On the road again

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:58 PM

Apologies, or maybe not, to Willie Nelson but we’re on the road again, road trippin’ it up to Paso Robles, some great wine country just inland from the ocean in Central California. It’s about three and a half hours from our house. We loaded up the Rover with a suitcase, a bag with necessities like makeup, lotion, toothbrushes, lots of CDs, bottled water, three computers and the iPad. Basically all of the comforts of home inside four red doors with a transmission that gets 15 miles per gallon on a good day. The only thing missing is the vintage puppy. He’s home, no doubt asleep on his new rug, hanging with the dog whisperer, our dog sitter, also known as Karen.

We drove along the 101, heading north, past Ventura and through Santa Barbara before we finally broke free of civilization. To our left was the ocean; to the right rolling hills of the lightest green. As we went inland a bit, watching the tall grass and much taller trees whipping in the wind. A bicycle peloton pedaled by and I marveled at their dedication to be riding in this wind. It’s a bit of a losing battle and can suck all of the fun out of a ride. I speak from experience.

Cows, black and brown, dotted the landscape on either side. The hills and grass became greener the further north we drove. The road was smooth, newly paved and pleasant. White fences lined property, and more cows, lazy cows, lying down, the sun kissing their fur, no doubt warming their souls. A hawk flew over the vineyards that started to appear just north of Solvang. Some were so close, we could see the knarly in the wood as it trained around wire. They stayed with us for miles, before running up against a dairy farm and the exit to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Other than the cows, and then some sheep, a horse or two, there was no animal or human activity. In the distance, a house, then another dotted the hillside to the west. Suddenly, another vineyard filled with workers. Without grapes to harvest, I can only speculate that they were training the vines. I hope they’re obedient.

The road ahead was filled with trucks, and other SUVs; the road behind littered with the cars we had zoomed by in our quest to get even less miles per gallon that normal.

More vines, and still more. We could tell we were getting close to our destination as the number of cows diminished as did the amount of bugs going kamikaze on the windshield. Where there’s livestock there always seem to be bugs willing to die for a piece of glass. 

The temperature, not hot today, began to drop as we got closer to our destination. We went through Santa Maria, not big, but after all of the nothing, it seemed a metropolis. There were gas stations, a Burger King, a Harley Davidson dealership, a Best Western side by side with a Marriot. Casa de Oro, a winery with a tasting room alongside the freeway, looked moderately enticing, but we had places to go so we didn’t truly give it a thought. Up the road a bit, Laetitia, another winery. Again, hardly a glance in its direction. Roy and Bobbi were some time ahead of us, there already, waiting to truly begin our trip. This morning, as we were both working, she came online with her word of the day: wube. She quickly corrected her finger position on the keyboard. Wine. I laughed.

She sent a text as we were driving. The ocean had reappeared and we were driving right along side. It sparkled in the late afternoon sun. We weren’t far. Bobbi’s text said they’d be waiting at the house we’re renting, with a glass of wube poured. I’m ready, baby. We’re ready.

Let the wine tasting celebration commence.

 

Addendum: Pam!

I walked into the house and Pam and John were there, sitting at the granite counter in the kitchen. My brain recognized her but didn’t. I’m still not sure she’s here, even as I’m sitting at this table in the kitchen of this house in the middle of nowhere. Roy is on my left, talking to John. Kevin is on the couch. Pam and Bobbi are talking.

The friends I love most are in this room. There is wine, laughter, conversation and music. I am happy. I am joyous. I am definitely living it out loud.

More tomorrow. Hopefully with pictures!

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When Fritini comes early

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:46 PM

Tomorrow is Fritini but that didn’t stop us from celebrating a day early. Justin is in town and hasn’t seen Roy and Bobbi since before Christmas. In other words, they never got a chance to celebrate his birthday. And tomorrow he’s going to Tucson for the weekend to celebrate his birthday with his Arizona peeps. Evidently, one of his closest friends has recently completed a tour of around-the-world beers, sponsored by a local pizza place called Old Chicago. Because he has now graduated, Old Chicago treats him to a party for him and 7 of his closest friends, with pizza and beers all around. Said party will be for Justin. So since he won’t be around for the official Fritini, we all got together tonight, for Thurs-tini. Doesn’t quite have the same ring.

It also doesn’t have the same beverage. We don’t do martinis during the week. It’s a little, well, much. Martinis are for Friday nights, putting an official cap on a long and often frantic week. And besides, Fritini is often followed by Saturday, unless too many martinis are consumed in which case Fritini could be followed by Sunday. It hasn’t yet; but it could happen.

Thurs-tini has wine, and mostly red; all of it poured at The Wineyard in Thousand Oaks, our favorite Thursday night date haunt. Roy and Bobbi met us there, as did Justin who joined us after he returned a broken Christmas present for a replacement. They were pouring a tasting from Girard, a smallish Napa valley winery that specializes in Chardonnay and Cabernet-based wines. That’s directly from their website. What that means is that they make white wines and they make some blends including straight varietals like Cabernet. Tonight we tasted a Sauvignon Blanc followed by a Cab, an old vine Zinfandel and a Petite Syrah. As anyone who reads this blog on even a somewhat regular basis knows, I am very partial to the syrah grape. It’s small and potent and packs an enormous deep red, hair on your chest wallop when done correctly. Girard does it correctly. Their 2009 Petite Syrah, an even smaller grape that packs even more of a punch, is inky purple, so dark it looks almost black. The color lays in the glass, swirling like the deepest, most bottomless lagoon, looking for monsters and instead finding angels. It is exquisite.

We tasted, we laughed, we talked, we told stories, we shared confidences and fears, and we toasted a Thursday night at The Wineyard. After the tasting was over, Kevin bought a bottle of the Petite Syrah and we sat at our small pub table, five of us crowded around in high seats, under one of the arched windows dripping with tiny white lights. We had a partial glass each and capped the bottle. Outside, on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, cars streamed by silently. Inside, the decibel level was high as others laughed, talked, told stories, shared confidences and fears, and toasted a Thursday night at The Wineyard. Eventually the din quieted and we were some of the only ones left. Soon after that we realized it was nearly nine and none of us had done anything for dinner. Bobbi had work still to do, I had a blog post to prepare as well as my own work to do, emails to send, lists to prepare for tomorrow. And so we too dispersed.

Tomorrow is Friday, officially Fritini though not this week. This week we did Thurs– Oh, I can’t even type it again. It’s just wrong. I prefer, instead, to call it Giovedìtini. That’s Italian for Thursday and tini. Czwartektini is Polish. Jeuditini. French.

In whatever language, it means the same thing. Celebration of friends and family on a Thursday night. 

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The Saturday Experience

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 7, 2012 11:30 PM

Saturdays are my day to sleep in. After a week of early mornings and late nights, largely due to work, Friday night rolls around and as I snuggle inside the soft sheets and the fleece blankets, my brain sighs with relief. Saturday is a day of rest, at least in the morning. The dog stirs at his usual time, around 7 and chomps at the air and slurps at nothing for about thirty minutes before he rises, shakes and announces that he’s ready to go out. I sigh and say: “You taking him?” and my husband says “yeah” as he throws back the covers, slips into his slippers and pads out through the living room with Maguire in hot pursuit. As he leaves I mutter to “come back,” because I know he, too, needs a little extra sleep. Most Saturdays he does. Today, he came back and slept until nearly 9:30, then got up to make coffee. I finally opened an eyeball to look at the clock at 9:57. I blinked and fixed two eyes on the clock. Really? Even on Saturdays I don’t sleep that late.

I got up.

We had coffee and then decided we’d take out the motorcycle. First time in months. Which meant one thing: we needed to check the tire pressure. On our last set of tires, we had neglected to check the tire pressure on a regular basis and it made the tires wear badly and weirdly. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that unhappy because I’d wanted to put whitewalls on the bike for years. This was my chance; I made my case. We got whitewalls. But my husband was adamant about being better about the tire pressure. So we moved the cars out of the garage and backed the monster out of its spot where it sits quietly, in front of the Porsche. Kevin pulled out his air compressor and got to work. And by work, I mean a lot of work. Much more work than we thought. Because of the massive brake apparatus on each tire, the stem for each tire has to be in a perfect position in order to get the compressor pump in place and deliver air. Which means moving the bike, moving the bike, moving the bike, a little bit more, forward just a bit. There.

This took nearly 30 minutes. We had designs on jumping on the bike by 11. Then, given some unforeseen stalling, we figured 11:30 at the latest. We left just after noon.

But we knew exactly where we were going: Magnavino Cellars to pick up our wine club shipment that’s been waiting since November. You’d think we’d be more attentive since there was wine involved. Regardless, dressed in our chaps, heavy coats, full-face helmets and sunglasses, off we went into the cool Saturday air. Wound our way through Hidden Valley and up through Dos Vientos before descending into the still-misty sunshine of Camarillo. The fields were lush with cabbage and onions, green peppers and lettuce; tomato plants were already starting to fill out on their stakes. Solar farms have also sprung up of late. There were dozens and dozens of panels, tilted toward the sun, along the roadway. Ironically, there were a number of cars parked under the panels, as it trying to escape the sun.

We finally found our way to Magnavino and walked in. I can’t remember the last time we were there – it’s been at least six months – but Rob and Barb, the proprietors, were both there and recognized us immediately. There was another couple with a dog in a USC t-shirt; her name was Peanut. Coco, the official winery dog, was there too, also sporting a lovely sweater. She came over, sniffed, wagged and then retreated to behind the pouring bar to curl up in her bed for a nap. We chatted for a while, tasted some wine, talked with some of the other patrons and had our picture taken.

Then it was back on the bike, with our wine-pickup safely tucked into the saddle bags. We stopped for lunch, we came home, we showered, we watched football, we cooked dinner, and sat next to the fire for the evening watching reruns on TV. That was our Saturday, nearly perfect.

My word for the day: Exceptional.

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45 minutes up the road

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 27, 2011 12:05 AM

We went wine tasting today. Our sixth annual day-after-Christmas jaunt up the road to Santa Ynez. It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny. Most days after Christmas up there are cold, cloudy, very mid-west or northeast. We need coats and scarves. Sometimes we’ve needed gloves. Not today. It was also much quieter than usual, in terms of the number of people. I wonder if it was because this year’s day after Christmas was a Monday; I wonder if people had to work. Pity, that.

It’s a little further than 45 minutes up the road from here but one of the wineries we visited, Curtis, poured a wine that was off the tasting menu. This happens often, when people in the winery realize that the people they’re pouring for know a thing or two about wine and aren’t there only to drink, but rather to discover. It often starts when people like us say we’re only interested in tasting reds; none of us are white wine drinkers. The lady at Curtis was a lovely woman named Julie who spent yesterday with her three grown children who all live in Santa Barbara. She moved from there a couple of years ago and now lives amongst the vines and cows in the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez valley. This valley is known primarily for its syrah grape because it’s cooler and the temperatures are higher. It also has low rainfall and a very long growing season; ideal for syrah. Curtis has lovely syrahs and we sampled several, poured by Julie. She also poured a little something called Carlson Pinot Noir. Carlson is the last name of Curtis’ winemaker, Chuck. While the winery primarily uses estate grown fruit, or grapes grown on their own property, they don’t grow pinot noir. So when Chuck Carlson decided to have a little fun and produce something outside the barrel, he went 45 minutes up the road to Santa Maria.

45 minutes up the road. It could be anywhere, and anything could be there. It could be rolling hills bathed in the cool air and fog of the Pacific Ocean. Or it could be flat plains of crops, lettuce, peppers, onions, crops that grow in the near central coastal areas of California.

45 minutes up the road, if you walk, gets a person back to the Chumash Highway. 45 minutes if you ride your bike gets you past Los Olivos and into Solvang. 45 minutes if you drive gets you to pinot country. Pinot noir, that most romantic of grapes, can be velvety smooth; it can also have a wicked edge. Joel Fleischman, a writer for Vanity Fair describes pinot grapes as having “so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon calls pinot “sex in a glass.” It’s truly a lovely grape producing a lovely wine full of flavor and texture, light to medium in body with an aroma of black and red cherries, raspberries and currant. It’s brilliant garnet in color, and when the sun hits it, it sparkles. It’s native to Burgundy, France, and when made in California, it tends toward the depth, color and wonder of a syrah.

45 minutes up the road Chuck Carlson found a vineyard that he could use to produce an amazing pinot noir, a wine with enough romance and mystery and wonder to take us anywhere and everywhere we wanted to go. And we went, willingly. 

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Friends make me feel better

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 3, 2011 11:08 PM

Today is my friend Roy’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is on the advice of counsel (that would be my husband) but I will say that we were lucky enough to see him and all of his birthday glory, and he still looks good. He’s still able to walk on his own; the hair isn’t too gray. He can chew his own food and drink his own wine, though his wife – my good friend Bobbi – did have to order it for him. We went to The Napa Tavern and since it was before 6, we were able to do a tasting. We perused the tasting menu; I decided on three cabs. Bobbi smiled at the waiter and said: “he’ll have what she’s having.” And so he did.

We all had our tasting. Roy and Bobbi had several appetizers. We weren’t hungry so we decided to chew our wine instead. It tasted good. But we talked and laughed and joked and even argued, albeit very good-naturedly. That’s the nature of friendship. It’s all about the joy.

When I was younger, I thought I should have a lot of friends. I thought that was what true happiness was about. But as I grew more mature, I realized that friendship was not about quantity; it was about quality. As friends would become too much work, I would divest myself. I adopted a platform that basically said that if someone didn’t bring me joy, I wouldn’t spend time with them. By joy, I meant feeling better for having been with them. It didn’t have to be jokes and laughter; I could be with a friend and spend the entire time in tears. But if I felt better for the experience, it mattered. I am so busy, now more than ever, and I need to have people in my life that bring me joy. I do. I have my husband, of course, and my family; I’ve rediscovered Pam. I have Diane and once again Connie, and several others. Each time I’m with these people, in person, or on the phone, or even online, I’m better for the experience.

And then there’s the birthday boy and his wife. Roy and Bobbi elevate the experience. They are our closest friends, our confidantes, the people who know the most about us and who always make us feel better for having shared time and wine. This is what friends do. And we are all the better for it.

We’re home now, dinner is done and the dishes are on the table, waiting to be carried to the kitchen. Maguire is in the bedroom, barking at nothing. Kevin has started to drift into a nap on the couch opposite of me. There’s a fire burning lazily in the fireplace, the newly erected Christmas tree stands dark in front of the slider. I’m relaxed and warm after a cold day outside in the biting wind, putting up Christmas lights, all with the help of my best friend, the husband-unit. I have a glass of wine on the table, my laptop on my lap, an episode of NCIS on the TV and now my dog has come to lay beside me after his barking episode in the bedroom. This is what a relaxing Saturday night feels like.

After spending a few hours with friends, I’m feeling good. We choose our friends, we choose to spend time together, we choose to let them into our lives. Friends make our lives better because they are our choice, and because of that, they become our family; they reflect our better natures.

Friends make us feel better for having been with them. Even more so when one of those friends is celebrating a birthday. It’s just that simple.

In which we go wine tasting in Santa Barbara

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 26, 2011 11:43 PM

As most know I'm a self-confessed and somewhat proud wino. Say it with me. "Hi Lorin." I love me some wine. I don't know when I first discovered this love though I know it was quite some time ago. I'm not talking about cheap wine in a box, or the wine I drank before I was old enough to drink. That was Lancers and that doesn't count. Actually anything done in high school really shouldn't count; ditto college. But once I became a real person and learned the value of good wine as part of a balanced diet, I was hooked;  hence the wino designation.

It was probably when I moved to Southern California, the land of opportunity and wine. The land of sunshine and wine. The land of movie stars and bikinis and beaches and phenomenal creativity and wine. Yes, there's a correlation. Some say California has been making wine since as early as 1520. Its official wine producing status began  in  1758 when Father Junipero Sera planted the first vineyards. In 1833 Jean-Louis Vignes brought vines  from Europe giving California wine  its taste by combining climate here and land there. Agoston Haraszthy  brought California wine making to the next level, establishing vineyards here and then digging caves to store the wine. It all came together in 1861 when Charles Krug established the first commercial wine making vineyard in Napa Valley. Then came Sonoma, then Paso Robles got into the act as did Santa Ynez and Temecula, and Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara county is 3789 square miles in the centralish section of the California coast. Settled in 1602,  the city began making wine in 1769 and has developed some fairly stellar wineries. We hadn't been to any of them until today.

We had promised to take Justin and Bethany wine tasting, so we decided Santa Barbara might be a fun place to try. We could park and walk; we'd be near the water. Justin hadn't wanted to spend their whole time here in the car. I didn't have the heart to remind him that this is - ahem - Southern California. The traffic capital of the country, with the #1  worst traffic interchange in the country. Yes, we're taking a bow.

Naturally they've spent the entire four days in the car, today being no exception. The only difference was that we were driving. At least they got to sleep on the way back.

So off we went to the newly christened Urban Wine Trail to taste some relatively small, unknown, but not inconsequential wines. From the somewhat established Santa Barbara Winery with its 50,000 case per year production to Jaffurs with its less than 4500 we walked. All told we went to five wineries. We indoctrinated Bethany into the fine art of swirling, sipping and pouring out into the waiting bucket if the wine wasn't as pleasant as hoped. She started out this visit more of a white wine drinker. She's now decided that reds are infinitely more interesting. We're so proud. Of course, Justin has long agreed. We raised him right.

And then  we returned from our northbound excursion, battling some horrific traffic as we drifted slowly southward. 'Tis the season. And 'tis always the season for a beautiful day filled with our wonderful son, his equally wonderful girlfriend, and wine, Santa Barbara style.

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For the love of slow cookers

by Lorin Michel Sunday, October 30, 2011 11:04 PM

I’m in my office as is often the case on a Sunday afternoon. I use this time to catch up on some work from the previous week as well as to get a head start on the coming days. The Patriot game is on in the background; they’re playing horribly. The dog is dreaming in the living room; I can hear his feet pushing across the hardwood floor as he runs through fields or prances down the sidewalk under the eucalyptus trees.

Also drifting up through the atmosphere is the lovely fragrance of barbecue, slow cooking in my slow cooker. Whoever invented these cookers is somewhat of a genius. I always thought they were stupid and for old people, especially when I was young. It seemed as if nobody ever used them for anything other than Swedish meatballs. But I have friends who use them to mull wine. That’s definitely something perfect for a slow cooker because it warms slowly and it’s almost impossible to burn, or overcook, and keeps everything ideal for a holiday party. And no one mulls wine like Diane and Gene.

The most famous slow cooker is the Crockpot, but the roots of its creation were planted hundreds of thousands of years ago when prehistoric man (and woman, no doubt) used leaves to wrap roots, vegetables and meats, leaving them near a fire for long periods of time. Evidently, it was a great way to tenderize tough prehistoric plants.

Fast forward to the 1960s when the electric bean cooker made an appearance. Called the Bean Pot, it was the forerunner to the Naxon Utilities Corporation’s slow cooker. Then, in 1971 Rival Industries purchased Naxon and quickly made a little gadget called the Crockpot. It was modeled loosely on the hay-box method used by campers once upon a time. These campers would take a crock of food, usually in a clay pot of some sort, and heat food with plenty of liquid until it boiled. They’d then insulate the crock with hay to keep in the heat, allowing the contents to simmer and stew in its own juices for several hours. Flavors were better distributed and the food was easier to eat, to chew. Today’s slow cookers, of which Crockpot is just one brand, also use a ceramic crock inside an electric skin. Any manner of raw food – vegetables, meat, poultry, fish including shell fish – is dropped into the pot, liquid is added, lid placed, dial turned on. I usually cook on low for seven and a half hours or so. Low is around 170º.

We’ve made all types of things in our slow cooker, ever since we decided to buy one a year ago. One of the food groups I’m most interested in pursuing this season is soup. I love soup. And the slow cooker will be perfect to make anything from vegetable to chowder to cioppino to chili. I’ve yet to make mulled wine but I might. I’m a wine drinker as everyone knows. And I’m also a big fan of cinnamon and spice, everything nice. When combined with wine, it’s quite festive. Simmering all day, the fragrance will be positively holiday-esque.

But that’s later. Now, I’m in the anticipation mode. I’m sure it will be wonderful. It will definitely be less to do for dinner, which is OK on a Sunday night. I’m working this afternoon, playing a bit. Sadly, that’s more than I can say for my Patriots who just lost. Deservedly so.

Still, it’s Sunday. Dinner is cooking and filling the house with fine aromas. The dog is clean, and now snoring. The kid is doing well. The husband unit is working as well. We’re all happy, and healthy; we’re all good and fine.

That’s what I’m celebrating today and into tonight. That’s what I’m living out loud.

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A blog of a different color

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:04 PM

I went out tonight and met an old friend for a glass of wine. It was fun and I enjoyed it because I got to see a friend and talk about stuff other than work, to laugh, and because I had the opportunity to have some good wine. There’s a relatively new place in Westlake Village called The Napa Tavern, and their wine selection is one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time. Odd wines, boutique wines, not your typical wines. Most of the wines on the menu aren’t ones that anyone would readily recognize and they run the gamut from whites to reds to deep, glorious hair-on-your-chest syrahs. Yes, I know that’s also a red. But I always put syrahs into a different category.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I’m a red wine drinker. The heavier the better. If it puts hair on my chest, so be it, husband be damned. I like a red that is thick and dense enough in color that it’s impossible to see through even when the light hits it. When said-light makes an appearance, it gets stuck at the edge of the liquid and can’t penetrate through. That’s a true red wine. And it’s usually a syrah.

Connie, my old friend (and I only mean that only because I’ve known her forever), drinks white wine. The tannins in red give her a headache; she’s not alone. Many people have that problem. I have the opposite issue. White wine gives me a headache. I have no idea why since white wines have no tannins. But when I drink white wine, even a glass, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night feeling as if I’m wearing a helmet that’s two sizes too small. It’s not comfortable. So I don’t drink anything lighter than a Pinot Noir.

So Connie drank whites, a flight actually, and I stuck with first a Malbec and then a Syrah, my usual wine of choice. White and red, red and white. Beautiful regardless. It matters not the color; it matters only that it’s lovely and thick and glorious, and shared between friends.

That’s how I feel about life in general. I don’t care about the color of the day, the leaves, the clothing or the people. I only care that there is beauty. Beauty in each individual, in each outfit, in each bottle of wine; in my kid, my dog, my husband, my friends; in my family.

I’ve always been partial to red wine though I love to wear black. Brown looks best on me because of my coloring. Others are partial to pink and love to wear blue. Still others like white wine which is often more yellow in color and thrive in red fabrics. Color is all around us. If we’re lucky enough to see it, live it, wear it, befriend it and drink it, all the better. Color, regardless of your particular persuasion, is to be celebrated, lived, enjoyed… especially with good friends.

Happy Wednesday!

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Time for a Niner

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:44 PM

Those of you who know me know that I have several weaknesses. One is for my kid, of whom I’m so proud; one is for my vintage puppy, who makes me smile simply by existing. Another is my husband, most days. Other weaknesses include my closest friends and my wondrous family, mostly one in the same. I love to read and really love to write. I love my Patriots (even last weekend when Brady was intercepted 4 – !!!!!! – times. I digress) and Chicago and Tucson. I love pasta and just about anything made from or with a potato.

And I love wine, especially if it’s colored red.

The bigger, bolder and hairy the better. I like a red wine that is so deep and dense that it’s impossible for light to get through the liquid as it floats in a perfectly formed goblet. To swirl and sniff and sip a heavy red wine, like a Zaca Mesa Mesa Reserve Syrah from 2007 or a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from virtually any year is to taste what heaven must be if I believed in heaven. Instead, I choose to believe in Bacchus the Roman god of wine and mayhem, probably song as well.

Bacchus is a liberator, a god whose wine, music and dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear to breakthrough the restraints imposed upon the minions. That would be us wine drinkers. Bacchus also has a cult, a cult of souls, and I’m a happy member. Now normally I’m mostly opposed to cults, for obvious reasons. Group thought and group belief bugs me. But a cult of souls committed to wine? That might be a cult I can remain a part of since I’ve obviously already joined.

One of our new favorite reds is just about anything by a Paso Robles winery called Niner, and especially anything from 2007. They have a kick-butt Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a decent Cab. They make a wine called Fog Dog, and another phenomenal red and our new favorite: Twisted Spur. This blend from what is essentially the Central Coast region of California is grown on a patch of land called Bootjack Ranch on the side of the Salinas River. It’s 125 acres of hearty red grapes like Syrah, Merlot, Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Twisted Spur is an exquisite blend of Merlot (59%), Cab Franc (27%), Syrah (12%) and Petite Syrah (2%), all blended and twisted together to form an absolutely exquisite wine. The spur, I suspect, is just a nice Western twist. Pun intended.

Tonight we popped a bottle to have with a lovely plate of pasta. Penne with a light cream sauce of parmesan, a touch of blue cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, onions, a little ham in olive oil and Marsala. I had a tough day, fighting with one of my projects with the project winning for a good part of the time. Then I went to a meeting for about three and a half hours. When I came back, my project decided to cooperate and the evening got better. The wine was the crown.

As I was writing this, Kevin said: “What’s the blend of the Spur?” I had literally just pulled up the website. He took a sip and smiled. “How do we continue to do that?” he asked. “Do what?” “Always be on the same page all the time.”

It’s called synergy, and like this fine wine, it gives our lives and our evenings flavor. 

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Into the sunset

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 3, 2011 11:11 PM

 

I’ve never known any real cowboys, only those in the movies, and most of them are like cartoon characters. I’ve read and studied quite a bit, though, and I appreciate how the real cowboys worked in the old days of the west and how many still do. It’s a calling, I imagine, like anything else, and a tough life. Long days in the hot sun, long nights under a sky carpeted with stars, cold early mornings and a lot of loneliness. But the beauty of the western landscape would make it worth it and I suspect it’s one of the reasons many chose and choose the life. Stretches of barren plains, the hard unforgiving earth ready to wash away at even a hint of rain, rolling hills made treacherous by rocks and loose vegetation, all spreading out as far as the eye can see. There are no houses, no towns, no cities. No urban sprawl or hip-hop music blasting from passing cars; no true modern amenities. Cowboys still sleep under the sky.

I thought about that today as we drove west across the Sonoran desert, heading home from Tucson. It’s flat and bleak, with a blight of asphalt jungle, the 10 freeway, running through it for hundreds of miles. That’s the only hint we were in the 21st century as much of the landscape is still untouched, largely uninhabitable because of the terrain and the heat. So much of it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Occasionally we’d see an abandoned structure, the windows long broken by who knows what, perhaps sand storms or driving monsoons. It would sit impossibly low, as if no one could truly stand up inside. Maybe it was just our perspective from the road. There were no doors, no clutter, no rusting metal tools or cars; just a building that someone resurrected once upon a time and then left to whither in the unforgiving desert heat. I wondered who, and then we were past.

We drove on, direction due west, on our steel horse, the cruise control set at 82, trying to beat the sun. It always seemed to be just beyond our reach, moving further and further down in the sky no matter how fast we went. Finally we stopped trying and settled in for the ride and its beauty.

Jack Kerouac wrote a novel, published in 1957, called On the Road about two friends, Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise who meet in 1947 New York City and begin three years of restless journeys back and forth across the country searching for adventure, for truth and for passion. It was an autobiographical work with a stream of consciousness style. An acquired taste to be sure. Kerouac was part of the Beat Generation, writers who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity. Most Beatnik writers like Kerouac were inspired by other writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, also non-conformists who sought to change how the world thought, acted and reacted through commentary, analysis and poetry. The poet William Carlos Williams was also a big influence. His poem The Dance is one my all time favorites.

Writers like Kerouac were dedicated to respecting the land and indigenous peoples and creatures, much like today’s cowboys. (The old children’s game of cowboys and Indians notwithstanding.) Kerouac’s own description of On the Road was that “the Earth is an Indian thing,” meaning rich in history, in culture, in what’s real. In some ways, it’s horribly naïve; in others, it’s exquisitely beautiful and introspective. That’s what the cowboys have always gotten right: the idea that truth is in the land, in nature. It is all around us, still waiting to be absorbed and appreciated and loved.

Tonight, we’re back in California with our beloved Maguire. We have the windows open and the air is cool. Crickets are chirping and we’ve opened a bottle of Arizona wine, a Syrah made by Kief-Joshua. It has hints of dust and the sunset, of deep pomegranate and desire. A perfect wine to drink this night, with the stars blanketing the sky and the earth and the memory of the desert still in our minds and hearts.

When we close our eyes we’ll see the fire of the sun as it drifted toward the horizon, changing from white hot to bright yellow to orange to red as it sizzled into the sea, extinguishing its heat as it pulled the sky over for cover. We’ll relive our journey and rejoice.

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Part 1, Chapter 7.

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