Saturday, June 21, 2008

Blue-Merle Wins Two Awards At San Diego County Fair Wine Competition

Bluey, the Australian Sheppard with "blue-merle" coloring who is the cellar master of San Diego's Blue-Merle Winery, won two 2nd place awards at the San Diego County Fair Wine Competition June 15, marking the highest finish ever of a canine at the event. Bluey's triumph is all the more significant as he achieved the perfect dog trifecta: catching a squirrel on Weds, catching a gopher on Thursday and receiving his two red ribbons on Friday. "Lassie never had a winery," Bluey remarked as he posed with his ribbons. Said his mother, Kazuko Justice, who oversees the vineyard and winemaking operations, "My name should also be on the award. Nancy's name is on the award that she and Mike won," said Kazuko, referring to her neighbors Mike and Nancy, owners of the adjacent Sunrise Vineyard who also won two awards.

"He's my dog," Hanako Justice, 19, told reporters in New York City, where she is working this summer as a barrista intern and contacting local wine bars to carry the Blue-Merle vintages. According to records obtained by Winemaker's Journal staff through the Freedom of Information act, Hanako did indeed feed Bluey three times and took him jogging once, so her claim to ownership is not without merit.

"We would have won first place," said Karen, maitress of Coyote Oaks Vineyard, who has a joint-operating agreement with the Blue-Merle Vineyard, and used the same grapes to make her wine. Unfortunately, the high tech sales executive was not able to get her entry in on time, due to obligations at work for her daytime job.

The award winning Blue-Merle wines are the 2006 Nebbiolo and a "merleatage" blend of Petit Verdot (2007) 65% spiced with 35% of the Nebbiolo. "They're not that bad," said Gene Justice, Bluey's grandfather, who is a "Monsieur" of the Order of J'aime Bien Buvez le Vin who once lived in France. Apparently the San Diego judges agreed.

"I felt we had a pretty good chance at a medal," said Craig Justice, Bluey's companion who works part-time at the winery. "There were only two entries in each category." The wines will be available for sale to the general public as soon as San Diego County passes a pending ordinance allowing boutique wineries to have tasting rooms on their property as a right of zoning. (Editor's Note: By then, the wines will have aged to absolute perfection and Hilary Clinton will be running for president, again.)

Bluey was almost disqualified by the judges before the competition began. "No dogs allowed," said one of the judges as the blue-merle waited in line to drop off the wine a week before the event. A woman stepped forward in his defense saying, "You let my husband enter and there's no worse dog I know."

"Bitch," mumbled the husband. The judges convened, and Bluey was allowed to participate. However, he was unable to attend the actual wine tasting and judging on June 15th as it was the final day of the U.S. Open Golf tournament, being played at the Torrey Pines Golf Course just down the road. U.S.G.A. officials, in an attempt to provide the most challenging course for all players, held a surprise for the last day. If Tiger Woods was ahead on the last hole, he would be blind folded. This would make it fair for the other players. Bluey had made arrangements to attend the Open that day, and to jump in if called upon to be Tiger's seeing-eye-dog. Bluey donned his orange, black and white stripes for the Open, and one of the spectators screamed when she mistook him for a tiger. Fortunately, security from the nearby San Diego Zoo appeared on the scene in moments and determined that Bluey had no tail and wasn't a tiger. "That's the finest specimen of bobcat I've ever seen," said a Zoo spokesperson. As it was, the real Tiger was behind on the last hole, and so the Golf Officials kept the blindfold in their pockets. Meantime, Bluey missed the wine judging. As his ears weren't pinging, he assumed he had lost the wine competition. Overall, he was happy to be at Torrey Pines in support of Tiger, as Bluey was recovering from his 2nd foxtail surgery to his leg in two years, and empathized with the golf champion's pain. And just like Tiger, Bluey is all smiles and good attitude, no matter what the challenge, no matter how much his paw hurts.

Auspicious Beginning

The making of the Blue-Merle's award-winning Nebbiolo wine had an auspicious beginning as Bluey saved the life of the broker who purchased the grapes used to make the wine. Here's how he did it. Bluey, Craig and Jim (one of the partners of neighboring Coyote Oaks Vineyard, which used the same grapes) went to pick up the grapes from the broker at 6am one morning in Sept. 06. Jim's wife had not returned the broker's many calls the previous day to confirm we would pick up the grapes. After arriving the broker insulted Jim's wife. Jim, a U.S. Army Veteran who was keen to practice decapitation techniques he had used in combat, was about to kill the broker, whose life was saved by Bluey's sharp barks and the team refocused on the grapes and getting them back to the winery for acid adjustments, sulfite additions and fermentation.

The wine was promising in the barrel. When the vineyard held an open house to celebrate the planting and blessings of the first vines, Mick, the owner of nearby Belle Marie Winery, kept going back to the Nebbiolo barrel for 2nds and thirds. Another neighbor parked himself on top of the barrel, and just kept filling up his glass. (This neighbor is a wine connoisseur who brought a $75 Napa wine as a gift--an even exchange.)

Last week on the evening of the midsummer full moon, the Hidden Meadows Winemaker's Association climbed to the top of Blue Merle Mountain to taste the award winners as the sun set and moon rose. The ladies from Coyote Oaks were fashionably late -- the moon was up and the men were howling with the coyotes when the nubile maidens arrived. Bluey sent his two-legged companion down the mountain to fetch them.

"We're drunk," said the ladies.
"No you're not. You have your clothes on. How much did you have to drink?"
"Two bottles."
"See, you're not drunk. That's one bottle each. Everyone around here knows that it's 0 to naked in 1.2 bottles of wine. "

Karen has been identified as a "person of interest" in a probe into what happened to the "bung" of the barrel containing the prized 2007 Petit Verdot, which performed so well in the San Diego competition and is (perhaps "was"?) destined for future awards worldwide. The bung was "found missing" from its barrel on Saturday morning, exposing the treasured wine to air for a full 2.5 days after the moon viewing celebration. Did it just "pop off" from the 100 degree heat? Or, was it an act of sabotage, after she failed to win an award even though she used the same grapes? Or, was the winemaker simply distracted by her pink tonails and forgot to put it back? [Editor's note: To find out how the cellar master dealt with this situation and to learn if the wine was saved, be sure and subscribe to Winemaker's Journal.]

There is rampant speculation about Bluey's future plans. "We feel like we've won 2nd place at the NCAA Final Four basketball championships," said a spokesman for the Blue-Merle. "We're going to declare ourselves eligible for the draft and go pro."

The award winning Blue-Merle wines are expected to be on sale in New York at the end of this year, with New Yorkers paying up to $100 for a bottle with Bluey's paw print on the label and a souvenir "hair of the dog" inside. The winery has said it will offer discounts to local buyers, and has asked that if you'd like to purchase award winning, locally produced wines to please contact your San Diego County Supervisor and let him or her know that you support San Diego's boutique winery ordinance, which would allow you to easily purchase direct from the winemaker in the ambiance of the vineyard, with views to the Pacific and the surrounding mountains.

[Editor's Note: The Blue-Merle Winery wishes to express its sincerest thanks to all who made this possible: To Mick and Jeff from Belle Marie Winery, who supplied the grapes, crushing equipment and winemaking advice; to Lum Eisenman, for his instruction; to Jim, Sandy and Karen from Coyote Oaks Winery who helped make the wine; to Mike and Nancy from Sunrise Vineyard, who lent equipment and offered much advice and moral support; to our constant winemaking companion, the man from Cana with the wine miracles at weddings. ]

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