Along the Silverado Trail

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:29 PM

The Silverado Trail runs mostly north, from just northwest of downtown Napa. You get to it off Trancas Street. It’s a long, glorious road, lined on either side by wineries and acre after acre sporting row after row of grapes. It is the official red grape growing region of Napa Valley and includes the famous Stag’s Leap district of 20 wineries and some 1200 planted acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, and even a little Chardonnay. There are actually 2700 total acres in the area, and wineries include Baldacci, Chimney Rock, Hartwell, Pine Ridge, Silverado, Stag’s Leap and more. A 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors in red at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting made famous by the fabulous film Bottle Shock. 

We have spent many a lovely day wandering up and down the Trail, meandering through tree lined drives to get to wineries in order to taste wines, and undoubtedly, to buy some as well. For Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we rented a phenomenal house on top of a hillside, surrounded by 25 acres of planted grapes, and visited Chimney Rock, Stag’s Leap, Baldacci, Hartwell, and Pine Ridge to name just a few. I think we could have all lived happily up there for the rest of our lives. A stunning view, surrounded by deep red wine; where the hills roll and fold into one another and the weather is glorious. 

I am a wine lover and have been since first discovering Napa in the mid-1980s. It is a passion that has only grown. My husband shares this passion, as do our best friends in the world, Roy and Bobbi. There is something about being amongst the vineyards and in the wineries, about the musty smell of grapes fermenting, the dedication of those who make wine. There is pride there, rightfully so. Wine, to us, is art. It is exquisitely crafted for bouquet, color, and taste. It flows into a glass, leaving long “legs” in its wake. To me – to all of us – it’s food, something to be tasted and savored, explored and celebrated. As the Italians say, in Latin, in vino veritas. In wine, truth. 

For the last several days, I have watched in horror as the vineyards and wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino have exploded in flames. I have read the stories of workers standing next to wine makers and owners, trying desperately to save their structures, their wine aging in wooden barrels; their grapes. Several of our favorites have been destroyed including Signorello, off of the Silverado Trail. 

I don’t know what makes one building susceptible while another nearby survives. It’s not important anyway. Regardless, the destruction, the devastation – the fear is visceral and real. 

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there, because I consider Napa and Sonoma, indeed wine country, one place where I feel most at home; maybe it’s that I remember the feeling of peace that I experienced when we were there. It’s something that’s hard to find these days, and now it’s made even harder. 

California’s wine industry contributes $57 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 325,000 jobs. It’s also produces great, lasting, liquid art. My heart breaks for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, for those who have lost loved ones, including pets.

I watch the flames and weep.

Tonight I remember driving along the Silverado Trail and marveling at its absolute, unassaulted beauty. I celebrate that memory and send my love to one of my favorite areas on the country. Tonight, I’m raising a glass.

Vines

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.

Roots and Reds

by Lorin Michel Friday, June 10, 2016 9:05 PM

I love ideas. I love just letting the mind wander and roam to discover what's lurking in the corners and crevices. It never ceases to amaze me what's there.

I love talking to others in a free wheeling environment, where everyone's laughing and sharing and suddenly, an idea takes shape and begins to form. I'm told this is often what happens. I got an email blast a week or so ago from the rescue group where we got Riley. They're celebrating five years. Five years from the time a bunch of them were having dinner and an idea happened.

Today, I was getting my hair cut and colored, a ritual I engage in every five weeks. I have yet another new place that I like very much. It's a sola salon, which are individual salons with sometimes just one proprietor. I had never heard of them until recently.

My friend Julianne, who always looks fabulous, has been getting her hair done there, by Sarah, for at least 15 years. She recommended Sarah. Today was my second time in.

There was one other client when I arrived, sitting with color on her roots. I sat down in the chair and told Sarah that this was good timing because I was going wine tasting next week. This led to a discussion about the different places to taste. California, Washington, here in Southern Arizona. About having a bunch of people together, tasting. Suddenly we were talking about having wine tasting in the salon. Cabs and Color. Chards and Cuts. Sips and Styles. Roots and Reds.

That was it. We were all sold. We planned the entire thing out. It would be on Fridays-only to start, by invitation only. There would be a theme, and because Sarah and her partner don’t have a liquor license, all the clients would bring the wine and everyone would bring an appetizer so that we’d be able to nosh as we were coloring and sipping. We could truly let our hair down even as it was gathered up and lathered up with color. We could laugh and enjoy and simply revel in being a girl.

Naturally Sarah wouldn’t be able to partake in the wine, at least not until everyone who needed a cut had received one. She seemed very good-natured about that. 

The lady who had been in the salon when I arrived, finished before I was done. Her name was Charlene. Lovely. She laughed as she was leaving and told Sarah that it was her responsibility to make sure we were all invited for the first Roots and Reds event. Charlene had recently been to Washington State and shared a house with several others on a wine tasting adventure. She was all in. We were simpatico. 

After she left, Sarah and I continued to talk and laugh and strategize about our idea. We even thought we could eventually offer private label wine. Roots and Reds, Salon Edition, Vintage Right Now.

I don’t know if any of this has any merit or if it was just one of those fun salon conversations that don’t mean anything but serve to make sure everyone is having a good time. It might have been one of those ideas that floats off into the wind once the crowd that thought of it scatters. 

But maybe, just maybe, this will be like the golden retriever rescue group that formed with a single idea, around the dinner table, over wine.

I wonder if it was red…

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live out loud

Finally, a law from this state I actually agree with

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 3, 2016 8:10 PM

When we decided to move to Arizona, those who knew me the best were a bit aghast. I heard the same phrase over and over again: “YOU’RE moving to a red state?” It’s true. This is a red state. It’s further true that we moved here anyway. It’s also true that I’m a dyed in the wool liberal.  Me moving to a red state seemed to be a complete disconnect for everyone, including me. As I was always quick to point out, we moved to Southern Arizona which is known to be much more liberal than the rest of Arizona. Tucson is a little island of blue in an otherwise deep sea of red. 

An aside. Dyed in the wool is a phrase used to describe an individual with “fixed, dedicated, committed, uncompromising, deep felt belief.” It’s phrase that relates to the medieval method of adding dye to raw wool rather than to spun wool or finished cloth. The final color evidently lasted much longer and was more deeply ingrained than dyeing at later stages. If something is dyed-in-the-wool, it's unlikely to change. It’s what I see when I look in the mirror. 

Arizona has a reputation of being … rigid. Uncompromising. Ridiculous. It also ranks 47th in the country for overall education, 46th for money spent on schools, 43rd in the country for school systems, 49th for preschool enrollment and 50th for headstart enrollment. We received a D+ on the report card from education week. I bring this up because it’s National Teacher Appreciation Day.

We were also the 48th state to become a state. Minimum wage is $8.05 per hour. We have the illustrious SB 1070 law which essentially makes it illegal to be of Hispanic descent – my interpretation. We have the Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. And a tremendous amount of retirees, many of whom apparently subscribe to the idea of “I got mine; screw you.” In other words, they’re Republicans. 

Which leads me back to the red state. It is red, and not just in political persuasion. It has red clay soil and the glorious red, orange and purple painted desert and Grand Canyon. The sunsets, equally on fire, are the prettiest I’ve ever seen and I lived in California for 27 years.

The heat isn’t so bad. The dryness is killer, though. And the creatures are exotic, if not a little scary. Everything bites, including almost all of the plants. The air quality is much better than in Southern California; ditto the traffic. The people are all nice. 

We knew we were moving to a place that goes against almost everything we believe politically. We knew the climate was more harsh. We didn’t think that we’d have trouble with wine. I don’t mean wine as in we can’t buy any, though we do have trouble finding some of our favorites. I mean wine as in we can’t get it shipped. The wines made here in Southern Arizona aren’t bad but we have had trouble finding spectacular. It’s a young wine-growing region. Most of the wines seem just that. Young. Uninteresting. Like they haven’t quite learned how to be fascinating yet, like teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. We have discovered Keeling Schaefer and they’re excellent. Bold. Interesting. 

One of the wine items we didn’t count on when we moved was that many of our favorite wineries wouldn’t be able to ship to us. We were club members of Niner and Zaca Mesa, for instance, and they couldn’t ship because they produced more than 20,000 gallons of wine a year. The Arizona law, one of those on the books since Prohibition, prohibited wine shipments from wineries exceeding the gallon count. We were bummed. We loved Niner and Zaca Mesa. We bought Niner when we’d go to Paso Robles. We found some Zaca Mesa here and there.

But today comes news that our long personal nightmare is coming to an end. Our esteemed governor, Doug Ducey whom I affectionately refer to as Douchey, signed a bill on April 1 allowing wineries from California, indeed from all over, to ship wines directly to customers in Arizona as long as they’re not for resale or exceed 18 cases per year. I learned this from Alicia at Niner Winery. Starting on January 1 of 2017, wineries like Niner and Zaca Mesa and countless others can apply for a $25 shipping license and ship away. I almost danced. I did book it across the house to Kevin’s office to announce the news. We rejoiced. 

So yes, we moved to a red state. And there are issues. But if the wine-shipping issue can be resolved I have hope. I hear there’s even a possibility that a Trump nomination puts the state in play for the election. Maybe, just maybe, this red state will turn blue, and I’ll definitely be home.

Hey. A girl can dream, especially while raising a glass of imported California wine.

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live out loud

Cheers!

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 18, 2016 7:41 PM

A number of years ago, someone added this special day to the national calendar. No matter how much research I did and I didn’t spend more than about 10 minutes, I couldn’t find the exact date that it was added. I thought it would make a fun little intro to be able to say “In 1929, during the height of the roaring 20s and just before the stock market crashed, when speak easies ruled along with the Charleston, America celebrated its first National Drink Wine Day.”

Alas that story didn’t exist, which is sad because this day sort of begs to have a rich backstory, one of depth and color, that you can take a sip of and swirl around in your mouth, chew on it a bit, savor its flavor and then swallow.

Nevertheless, it’s National Drink Wine Day and all over the country, people are twisting open a bottle, popping a cork, taking out one or more of their favorite glasses, and giving a pour. Maybe they open the fridge and pull out a hunk of cheese. Jarlsberg, or sharp cheddar. Find some crackers in the pantry. Make a little picnic around the wine wherever you are.

Wine has a special place in life, not to mention history. The culture of wine in Europe predates the Romans. In ancient Greece, wine was praised by poets, historians and artists, and was frequently referred to in the works of Aesop and Homer. But it was considered the privilege of the upper classes. Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, represented not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficial influences. He was viewed as the promoter of civilization, a lawgiver, and lover of peace as well as the patron deity of agriculture and the theatre. According to ancient Greek historian Thucydides, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.”

Then came modernity. 

Over the last 150 years, wine making has been totally revolutionized as an art and science. With access to refrigeration, it has become easy for wineries to control the temperature of the fermentation process and produce high quality wines in hot climates. (Which is why we are about to plant our first grape vines in hopes of being able to use them to make estate bottled wines.)

The introduction of harvesting machines has allowed winemakers to increase the size of their vineyards and make them more efficient. (We’ll be picking by hand.) Although the wine industry faces the challenge of meeting the demands of an ever-larger market without losing the individual character of its wines, technology helps to ensure a consistent supply of quality wines. 

Modern wine appreciation pays homage to the timeless art of wine making and demonstrates the importance of wine in the history and diversity of European culture. It also celebrates newer wine regions, and embraces newer wines. Maybe it’s because wine also has the good fortune of being somewhat good for you. Moderate drinkers of wine have lower risks of liver disease, type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, heart attack and stroke. It also can reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good (HDL). No wonder we have a day dedicated to it. Perhaps we should have more. 

So raise a glass my friends. I will as well. And toast you and the day. Happiness and good health to you. Cheers!

L'Aventure

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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live out loud

And technology. And wine.

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 27, 2015 9:38 PM

Several weeks ago, Bobbi and I were discussing something online. We talk every day and on that particular day I have no idea what the topic was, but whatever it was had to have had something to do with us both having a bad and unproductive day. This is nothing particularly new. We have these often. Most people do. But on this particular day, we decided that whenever something was bad, if we had a not-positive response to a question or even just an observation, we would still state the answer but follow it with something simple. Elegant. Understated. Tasty.

And wine.

For instance: I am so sick of the bad news today that I’m just going to scream. And wine.

And wine made everything better. It worked for us for about a day and then it sort of dissipated. Like a fine wine, I suppose, it was finished off. We still throw it out there every once in a while, just to add a bit of brevity to what might otherwise be a cranky situation. It never ceases to bring a smile.

I’m sitting here at my computer tonight, after a day of not getting nearly enough done and painfully little crossed off my list. I was tired and found myself surfing a bit too much. I surf when I’m wasting time. I also surf between projects as a way to clear my head. Sometimes a particular story makes me follow it more closely than I should because I’m interested. The Patriots being in Arizona this week, for instance. The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz for another. I don’t know why but I have long had a dreadful fascination with World War II and the atrocities that were committed. I am horrified, disgusted. To think that a good portion of an otherwise civilized country thought it OK to have places like Auschwitz occupies me. I don’t know why.

I’m not naïve. I know that civilizations have been destroying others different than themselves forever. The Crusades, Nazi Germany, the Sudan, Syria; more. I am fascinated by it though, by the mindset that allows one to assume such arrogance, such power, and to think nothing of murdering mass groups of people, of committing genocide. It gives me no comfort to know that it has been going on since the dawn of time. It gives me no comfort to know that sometimes the perpetrators are destroyed as well.

The arrogance of man, the hypocrisy, the murderous intent.

Because of technology, I can now read about these things freely. You’d think I would prefer to read about dogs, and I do. But even then, I am drawn to the stories of animals who have survived unspeakable acts of cruelty, neglect. I am sickened by the stories and the pictures. But I read them because I long for a happy ending. I want to see the starved dog named Angel who was rescued by a woman affiliated with Rescue from the Hart, Annie Hart ‘s Southern California organization. Little Angel was found barely able to walk on the streets of Palmdale. She was the definition of skin and bones. People walked by, people drove my. One woman stopped to help. I need to see Angel be OK.

Angel was not expected to survive. Her body, like those of concentration camp victims and survivors, was consuming itself in order to stay alive. But the vets at Westlake Animal Hospital kept her alive, somehow, and today, Angel is normal weight and happy, living with a foster family, and well loved.

I suppose to read these stories because I want people to be good and when they are, when they help, when they intervene in order to save another soul, whether that soul belongs to a human or an animal, then my faith is at least temporarily renewed. Until the next travesty presents itself and I can’t look away.

Until technology, I didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t see it daily. I do now. Sometimes I actively seek it out because I need it to be better, I need the happily ever after.

I don’t know that technology gives it to me, but it allows me to see it in action.

People suck. People surprise me.

And wine.

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The benefits of wine

by Lorin Michel Sunday, January 4, 2015 7:05 PM

This past week at least two of my friends, Pam and Bobbi, posted the New Year’s resolutions of Women & Wine. I don’t generally subscribe to resolutions as I feel they set people up for failure. I am making an exception for these particular resolutions …

1) drink more wine
2) share more wine
3) gift more wine
4) buy more wine
5) make new friends over a glass of wine (my fav!)
6) travel to wine country
7) read a few great wine books
8) try wines from regions you don't know
9) once a _________(fill in week, month, etc) treat yourself to a wine that's $10 more than you usually spend)
10) always keep a bottle (or two) of Champagne or other bubbly in the frig to make any occasion a 'special one'

… and I’ll tell you why: Wine is good for you, even better than originally thought. For years, we’ve all heard about the benefits of resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine. It’s good for the heart, for skin, for the brain. Supposedly it can even make you live longer while also helping prevent certain cancers. Now comes word that there are other benefits like reducing the risk of depression and preventing colon cancer.

Whereas some say that drinking can be a risk factor for breast cancer, others say moderate wine consumption can help prevent it, at least according to researchers at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Wine can help prevent dementia, according to a research team from Loyola University Medical Center, and may also help prevent the eye diseases that can lead to blindness, like diabetic retinopathy. It can help protect the skin from severe sunburn. Wine can improve lung function and even protect the brain from stroke damage. Believe it or not, wine is one of the few alcohols that can actually prevent liver disease. It can protect men from prostate cancer, prevent type 2 diabetes, and may even be used to prevent cavities; maybe to treat acne.

I like mine as a means to prevent over-stressing while promoting relaxation.

When wine making arrived in ancient Greece by way of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, it was enjoyed by many causing its popularity to grow exponentially. Hippocrates promoted it as part of a healthy diet. He was also an advocate for using it to help medications go down more easily. Years later, the Bible got in on it when Paul the Apostle recommended a little wine to help with digestion. Once the Middle Ages rolled around, the Catholic monks got in the vibe by using wine as a medicinal treatment. The first printed book on wine, written by physician Arnaldus de Villa Nova, advocated for wine’s use to treat many illnesses including sinus problems and dementia.

It has been theorized that one of the reasons wine was so popular once upon a time was because of the scarcity of safe drinking water. In fact, during the 1892 cholera epidemic in Hamburg, Germany, wine was used to sterilize water. It wasn’t until the 20th century that people decided that wine was bad. Prohibition forbid drinking wine or any spirits. It was a dark time.

Luckily that got repealed. And thanks to Women and Wine and medical professionals around the world, the idea of wine as resolution is actually good for you in many more ways than one. I say bring it on. Raise a glass. Toast something. Get healthy. And live it out loud.

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live out loud

Willcox

by Lorin Michel Friday, December 26, 2014 10:04 PM

There is a town in Cochise County that was originally called Maley. It was founded in 1880 as a whistlestop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1889, it was renamed Willcox after Orlando Bolivar Willcox who served as a general in the Union Army in the Civil War. He was on the first train that came through the tiny town. Today it is home to 10 Southern Arizona wineries and about 3700 people. Day-after-Christmas wine tasting is a tradition, and this year Willcox was where we journeyed.

This tiny, nearly forgotten western town is just over an hour from Tucson. At an altitude of nearly 4200 feet it’s also cooler. In fact, it was only in the low 40s under a cloudless sky, and it was windy. We went to the older part of town first. Driving through, we were immediately struck by the fact that it’s very run down, kind of a hole as I dubbed it. Once upon a time it was probably wonderful and bustling. There are motels after motels, nearly all abandoned, with broken windows and signs that are falling from the building, hanging by old wires. It looks like you’re driving through an old town from the 1950s, a black and white movie like The Last Picture Show.

We turned right on Maley and then left onto Main, at the corner of The Rabbit Hole and The Dining Car Big Tex Barbecue. Flying Leap was on the same corner. There was an empty saloon for sale by Steve, and another small barbecue that looked like the place Frank Underwood frequents in the House of Cards on Netflix. The owner was sitting outside. He smiled and said Merry Christmas as we walked by. The old-fashioned movie house was advertising Hobbit 3 on the marquee. The road had angled parking places on either side of the street. Keeling Schaefer was there, too, across from the bronze sculpture of General Willcox.  We walked in and began our day of tasting.

Keeling Schaefer is in an old bank building from 1917. There is a ladder up to a lookout where the guard would sit with his rifle. Such was security in the old west. We tasted wine, we bought wine; we watched the trains roll by. We walked over to Big Tex, had some pulled pork for lunch, piled into the car and went in search of other wineries.

We found Bodega Pierce after turning on a dirt road. It was like being in a covered wagon, jostling along, kicking up dust. I was glad we hadn’t washed our already filthy car. From Bodega Pierce we went to Pillsbury and then to Zarpara. All of these tasting rooms are in people’s homes. They pour from what would be an eat-at bar in their kitchen.

We met a woman named Barbara at Bodega. She’s the owner of the winery. We met Bonnie at Pillsbury. She’s originally from Ohio but has been in Southern Arizona for 20 some years. She’s 65, a writer and came to Willcox about a year and a half ago to live on the vineyard property. She had her woodstove blazing. At Zarpara we were greeted by their dog Tilly, and the winery owners Rona and Mark were pouring wine from their kitchen. All of these winery owners had left corporate jobs; had decided there had to be something more to life. They found it in the rolling planes of this wonderful and wonderfully odd, time-forgotten little town.

We found it today, too, as we journeyed to a different time and place, where the grapes grow in volcanic soils and the winemakers walk the vineyards themselves, testing, observing, living a new life. In vino vertitas is what the Italians say. In wine, truth. And life. Today in Willcox, in wine there was living it out loud.

Rental cars and stuff

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, November 25, 2014 9:30 PM

On Thursday, Thanksgiving, we’re embarking on a road trip. About a 10 hour road trip.

Pause while Pam cleans up the coffee she just spit out of her mouth.

We’re driving to Paso Robles, on the central coat of California, to go wine tasting. It’s the first vacation we’ve had in a while, at least two years and perhaps more. We’ve been away but it was mostly to visit family. The last vacation we had may have been the long weekend we spent in Paso when I turned 50. That was nearly three years ago.

We rented a car today to make the trip. We did this for a number of reasons. First, it’s cheaper. Our Range Rover weighs nearly 6000 pounds and thus doesn’t get great gas mileage. It also takes only premium gas which is more expensive. A rental car takes cheaper gas, and because it’s a car, not an SUV and thus lighter, it gets better mileage. We rented a 2015 Nissan Altima. It gets 38 mph, about 600 miles per tank.

Second, it’s less wear and tear on our car. And since it’s cheaper why put the miles on our tires? Why put the miles on our oil? Why put our car out there in the elements when it can stay safely behind and we spend less money?

The car is, coincidentally, the same color as our Rover. A deep metallic red. The interior is black, also like the Rover’s, only this interior is cloth. It doesn’t have satellite, but we have cell phones we can hook up to the aux and listen to internet radio.

On Sunday, we downloaded the Tunein app so that we can tune into the Bears/Lions game on Thursday and the Packers/Patriots game on Sunday. We have all of our cords.  We have our USB cigarette-lighter, 12V plug. Everything works; we’re ready. Let the listening and road-tripping begin.

We’re doing laundry tonight. Tomorrow I’ll make the twice-baked potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. We have everything else we’re in charge of as well, including pears, cranberries and goat cheese. We have rolls. And packets of gravy in case we need it. We have snacks for the road. We don’t do fast food when we travel. We try to eat healthy. So I have ham and cheese to do rollups. I have raisins and grapes. We’ll take water.

Cooper will need to be packed, but he should be pleased to have the entire back seat to himself. We might take up some room on the floor, but he doesn’t use the floor anyway. He’ll be able to get in more easily because the car is very low to the ground, much lower than I would have thought. He should just be able to step in and up, settle himself down on the blankets we’ll put on the seat and watch the desert go by.

We have a rental car. Tomorrow it will be full of stuff. Thursday we’ll leave around 6 am. Can’t wait.

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