The neighbors of Blue-Merle Country held a pot-luck the other night in our local community center and I discovered the recipe for a future wine blend. I volunteered to bring some wine (which was already made) to the dinner, but was asked to make a dessert. Being busy chasing gophers, and mildew spraying, and weeding, and planting new vines, and repairing broken trellis systems, filling out tax forms and cutting down overgrown trees in the middle of the vineyard, and giving tours and tastings to passers-by, I'm not a person who has much time for making desserts on a Saturday afternoon. I thought I would whip together one of my "persimmon puddings" (one very ripe persimmon, an egg, some flour, some baking soda, some milk), but as we only have ONE persimmon left from the fall harvest, and as it is the Queen's, at the last moment I substituted a Myers lemon (of which we have an abundance) and a couple of diced kumquats (of which we have an abundance) and one tangelo (of which we have an abundance). I put in two eggs this time and set the oven for 425 degrees. I must say, it came out well, and had I added a white sauce and Grand Mariner, then the dessert would have been ambrosia. As it was, I did bring back and empty plate back from the event so someone must have liked it.
I brought a bottle of 2007 Petit Verdot to the pot-luck along with my dessert and my friend Joe the Wino brought a bottle of 2006 "Merletage" which was a blend of 2006 Blue-Merlot (80%) with 20% Nebbiolo. Joe's wife -- who I love to death -- is a generous person, and it's interesting to see her bring her own wine to these events (she's loathe to drink the house wine). She honored me by bringing a bottle of our wine, and since our Queen had drunk all of our '06 wine, Joe and his wife had the last 6 bottles in the world. I would gladly pay them $100/bottle for it.
"Joe, I remember the first time we met. You came to our open house two years ago when we planted our vineyard. You sat your sorry ass on a barrel of our best wine and kept dipping the turkey baster into it and pulling yourself a glass. 'Who in the Sam hell is that?' we asked ourselves."
He demurred, as if still suffering from that long ago hangover.
"After the blessing of the vines and the party had ended we found a bottle of Nickel & Nickel's best Napa Valley wine which you had left as a present and we said, 'Well, I don't know who the hell he is but he's my kind of guy to leave a bottle of wine like that.' The rest is history my friend. Here, please try a sip of this," and I poured him and his wife a jigger from the 2007 Blue-Merle Petit Verdot which he'd never tasted and which is not yet released.
"Smooth," said Joe's wife, but she wasn't doing cartwheels. And neither were Coyote Karen and Celestial Sandra -- they said it was nice but it didn't get me any hugs. Disappointed, I went to the bar and had a sip of all the house wines, then poured me a sample of the "Merleatage" Joe and his wife brought and had a sip. I was hit by the tannins. This one stood out. "Joe, try this," I said filling his glass.
He had a sip, and proclaimed, "This is the best wine here."
I thought I would have some fun and I went over to the Coyote who was pouring her own wine, and I suggested, "Let's play the Gustavo game." Gustavo is the name of the character in the movie "Bottle Shock" who can identify the type of grape in any bottle of wine. (It is an amazing ability.) The Coyote poured first. I took a sniff and a taste and I recognized the grape:
"Brunello, 2007, Bill Schweitzer's vineyard, Ramona." I was dead on (but won no money, only bragging rights). Then I poured her the "Merleatage." She liked it but didn't recognize it. "I'll give you a hint," I said. "You know the grapes." She still couldn't guess it, which surprised me, as this is the woman with the million $ pallet for whom $50 is a cheap wine. "It's 80% Merlot Mike's grapes and 20% Camillo's Nebbillo." She had made wine with the same grapes herself, yet couldn't recognize them.
I went back to the bar and poured myself another glass of the Merlatage, and did a more thorough taste test. The wine did stand out, but it could benefit from additional aging. I told Joe to cellar the remaining bottles for another two years. Then, I tried a little experiment: I poured some of the 2007 Petit Verdot I brought into the same glass as the "Merleatage" Merlot/Nebbiolo blend. Now that was good. I brought some to Celestial Sandra. "Try this." She sipped and approved. Then, I darted over to the Coyote. Now, we had played the "Gustavo Game," but there is a new measure of the worthiness of wine I call the "Gustavo Scale" -- this is when a woman loves the wine you give her so much she throws herself around your neck and offers a passionate kiss as a reward. With that in mind, I brought the serendipity blend to the Coyote.
Now it's not for nothing that we call her The Coyote. Of course, her vineyard is infested with the critters who try to snatch her grapes. This vineyardista is Coyote beautiful, proven by the howls of coyote, dogs and men alike in admiration of her feminine charms, and I had found the aphrodisiac to unleash her womanly affections.
"I like it," she said. Well that was a start, although there were no public displays of affection. With tail between my legs, and with a recipe for a blend that I know would work (3/4 Petit Verdot, 1/4 Merlot) I shuttled back over to Joe. "What's new my friend?"
"I went down to the County government to get a permit for my wine cellar." Joe had built a cellar into the side of a hill. It was magnificent, and I love to go there. Everyone loves to go there. "The government official said, 'We have a problem.'
"'What's that?' I had been trying to get that permit for almost two years now.
"'Wine is flammable.' So what? I said to myself and kept listening. 'You're going to need to add another door to your cellar.'"
Joe was dumbfounded. His cellar is buried underground. To add a back door would require major expense. It's as if the County of San Diego had never needed to give someone a permit for a wine cellar before. This is not a good sign for the County's future as an emerging wine making region.
Joe replied coolly to the County Official: "Let me tell you something. We just had a fire rage through here less than 2 years ago and I lost more than $2.5 million in property damage including my home. The fire passed right over the underground wine cellar without any damage at all, and without any increase in temperature. And now you're telling me that I need to add a back door to my wine cellar because wine is flammable and without a back door people could be trapped in the case of a fire?"
At that point I couldn't help throw Joe a jab: "Well, if Obama was head of the County, he'd clear this up and San Diego would be on it's way to becoming a major wine producer." Joe hates Obama, but now he hates the County government worse.
Macadamia Bruce joined us. I asked him what's new? "I'm looking for a squaw to marry."
"The Indians have just invested $300 million in a golf course that rivals St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined. If you're a member of the tribe, you play for free."
I asked him how many gophers he'd caught this year and confessed that I had only got one in January. He promised to come over and give me a hand.
The next day, Sunday, I was finishing up my spraying and checking the gopher traps and Merlot Mike came by in his Gator. Well, wouldn't you know that I would find a melting gopher carcass in one of the traps as Mike pulled up. "I should have known you were on your way. I always catch a gopher everytime you visit." Mike had a guest and either they were pressed for time or he was feeling chicken and didn't want to take the vineyard plunge driving his Gator down our vineyard. "I hear we're getting a lot of TV coverage from the tour de California bike race going on," Mike said.
I reminded him: "The real tour is taking place here after Lance Armstrong crosses the finish line in the bike race. I've invited all of them to come up here on their mountain bikes to try tackling the Blue-Merle Vineyard."
Merlot Mike went on his way and I went back to setting more gopher traps and Macadamia Bruce, who had not visited here since we first probed the irrigation system 2.5 years ago came by. He wanted to teach me how to set gopher traps. So I took him to where I had set a trap and low and behold, there he was, Mr. Gopher, dead meat as fresh as he could be. Happiness is catching a gopher when your friend comes to visit. Priceless. And Bluey was ecstatic.
"You were lucky," Bruce said. "You put that trap at the end of a tunnel. You need to find their main road, and set two traps, one in each direction." He went on to explain that you don't need to use mustard greens as bait. "They're not hungry. They want to repair their holes." He also suggested setting the traps between where the males are digging and the females are hanging out -- because you know the little [expletive deleted -- a derogatory word to used to describe Mr. Gopher in the act of procreation with Mrs. Gopher] is going back there at the end of the day."
We went up to "Gazebo Hill" and inspected another trap I had set. (Nothing yet.) Then went over to the Protea Garden where Mr. Gopher's friends were running wild. Bruce found a tunnel, and set a trap in each direction. When I came back Monday morning to inspect, nothing. A few days later, when I inspected the traps I had set, I found a very gamely, disintegrating, rotten, Mr. Gopher. The final tally, three gophers in one weekend. I was gaining ground. As we used to sing as kids:
"Great big globs of greasy, grimy gopher guts
Mutilated monkey meat...."
February rains caused flashbacks to the days I lived in Seattle and biked in storms to college, but the cold has given rise to Southern California Spring, or at least a false Spring. Purple lilac blossoms decorate the wild countryside while in the vineyards, the great wave of bud break where green shoots emerge from bark has begun as the first pop of pop-corn and a the wave from San Diego to Temecula to Santa Barbara to Lodi to Paso Robles to Napa Valley to the North Coast to Oregon to Washington state ripples up the coast. Bud break in America begins. Here.