It was the week of the full moon in Blue Merle Country, almost bright enough to read a newspaper under the night-time sky. It’s the time to hunt gophers without night vision goggles. It’s the time to take an evening stroll through the vineyard to enjoy the magic of this time of the month. It’s mid-October, and it’s warm enough to walk under the stars and the moon without a sweater. The Santa Ana winds are blowing in from the dessert, and I suppose that the snakes are out and about looking for that last meal before hibernation. Not wanting to be mistaken for that meal, I bring a shovel, making my presence known to all in the area. Some might call it paranoia. I call it common sense, especially since we found 12 snakes the first two weeks we moved here two years ago. I’m on a mission, to investigate the smoke rising from the West. It’s "fire season" in San Diego and I’m climbing to the top of the hill of the vineyard to examine the scene below, where flames become visible in the valley. The fire looks much closer than it is – but if the wind shifts, we could be in trouble, so I pack a bag, important papers and the computer and put them by the door just in case. My father used to joke about "sleeping with one eye open." That skill will come in handy this evening, as the flames are visible from the house where I set up my stake out.
It was the first day of Gopher Season, which opens when the bulk of the winemaking is behind us and at least one car fits in the garage. I was setting the first traps of the season when Merlot Mike and Nancy, out for a joy ride, drove over in the Gator. "Every time you come here I catch a gopher," I tell Mike. "Let’s see if it works again this time." We had just finished bottling wine three days before, so we broke open a couple of bottles for tasting. It was getting dark as they left, "another hour of sun wasted" I thought, but it was good to see them. It wasn’t the light that was lost, but water. In my rush to welcome them, I forgot to turn off the irrigation. The Queen called me at the office the next morning to report a flood cascading down the hill. There was no gopher in the trap – Mike’s hitting streak was up but we verified one in the area. Mr. Gopher back-filled the hole where we set the trap, so the hunt was on with me setting a trap, and Mr. Gopher back filling it. I set a good one yesterday, deep into the hole, and found a succulent root for bait. As Bluey and I made the rounds the morning, he froze in his "Gopher Dog" point and I suspected we caught one. When I arrived on the scene, Bluey had already pulled on the chain of the trap and there was Mr. Gopher, squeezed between the tongs. Without gophercide nor dynamite, so long Mr. Gopher! I throw him over the fence for the coyotes to snack on.
The saga of the 46 Phoenix Canarius palm trees (or, if you prefer the less scientific name, those [expletive deleted] palm trees) continued, with more digging, piercings and swearings. Merlot Mike called, "Can I bring over the Gator and help you move those trees up the mountain?" I explained to him no thank you, because this is my penitence, to atone for all the iniquities, sins and wrong doings during 20 years of marriage. It seems I am not the sole Martyr of the Palms. The Queen attempts to help me lift one of the trees into a hole, and her hand is pierced by a needle. Without a word she walks up the hill to the house, stoically bearing the sign of the "stigmata."
It’s been one year since we evacuated from the Great San Diego fires of 2007 and camped at Coyote Karen’s mom’s house. There were the Queen, Bluey & myself, Coyote Karen and her sidekick Pinot Noir "We’re Drunk" Sandra with her two shitzus, Merlot Mike’s cat (whom we called "kitty" and locked into the bathroom); Jack, Judy, Chuckie (the medical miracle with Down’s Syndrome) and their two golden retrievers (Max & Maggie) and a couple of cats. We were a mini Noah’s Ark – not having to worry about bringing a wine dog, Coyote Karen brought her wine collection and was very liberal with her libations. Might as well enjoy a good class of wine while your house burns. We sipped, and watched distant flames lapping hill tops.
Our houses didn’t burn this time (thanks in part to Sandra’s husband Jim who stayed behind to defend the neighborhood) – and this day, one year later, Karen called to say her brother (who co-hosted us refugees last year) was coming down for a visit. Would we join them for some brisket? Now the best brisket I’ve ever tasted was at The Salt Lick outside of Austin, Texas 11 months ago and the second best in the world is made by my cousins in Oklahoma. Ole Coyote Karen had lived in Texas herself a few years and must of learned a thing or two because I now declare her the Princess of Brisket, and I don’t say that just to flatter her in hopes of being granted privileged access to her wine collection or other hidden gems. "I added a can of coke and wine to the recipe," she explains, and I suggest that what’s good for beef should be good for gopher meat and I offer to go and find the carcass of the fresh one we caught this morning.
After the nourishment, it’s back to the "winery" and racking wines into the refurbished French barrel. I’m told there are two kinds of barrels: Burgundy and Bordeaux. I can’t tell you if the difference influences the taste of the wine – but the thinner barrel we got last year fit through the side door of the garage. The one we received on Saturday does not. But, this one doesn’t leak. The work begins at 2:30pm and finishes at 8:30pm, and the Queen starts singing some very melodic songs about how she never dreamed about "making wine" – that she only wanted a vineyard. I suggest that she go and plant a palm tree or something – which I’m glad NOT to be doing as I blend the Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot into a "Merleatage" (named after Bluey) wine. The Cabernet Franc tastes good for a 3-week old wine, the Malbec is surprising good and "spritzy" from malolatic fermentation, but the PV I’m not so sure about so we’ll see how the "2008 Merleatage" turns out. After that’s done – and I take a break from racking to plant a palm tree (which turned out to be our best financial investment of the week) – we rack "Bluey’s Blush", our first rose wine… and it tastes pretty good! (I’ll spare you the comments about how it has a "banana nose.") We come inside, enjoy the leftover blush topping wine chilled from the freezer, then open a bottle of 2007 Petit Verdot, which was just bottled a few weeks ago… and I’m thinking, what a difference a year makes.