Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weeding Before The Inauguration

While the rest of you outside of Southern California are huddled by fires (or freezing your private-parts off), it’s been over 70 degrees here in Blue-Merle Country the last week and the weeds are sprouting. We tried to go organic last year and I let the weeds grow, attacking them with a hoe and a weed-whacker, but the foxtails waxed strong and set their booby-traps finding their way between Bluey’s toes causing another $1,000 vet bill and a violent tongue-thrashing from Bluey’s matron against the environmentalist who let the weeds get out of control. As I have vowed today, and will vow tomorrow, "to make everyone I meet a ‘raving fan’" -- (for this to work as a philosophical way of life "everyone" includes your spouse)-- I am obeying the pleas of The Queen who runs this place to round-up the weeds with a back-pack sprayer, transforming me into a clone warrior from a Star Wars movie. Since it is difficult for me to pick up a pen with those thick gloves, I have asked her to write a letter to the President-elect excusing me from his inauguration, as there is too much work on the farm to attend. The President-elect knows that in our nation’s hour of need when he requires an assistant who speaks Japanese, Chinese, Russian, German & French to help him negotiate the economic recovery and peace with the world’s leaders he can count on me, and, following the example of Cincinnatus of ancient history I will drop my plow and go to Washington with a case of wine as my secret weapon. Meantime, it's out to the vineyard.

In addition to the deadly foxtails (one of those in a dog’s ear will penetrate his brain), there is annoying thistle which spreads faster than mint. The vines have lost their leaves and the buds are beginning to bulge and I wonder if the warm weather may result in an early bud-break this year and how that would effect the grapes and the taste of the wine. Lum says that "good wine is made in the vineyard" and I believe him. The vines look fine and the weeds are only a problem at the bottom of the hill where the dirt is rich and the spraying is soon finished. The buds of the almond trees, however, are bursting and so are the apple trees and this can’t be good for them because it is still too early in the season and apples need chill.

The new President, as the chief steward of our land, will be called upon to weed the government of out of control programs and to plant seeds of future growth. Were it as easy as managing a vineyard.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to refinance the mortgage – it seems that almost all of our money is going to pay interest to the bank for this property leaving very little for women and wine. By not eating out; by not getting cable or satellite TV; by buying as little food as possible and living on home grown grapefruit, persimmons, avocados, oranges, bread and wine; by not buying a clothes dryer; by not buying Starbucks; by not hiring any helping-hands to assist us in the vineyard and by working hard and earning some commissions I managed to pay off a credit card this week and I thought it the perfect time to contact Chase Home Mortgage about a refinance. Now, like the rest of you, we pay our mortgage on time and we pay our bills and I have never declared bankruptcy and I’m not about to walk away from this property so it is discouraging when the fellow from Chase responds immediately that there doesn’t appear to be enough equity in the home to do a refinance. While laboring in the vineyard thoughts become clear and it occurs to me that I pay the Federal Government taxes each month, and I pay the Federal Government social security each month, and I pay the Federal Government Medicare tax each month and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. They know where I am and they just take it out of my paycheck and they get their money. So how much trouble would it be for The Government to take a mortgage payment out of my paycheck too? Chase Home Mortgage is able to borrow money short term at close to 0% interest from the Federal Reserve Bank of that same Government and at slightly higher rates for longer term loans, and I’m paying Chase 6.5% on a "Jumbo Loan" and they are making a ton of money off of me. Because most of my money is going to Chase there’s no money for me to spend on Starbucks, batteries for the digital camera, restaurants, nannies, vacations, clothes, dog sitters, Home Depot supplies, meat, Christmas presents, college tuition and all the rest, and my not spending, combined with millions of my neighbors in similar situations, is dragging our economy back to the depths of 1932. Now, suppose the Federal Government held my mortgage and I paid the Feds 2.5% interest – not only would the Feds make money (given their low cost of borrowing), but hundreds of dollars a month – if not a thousand – would be freed-up as discretionary income. And if you multiply that by a few million people it becomes "real money" and wouldn’t that be a boost for the economy? You bet it would. We could spend more. We could also save more for retirement. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps not. "Yes we can!" -- can’t we? For those of you attending the inaugural balls next week, please feel free to pass along this idea.

Back to the weeds and the gophers. The spraying is done (or, at least I’m done) and it’s only 3pm and since I’m the "making a raving fan out of everyone" perfect husband today, next on the list is replacing the light bulbs. We get that done without falling off the ladder and the Queen is impressed and I suggest let’s go down to the local wine shop and taste some wines. It’s Saturday dog days at the wine shop and we can bring Bluey and leave him on the terrace while we taste the wine and get a fish taco across the street when we’re done and it won’t cost that much. It’s our wedding anniversary next week and wouldn’t it be grand to eat out for a change and since I paid down that credit card let’s treat ourselves to a little treat. The Queen says that if we do that I’m going to end up spending money buying a bottle of wine and more so why don’t we just stay at home and enjoy a glass of wine by the gazebo? That’s a great idea I say (since I’m mister enthusiastic today) and I know that she’s right about spending money. So I stuff a bottle of Malbec in my right pocket and a bottle of Blue-Merlot in the left pocket and grab a shovel and a couple of gopher traps and head to "the gazebo" with Bluey. We call it the gazebo because it’s the one flat area of our property with a 220 degree panoramic view to the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island and Big Bear and all the mountains. It’s the perfect spot for a gazebo after we refinance our mortgage and our Princess finishes college and when there’s some money to spend. It’s priceless to watch the sun sink below the horizon of the Pacific and the sky turn orange and we sample triple cream brie on crackers with fruit of the vine. It has been quite a day. To start, Bluey and I were up before dawn and we jogged the Three-Vineyard cross-country course with a half-moon overhead and a faint orange glow behind the eastern hills to guide us. We attacked the thistle in the vineyard and boxed up a Macadamia tree (for future resale) and I potted a creeping geranium into a hanging basket that I hung on the terrace. Her majesty the Queen of the property was satisfied with our efforts and at the end of the day we sipped wine and ate cheese and talked about a future with a gazebo and more olive trees. I walked over to an area of the Zinfandel block where there was a gap between vines and showed the Queen how, when pruning begins in two weeks, you could take a shoot going up towards the sky and pull it down to the cordon wire to make a cordon arm. And as I showed her, pulling the shoot tightly to the wire, it snapped in my hand.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Not To Turn On A Vineyardista: Top 10 Pick-Up Lines

The San Diego Amateur Winemakers' Association, affectionately called SADAWS, held its January meeting in warm, spring-like conditions yesterday at neighboring Coyote-Oaks Vineyard and all the local vineyardistas were in attendance including the Coyote herself (Ms. Karen), Celestial Sandra and scores of other nubile maidens from San Diego County.  This is a monthly education event in which the price of admission is three bottles of wine: 1 to share with the group, 1 to trade and 1 for the group's webmaster. Every drop is consumed. After selecting the bottle I had won in the raffle, I put it in my pocket for safekeeping (an unopened bottle of wine disappears in 10 seconds with this crowd). An observant young woman asked, "Is that a bottle of wine in your pants?"

"No, sweetheart, I'm just really happy to see you."  This started a discussion about the Top-10 best and worst "pick-up" lines for winemakers and vineyard owners.  So, here goes, not in any particular order.  (Government warning: Some of these lines are high octane and only recommended when the other party has consumed 1.2 bottles of wine.)

1. I'm driving to Paso Robles next weekend to scout out land for planting a vineyard ... would you like to be my co-pilot?

2. The view of the full moon in my vineyard is magnificent ... would you like to come over with a few friends and see it?

3. I really like your carboys.

4. May I put my bung in your barrel?

5. Said to a vineyardista clearing away a plate of prosciutto, "Wait a moment. May I have a piece?"

6. Would you like to help me bottle wine next weekend?  I'll let you do the corking.

7. "How is the wine?"
    "May I taste it from your lips?"

8. Would you like to see me peel a grape with my teeth and my tongue?

9. Would you like to plant a vineyard with me?

10. Would you like to go for a vineyard tour next month -- in Italy?

11. If you were starring in a movie about wine, which character would you be?

12.  I think we could make beautiful wine together.

13. The gophers around here are quite clever and have found ingenious places to hide.  Do you mind if I check for one in your tunnels?

14. Since vineyard owners spend all of their money on women and wine, may I spend everything I have left on you? 

What are the best lines you've heard? Please leave your comments below.

As the Princess was in town, I let her prune 3 "Ugly Hanako" Aglianico vines this afternoon -- we will soon begin pruning in earnest and you can be sure something's going to happen you'll want to read about.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Annual Sex and the Vineyard Edition & The Great Race

To pacify the insatiable and prurient interests of our readers – and to take a respite from continuing battles against the gophers who have morphed into plastic chewing varmints that devour water pipes -- we start the New Year with our annual Sex and The Vineyard Edition. President-elect Obama is inviting bloggers to attend the inauguration to record history for posterity and it is with utmost regret that this writing – and our publication of that interview with Obama-foe Joe the Wino – has resulted in my being banned from the Obama White House for the duration of the upcoming celebrations.
Let us begin the story with the exchange of Christmas gifts. Coyote Karen is given a sachet of lavender from the Blue-Merle Vineyard. "What shall we do with it?" she asked her winemaking partner Celestial Sandy from Ceilio Vineyards. "Put it with your panties," Sandra suggested shooting me a sly smile and a whisper in my ear, "We’re just pulling your rope."
"Keep pulling, baby, and I’ll be sure to stop by each month and put a refill of lavender in her drawers."

The next day I returned home from work to find a bottle of Nebbiolo wine delivered by the elves of Coyote Oaks. As we had made this wine together in 2006, I thought it might be nice to save her bottle for a year or two to enjoy after it had reached perfection (just like the maidens who made it). But the Queen in our house does not understand the concept of not drinking wine to let it age, so there was only one place to hide it: In my underwear drawer. Thus began the Pantie War between the neighboring vineyards and the grounds for a future divorce, full of sordid details about the mixing of lavender with panties and the discharge of fluids and stains [specifically wine] in a drawer of Fruit of the Loom.

Back at the ranch, the members of our local winemakers’ association felt it would be worthwhile to hold the 2nd Annual Three-Vineyard Fun Run, Walk, Mule Ride, which is our version of the Great Race overcoming mountainous hills, unmarked paths and beautiful, drunken sirens. On the Sunday after Christmas we gathered together at 2pm at the bottom of the slopes of Blue-Merle Vineyard, first the neighbors walking over, then the coyotes dressed out in bleach white pants-suits. Merlot Mike and Nancy came next touting the horn of their Gator as they rode up the hill and then came Jim on "the mule", a Vietnam-era army vehicle that he restored which has more torque than the Gator and Bluey’s (the Australian Shepherd who runs this place) hind legs. One of the coyotes snickered, "The boys will bring their toys," at which point Joe the Wino came climbing up the hill mounted on a shiny, orange, brand-spanking-new Kubota tractor wearing a red cap with white trim.
"Joe, good to see you. Welcome to the Blue-Merle. Did Santa Clause bring you that toy?"
"Nope – the Kubota dealer in town has a lot full of ‘em and can’t sell ‘notta one. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and drove off the lot paying 1/3 price -- in cash." As I always say, the rich get richer in a recession and now is the time to make money. That’s why my wife bought up all the palm trees in town.
"Joe, why don’t you lead the procession?" I suggested.
"Thanks for the invite, but I can’t stay. As you read in the paper the San Diego Padres [baseball team] are for sale and I’ve got a meeting with the club’s CEO this afternoon to see if we can strike a deal." We took a moment to say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of our blessings and good friends and family – especially mom and dad who had traveled here from Virginia, and sent Joe on his way with a bottle of wine. Then Merlot Mike and I walked up the hill to survey the road before driving it, since no one had successfully driven the course since I slid off the dirt road in a pickup truck last March. As it had rained 5 inches the previous two weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to survey the course. I pointed out a trench in the road and an awkward angle around a curve at the steepest point (50 degrees).
"Mike, I hear those Gators are notorious for flipping over."
"Only when you drive them where you’re not supposed to." That assurance didn’t make me feel any better.
"What do you think about the safety of this road?"
"Well, tell me something. How much do you like your dad?"
"A lot." Then I borrowed a line from Jack Benny. "If it’s that dangerous, please, take my wife."

With the fate of my father in the hands of Merlot Mike, the procession began, with the Gator speeding up the hill, making it to the top and out the back gate quicker than the Blue-Merle can make it to the nearest rabbit hole. As they recalled the journey afterwards, "It was a piece of cake." And, it looks like we’ve got a property designed for a Gator advertisement. Given the emerging pain in my knee after hauling 5-tons of rocks over the Christmas holidays and 5-yards of dirt to box up the remainders of the 46 palm trees, I’d save money buying a Gator vs. the surgeon’s bill for getting my knees rebuilt.

The purpose of the Fun Run was to promote fitness and exercise by running the Three-Vineyard course, or if you couldn't run, walk. And if you couldn’t walk, we encouraged participation by all by offering a ride. It was a fine California winter day as we hiked up the hill – no one running this year – and I was proud of my retired neighbors for walking the entire course. As the boys with the toys raced around the countryside giving Dad a tour, we summited Nancy & Mike’s Escondido Sunrise Vineyard and stopped to take in the view of the valley below and the mountains on the horizon and the floating hawks above. Mike came back from the wine cellar with as much Merlot as he could carry which was about more than we could drink and we were sloshed as we began the descent. It was all downhill from there. We passed the famous sign declaring the law of "0 to Naked In 1.2 Bottles of Wine" and since everyone had their clothes on we knew that no one had consumed more than 1.2 bottles yet and that we were sober enough to keep walking while the rest of the boys continued their race of Gator vs. The Mule. We approached the hidden gazebo in the middle of the Olive trees half way down the vineyard and stopped in our tracks in front of a line. Not a booby trap but a line flying a flag of victory. A pair of panties. "Mike, what the hell was going on out here?"
"Fiiiiidellllllllll!" Mike called .
"Yeah Mike, what is it?" Fidel said as he waddled over from the tool shed.
"What are these panties doing her?"
"I don’t know Mike, they’re not mine."
"Which senorita do they belong to?"
"Mike, I have no idea. I swear."
The Coyote said, "Looks like there’s been a little hanky panky in the vineyard."
"Maybe they’re left over from the picking when all those people were here," suggested the Celestial one.
"Yeah, it must have been from the harvest, when all that wine was flowing," I said. "You see, the sign, it’s true!" To that we all agreed, and toasted: "To the sign! Zero to naked in 1.2 bottles of wine! Cheers!" We left the lone pantie in the tree as a memento (Mike said it was good for his vineyard’s "branding") and we arrived at Coyote Oaks, where as many bottles of wine as the Coyote could carry were brought out to the band for another toast and another taste, while back at the ranch the Celestial one’s mom, my mom and the Queen were busy popping pastries and chicken wings into the oven and putting Champagne on ice. It seems that the gourmands of the Hidden Meadows Vintner’s Association can’t get exercise without eating 2,000 calories afterwards. Mike was so fascinated by how Karen was dressed in white but did not have a single spot of dirt or wine stain on her lovely clothes after all of that hiking and toasting that he drooled wine on Nancy. No worries. Karen brought out her bottle of wine-away which Mike sprayed all over Nancy which left several wet spots in embarrassing places. The motley group rallied forces for the final assault up the big hill back to the foot of the Blue-Merle, picking up Judy & Jack along the way – so now it was a real party with all the neighbors and the Three Vineyards.

Meantime back in the winery the true coitus of the afternoon was taking place as the bung slid out of the hole of the barrel. Pop! The bung had come out of the barrel exposing the wine’s treasure to risks of contamination, infection disease and ruin. If there was any Viagra, it was within the wine, climaxing with a spent bung on the floor…. And the wine, she tastes delicious.