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!

The long road ahead

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 29, 2015 9:05 PM

One of our favorite things to do is go wine tasting. We are people of limited interests and for the most part we're fine with that. We don't travel very often; it's not really our thing. We're home bodies and with the new house, it's a bit like being on vacation every day, albeit a working vacation.

When we do travel, we prefer to drive and we almost always set a destination for wine country. We have been to Napa Valley; we've done day trips to Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. We've been to Paso Robles now at least four times. Bobbi and I think it's five but for some reason we can only come up with four places.

Paso Robles is located in the Central Coast of California. Not at all on the water but close enough to get there for the day if you so desire. We don't desire. We like to drive into the nooks and crannies, twisting along impossibly narrow roads, watching for deer, watching that we don't get too close to the edge because there are no guard rails and in some cases, the road drops off steeply.

In late November, the grapes have been picked. The only thing remaining is the occasional cluster, shriveled, covered in frost in the morning. The vines though are the colors of fall. The mornings are cold, the days cool, the people in the wineries lovely and the wine interesting. Sometimes it's exquisite, other times it's merely good and not good enough to buy. Those wines at those wineries are just as much fun. Often we like them so much we wish their wines were better. Oh, that wishing made it so.

For two days we visited wineries, some incredible, others merely fine. We tasted, we talked. We laughed and learned about wine. We know quite a bit but we always discover something we were unaware of. That, the company and the beauty of the area, combined to make it a great trip, one we now do at least once a year. One we look forward to. We’ve already started talking about next year.

This morning, the alarm went off at 6. I had already been awake for 35 minutes or so. It was cold, 25º outside. We had a gas fireplace in our room that works on a remote. Kevin turned it on to take the chill off before we got up. It was time to pack and make the journey home; to hit the road.

Somehow Kevin made room in the car for our suitcases, nestling them in and amongst the several cases of wine we bought. We gulped down some coffee, hugged our good friends and bid a fond farewell to Paso Robles. We'll be back.

The road stretched ahead of us. It was a long way home but after a great weekend, it was but a small price to pay for the working vacation that awaits.

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live out loud


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

Steve Tyrell

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 7, 2015 8:15 PM

Many years ago, Kevin and I discovered a place in Westlake Village called The Napa Tavern. They had a sign on the outside that said they did wine tastings and we were always looking for good places to taste wine. Even though we went to the Wineyard nearly every Thursday, we still liked to try to broaden our horizons. After months of saying “we should try that place sometime,” we finally did. It was a cool, rainy Saturday afternoon. We ducked in out of the weather and stood for a moment taking the place in. It was a restaurant as well as a bar. In the back there was a fireplace; outside on the patio, a huge fire pit surrounded by couches. Both were blazing. It wasn’t that cold out but the rain made it raw. The fires, even though both were gas-fueled, provided a warm atmosphere. 

The bar was in the front of the restaurant. There were several tables and then a long bar lined with what appeared to be well stuffed bar stools. Comfortable. We took a table and glanced around some more. On the big screen TVs they were playing Casablanca. The sound was off, but just seeing the familiar faces of Rick, Elsa and Sam made us grin. We immediately loved the place.

They offered tastings where you chose three different wines. You could do predetermined flights or choose from a list of available wines for the allotted three. As red wine drinkers, naturally we chose reds. The flights arrived in individual red wine glasses. Deep and wide, with stems and glass equally long. The presentation was excellent as were the wines. 

As we sipped and watched the rain out the window, and Rick and Elsa on the TV, the fires blazing in the background, we settled into the kind of comfortable space that goes with drinking wine on a Saturday afternoon when the weather is cool and rainy and the world slows in motion. We couldn’t have been more content.

There was music playing. It was mostly standards and obviously from a play list. We’ve both become very big fans of the old standards. There’s something about the clarity of the language and the music, the joy and pain of it. I wonder sometimes if the appreciation of this music happens as you get older. I never cared a wit about standards until I was in my 40s. I liked jazz; always have. But I suddenly developed a love of Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and others. It has lasted.

As we were sitting there in the mellow splendor of red wine on a rainy afternoon, a song came on. It was “This guy’s in love,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune from the 1960s. We thought it was by our friend Billy Vera of Billy Vera & the Beaters fame. It was the same gravelly voice, a lazy lounge singer kind of ease that is non-committal and wondrous all at the same time. We didn’t have Soundhound at the time so we asked the bartender who was also our waiter (it was a slow afternoon) and he pulled out his iPhone, held it up to the speaker, and announced that it was Steve Tyrell.

We had never heard of Steve Tyrell but we quickly became fans. Big fans. He’s the perfect kind of standards singer. His voice has that groovy kind of feel. It’s not great, I wonder sometimes if it’s even good, but it’s mesmerizing. We have since bought a number of CDs as well as downloaded a number of them. I created our own playlist on iTunes, standards all with Mr. Tyrell in heavy rotation, and we listen often. 

We were listening last night. It had rained all day, violently at times, but the evening had become calm and cool. We had the windows open. We poured a glass of wine, and I turned on the iPod. Steve Tyrell came on. Evidently he’s still in love. So are we. And that’s always worth celebrating.

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live out loud

Well, he was on sale

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 10, 2015 10:31 PM

We got Cooper about eight months after we lost Maguire. I was still devastated by the loss of my big beautiful honey bear but I was hopelessly lost in the house. Anyone who has pets understands the emptiness of the home when you return and they’re not there. We used to schedule our return trips from vacation so as to arrive in time to pick Maguire up from the pet motel. In later years, we hired a pet sitter so he was already home when we returned.

I started looking on the internet, at Pet Finder, for a dog. I didn’t tell Kevin because as far as he was concerned, there was no other dog other than Maguire. I’m not sure if he would ever have come around on his own; I forced it. I found Cooper, named Andy at the time, one night while searching. He was in Westlake Village at a rescue group called Labs & Buddies. For a week and a half I returned to the site to look at him. I think I was secretly hoping that he’d be gone but he never was. One day, I finally told Kevin that I had been looking at other dogs. I felt, somehow, like I was cheating on Maguire and confessing my sins. Kevin simply looked at me. He wasn’t mad, but he wasn’t thrilled. I showed him the picture. His deadened response: “cute.”

I kept talking about getting another dog, asking what do you think of Andy? He didn’t think much. He really didn’t want another dog. We didn’t fight but he was belligerent. I told him how empty I thought the house was. That of course another dog would never – could never – replace Maguire. This wasn’t about replacing. It was about sharing the goodness of our lives with a less fortunate animal, providing a good home. I told him, finally, that I was going to get a dog. He didn’t have to have anything to do with it. I knew that once we had another dog, he’d eventually fall in love. He just needed a little prodding.

We went to visit Andy on a Thursday late afternoon before we went to the Wineyard for wine tasting. He was hyper, attached to Laura who ran the rescue group. Kevin remained unimpressed. I didn’t fall in love immediately but there was something about the little guy, something so desperate that he broke my heart. Over wine we decided to take him.

On Friday, we picked him up. As Kevin took him for a walk, I paid the adoption fee. Laura, also a lawyer, had done all of the paper work. I signed what basically was a contract stipulating that I would love, care for, and adore our new friend. I got out my checkbook, prepared to write a check for $300. That was the cost of adopting a rescue, and I was fine with that.

“Why don’t you just give me $200?” Laura suggested. I wrote the check and we brought our boy home.

We’ve had issues over the last couple of years, mostly behavioral. We came to know that he had been passed between foster homes for at least a year and a half if not more. He had been adopted once only to be returned. He wasn’t an easy dog, but he is a worth it dog, and we – including Kevin – love him.

We tease him sometimes and tell him that he was on sale. Not for sale, but on sale. On sale is usually reserved for the things no body wants. Lately he’s had some health problems, and last night I joked that he was on sale and that he was kind of a lemon. Then I kissed his nose.

He may have been on sale, and he may sometimes be kind of a lemon, but as the saying goes, when you adopt lemons, you make lemonade. We make it every day.

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live out loud

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rental cars and stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 days

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 1, 2014 8:45 PM

Once upon a time, the countdown to how many shopping days until Christmas started around the first part of December and progressed at a frenetic level until it became like a countdown for a rocket launch: Uh oh, 5. No, 4. OMG, 3. You are so screwed 2. And fuggedaboutit 1. Now along comes Overstock, a website that I’ve been frequenting lately because I’ve been able to find some amazing things for the house at equally amazing prices. They have a Countdown to Black Friday 2014 clock. As of right now it says:

26 days : 14 hours : 33 minutes

I love this time of year and can I just pause right now to be among the first to wish you, dear readers, happy holidays. I’ve written before about my love of the season, how I adore the music (as long as it’s more along the jazzy side) and the movies. I love the weather; I even love shopping, something I don’t love at any other time during the year.

But a countdown clock to Black Friday? Come. On.

This is why many get disgusted. The commercialization of Christmas and the holidays in general gets more and more out of control every year. The build up becomes such that you almost can’t help but be let down when Christmas day rolls around and everything is over by 2 pm.

Years ago, my mother used to get very into Christmas. She would spend so much time preparing for the holidays. Shopping, baking cookies. She even used to do her own Christmas cards. She loved to decorate the house, and especially loved to decorate once we moved to New England where more traditional exterior lights are not just the norm, but dictated by town ordnance. In New England, and especially in Amherst where my mother lives, everyone puts white candle lights in their windows. Rarely do you see lights strung along the rafters, but if you do, it’s done in good taste. Those lights are often white as well. Wreaths made from the fallen bows of pines and wired with pine cones that have also fallen adorn the doors. It’s very Normal Rockwell. You half expect to see a horse drawn sleigh going through downtown.

What you actually see are Volvos and Range Rovers, with lots of horses under the hood.

By the time Christmas afternoon appeared, she would start to get down. By evening, she’d be depressed. The Christmas’ never quite lived up to Rockwell’s imagination. She finally came to the realization that no one lives like a Rockwell painting, and from then on, she’s been fine.

We have long set our own traditions. Living out west, we’re rarely with family so we’ve made our own west coast family and it’s populated with our closest friends. Justin has always been home, and we always have a lovely Christmas morning, and then usually go to Roy and Bobbi’s for dinner. The next day we go wine tasting. It’s a way to extend the holiday.

This year, Roy and Bobbi are coming to spend it with us. We’re so excited. It will be a new tradition; one we hope to continue.

And at Thanksgiving, all of us are going to Paso Robles to go wine tasting. This is a new adventure, too. For years, we always had Thanksgiving at our house, where all the “stray dogs” – people who didn’t have family, or who had family they didn’t care to be with – would come. This year, we leave on Thanksgiving morning to drive to the Central Coast of California. Have a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner, and start wine tasting on Friday and Saturday. It will be Kevin and I (and Cooper), Roy and Bobbi, and Diane and Gene. The perfect holiday.

So we won’t even be around for Black Friday. Overstock’s clock will continue to tick down (26 days: 14 hours : 16 minutes) and rather than frantically shopping, we’ll be enjoying good friends. In 25 days. And on Black Friday, we’ll make it Red Wine Day. That’s living it out loud in holiday style.

Harvest time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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