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.

Bud break

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 30, 2016 8:57 PM

Bud break is a celebration of vines breaking open, with flowers that will eventually become grapes. It happens in spring, much like flowers blooming. If you're a winemaker, this is a very special time, allowing you to get an idea of what your potential yield for the year might be. This is the time you start to come alive too, if you're a winemaker, because this is when it all starts. For the past months, you've perhaps bottled and labeled. You've spent time cleaning barrels and tanks, and the warehouse-like rooms and floors where barrels and tanks are kept at a balmy and constant 50 degrees. You've entered contests and festivals, and you've waited. And here it is. Finally. The vines are coming alive after a dormant winter. 

We are budding winemakers. Our six vines are in the ground. We have not yet seen bud break but we're hopeful. Today, though, we went to experience another winery's bud break. Keeling Schaefer. Located about two hours south east of us. We are members of their club, the only one we've joined in Arizona; one of the few wineries in Southern Arizona that makes bold reds and we're all about the bold and the red. Their vineyard is located in Pearce. We'd never been to either Pearce or their vineyard. Their tasting room is in Wilcox, a tiny town a bit further west. At one point, it was a small booming town. Now, it's just small. Their tasting room is in the old Wilcox Bank & Trust building. The safe is still there and operational. We're members of the WB&T club so we get four bottles three times a year.

About a month or so ago, we got an email that they were going to be having a bud break party, and we were invited along with the other club members. The chance to roam through the vines and talk to the winemaker, not to mention sample the wines, was one we couldn't pass up. So this morning we cleaned the windshield, climbed into the otherwise filthy Range Rover and set off. 

Once we got off the freeway, we were in the land that time forgot. Broken down houses dotted the mostly flat landscape. There was a town called Dragoon. I looked it up later. There are 209 people that live there, and 10 hotels, none of which did we see. There were no stores, no cafes or saloons. There was a post office and a Baptist church. 

We cruised down Dragoon Road toward I-191 to I-181. Both roads were nearly deserted. Occasionally a car passed us going the other direction. There were towering trees to the left, green crops to the right. Pink and purple flowers marched up to the side of the road but didn’t dare cross. There was no cell service. We went by one house, a brown wooden structure with an old-porch. I remarked that it looked like little house on the prairie, but with cars. There were at least five cars in the backyard. 

We went by Golden Rule Vineyards and the Dream Catcher B & B, then turned right onto Rock Creek Lane. It was dirt and rock and washboard. A total disaster of a road, but it was lined with budding grape vines. We were smiling even as the dust was flying. 

There were at least 120 people at the vineyard. The winery was pouring all of their wines, as many tastes as you wanted, with a “lunch pour” of your choice for lunch. The winemaker, Rod Keeling, talked to everyone about the vines and the “buds” as we all stood in rapturous attention. There were barrel tastings of a 2014 Shiraz, one from a brand new barrel, one from a year old barrel. The difference was astounding. Kevin got the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Rod to get some pointers and to find out about buying grapes so we can make some more wine since our fledgling vineyard still has years to go. 

We bought six bottles of wine, and then it was 3:15. Time to reverse course and head home.

The sky was low and heavy – cloudy clouds – and rain specked the windshield and the now even filthier car. We were still smiling as we found our way back to the 181 and the 191 and then the 10 west, heading home. Once again, through the wilderness, areas just dotted with houses. We didn’t see a single person, only horses and cows.  

We’d met some wonderful people, tasted some phenomenal wine, discovered some new information. It once again affirmed our decision, and our commitment, and our love of the middle of nowhere, of wine, of buds breaking and of each other. It was a good day.

In which Kevin plants a vineyard and Lorin helps

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 10, 2016 8:11 PM

Kevin and I are big winos. This does not come as news to anyone who reads this blog or who knows us. Even people that have just met us get a feel for our wino tendencies, especially if they come to the house. That’s undoubtedly because we have a temperature controlled wine room. We went to Stephanie and John’s house a couple of weeks ago and when I asked what I could bring, she didn’t hesitate before putting me in charge of wine. We love wine. We drink it regularly. When we vacation we go wine tasting. We’re rather boring in terms of what we like and like to do, but it works for us.

Years ago, I bought Kevin wine making equipment for Christmas. It was essentially the equivalent of a starter kit. It even came with a box of wine juice. It was very bad wine. But Kevin got hooked on the idea of making wine. Several years later, in 2012, we took the plunge and actually bought grapes, 100 pounds each of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. We fermented them, listening to the crackle and pop for several days. Eventually we pressed them, removing the skins and preserving the juice, aged them, bottled, corked and labeled them. Ultimately we got 72 bottles, 36 of each. 

Now we’ve taken another plunge and have planted our own micro-vineyard in order to grow our own grapes which we can them ferment, press, age, bottle and serve. I say micro because as of now, we only have six actual vines of Barbera. They arrived, wrapped in wet shredded newspaper and plastic in order to keep the moisture in until they got planted. For nearly two weeks, we worked to ready the area, pulling out weeds and bufflegrass, building walls – essentially making a 30 foot by 6 foot planter. 

On Thursday, we unwrapped the plastic, and saw our vines for the first time. They’re very unattractive. Knarly and long, skinny things that look and feel a bit like bark, with spindly, spidery roots. Kevin pulled out the old fermenter, filled it with water and put the roots into the water. They needed to soak for several hours before planting.

Next, out to the vineyard he went to dig holes. In a large vineyard – even a regular size vineyard – vines are planted in rows that are trenched by a machine. Each vine is planted approximately 4 to 5 feet apart. This is because they grow up and then have to be trained along wires in order to have lots of room to grow and to have grapes drop down.

The holes he dug were about 12 inches deep. We placed the vines into the holes, one vine per hole, put a six-foot stake in the ground next to each, then refilled the holes, watered, and stepped back to admire our work. 

This is the beginnings of our long hoped for vineyard. I say beginnings because we have plans to perhaps get more Barbera vines, maybe some Petit Sirah, maybe some Malbec. We have to get vines that do well in this kind of climate but those three do. Our current six vines will produce up to about 70 pounds of fruit, with each individual one capable of between 10 and 12 pounds of grapes. It won’t happen for about 3 years, but once it does and we can pick, de-stem and crush, ferment, press, age, bottle, cork, label. Drink. 


The vintner and his erstwhile helper; the micro-vineyard in the background

Michel Cellars, our fledging winery, will produce estate-bottled wines, meaning wines made only from grapes grown on the property versus wine made with grapes purchased elsewhere. Kevin has long wanted to be a vintner. He’s on his way. By the time he retires, he’ll have enough grape vines to keep him at least partially busy. Until then, and if all goes according to plan, we should have new Barbera wines to drink in about five years. 

That’s wining out loud.

Readying the soil

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 18, 2016 4:39 PM

There is a DirecTV commercial currently running that makes me smile every time. It’s called "The Settlers." The premise is simple enough: a family lives in a house right in the middle of a tract development. On either side of their house is another almost exactly the same. One neighbor comes home in his BMW SUV and stops to say hi. The family’s father is on his wagon in the front yard. It’s being pulled by an ox. They’re tilling and fertilizing the soil. His son has already asked why they can’t have DirecTV like the McGregor’s next door. The father has informed him that they’re settlers. They settle for things. Like cable.

Cue Mr. McGregor, calling over the fence. “Hey Jebediah. How’s it going?” 

Jebediah, waving back: “Working the land. Hoping for a fertile spring.”

The absurdity of it is what gets me, similar to the Geico camel and hump day commercial from a year or so. They’re just laugh-out-loud funny. 

We have DirecTV so we’re not necessarily settlers. We are however about to be working the land, readying the soil and hoping for a fertile fall in about three years. Actually, we’re not quite readying the soil yet because we have to have some delivered. About 6 cubic yards of it. But we are working the land because we’re getting ready to plant grape vines. 

Several years ago, Kevin and I bought grapes and made our own wine. We got about a hundred pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Paso Robles, and an equal amount of Syrah grapes from Santa Barbara County. Over the course of several months, we fermented, crushed, aged, and bottled about 72 bottles total, 36 of each. There was more to it, of course, but that was the gist. It sounds so easy. It was nerve racking, what with temperature fluctuation and the time Kevin was sure that the cab had developed bacteria. In the end, it all came out well, and we had our first true Michel Cellars wines. That was about three years ago. We haven’t had time to do it again since due to other life things like moving.

But for Christmas this past year, I bought him six grafted Barbera grape vines. We have to be very careful what we try to grow because of the climate, but Barbera is supposed to grow very well here. So I found a place online. I ordered them before Christmas and gave Kevin a print out in his stocking. The vines ship on Monday; they’ll arrive around mid-next week.

Once we decided on the best place to put them, we got to work. He’s been building walls because we want to plant on a hillside on the west side of the house. The issue, other than our fairly dry soil, is that we’re mostly rock. The soil we have simply isn’t that deep. So he’s positioning his walls on a flatter part of the hill and we’re going to have dirt delivered to create an area where we can plant, and nurture, and grow. We also have to figure out the best way to keep the critters away and to protect the vines from the winds and the monsoon rains. This is why I only bought six. Better to start small, figure it out and add to the vineyard than to start with a bunch and have them all get eaten, blow away or drown. 

Providing the grafts take in the soil we’ll have delivered next week, we’ll spend the next three years tending our six little vines, training them, pruning them, weeding, and watching. Any berries that grow we’ll put back into the soil for the first couple of years. In three years, we should have grapes that we can pick, de-stem, ferment, crush, age and make into our first estate-grown wine. Michel Cellars Barbera 2019.

Jebediah would be proud.

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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.

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