord. I just held it up and shook my head. Stupid. Stupid. S-T-O-O-P-I-D.

When nothing else seemed to be coming out, I moved the machine to the kitchen bar. I did a backup, which I usually do on Monday mornings, just in case everything started wigging out. But miraculously everything seemed to be OK. All of my programs were working. I had dodged a technological bullet.

Except I hadn’t. After about an hour, right after I said “I think maybe we got it all and there’s no indication anything is wrong” the “h” key started to wig. It was small at first. hhhhhhhhh

Then I’d thhhyphe and it would just insert itself randomly. Uh-oh. Not so lucky after all. I sent a note to my Mac guy Dave and he sent a note back. “Turn it upside down, keyboard on a towel. I’ll call you in the morning.” By morning I couldn’t even open a word document without hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I was screwed. I knew it.

Dave called. He tried to help me long distance. He said to use more compressed air, shoving it right under the keys if possible. The h was flipping out, I couldn’t get a new document to open on command (actually command n) and the computer was running at high speed. The internal fans, which usually spin around 2000 rpms on each side, were at 5200 each. Usually when that happens, which is rare, I just put the computer to sleep and it calms down. But it wouldn’t go to sleep. I called several places in town. “We might be able to fix it but you’ll have to leave it for a week.” The undertone was ‘not our fault lady. You were s-t-o-o-p-i-d.’

By lunch time I was beyond frustrated. I was getting nothing done, my machine was out of its mind, I had destroyed it and I was in tears. I’m not a crier but when I get frustrated, I bawl. Kevin called a place that said the first thing they’d do was hook up an external keyboard. If that worked, it was just the keyboard. We figured we could do the same.

We hooked up Kevin’s external keyboard and I got hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. So screwed. Then he said, what about opening the Mac version of notepad, meaning Text Edit. I did. Same thing. Completely screwed.

We unhooked the keyboard, and just because, I tried again. Suddenly and inexplicably it worked. I was typing. I had an “h.” I could open new documents with command n; the computer slept soundly. I was saved, at least for a little while, even though my keys now have a lovely syrah tint within the backlight.

The moral of the story: My husband is a genius even though there is really no earthly reason why it started to work, as he himself pointed out.

Moral part deux: Always keep the wine far away from the keyboard in order to continue typing it out loud.

Happiness is

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 16, 2014 9:28 PM

My dog’s nose, cold and wet and pushing against my hand for a piece of cheese.

A warm day in the desert.


Sometimes snow, when it’s just getting started, and the day turns lushly quiet and peaceful; before the snowplows and the dirty.

Sunsets in the west when there are just a few wispy clouds making the sky catch fire as it descends into the ocean.

The darkness that comes immediately after.

The middle of the night when even the owls have ceased to speak.


Hearing my mom say “hi, honey” as she recognizes my voice on the other end of the phone.

My sister’s laugh.

Listening to Justin talk about lighting and design and history, and realizing that he’s very, very smart; perhaps smarter than his parents.

Remembering my dad’s laugh and the twinkle in his eye when he was being mischievous, making jokes and simply enjoying life.

Watching a great football game when it’s my team winning or a really great football game especially when I don’t care who wins.

A deep, dark, inky syrah that paints the glass in equally lush, inky, transparent tones.

Twice baked potatoes.

Music and especially great jazz that fills the space perfectly, leaving no corner untouched by sound.



Not arithmetic.

Remembering family members past, like my grandmothers, both of them, so different from one another, sharing only a generation and our family; Aunt Beryl who just passed away this past summer, with her whirlwind mind and encyclopedic memory of things both mundane and profound.

Happiness is things that don’t matter and those life-changingly important. It’s a hot cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, a decision to build a house, the loss of someone loved, watching the sunrise and set again; a thunderstorm.

Tonight, it’s having my son home and having him and his girlfriend prepare us dinner while we sit sipping wine. I’m not sure it gets better than this, not on this Sunday in February.

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Red Friday

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 29, 2013 9:29 PM

It is the Friday morning after Thanksgiving and I’m sitting at the eat-at bar in my kitchen, listening to jazz and drinking coffee. The sun is shining and the air is warm, not hot. The windows are open letting in some fresh air and sweeping out some of the Thanksgiving of yesterday. On the counter are the wine glasses from last night’s dinner. I’m eyeing them periodically, knowing I have to wash them. I always hand-wash my wine glasses. They’re much to delicate to go into the dishwasher, not if I hope to keep them available for holding a deep syrah or a bold, peppery Cabernet Franc. I’ll get to them eventually, maybe this afternoon. Right now, I’m content to listen to my music and sip my coffee and write.

Cooper is where he always is at this time of day, on the floor, next to me, his head on his paws, his eyes mostly closed. If I move, the eyes slide open lazily to make sure I’m not going anywhere. Convinced that all is well, the eyes droop closed. Soon he’ll sigh and sleep. The life of a dog.

I have a number of things I’d like to get done today, things to get me ahead of the coming onslaught on Monday. Much of it is maintenance work, requiring little to no brain power, just time. I do have to get ahead on some invoices, and write a letter to Santa. My friend Lisa’s son has battled cancer twice in his young life. This year he is attempting to get 5000 Dear Santa letters for the Make a Wish Foundation. He posted it on Facebook where he and I are also friends, and I was one of many who happily agreed.

The sun has just dipped behind a cloud I didn’t realize was there and the house feels as if it has dropped 10º in temperature.

Kevin has just started a fresh pot of coffee. We always make a small pot to start. For some reason the second pot is always better, less bitter. Maybe it’s because by the second pot our palette has numbed. The coffee maker is gurgling and snapping as it warms the water and pushes it down through the filter, out into the carafe. I love the smell of brewing coffee. I love the smell of freshly ground coffee beans even more.

It’s Black Friday. Every time I open a browser I’m confronted with photos of shoppers storming their favorite stores in search of items that a loved one, or perhaps they themselves, desire. I can imagine the parking lots of the big box stores like Best Buy and Walmart and Target and Kmart overflowing. At the malls, people circle endlessly, inching through the lots, desperate for someone, anyone to leave, stalking the shoppers who have left the safety of the mall to walk, laden with bags and boxes to their waiting car. It’s the only place in America where driving slowly behind someone who is walking along is not cause for alarm by the pedestrian. It’s simply the status quo for those who brave the mall to shop, especially on this day after Thanksgiving.

I am not a mall shopper. When I was young, I occasionally braved the mall; no longer. My motto has long been if I can’t find it on the internet, I probably don’t need to buy it. I’m sticking to that motto. It has worked for me for many years now. I absolutely do not shop ever on the day after Thanksgiving. The name alone – Black Friday – is enough to make me start to quake with fear. Too many people in too small of a space, even in the cavernous malls; even at the outdoor malls like one of the nicer ones we have here. Black Friday can make even La Encantada feel claustrophobic.

In previous years I have used this day to clean my office, but my office is actually quite clean. So instead, this year, we’re starting a new tradition we’re called Red Friday. We’re making turkey sliders – small sandwiches with left over turkey, cheese, lettuce and tomato. We’re packing a cooler with bottled water and cold Pepsi and my boys and I are going to hit some wineries to taste. We have four we want to go to, based on their red wine selection. We’ll taste only red wines as we usually do, and we’ll think of all of the other hapless people fighting over the last pair of ear buds and iPhones and tablets and whatever as we swirl and sniff and savor. We’ll raise a glass to toast to this most special time of the year, this Red Friday when we’re living it out loud and celebrating a new tradition for the season.

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Recycling wine bottles

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 17, 2013 10:52 PM

We’ve always been big on recycling. The daily newspaper has always gone into the recycle bin. When we have soda, which isn’t often, the cans go into the bin. Wine bottles used to meet the same fate. But last year, when we decided to make wine, we decided to do a different kind of recycling. The two varietals we chose were syrah, with grapes from Santa Barbara County, and cabernet sauvignon, with grapes from Paso Robles. As such, we needed syrah bottles which are wider, almost fat, at the base with a short neck. The bottles mimic the body of the wine as syrahs are fat, heavy, thick and darkly red. Cabernet bottles, like the wine, are much more refined. Tall and sleek, they are elegant. Cabernet sauvignon is also elegant if not sometimes overly so.

There are many different types of wine bottles, even within a certain varietal. Some are taller while others are squatter. Some are light green, some are brown, others are a deep green. Some feel as if the glass is impossibly thin; others feel heavy. The recycling we decided to do was to use wine bottles that other wineries had already used. The trick was to decide which style we liked and then to gather up to 36 of each.

Even for wine drinkers such as us, this was a tall task.

For our cabernet, we chose a bottle that is used by Kendall Jackson. A blunt, beefy bottle for their own cab as well as for their Summation and Meritage blends. For the better part of a year, we have consumed more than our fair share of these wines in order to come up with 36.

For our syrah, we chose the Zaca Mesa model. Anyone who knows us knows how much we love Zaca Mesa syrahs. As far as we’re concerned, they may be the best syrahs currently being vinted. They may be the best ever vinted. Deep, dark, inky, so heavy it seems as if a spoon could stand up inside a glass, not that we’ve ever tried. They make several different syrahs. Their regular syrah is rather pedestrian. Still good, it isn’t the kind of thing that blogs are written about. But their Mesa Reserve and the Black Bear Block syrahs are so good we sometimes don’t want to ruin the flavor with food. Yes, they’re expensive, but they are so worth it.

We had a bit more trouble coming up with three dozen Zaca Mesa bottles. It’s a more expensive wine, and it’s also harder to find. Kendall Jackson is a big winery that produces about 5 million cases of wine annually. Zaca Mesa, comparatively, produces about 35,000.

It was a tough assignment, getting all of the bottles we needed, but somehow we persevered.

The wines themselves, our cab and our syrah, have been aging for about a year. We’re getting ready to put them both into bottles so they can age some more in glass. We needed to get our recycled bottles ready and that meant removing the labels of the other wineries to make room for our own labels.

What a job. Kevin had read somewhere that if you bake the bottles at 350º for about 10 minutes it loosens the glue and makes the labels peel off easily. We started with the Zaca Mesa and were absolutely thrilled when that’s exactly what happened. A bit of residual glue remained on the bottle; also easily removed with lacquer thinner. We figured we’d be done in an hour or so.

Then came the Kendall Jackson bottles. We put them in the oven for the allotted time. We took them out. We took our razor blade and prepared to simply push the labels away, just like on Zaca Mesa. Except it didn’t work. At all. We ended up having to scrape small pieces away, pushing, scrubbing, pushing some more. It was tedious and left a ridiculous amount of glue on the bottle. Five hours later, we had bottles. Also sore hands.

But we have contributed to keeping the environment more green. We have done our bit to recycle. We’ve also done as much as we can to keep the wine industry moving right along. I suppose we’ll keep trying. After all, it’s our civic duty. 

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It's always a good time for wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:26 AM

As you know, dear readers, I am a wino. I make no apologies about this. I am actually quite proud of my status. I flaunt it whenever and wherever I can, usually with a bit of inky dark syrah or cab franc swirling in my glass. I have come to the realization that wine is life.

Not meant as a biblical reference at all, though if Jesus Christ really could turn water into wine, I might have to rethink my no-religion mantra.

Tonight, I was texting with my friend Pam who mentioned that she had been nursing an emotional headache for about two weeks. I know she’s hurting, in pain, and I wish there was something I could do to help. I also know that no one can really help; something she also knows. It’s all a process, this grief/healing thing, and she’s getting through it as best as she can because as she likes to point out “what choice do I have?”

Wise woman, my friend Pam.

I asked her if wine helped and mentioned that wine is always a good idea. She graciously responded that this was but one of the reasons we’re friends. Pam, it should be told, was the first person I got drunk with. We were stupid kids, 15, who had finished just one year of high school before we decided that we needed to know what it was like to have a cocktail. We went to a liquor store near a mall if memory serves (and it doesn’t always) and managed to get some guy to buy us a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine. The beer I believe was Michelob. Or maybe it was Coors. The wine was Boones Farm Apple.

We were very sophisticated for 15 years olds.

We had no idea that mixing cheap beer with cheaper wine was a bad idea. We knew absolutely nothing about drinking and even less about wine. We proceeded to drink both and promptly got sick.

It’s a fond memory.

This was my first introduction to wine and one would think it might have soured me on the attributes of this finest of beverages. It didn’t. I went through many years of drinking Lancer’s. I just hope it was the one in the red jug and not the white jug. I honestly don’t remember. I do remember drinking Riunite in college. It had a screw top. Even in college I knew it was horrible but it was all I could afford.

Eventually I moved to California and discovered that wine can be better than that, much better, even though while I was in San Diego I remember drinking a great deal of something called Blue Nun. I think it was a Gewurztraminer. It was sweet and I loved it, but I was 22 and didn’t know any better. Witness the Michelob and Boones Farm episode.

I don’t know when I began drinking red wine but I was still in my 20s. I eventually discovered that red wine can be an amazing thing, a life-altering universe of flavor. Some still say that red wine gives you a headache but I contend that it doesn’t have to. In fact, if it’s good red wine, it will never give you a headache.

Unless you drink too much. And anything you drink too much of will give you a headache so you can’t really blame red wine.

The point is, and I do have one, wine is a good time and it’s always a good time to have it. Especially if you’re having it with people you love. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything much better in the world than sitting with friends on the back patio, with a couple of exceptional bottles of red wine on the table, a menu of tapas, and a conversation laced with laughter.

That’s the kind of drunk I do now. And it’s the best kind there is. 

Pardon me while I switch on my fireplace

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 8, 2013 8:14 PM

When it’s cold outside one of the things I look forward to most is a roaring fire. This winter, it’s been colder than usual with night temps regularly down in the high 20s/low 30s. Cold for Southern California. From what I’ve been told, temps in the entire southwest have been colder than usual. We talked to Architect Mike the other day, in Tucson, and he said it’s been very cold. They’ve actually had snow.

When we bought this house, in 1997, we had only a few must-have criteria. It needed to be in an area with a good school district. We wanted a nice neighborhood. The house needed to have natural gas for cooking and heating, and it had to have at least one wood-burning fireplace. Also, it had to be affordable. We got everything on our list. Our house is not very big, just about 1800 square feet total, with three bedrooms and two and a half baths. The master bedroom is downstairs, off of the great room that provides the space for the dining room as well as the family room. We’ve never been big on having a formal living room. No one ever really uses a formal living room. The family room is, naturally, where the fireplace resides, on the sidewall in the back corner of the house. It has a gas starter, which makes it very easy to get one of those big roaring fires going. Each night, we turn on the gas, light it with a long lighter and sit back and enjoy the snap, crackle and pop; the hiss and sizzle; the smoke as it curls up the chimney; the red glow and gray ash; the smell. I love it all.

Our new house will have four fireplaces including one out on the patio. There will also be a big one in the family room, one in the master bedroom and one in the guest suite. I’ve never had more than one fireplace. I can hardly imagine the ambiance. The house will have that amazing light that only emanates from a fire, eerie and soft, warm and cold all at once. The Sonoran desert gets very cold at night and we’ll be in the northeast corner of the city, as the Catalina highway climbs up into the mountains toward Mt. Lemon. There is skiing up there, so there is snow. The temperatures drop into the teens. Having a fireplace out on the patio, where we can sit regardless of the temperature, sipping a glass of Michel Cellars Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, looking out over the spooky glow of towering Saguaro cactus on an otherwise clear night, will be spectacular. In my imagination, I’m there already; I’ll be there tonight.

As someone who grew up in the Northeast and thus was thrust into frigid temperatures for nearly six months of the year, you would think I’d be tougher when it comes to being cold. But I’m cold all the time. I’m one of those people, like Sally Allbright in When Harry Met Sally, who gets cold when it’s 72º out. During cold, rainy days like today when the air is raw, the house never seems to warm up. I sit in my loft office and freeze. Or at least I used to, but now I have a fireplace in my office, too.

No, we didn’t knock out a wall to put in a pre-fabricated fireplace unit. I didn’t blow a hole in the ceiling so that smoke from my little campfire could waft up and out. It’s much more simple than that because my office fireplace is electric. Kevin bought it for me last year and it has been getting quite a bit of use this year.

It’s very stylish, with its metallic red case and black face. It has three speeds. One is just the electric flame, for romantic mornings in front of the computer sipping a hot cup of coffee. Low keeps the flame flickering while also blowing out gentle heat, enough to wrap around my feet and rise toward my hands, keeping my fingers warm as I type furiously. I’ve never had it on high, that’s how well low works.

Until I can sit out on my patio in Tucson, looking out over the city, with our nearly 300º views, until I can lounge in my bed on a stormy Sunday with the fire blazing in the room, until I can cook in the kitchen and still hear the snap, crackle, pop, hiss and sizzle coming from the great room, until then I will enjoy my lovely fireplaces here in the OP, the one downstairs and the one here in my office. Here, let me switch it on and show you.

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Grapes on the floor and other delicacies

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 12, 2012 8:04 PM

As regular readers may recall, the husband unit and I have embarked on a new hobby of late. We’re making wine. About a month ago, we got our first 110 pounds of Syrah grapes from a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, an area that produces simply extraordinary Syrah. Some of our favorite Syrah wines are from that county, and specifically from Santa Ynez where wineries like Zaca Mesa, known for their Syrahs, are located. A week ago yesterday, we got our second delivery of grapes, this time in the guise of 115 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon. They came from the Central Coast region and specifically from a vineyard in Paso Robles.

For seven days this batch sat fermenting in the garage, munching on yeast, the skins sharing their color with the grape juice. Each morning, Kevin would punch down – pushing the skins that had risen because of the fermentation process to cluster in a thick patch atop the juice back down into it. Each afternoon, he would punch down again. Ditto, evening. Some days he punched down four or five times. This allows for the deep red color as well as additional flavor and the natural preservatives of the skins to settle into the eventual wine. That’s what is known as tannins. When you drink a wine that’s tannic, your lower jaw muscles twitch and clench involuntarily.

Each day we also watched the sugar level so that we would know when to remove the skins permanently from the juice, press them to get as much more juice as possible and then begin the aging process. We wanted the sugar level to be about 4 or 5 percent, down from 24.5. Yesterday it was time to press. We strained the skins through the juice and dumped them into a smaller fermenter tub. Then we siphoned the juice out of the primary fermenter into a glass carboy so that it can finish its fermentation and begin aging. Eventually it, like the Syrah, will go into French oak barrels to age and for flavor.

A little wine-making trivia for you: the siphoned juice is called free run. We got about five gallons of free run Cabernet Sauvignon. Once we pressed the skins, which took another 2 hours or so, we had an additional three gallons and one quart. We got everything cleaned up, washing the equipment we no longer needed in order to preserve it for the next time we do, putting away the fermenting tubs, and storing the wine-filled carboys on top of the work bench in the garage. Until we eventually get a bigger house, our “winery” is the two-car garage which, even while the wine is making, contains two cars and a motorcycle in addition to all of the other crap we have stored there.

Michel Cellars*

A note: once the wine is aging in oak barrels, those barrels will be moved into our temperature controlled wine room which is really not much bigger than a small walk-in closet. It holds about 300 or so bottles, and in the back, there is space for our barrels. Once we have the aforementioned bigger house, our official wine making will be split between the third car garage and the huge laundry room sporting massive countertops and a stainless steel sink. Sinks and running water are essential when one is making red wine. We’ll also have a much bigger wine room for storing wine as well as for aging in our barrels.

Everything was clean and put away save for several pieces of newspaper that had been spread on the floor to catch any errant drops and the occasional flattened, juiceless grape skin. We were standing in the garage, admiring our handy work, comparing the color of the Syrah which is dark to be black and the Cab which is more purple and red. We were checking the temperature. We want it cool but not cold; another reason to keep the cars inside, especially after they’ve been run and the heat pours off of a now-resting engine. Cooper was whining at the door so we opened it and let him come out into the garage with us. He sniffed, he pawed the newspaper, he turned an inquisitive eye – just one – to us as if to say: “ You guys are kind of messy. These papers are supposed to be on the counter in the kitchen.”

Kevin assured him that everything was just fine and he and I went back to discussing our wine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cooper pawing the paper again, then trying to chew on something. It was a grape skin. He scarfed it up and liked it. Hey, Mikey. Liked it so much, in fact, that he went in search of more and found at least three other emaciated grape skins to nibble on.

We always wanted a winery dog. Looks like we got one.

Cooper: Winery dog

Cooper Michel of Michel Cellars. Seeker of raisin-like grape skins and other delicacies on the garage floor and all floors. If it’s edible, he will find it. Even if it’s not edible, or particularly delectable, he will eat it. He is our winery dog, and he seems to prefer deep, rich reds – or at least the skins – just like us. He’s fitting right in. And living it out loud. 

*Art by Barbara Barry, of Spoiled Dog Winery.



I see grape clusters everywhere

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 22, 2012 9:54 PM

Not to beat a dead topic to death but on the subject of grapes, since clusters have really taken over our lives the last week, I’d like to say this: I see them everywhere. On the field behind the referee during the Sunday Night Football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the lights of the city as we drive through, in the high clouds captured just as the sun goes down. In my garage. In my refrigerator. In my dreams. Every. Single. Night.

I suppose there are worse things to dream about. In fact, I know there are worse things, like one of those anxiety dreams where there are people living in my new house and I don’t know any of them. Or where I’m back in college and trying to find an English Literature class but I can’t locate the room and when I do, I haven’t been there all semester and I’m going to fail and the building doesn’t look remotely familiar.

I digress.

Where was I? Ah. Yes. Seeing small round, somewhat edible things on tiny branches. I suppose it’s somewhat normal that I’m seeing grapes everywhere since my house smells like a winery. Not that I’m complaining. But I’m confident that eventually I’ll also see other things everywhere. Perhaps pasta or pizza.

In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed a small psychological horror movie that became a huge sensation. It was called The Sixth Sense, and it told the story of a troubled little boy named Cole Sear who is able to see and thus talk to and with the dead. In order to help him, a child psychologist spends time traveling with the boy and becomes very dedicated to helping him. The doctor’s name is Malcolm Crowe and he is haunted by his inability to help another boy with a similar issue years earlier. He is obsessed with Cole even though at first he thinks the boy is delusional. Eventually, he comes to realize that Cole may be telling the truth. He counsels Cole to help the ghosts to finish whatever unfinished business they have left behind.

The most memorable line, delivered chillingly by Haley Joel Osment as Cole: “I see dead people.”

The five senses that everyone knows are sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. The sixth sense is a little more difficult to categorize. It refers to our ability to perceive another dimension. Some call it extrasensory perception, or ESP, clairvoyance, premonition, even intuition. Others believe it has to do with the unseen world of ghosts, heaven and hell. It is about our ability to understand the subtle cause and effect relationship behind many events. A simple cause and effect would be I drink too much wine (cause) therefore I wake up with a headache (effect).

The twist in the film is, of course, legendary. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie, 1) where have you been? and 2) I’m about to reveal the big reveal). Cole Sear can see dead people, which is why he can see Dr. Crowe, who happens to be dead, having been shot at the beginning of the film.

The twist in my life is much less legendary. (No spoiler alert here so keep reading if you’re so inclined) I see grapes everywhere because my life has been all about grapes and wine for the past 10 days.

Still, is my ESP-sixth sense-clairvoyance trying to tell me something?

It’s after six. Maybe what my sixth sense is telling me is that the reason I can see grape clusters everywhere is because I need a glass of wine. If so, I can live with that.

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