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.

Save the wine. Save the trip.

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 20, 2017 10:15 PM

A week ago today we went to California. We dropped Riley at the pet resort, a nicety that he didn’t seem to appreciate at all, and then peddled our way across the desert. We did this last summer, too. It’s become a new tradition. We go twice a year now, the other time being for Thanksgiving. Both trips involve Roy and Bobbi and a house we all rent together. For the summer trip, we always stay in LA overnight on Thursday, then get up to drive the remaining three hours to Paso on Friday morning. At Thanksgiving, we stay for four nights. During the summer, just two.

We arrived at our hotel just after 5, took a shower and then met Roy and Bobbi for dinner on the lake in Westlake Village. It was a lovely way to start our long weekend. 

By Friday at 11, we were at Rabbit Ridge, on the north west side of Paso. It’s one of our favorites and we’re members, as we are of at least five wineries in the area. Normally when we go wine tasting, we explore mostly new ones – wineries we haven’t yet visited – while also hitting maybe one or three of our favorites. This trip, Kevin decided it might be fun to do a greatest hits tour. So we were only going to visit our favorites, ones we’d already visited, ones where either we were members or Roy and Bobbi were. 

For the next two days we visited places like Zenaida and Niner, Barr, Sculpterra and Vina Robles. We close every wine tasting trip at Vina Robles. They have a members-only lounge where they have comfortable couches, pour all the wine you want and then some, and even serve gourmet appetizers. It’s probably the best wine in Paso, and while we always worry that one time it will finally disappoint us, it never does. 

We bought seven plus cases of wine on our trip. We had great conversations with great friends. We ate well; we slept well. We had fun. 

On Sunday morning, Kevin and I packed up the Sport and left at 6:30 a.m. We had an 11 hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. Kevin drove the first part, just until we got to Calabasas where we were going to stop and get coffee and something to eat. I had a bit of writing to do that I needed to finish before the end of the day, so it worked well. I took over in Calabasas, and off we sped, across the Valley, through Burbank and Glendale, into Pasadena and then off into the desert. 

Before we left Arizona, Kevin and I had both noticed that the Sport’s AC didn’t seem to be as cool as it was before. We took it to the dealer and asked them to check it, telling them that we would be driving through the desert in July and really would need our air conditioning. They assured us that it was blowing cold; that all was good. 

And it was. It was fine on the trip on Thursday. It was great all through Paso Robles, and it was hot in Paso. High 90s/low 100s. And it was fine early on Sunday. But then, it seemed to get warmer in the car. We kept turning the temp down on the climate control and nothing happened. It became clear that the AC had stopped working at an optimum level. While it was still cooler in the car than outside, it was not comfortable. It was not right. And it was cooking our wine. 

Wine does not like to be in warm temperatures. It prefers about 58º, which is what our wine room is set to. On Sunday, we were hell and gone from that room. We got cranky, we started to fight. We knew that riding through the entire desert and into more desert would ruin the seven plus cases we had in the back. 

So, after screaming and yelling at each other, we exited the freeway in Blythe, California, a lovely hole of a town that we refer to as Blight, found a rite-aid and proceeded to buy five Styrofoam coolers and several bags of ice. In the parking lot, under intense sun, and horrendous heat, we opened our cases, distributed the wine into the coolers, poured ice over each, reloaded them into the back of the care, disposed of the broken case boxes, and climbed back into the Sport. I fired up the ignition. And voila, the AC was working.

Still, we saved the wine. Because if we hadn’t, it would have ruined the trip. We celebrated rite-aid last week, something we’ve never done previously and not sure we’ll do again, but they were there when we needed them. And when the wine needed them. And for that, we were and are very, very, very happy.

What vacation

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 27, 2016 7:21 PM

It always amazes me how quickly we return to our regularly scheduled lives, already in progress. We spent the last three full days in Paso Robles, on California’s central coast, cooking, visiting, hanging out, and of course, tasting wine. We arrived on Wednesday at 3 having left Tucson at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 am. We wanted to beat the traffic, or at least as much of it as possible, and for the most part we did. It got a little cranky as we made our way through Pasadena, and then again through Ventura along the coast but once we got past that snark and hiccup, we were fairly flying. 

We met Roy and Bobbi, our partners in all things wine, on the side of the road at the Vineyard exit. We hugged, and then we drove the rest of the way to the rental house, caravanning. Thus the adventure began. On Thursday, we went to one winery – believe it or not, four were open – and bought some wine for Thanksgiving. We cooked and had a meal that made us all want to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week. Luckily more wineries awaited on Friday and Saturday. 

We went to new places, as we always do, and found at least one new favorite in Ranchita Canyon. It’s small. But they make some lovely rich, dark reds. Reds with attitude. The kind of wine that puts hair on your chest. Our kind of wine. We bought a case and joined their wine club which gave us an automatic 25% off the case price. And because it was Black Friday, they were having everyone who purchased spin their wheel of fortune wheel for an additional percentage off. Yes, it was cheesy. But when I spun for an additional 25%, I didn’t think it was so dumb after all. 

We went to Rabbit Ridge and Graveyard, Villa San Juliette and J & J and Four Sisters. We bought wine at several and skipped the others. We went to our old favorites and proverbial stomping grounds: Niner, Vina Robles, Sculpterra. We tried another new winery on Saturday, Turley. A beautiful facility that specializes in Zinfandel. We’re not huge fans of Zin. Luckily they also had two Petite Sirahs.

And then, this morning came. Again, early, though not as bad as Wednesday. We got up close to 5:30 and after throwing some clothes on and brushing our teeth, hit the road for the long ride to Tucson just before 6. We wanted to beat the traffic, and we did, for the most part. After 10.5 hours, we pulled up our drive and into the garage. Home. 

We unloaded our six plus cases of assorted wines, as well as our suitcases. We unpacked quickly and put the suitcases away. The wine still waits outside the wine room door for entrance and sorting. We took showers, I started laundry. And now, as I type this, it’s just before 8 pm. I’m on my computer, working (and blogging). Kevin is at the eat-at bar, checking email. The football game is on. We settled back into our routines quickly and easily. Tomorrow, work begins with a vengeance. In some ways, it’s like the vacation never happened.

But it did, and as always, I am grateful. For friends, for wine; for great rental houses, for fun menus. For life. Let the holidays begin.

Something about sitting in an Adirondack chair looking out over rolling hills and vineyards

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 18, 2016 6:52 PM

We took our coffee, the first of the morning, and went to sit. The trees were rustling in the breeze, birds were arguing good-naturedly, somewhere a tractor did what tractors do. I heard a dog bark. From inside the house, music. It might have been Eva Cassidy. I found out later it was someone named Lisa Tingle. Roy has a great collection of music. He is our designated disc jockey.

A lizard squirted by, black and scaly, a miniature version of an alligator. 1:100 in scale. Probably more. Or less.

Kevin was walking in the field below though it wasn't much of a field anymore. It's been plowed and staked. New vines will be going in soon. Ever the would-be vintner, he was looking for tips, maybe for validation. He had a cup of coffee with him. A hawk soared above.

Roy was off somewhere taking pictures. Bobbi was still in bed. I was sitting in the back. I had turned one of the old, weathered and nearly broken Adirondack chairs toward the sun, feeling it warm my legs.

This is a different house for us. The past two trips, we've stayed in a two-bedroom guest house in the J & J Vineyards. We fell in love with the space, with sitting out on the porch in the morning, having coffee, overlooking the vineyards. Kevin and I often were up before Roy and Bobbi and we’d go for a walk. Last November, it was cold. We walked anyway, crunching through the vineyard, finding passed-over clusters of grapes. Cold.

But that house, for whatever reason, isn't available anymore. We had to find something new, equally interesting and obviously different. When you get used to a place and really like it, it's harder to change. Bobbi and I want back and forth, comparing places, locations, amenities, and finally decided on Homestead Hill off of Kiler Canyon. We arrived last night near 6 pm. It's definitely different, atop a hill rather than snuggled in and amongst vines. I didn't like it at first; I was disappointed. I don't know why. I think just because it’s new and different.

We made dinner; we relaxed. We went to bed. The windows were open in our rooms. We listened to the crickets and the quiet of the night. We felt the cool air drift over us. We woke up to the birds and the rustling leaves.

I sat with my coffee in my Adirondack chair, my feet on the edge of the dormant fire pit, peering out at the world through my Maui Jims. It had been cool when I came out but the sun started to warm the day. A heat wave starting. It will be all over the west. 

The house is growing on me.

The sun was comforting, comfortable, the day just beginning; beckoning. The vineyards glistened next to the dried brush. It was glorious. A perfect morning beginning a perfect day.

Sitting in an Adirondack chair.

Roots and Reds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if it was red…

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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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Hey lady, I got your wine delivery

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 24, 2016 7:44 PM

It is no secret that Kevin and I are big wine lovers. We love red wine. Love to drink it, love to make it. On the rare occasion that we take a little vacation, we go wine tasting. Several years ago, before we decided to build a house and put all of our vacation money for the rest of our lives into that, we had planned a trip to Tuscany, Italy, mainly because of the wines. Also, the film Under the Tuscan Sun, of which we’re fans mostly because of the romance of renovating an Italian villa in Tuscany. Kevin is also a very big Diane Lane fan.

I like Italian wines. I’m particularly partial to Montepulcianos as opposed to a simple Chianti though a reserve Chianti from a good year can be lovely. Mostly I find chianti’s a little light, a bit like a California Pinot Noir. They’re fine but not usually fabulous. I have no doubt that had we gone wine tasting in Tuscany I would have become a huge fan of all Italian wines. I doubt that they would have eclipsed California wines though, not for me, not for us. 

As detailed in the film Bottle Shock, starring the late, great Alan Rickman and a young Chris Pine with too much hair, California put itself on the wine map in 1976 when a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and a Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon took first place at a blind wine tasting event in Paris. Until then, France was always thought to have the world’s best wines. They were shocked – shocked! – to learn that their precious Bordeauxs had been outclassed by the lowly wines from, gasp, Napa Valley. Napa and other wine regions in California have been winning awards and making exceptional wines for the entire world ever since. 

We are red wine drinkers. I believe that white wine has a definite place in the world and that’s usually in something I’m cooking. But for drinking, all things red and the heavier the better are the way my taste’s run. I love syrah, and petite sirah; I adore cabernet franc and to a lesser extent, cabernet sauvignon. I go nuts for a petite verdot which is nearly impossible to find. Like a petite sirah, a petite verdot is hair on the chest kind of wine. The kind of wine that is almost so heavy it eclipses most foods. The kind of wine that you can sink your teeth into. 

We’ve had wines from other regions, namely Washington State and Oregon. They’re also good if not yet in the great category. We’ve had wines from the north east but they are almost uniformly not wonderful. The climate simply isn’t right. It gets too cold in the winter for too long. Arizona makes some OK wines as well. Not wonderful but they’re interesting. The climate in Southern Arizona is the polar opposite of the climate in the north east. It’s too hot for too long. Some types of varietals grow well here, or at least better than others. One is actually a grape of Italian origin called Barbera. I bought Kevin six vines of it for Christmas and they arrive on March 2. Once we get them planted, we’ll be growing our own grapes and eventually making wine from them. 

What arrived today was already-made red wine. We are members of the California Wine Club and have been for a long time. They tend to offer more boutique style wines, smaller California winemakers who produce a small number of cases. Every month, we get a delivery from them of 4 red wines. We never know what we’re going to get and some are better than others, as with all wines and wineries. They’re not horribly expensive and it has given us a great opportunity to try wines we wouldn’t have otherwise known about. 

The phone rang around 4:30. We still have a private line so that we can buzz people in from the gate. It never rings unless someone is up front. A faint voice came through. It’s like listening to someone through a tin can. It was John. “Gotta wine delivery for you!”

John always delivers our wine from the California Wine Club. Within minutes, he was at the top of the hill, handing me our box. I smiled, he grinned. “See you next month,” I said.

It was a perfect way to celebrate this waning Wednesday.

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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!

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