Harvest time

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 1, 2014 8:33 PM

As wine lovers and sometime wine makers, we have long been fascinated with the harvest. It normally happens in late September into early October, depending on what happened with the winter and the summer weather. The grapes, which are perennial, blossom. The vines, dormant, twisted and black in the winter, get leafy and green. Grapes grow from the blossoms, small, round and green. They look like ball-bearings. As summer continues, they grow and ripen, turning deep plummy purple if they’re red grapes and deeper green if they’re white grapes.

The amount of rain received in the winter can affect how the grapes grow. Dry winters, like California has been experiencing for the last few years, leads to smaller grapes and thus a smaller yield. Smaller yields make wine more expensive for the end user simply because there isn’t the quantity to sell.

The heat of the summer also greatly affects how quickly the grapes mature. With the heat we’ve had this year, grapes are maturing earlier which puts harvest and crush earlier. Everything gets moved up. Like any crop, if you leave the grapes on the vine too long, they shrivel up and become unusable. As wine lovers, we’re always sad, when we’ve walked through vineyards, to see grapes that didn’t get picked for whatever reason. Sometimes only because they were overlooked.

Most harvesting is still done by hand, especially at smaller wineries. It’s too delicate a process to go through with a machine and cut grapes away mechanically. The machine would inevitably harm the vines, and vines take years to mature. Workers walk through each narrow row with clippers and baskets, just like in the old days, and pinch, clip and toss, pinch, clip and toss. Luckily not every varietal is finished ripening at the same time. A cabernet sauvignon might be ready on Wednesday, the Syrah on Sunday, chardonnay the following Tuesday or in a week. Winery workers including the wine makers are out there. The wine maker is the one who ultimately decides if the grapes are ready, tasting them for flavor. These grapes taste nothing like the grapes purchased in the grocery store. They’re not for eating. They’re tart; they make the back of your mouth contract.

The last few years have been terribly dry in California. Dry winters are followed by impossibly hot summers. The lack of water and the increase in heat has created grapes nearly ready to be picked and it’s only September 1. In Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and Paso Robles, grapes are heavy on the vine. Even Napa, still recovering from the earthquake a week or so ago, is showing ripened grapes.

Today, one of the wineries I follow in Southern Arizona posted a picture of their grapes, also heavy and purple, hanging from the vine. It will only be a matter of weeks, even in the great heat of Sonoita and Elgin. The grapes are ripe and will make some great wine. Maybe we’ll go down for the harvest. It’s not far, and there aren’t that many acres. Maybe we can even join in, grab some clippers, pinch, clip and toss.  Pinch, clip and toss. Then we’ll get to taste some of the wine from last year as this year’s crop gets crushed and readied for next year’s bottling. Definitely worth celebrating. 

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live out loud

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.

It's a new old world

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, June 3, 2014 11:05 PM

As I am a woman of limited interests, I write a lot about animals and specifically mine, and I write a lot about wine. Because if you ask me, dogs and wine are what life is all about, that and having a wonderful partner, and amazing friends and family. I am blessed with all.

I am fascinated by discussions of old world and new world. It seems to be quite the buzz lately. There are old world styles and new world tiles and vice versa. Speaking of tiles, the ones we've chosen for the house are considered old world. It refers to the fact that this look was popular before electricity, when the world was newer than it is now though not a lot. When the earth is millions of years old, a couple hundred years are nothing more than a nano second. Called Romeo's Blend, they are a tumbled porcelain, 18" x 18," in browns, grays, terra cottas. They would be at home, natural looking, in an Italian villa in the Tuscan countryside. A place where they made and drank wine long before there was the Internet and where they probably still make and drink wine and now sell it, on the Internet.

I bring this up because of the wonders of electricity, the Internet, of the old world and the new world and how it all relates to wine.

The first wine was invented more than 8,000 years ago by winemakers in Eastern Georgia (the country, not the state). When archeologists dug up a pottery fragment at a place called Shulaveri, near where a number of Georgian skulls were unearthed, they discovered that shards of hardened clay had biochemical wine stains. It told scientists that it was the home to Vitis vinifera, a vine that snakes its way across trees and trellises and creates a truly wondrous fruit.

King Jamshid, from Persian, stored grapes in jars so he could eat them in winter. When he went to retrieve his grapes as the cold descended, he found broken skins and bubbling juice. Wine.

The origin of soil goes back even further, about 4.5 billion years. That’s when gravity pulled fragments of dead stars into the rocky ball we call Earth. There was lava which turned into rock. Microbes became the plants that sped up soil formation by breaking up rocks with their roots, and dissolving into the dirt once they died. This is how soil evolved to the point of being able to support animals, more plants and wine. Topsoil still takes centuries to form.

The first grapes in this country were brought to California some 2,000 years after Vitis vinifera started colonizing the planet. It was a Spanish padre named Fermín Francisco de Lasuén founded the Mission San Miguel just a few miles from present-day Paso Robles whose priests planted grapes in order to make wine for a little something called comunión.

Then there is the bible. Noah, the boat builder, was evidently a drunk, probably on wine since that was the only spirit around. Jesus, the miracle worker, turned water from stone jars to make wine. The Romans renamed Dionysus while the New Testament was being written, calling him Bacchus. The new world had finally taken over the old world.

I wonder if they had tile.

Among old human artifacts, wine is a symbol of joy and resurrection, of fertility and ecstasy. In new ideas, wine has become something of a ritual. It is history and future combined. Old and new, new and old. In Latin there is a phrase: In vino veritas. In wine, truth. There’s nothing old about that. It’s a new world after all, complete with electricity. And the internet. 

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live out loud

70 bottles of wine on the bar, 70 bottles of wine

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 18, 2014 8:32 PM

Sometime in the 14th century, somebody in England penned a song called Ten Green Bottles. It was mind-numbingly stupid and repetitive – Ten Green Bottles hanging on the wall, And if one Green Bottle should accidentally fall, There’ll be Nine Green Bottles hanging on the wall – which is why American’s crafted their own version sometime in the 20th century. We upped the ante a bit though, to 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall because we’re Americans and we do everything bigger than everyone else. It’s our way.

99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall.

There is also a 99 Bottles beer store in Federal Way, in Washington state. They carry over 1000 ales, lagers, hard ciders and meads from 50 countries. Not sure how they get 99 when it’s a 1000 but whatever. 

I bring all of this up, not as a lover of the song or a connoisseur of beer, though I do like an occasional Smithwicks, and just this week was introduced to Shock Top by my son, but because yesterday, we had 70 recently filled bottles of Michel Cellars wine on the table/eat-at-bar here in the kitchen.

The winemaker, otherwise known as Kevin, filtering the syrah

In the spring of 2012, Kevin announced that we were going to buy grapes and make our own wine. In the fall of that year, we did just that, securing about 100 pounds of Syrah grapes from Santa Barbara County first and then, a month of so later, 114 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Paso Robles. We bought them from a place in Camarillo called Custom Crush that caters to people wanting to private label their own wine. They also sell grapes to people like us who want to make their own. On two separate Sundays, we drove to Camarillo with our fermenter in the back of the Range Rover. There we met several other home winemakers, participated in the crushing and destemming of the grapes and finally, loaded up our fermenter, added some yeast, put it back in the back of the car, and drove home. For the next week or so, Kevin engaged in a ritual called the punchdown. Fermenting grape skins rise to the top of grape juice and must be hand mixed back into the juice in order to get the two to comingle and give the best color and flavor.

Once each wine was done fermenting, we had to press it which is just as it sounds. You scoop the grape mixture, called the must, out of the fermenter and into a machine that you tighten down. It has a flat wooden surface that screws down into the must, pressing all of the juice out of the skin. When you’re done, you’re left with dried, flat grapes that are then thrown away.

From there we racked the wine several times, transferring it into barrels and then into carboys, so it could age. In the end, we had seven gallons of each.

Yesterday, we bottled. We started with the syrah, which we ran through a filter to eliminate any sediment, or at least as much sediment as we could. Kevin created quite the system using a vacuum pump, several hoses and a number of carboys in order to pull the wine from one container into the other. Once in its final container, we then siphoned wine into 750 ml bottles. 100 and 114 pounds of grapes created seven gallons of wine respectively which each created 35 bottles. 35 bottles of Michel Cellars 2012 Santa Barbara County Syrah and 35 bottles of Michel Cellars 2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, each a 100% pure varietal. A total of 70 bottles of wine on the bar, 70 bottles of wine.

The first 35 bottles, of syrah

We corked and put all 70 bottles into six case boxes. They’re now standing up in the wine cellar. Next we label. It’s on my list today, to write the backs of each. And then, eventually, we drink.

Our first batches of homemade wine. So far, it’s pretty good. We know this because we sampled both yesterday to see what we had. We’re pleasantly surprised. We might even see about entering each into some amateur competition. Until then, we’re celebrating our 70 bottles of wine, and looking forward to starting the process all over again. We’re thinking of getting some Petite Verdot must from a place in Pennsylvania. They ship it frozen, just 3 gallons. Might be the perfect bridge between the spring and the fall, when California grapes are harvested and available again. Sniff, swirl, sip; ferment, punch, rack. This is living it out loud. 

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live out loud

One minute you have a nice, warm, delicious garlic roll and the next minute

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 22, 2014 12:36 AM

I love bread. I am especially drawn to fresh baked sourdough bread. If it is freshly baked sourdough with garlic and parsley and a bit of Parmesan cheese, I’m nearly euphoric. I don’t eat a lot of bread because I’ve found that as I get older, bread tends to, well, not evaporate as well as it used to when I was in my 20s and 30s.

Last night we went to our favorite gourmet grocery store to get salads from their salad bar. Like many gourmet grocers, their spread is very extensive with several types of lettuce, marinated as well as sliced button mushrooms, artichoke hearts, different cheeses, and more. We don’t do these salads often but I wasn’t in the mood to cook, or even to go to the store.

Salad bars often have fresh soups as well. The one last night also had fresh garlic rolls. They smelled so wonderful, so warm and gooey, that I had Kevin grab one for each of us. We got home with our salads and plopped ourselves in front of the television as is the way of the overworked American, Kevin on the couch, leaning over the coffee table, me on the floor, legs under the coffee table.

We flipped through channels and finally settled on Sideways. It had already been on for about 30 minutes but we just love that movie – we actually own the DVD and the soundtrack. We came in right around the time Miles and Jack were having their first dinner at The Hitching Post and seeing Maya. We decided we too needed a glass of wine if we were going to watch the film so in honor of Miles we opened a Pinot Noir. It wasn’t from Santa Ynez, where the film takes place. It was from Washington, and fairly decent. It’s hard to find a good Pinot because, as Miles so eloquently explains, they’re temperamental and need a lot of love and attention.

Cooper was flitting from one side of the table to the other. We were taking turns telling him to stay back. He was drooling, panting, whining. In other words, being a dog. You’d think he was horribly deprived, that he never got any food in his life.

Maguire was one of the most polite people – I mean dogs – we’ve ever met. It wasn’t anything we trained him to be; he simply was. He never took any food without it being given to him. We used to joke that we could put an entire chicken on the floor in front of him, and unless we told him it was ok, he wouldn’t eat it. He’d drown himself in a pool of drool but he’d never eat the chicken. It wouldn’t occur to him to ever take food unless offered. Like I said, polite. Cooper is not nearly as polite.

You can see where this is going I’m sure.

So there I was, feet out in front of me, legs crossed at the ankles. I was leaning back against the couch, watching the movie. I swirled my wine, sniffed and sipped, just like Miles was doing. It’s funny how you sometimes emulate what you’re seeing or hearing. Maybe it’s just us. We like to quote and recite and mimic.

Cooper finally sat down next to me. He was close, but he was fine. Every few seconds or so, he’d lean into me, as if to remind me that he was still there and could he have something to eat please. Never mind that he was panting and breathing rather heavily on me. Or that he weighs about 55 pounds or that he has red fur, making him hard to miss. Never mind that he doesn’t really like salad – it’s not really in one of his food groups. He wanted something, anything, please please please please.

I took a sip and he took the opportunity. With one quick lunge he grabbed my nice warm gooey garlic roll from the table and ate the whole thing in one bite. I almost spit out my wine. Kevin started to laugh. I said Bad dog but Cooper, unlike Maguire, doesn’t seem to suffer from remorse. He didn’t seem to feel the least bit badly about the fact that he had taken my roll. He got up and went over to Kevin’s side, eyeing Kevin’s roll hungrily. Kevin picked his up and ate it.

It just goes to show you that some things in life are fleeting. Look sideways for just a second, or watch Sideways, and you lose your garlic roll. One minute it’s there, and the next your dog is living it out loud. With garlic roll breath.

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

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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live out loud

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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live out loud

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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live out loud

A visit to Tombstone

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 3, 2013 12:29 AM

For the past few Saturdays, we’ve spent our time in tile and kitchen and bath stores. While that’s fun and ultimately necessary, we thought this weekend we’d do something a little different. Something that didn’t involve anything house-related but only exploring-related. We went to Tombstone.

Tombstone is most known for the shootout at the OK Corral, a confrontation between the Earp brothers and the local outlaws known as the Cowboys. The Earps, the eventual gunfight and the Cowboys were well chronicled in several somewhat modern films: Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and Tombstone with Kurt Russell. I’m a fan of the second version largely because I’m a huge Kurt Russell fan for absolutely no reason other than I love his hair and his eyes. Several weeks ago, Wyatt Earp was on one of the movie channels and I stumbled upon it around 10:30. It had started at 10. Kevin was snoring on the couch; I was surfing a bit. I thought I’d put it on for a little while and then we’d go to bed around our usual time of 11ish. He woke up and we both got sucked in and stayed up to watch the whole thing until at least 1. And it’s not really all that good.

Kief-Joshua winery dog, Tommy, after too much wine

Tombstone was founded in 1879 and it prospered until about 1890 because of the silver mines. During its heyday, it had a bowling alley, four churches, an ice house, a school, two banks, three newspapers, an ice cream parlor, 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls and countless dancing halls and brothels, all of which were situated on top of the mines. It was also home to the famous Bird Cage Theatre, billed as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” This is where Wyatt Earp first spotted his final wife Josephine. She was an actress and her troupe toured through Arizona. We went to the Bird Cage today. There are still bullet holes in the bar, the wall and the ceiling. The mirrors behind the bar are original. It’s a lot smaller that it appeared in both films. The theatre is in the back, the bar is in the front and upstairs is where the ladies of ill repute entertained.

Tombstone is now a thriving tourist attraction. The entire main street is really nothing but gift shops crammed with silver and turquoise jewelry. There are “saloons” and places to eat. There is a three-times-daily restaging of the famous shootout. You can watch it for $7 each. We didn’t.

Instead we went to the Inaugural Tombstone Winery Wine Festival. It was in a dirt field across the street from the main drag. There were nine local southern Arizona wineries there. For $18, you got 10 pours. We wandered through the dirt, scoping out who was there and what they had. I had on cowboy boots – I thought it was appropriate – and they were quickly covered in dust. All I needed was a cowboy hat and a horse and I would have fit right in. Oh, and my leather chaps complete with fringe.

We tasted only reds, and ended up buying seven bottles plus the most delicious port that we plan to pour on Thanksgiving, for dessert.

The new wine line up from Tombstone

The wines aren’t as good as California wines. The climate is different after all. But there were some that were quite good; obviously, if we bought as much as we did. Two were from the Tombstone Winery. Both cabs. One a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon called Gunslinger and another from 2004 called Justice. While they were good, I think we also liked the Cowboy nature of them.

We were only there for a couple of hours and then we climbed into our big red horse for the journey across the plains. We’ll dine tonight on game (or twice baked potatoes) and whatever else we can rustle up from the land. Probably a salad with blue cheese crumbles and a nice vinaigrette. We’ll pop open the flask or bottle and then roll out the bedroll to sleep under the stars.

I think we’re also going to order up Tombstone on Netflix. Seems appropriate.

Celebrating the wild west tonight and wondering if maybe they had been drinking wine instead of whiskey there would have been a different outcome at the OK Corral. Something to ponder while I rustle up dem vittles. 

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live out loud

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. 

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