Friday, December 14, 2012

Rainy Day

It's a rainy day in the vineyard.
A rainy day in America.
News so shocking, even hardened journalists choke on tears.
The children, my God, the children.
Winter has arrived.
Puddles form at the bottom of vines.
Drops, rain drops, pitter-patter, drip, edge down, gather, erode, flow, form, into a stream, down, down, down the hill.
Hard clay softens to mud.
The weekend farmer goes outside to think about these things, pulls cuttings from succulents, puts a finger in the mud, then digs with a trowel, reminds me of mud pies when I was a kid playing in a sandbox. Plant those cuttings in the mud, dirt in fingernails, new shoots will grow, new garden takes shape among rocks, in the cold cold rain, wash away that sin, in the cold cold rain, forgive us, in the cold cold rain, purify us, in the cold cold rain,  strengthen us, in the cold cold rain, renew us, in the cold cold rain.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guardian Angels In The Vineyard

Mark McGinn  - "I wouldn't mind if
you brought me one of your avocados."
I look back at yesterday and wonder how was it possible to get through it without incident or accident?  An epiphany: there's a guardian angel looking out for us. Don't believe me? I have proof. Keep reading.

It's Dawn in the Vineyard of Good and Evil and the vineyardista,  out watering her baby vines, places her foot beside a rattlesnake, lets out a scream, and I rush to her side with a shovel.

"Do you want me to kill it?"
"No, don't kill it."
"It could kill Bluey." Our wine dog.
"I've had enough bad things happen to me this year. Don't kill it. It's God's creature. It's a sign from God."

At dawn in the Vineyard of Good and
Evil a serpent makes an entrance. Is
the vineyardista a 1,000 year old
cultivated snake?
I try to hook it with a long stick (which doesn't work well) then decide to take a picture.
"Be careful!" she warns, "It will jump up and bite you!"
"Hakuna matata.  Don't worry. Snakes don't jump."

So in our version of "catch & release"  I scoop the serpent into a 5-gallon bucket.

"Be careful, it'll jump out," she warns. "Snakes can jump."
"It can't get out of there, don't worry. Besides, it just ate a mouse, it's stomach is bulging and he's moving a little slow." I empty the bucket of snake and sand into a grape bin, and the snake reaches for the top and it looks like he can get out. I put a lid on it and move the container off to the side, thinking I'll bring him to a better place after the harvest. Sometimes I wonder if I'm married to a 1,00 year old cultivated snake, the kind that star in Peeking Operas.

Purple rain - grape crush.
On cue, the crew arrives with a ton of Carignan grapes, split between two pick up trucks. Without blinking, or taking a moment to get out of the truck to survey our driveway with the 60 degree slope, he backs right into the entrance to the winery. His companion, who was stung by a bee yesterday and rushed to Palomar Hospital so he could breath freely again, is doing well. I hung a yellow jacket trap outside earlier as a precaution.  Two thousand pounds of grapes are unloaded and dumped right into the crusher were we deftly pick out leaves, our fingers dodging a sharp auger that moves the grapes though a tumbler gently breaking their skins releasing juice and spitting out stems the other end. All fingers are accounted for, five on each hand. We finish like clockwork, give the helpers a bottle of wine and a $900 check and send them on their way with snacks & water.

Next, we draw off 40 gallons of pink grape juice to make Bluey's Blush, a dry rose wine. The original plan was to draw off 50 gallons, but we were concerned that we were taking away too much juice. (We will have to deal with that odd volume later and find a suitable aging tank for it -- perhaps a 50 gallon flex tank with a variable lid?) What's left in the macro bin is a concentration of skins, which will make for a bolder wine, with more concentrated juice. Plus, we have further plans - to blend into the Carignan during its fermentation some of our high alcohol Zinfandel, which is currently stuck. The resulting wine could be amazing.
40 gallons of grape juice pulled
immediately after crush while still pink
to make Bluey's Blush Wine.

As the vineyardista cleans up the equipment and becomes a mopista, I run the chemistry. The numbers look good. Brix 22 on the blush wine, and 23 and rising on the remaining batch in the macro bin, which has raisins so the brix will continue to increase with cold soak, and more fruit flavors will be extracted. TA = .60, enough acid there so no addition required - besides, the Zin is a little high in acid, another reason for the blend.  pH is 3.7, a little on the high side, but definitely much better than last year's 4.0 pH for the same grapes (the higher the pH, the harder it is to preserve a wine -- the easier it is to oxidize and spoil). All in all, good numbers.

Next, a sulfite addition to the grapes.  Done.

Next, start fermentation on the blush wine. While the yeast grow faster than the blob, prepare the batch of Grenache grapes for pressing. Take a glass of fresh grape nectar to the growing yeast slurry. Add, stir. Feed the yeast. Nurture the yeast. Yeast are sensitive. Be kind to yeast. Take yeast to winery, to acclimate to cooler temperature. Five minutes later, add yeast to the pink grape juice without skins, the blush wine to be.

Next, press our estate Grenache grapes. We needed to do this a little early, but the grapes spent 4 days cold soaking and 7 days fermenting slowly. They'll finish their final fermentation in the tank. Done.

Next, open up a container of new Tempranillo wine. Skim scummy stuff off of the top. Taste the wine. Good. A little sprtizy from malolatic fermentation. Good.

Next, fill half a glass with Grenache, freshly pressed. Fill the rest of the glass with Tempranillo. Taste. Ooodle oodle drool over the fantastic creation and dream about how good this will be 2 years from now. (The joys of making your own wine. Remember, good wine is made in the vineyard. Great wine is made by blending.)

Next, stir up all the lees on the bottom of the Tempranillo container to increase flavors (this technique is called "battonage.") Take bucket after bucket and keep adding to fill container holding the Grenache to the top. Keep filling container. Do not overfill. Put top on. Spill. Wipe up. Take some wine out. Put top on. Spill. Repeat. Repeat. Finally, the top is on, without leakage. Without fighting.

Next, there's wine left. Dump that into a 5 gallon container. More wine left. Repeat. Do not spill. Just a little wine left. Fill a one gallon bottle.

Next, there's a little bit of wine left from the Grenache press. Take that, fill the 1 gallon container to the top, take the remaining 32 oz and pour it into the newly fermenting blush wine.

You're done, except for clean up, which means you're only 50% done. Ask the vineyardista if she would mind cleaning up while you take the snake to his new home. She agrees.  Check lid on container. Put container in car. While driving car, look behind shoulder periodically to make sure snake is still in container. Drive to canyon. Release snake. Take picture. Future movie: Born Free.

Drive back home. Thank vineyardista for cleaning. Pack bags for Bootleggers' Express trip to North Carolina to see if you can swing the election for Joe The Wino. I go to pick some avocados and remember the last time I picked avocados for Mark in North Carolina - he asked for an avocado from our grove since he was doing his best to stay away from wine and everyone else received a bottle of wine as a gift - I remember I was confronted by a rattlesnake under the tree that time too. Is this a sign?

Next, pack a case of wine. Next shower. Next pack clothes. Next, thank the vineyardista for a day of miracles. Next, get in the car. Drive to airport. Don't run over snake you released that might now be on the road trying to find his way back home to the Vineyard of Good and Evil. Take the red eye flight to the East Coast. Wake up without a backache, and while emerging from a deep slumber, ask yourself, how in the hell did you get through yesterday?

There must be a guardian angel.

And an epiphany: guardian angels exist.

How do you know this?

You remember 11 years ago attending a church retreat called Cursillo and during that weekend there was a team member praying for you the whole time which you didn't know until this was revealed near the end. When you saw who that person was you recalled all the kindness this person, who was assigned to secretly look after you, showed you during the weekend, and it is a humbling moment, because you ignored this person as a stranger, yet this stranger was lifting you up with strong, solid prayers that carried you away that weekend and give you goosebumps today as you recall it.

A Cursillo weekend is a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, and that person praying for you is like your guardian angel on earth. And if there is an earthly guardian angel, which you have discovered during the Cursillo retreat, then surely there are heavenly guardian angels looking after us if we only ask, and I ask this every morning in prayer, for the Lord to send guardian angels to protect Bluey, the Aussie winedog, from snakes.

And now I wonder if my angel is named Mark, and if it's he who's looking out for us, because we couldn't have made it through yesterday without divine intervention.  Thank you Mark. I've arrived safely in North Carolina. I picked the best avocado I could find from our tree to give to your daughter. I've brought the best wine from our cellar to share with your family and friends after your wake and at your memorial dinner. Thank you for looking after us. We're grateful for you life.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Feast Fit for Winemakers & Best Friends: The Winemakers' Dinner

Fresh basil, the base of good pesto.
Ten wines. Ten winemakers. Ten small, delightful tapas dishes. Each dish made by each winemaker, prepared especially to pair with the winemaker's favorite wine. Now that sounds like my kind of event!

What do you like best about winemakers' dinners? What's your most memorable moment from a dinner with the winemakers? What recommendations do you have for the winemakers to make it an unforgettable evening?

Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all natural
 sea salt,sprinkled on the pasta  before serving,
provides a burst of flavor to the Penne Pesto
 that enhances the fruit characteristics of
 Blue-Merle's Mourvedre wine.
Our inaugural Winemaker's Dinner at the Hidden Valley Enoteca on Escondido's Wine & Culinary Campus is October 6th, and we've selected our 2009 Mourvedre, the light red wine with the huge strawberry nose. The making of the 2009 Mourvedre has a unique history. We purchased the grapes from Paso Robles Bill at the end of October 2009, who trucked them down to San Diego packed in dry ice. After crushing them, we were able to "cold soak" them for one whole week, because the fall the weather had arrived and the winery was cool, that's 3 days longer than our normal cold soak. During that cold soak period all of the fruit and soft skin tannin were absorbed into the "must" (grape juice), and again, because of the cool weather, a slow, cool fermentation took place over the next seven days. The result, to my surprise, was a surprisingly light color wine (typically with our other grapes cold soaking produces dark, purple wines, but not so with this Rhone varietal often used in blends with Grenache and Syrah) chock full of flavor. My first reaction when opening a bottle and pouring a sip was "Strawberries!" The wine is that fruitful, and yet, the alcohol is 13% and it has structure. This is the wine that we serve to guests in our house as a welcoming aperitif. I have never met a woman who has not loved this wine, and it has become one of favorites, especially with appetizers.

Is it possible for a wine made from grapes to have a strawberry nose? We asked New York's Scent Sommelier Kelly Jones to review the wine in April 2014  and this is what she wrote.  "Yes I had strawberry. But it was a white strawberry. These rare berries yield a tartness that is at once creamy and smooth,  with juicy flavor that spills across the tongue in luscious delight. There is a slight accord of the green leaf from the white strawberry fields, and a hint even of the precious seeds as they burst with inspiration from your vineyard. The essence of white strawberry is Blue Merle Mourvedre. The stuff of magic!"

And why pair it with penne pesto? The strong garlic, fragrant basil and salt frame the fruit of the Mourvedre. It is a lovely combination, especially with the pesto enhanced with the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all-natural sea salt, which provides a burst of flavor and electrolytes that accent the fruit of the wine.

We held a dress rehearsal of the winemakers' dinner last Sunday, and sampled each other's dishes and wines. It was fabulous, as judged by the slow productivity Monday morning. I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday evening than with fellow winemakers, their favorite dishes and their favorite wines.

(Editor's Note: The Hidden Valley Enoteca closed in February 2014 but you can still purchase the Mourvedre wine direct from Blue-Merle Winery.  Here's the recipe for the pesto pasta.) 

Blue-Merle Winery Pesto Penne Recipe

Ingredients to serve six (very hungry winemakers):

8 oz fresh basil leaves
6 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
6 Table spoons olive oil (or a little more to taste)
6 teaspoons Parmesan cheese (or Romano to taste)
3 oz pine nuts (other nuts, such as almonds or walnuts may be added to taste)
2 lbs. penne pasta
Hawaii Kai all-natural red sea salt (add to taste just before serving).

Dress rehearsal.
Boil water for pasta. As water heats, in a CuisineArt, food processor or blender mince the garlic. Next, add olive oil, pine nuts then blend. (You may add other nuts to the mix such as almonds, macadamias, or walnuts to vary the flavor to taste.) Next, add the basil leaves (washed and dried) to the mix and blend. Finally, add Parmesan cheese to taste and blend.

Cook pasta and strain.  Add the pesto mix to the pasta and stir. Just before serving, sprinkle the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium nautral sea salt to taste to set the stage for contrasting flavors of the wine's "fruit" vs. the savory, salty pesto (Note: add the salt carefully -- do not over salt.)

Open the bottle of Blue-Merle wine and pour a glass. Inhale the aromas. Do you notice the strawberry? What fruit do you detect? Next, swirl the glass and smell again. Take a sip -- do you notice the strong fruit flavor? Next, have a healthy bite of the pesto pasta. Do you notice the garlic, the crunch of the salt? Then, take another sip of the wine. How has the wine changed with the food? How does the pairing taste to you?  The winemaker (and Bluey the Aussie wine dog) love the combination.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rooted To The Vine

Agliancio (nick named "Ugly
Hanako" just before harvest
Sept 22 2012
When netting the vines the other month, which seems like years ago, I noticed that the leaves of shoots we cut and left to the ground turned brown and dried within days. Despite the oppressively hot weather, the leaves flourished as part of the vine, but when cut soon faded.

A shoot cut from the vine quickly withers and dies.

With the changing of the seasons from Summer to Autumn and another harvest upon us, we've been running around like crazy and are exhausted. For a moment, the grapes have been picked. There are no fermentations to punch down. No batches of wine to press. No barrels to bottle. For a moment, there is peace, the eye of a hurricane, before the frenzy will start again. A moment for reflection, to remember the day of changing seasons, the memorial of our planting, to give thanks for our blessings and for all those who helped us reach this point, for the friends and neighbors who helped pick, for the workers who carried heavy loads we couldn't possibly move ourselves, for the parents who nurtured us, and  a never ending list of people, giving them prayers and thanksgiving. Yes, we built this vineyard, and we know we didn't do it alone.

If a shoot cut from the vine quickly withers, should we not live our lives fully rooted in the vineyard?

Rising sun, raising the nets.
It has been our custom each harvest to re-read from the simple liturgy prepared by Father Bill Lieber of Grace Episcopal Church (San Marcos, CA) for the Blessing of The Blue-Merle Vineyard some 5 years ago, but in the rush to gather the grapes before the heat rises there were no champagne toasts, no parties (the vineyardista, still remembering the effects of that heart stoppage in early June and insisting on no events), no blessing of the workers, nor the grapes, nor of our friends who came to assist (despite the vineyardista's wishes, except for silent prayers I managed to sneak in before dawn before everyone started to arrive). When it was over, I realized the customary prayers and blessings were dropped this year.

I retrieved the printed liturgy from its drawer and read:

"Holy God, let me always be rooted in you so that I may live in you and you in me.

Bless me so that your grace may flow through me, allowing me to bear your fruit to a hungry and helpless world.

As I wonder, prune me of all that inhibits your growth in me.

Let me do nothing apart from you so that your joy may be complete in me. Amen."

Bluey, ready to begin
his hunt for grapes.
The vineyardista whose heart stopped after working in the vines June 6th and was back out there when she returned from the hospital one week later, has been outside among her vines everyday since, even with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Live by the vine. Die by the vine.

Vineyard is art. Vineyard is life.

Brigit (over 80 years old), Madonna and Maggie.

Reese tackles Aglianico.

Jim clips a grape and not his

Madonna shows a prize. Next
to her his Luce.

Stephanie brings home the Zin.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Queen of this vineyard started with a vision, a dream featuring her walking in a white dress among the vines, white sun umbrella above her head, as workers trim, rake, bundle and haul. Never did she imagine she would cook for this crew. Never did this vineyardista imagine she would become the crew.

I write these words on a Sunday afternoon in August, a month that teaches the concept of siesta. Rise before the sun. Finish vineyard chores before noon as the heat builds. Go inside for lunch, have a glass of wine, have a rest, emerge later in the afternoon as the heat subsides and the magical time returns, sun drifting slowly toward the horizon, over the ocean, casting orange glow over the vines.

“Please come inside and I’ll make you lunch,” I offer. The sun is directly overhead and the thermometer is over 90 degrees.
“You go ahead,” she replies, “I want to finish.”
“Don’t worry. The work will never be finished,” and this is true for there’s always work to be done in the vineyard, and if not there, then some batches of wine need to be racked, some barrels topped, some barrels bottled. “Please come inside,” this time with a plea in my voice. It’s only been 6 weeks since the hospital discharged her.
“Don’t stop me. It’s my dream and it’s my vineyard and I want to finish.”

Netting vines in
August heat. Small
body; strong heart.
Is it the wine?
Since I can’t win this argument I go inside and bring her a bottle of cool water and help with a little netting and go back inside and pack because I have a weekday job and I need to travel and my bags aren’t packed and the bills aren’t paid and I need to get these things done before I go. Thirty minutes later, the scene repeats as I re-enter the furnace. “I made some lunch for you. Would you like to come in and have a bite to eat?”
“No thank you,” she says. It’s hot outside and I help her hang a little more net. It’s only been 7 weeks since her heart stopped and the paramedics restarted it and I realize she’s in better shape than I am when it comes to working a full day in the vineyard in summer because I listen to my friend siesta when she calls. Or maybe it’s the Spanish Tempranillo grapes calling. The vines do call, but they don’t talk back. After almost 25 years of marriage, I’ve learned that the best way I can help her is not to irritate her, especially after all she went through, so I let it go, let her be, and Bluey, limping slightly, follows me down the hillside into the house.

Bad 1: Lost Computers
Winemaker’s Journal serves up stories of the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the bad. First, our Princess calls from Africa to say her computer went on safari and didn’t return. Minutes later, Bluey dodges from under my desk tangled in the power cord that pulls my computer to its death.  That evening, the motor powering the refrigerator fails to proceed and the Queen proclaims its demise. That’s three electronic gadgets that need replacing and have you priced a good refrigerator these days? So much for trying to save some money for retirement and paying down some debt. (Message to our daughter the teacher, leadership consultant and comic: We love you, and (in the spirit of improve comedy) would you mind earning a living?)

Bad 2: Crash Delivery
She arrived in a Ford F-150 cira last century, but still a workhorse pickup truck and who isn’t to like a lady with her own truck who wears a short skirt and high heels and the truck is loaded with 4 French oak  barrels and 100 cases of bottles and I knew right away that she wasn’t going to make it up our driveway, which, if it were a ski slope would be rated Triple Black Diamond.
“You don’t have a forklift?” she asks, with a hint of irritation in her voice. Does she think we’re the Mondavi Winery or something and we have forklifts?
“You mean, you didn’t bring a forklift?” I shot back. “The guys at Home Depot always bring a forklift when they deliver.”
Two barrels and 50 cases of bottles might have fit comfortably – but this truck was overloaded. There was only one thing to do … take down the barrels and cart them up the hill. So she steps out in her high heels and is climbing up on the truck and reaching for the barrels and handing them down to me and I cart them up the slope with a dolly. This process goes well and as I bring the 4th barrel into the garage she starts backing the truck up the driveway and as I hear tires spinning and smell rubber burning I look up just in time to see a tower of cases crash on the hood of the truck and then on the ground and an explosion of green glass. Does she think we want to make shard-donay?
Question: An overloaded F-150 truck carrying 100 cases of bottles will lose how many driving up a steep incline?
Answer: 15.
What was supposed to be a quick delivery was cleaned up within 2 hours without her scratching one toe, high heels and all, and the rest of the cases were set down safely without harm. (Message to bottle supplier: Would you mind issuing a partial refund or replacing those 15 cases of bottles you broke on the way to our winery?)

Bad 3: Lost Wine and a Lost Mind
In the winery, it wasn’t such a shame to lose the small batch of 2011 Petite Sirah we purchased from a grower in Valley Center that smelled of rotten eggs. We had managed to eliminate that odor with a dash of copper and set the wine aside without a sulfite addition (why add sulfites to a wine that already had too much hydrogen sulfide?). It ends up that the wine lost the rotten smell but became oxidized. The 2nd batch discovered ruined broke my heart. It was an extra 25 gallons of our beloved Petit Verdot from the Arroyo Dulce Vineyard, 2010 vintage, that when found several months earlier, was perfectly preserved. I added malolactic bacteria to it, did a battonage stirring of the lees to add rich flavors and a sulfite addition to preserve it. Alas, it may have been in that container too long, for it had passed its prime when we went to blend it the other day. Not only did we lose the wine, far worse, we’re losing our friend who grew it to Alzheimer’s. His family finally had to take away his personal mobile phone, as he was making random calls to his lawyer and running up large legal bills. He managed to sneak away with that phone and make a final call to us. I didn’t pick it up, but he left us a voice mail message, repeating the pending invitation to come over for a wine tasting (which had been part of every conversation for the last year) and finishing with a heart felt goodbye, knowing this would be the last call he could make to us. I’ve saved that message and it’s written in my heart. Farewell, good friend, farewell.

Bad 4: Where Has All The Topping Wine Gone?
The lost wine was discovered when we racked wine into the new barrels after they made their stunning entrance. Concerning the 2010 Syrah (grown by a neighbor) an executive decision was made. After close to 20 months in the barrel, it just didn’t seem quite right to bottle. Perhaps the acid was a bit too high? Perhaps it just didn’t have enough fruit? So, the decision was made to rack the 60 gallons of Syrah into a 78 gallon Flex Tank, which means I needed 18 gallons of wine to fill the tank so there would be no air pocket. At the end of the day as we did our racking, we came up short of “topping wine” so, I thought, not a problem, as I have this 25 gal container of Petit Verdot, the container of Petite Sirah, and 15 gallons of 2009 Zinfandel stored in an airtight beer keg. Having lost the first two batches, I was down to the Zinfandel, opened it up, and my nose knows when there’s trouble and I was suspicious. A quick taste confirmed that this batch was also bad. The lesson here: a tiny bit of headspace in a container can do you in. Winemakers, beware!

Ugly: A Really Bad Hair Day
Six years ago when we moved into the neighborhood we were introduced to other vineyardistas of a certain age and being a younger member of the male species my first impression upon meeting these women was “looking good!” It must be the wine. Six years have passed and they are still looking good and I reached that certain age they were when we first met and while they are fine looking ladies fine does not describe me and it’s time to shave my head.

And Now For Some Good
Magic time in the
vineyard as sun sets
and cool mist
moves in.
The 2011 “estate” Tempranillo is wonderful and perfect and everything I could hope for in a wine. And if the 2009 Tempranillo (our first vintage) was a little too “strong” and if the 2010 Tempranillio was not quite bold enough the 2011 Tempranillo is by all measures just right.  So here we were having racked the 2011 Tempranillo into a new French oak barrel where the plan is for it to pick up these wonderful, subtle, oak flavors and turn into one of the best wines we ever made and will make Escondido, historically one of the United States’ oldest grape growing regions, proud of those [winemaking fools] who would restore her grandeur. The same can be said for the 2011 “estate” Petite Sirah. Whatever we did in 2011 we should repeat each year – a key decision on the Petit Sirah was dividing the harvest into two blocks and picking each when ripe (this meant picking the 2nd block 3-4 weeks after the first). We racked the 2011 Petit Sirah into its new French oak barrel and came up a little short but was able to top up by the barrel by using some of the leftover Tempranillo. So here we were with 10 gallons or so of Tempranillo and its dregs and lees at the bottom of a Flex Tank and the 2010 Syrah needing a home. So we pumped the Syrah into the 78 tank that held the Tempranillio, mixing that higher acid Syrah with lower acid and fruitful Tempranillo, after which I threw in a couple of pounds of new oak chips, in an attempt to boost the oak flavor. But, I was still 5 gallons short from filling it to the top. (Message to winemaker: time to check that Syrah blend – it could be really good. Eternal hope springs from winemakers.)

Meantime, we racked our “estate” Aglianico into another one of those new French barrels – 30 gallons of 2011 Aglianico from one container and 15 gallons of 2010 from another container. I then had some Aglianico from a 5 gallon carboy and another 5 gallons of Tempranillo from another carboy and we found out during the process that the 30 gallon container only holds 25 gallons so after we added more wine we came up short. I put my finger in the barrel and reached down and the finger was dry. I estimated I was 10 gallons short. What to do? We had no more topping wine.

First thought was to call Coyote Karen: “May I come over and borrow a cup of topping wine?” But she was out of town. And then I thought about self-reliance. By the way, it is a sin for a winemaker to run out of topping wine and I am now guilty of that sin.

Racking "Ugly Hanako"
wine into a new French
Oak barrel, without
spilling a drop.
How could that be?
Here’s what we did:  I topped the Flex Tank with Argon gas. This inert gas will keep the wine from oxidizing (at least for a week). Next we began opening bottles of the 2009 Aglianico made from Guadeloupe Valley, Mexico grapes that yes, we had bottled a year ago already. Some of you find the 2009 Aglianico (aptly named Ugly Hanako after the princess) “earthy” and some of you like the 2009 Aglianico best among all the wines we have made (the Coyote is one of them). Frankly, I have not yet developed a taste for the earthy 2009 edition, so opening up some 48 bottles of wine to fill up a barrel didn’t bring tears to my eyes and Bluey was ecstatic to see so many first grade corks he could chew on. And, we added a bit of complexity from Aglianico made from more mature vines with the fruit forward Aglianico from our own vines. Finding a legal name for this wine will be a bit of a challenge, but at the end of the day the grapes are mostly Aglianico (over 80%) and mostly from our vineyard. The wine is promising, and is now soaking up French oak flavors. Promising, promising, promising. They come in 3s. (Note to wine buyers: since uncorking 48 bottles of this wine to dump into a barrel, we offered the 2009 Aglianico to a professional winetasting panel and to  100 tasters at the MIT Enterprise Forum. Most people LOVE this wine. You can buy it now for $25. If they keep loving it and the supply dwindles the price is going up. Click her to buy now if you like earthy wine.)

Good 2: Another Heart Saved
Blue-Merle wine makes hearts strong.
"Where's my bottle?" demands the
head nurse.

Blue-Merle wine has been proven to strengthen hearts and extend life. After dad’s open heart surgery, I gave a bottle of the 2008 Merleatage to the doctor who asked, “Where can I buy this?”
“You can’t buy it. You can only get it from my dad.”
“Then we better keep him alive,” and indeed the medical team did. Word of the wine spread rapidly among the heart ward and Nicole, the chief nurse asked, “Where’s my bottle?”
“Yours will be on the next shipment of the Bootlegger’s Express,” and it was delivered, as promised. In the fullness of time, the Bootlegger’s Express always delivers. Always. Since the operation, dad’s diet has included a glass of Blue-Merle a day and he looks fantastic and is as active as ever.

Patient #2 of the Blue-Merle’s scientific wine-health study was found in shock, foaming at the mouth, unresponsive, with pulse below 30 and extremely low blood pressure. Paramedics arrived, inserted IVs. “We may have to aspirate her.” They put her on the gurney then navigated down the Black Diamond driveway into the ambulance. “Don’t try to keep up with us. Secure the dog, gather your insurance papers, her medications and meet us at the hospital.”

As I sped to the hospital I thought “this is it” and she didn’t even have a chance to share her last worlds. When I arrived the ambulance bay was empty and I saw the lead paramedic who gave me a report. “She’s inside and doing well. She was very alert when we arrived and she wanted to walk in. Her heart stopped on the way, but we restarted it pretty quick and she bounced right back.”
“OK,” I acknowledged and went in not sure what to say when the paramedic tells you the heart stopped but he seemed to be OK with it so that was good enough for me. At the time I was unaware that they had performed CPR for 15 or more minutes to keep her alive, and didn’t even break a rib. And bounce back she did indeed. By midnight, she was moved into intensive care and was conscious. “Did you see God?” I asked.
“What happened?”

Bootlegger's Express delivers to
paramedics at local fire station.
The next day The Bootlegger’s Express stopped by the fire station with a case of wine and learned the full details of the heroics performed by the paramedic team. I had always wanted to deliver wine to the fire department since we live in a wildfire zone and the day of reckoning will arrive, but the incident from the night before accelerated delivery of that case of wine.  The Bootlegger’s Express always delivers.  Always.

During the week she was in the hospital she was poked and prodded and X-rayed and CAT-scanned and put through multiple stress tests and the conclusion is that that woman has one strong heart. All the doctors and all the nurses and all the paramedics say “she’s a walking miracle” and I say it’s the wine.

There was one scare in the hospital when on the 3rd day of the miraculous recovery her heart rate increased to 150 beats per minute and she was short of breath and the emergency call on her monitor went off and all kinds of nurses arrived and they weren’t smiling and they called for the doctors as she was showing signs of cardiac arrest. This wasn’t supposed to be happening but maybe she was a heart patient after all and it occurred to me that the reason the Lord spared her the other night was so I could be with her when he called. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” She spoke softly giving me a list of her last instructions and for the first time a lump grew in my throat as we were losing her and she asked me to tell our daughter please become a doctor or go into the medical field. Doctor T. arrived and reviewed the situation. “I think her central IV is in a little too far which is causing her heart to go into afib. I’m going to pull it out a little” so I held her hand and he put on his scrubs, pulled out the IV, sewed her up and cleaned up the blood just before sunset and in time for Friday services.

Good 3: Racking Without Spilling a Drop & And New Beginnings
The day we returned from the hospital she went out into the garden with her hose and started watering the plants and singing a song about how I let the tomato plants die and why didn’t I water her roses and why did I waste my time staying with her in the hospital when I should have been watering the garden and as she sang this song I’m sure her blood pressure was rising and I was thinking she must be feeling better and I also began to wonder if the Lord had saved her to torture me?

Shortly after her return we took that delivery of bottles and barrels. We had an extra new French oak barrel and a remaining Flex tank filled with 78 gallons of 2011 Carrignan (60%) and 2010 Estate Zinfandel (40%), the product of another executive decision that the Zinfandel was too high in acid to stand on its own and must be blended and the Carrignan was a logical choice as it was low in acid, high in pH and had good, light, fruit but not a lot of complexity so it was a logical match; plus, it was the only available wine we had. Now, if I took the 78 gallons from that Flex Tank and put 60 gallons into the new barrel that would leave me 18 gallons or so (actually less after subtracting the sludge) for topping and I would go from having no topping wine to having a surplus which I could supply to Coyote Karen, Merlot Mike or Paso Robles Bill if they ever ran out of topping wine, which of course they would never do because they are methodical and organized. After a day of racking and still recovering from heart stoppages and afibs and hospital stays and diagnoses of canine arthritis it was probably enough for one day and I decided it would be better to wait and to do that one racking into that last barrel the next weekend which, for the first time in the 8 year history of the Blue-Merle Winery was done without spilling a drop, without a fight, without raised voices. “You’ve improved in your new life,” I told the Queen and maybe she had; maybe we had.  “That’s the first time we didn’t make a mess and didn’t fight when racking.”

We decided to go out for a drive and I went to open the car door for her because I remembered that Mr. Jack McGinn a true gentlemen from Greensboro, North Carolina (bless his heart) always opened the door for Ms. McGinn and that it’s good manners to open the car door for your wife and maybe it was time for me to start showing the Queen some good manners now that she has a new life.

 “You don’t have to open the door for me,” she said suspiciously. “You can pretend to be a good person, but you’re not.” Although the words were somewhat harsh she said them without the venom she once used to spit out words so it came across as something of a compliment. What she said was true, but there was another side.
“You know, I’m not that bad,” I said and recalled an event 12 years earlier during difficult times when there was talk of divorce. “Do you remember when the angel came and said to me ‘you’re not that bad?”
“What kind of God is it who say’s ‘I’m not that bad’?”
“It’ true. It was Easter and after going to church and taking communion and praying we came home and grilled lamb chops and had some wine to drink – one of the bottles from Domaine Tempier in Bandol. I took a nap, and while I was asleep, an angel of the Lord came to me and said, ‘Don’t divorce Kazuko. She’s not that bad.’”
“And what did you say?” she asked.
“I said, ‘OK.’  Just like Joseph in the Bible, who didn’t leave Mary. I didn’t leave you.’”
“OK? Is that all you said?”
“That was it.”
 I wonder if she was given a second life so we could make really good wine together?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Merlot Mike's August 12 Merlot Report

Alas, it's that time of year when Merlot Mike and Nancy, his better half, update us with their vineyard report. Below, his most recent post. CJ.

Escondido Sunrise Vineyard
The Great Grape Update
August 12, 2012

In case you aren’t from around here, you may not have noticed that it’s been very hot the last week.  As I write, the irrigation is dripping furiously in the vineyard countering some of the effects of the heat. 

The vineyard is now 12 years old.  Supposedly, the roots grow a foot deeper each year.  I have been encouraging Nancy to select a vine and dig a 12 foot deep hole to confirm this but so far, she hasn’t seen the benefit of obtaining this knowledge.

The depth of the roots influence how long and how frequently we water.  Early on, we watered longer than necessary to simply feed the roots when they were close to the surface.  By deep watering, we encouraged deeper growth.  Deeper growth = less irrigation eventually = the vines having a better chance of survival in the event of a drought.  You’d think Nancy would want to know how this has all worked out.

As we turned on the water, we walked up and down in each of the three sections of our vineyard, selecting grapes for testing their ripeness.  We need to do this to have a gauge of how the grapes are maturing and to begin to accumulate data enabling us to determine when the grapes have hit that sweet point of ripeness and maturity.  (More on this next update.)

The frequency of irrigation, the weather condition, and the ever changing mood of Mother nature all act together to determine when the grapes hit that perfect time to harvest.  But, before we achieve a grape’s version of juicy nirvana, we have to contend with the birds & the bees.  (“Real” birds & bees.) 

This past week, we went through the vineyard and cut back the vines growing up and over the trellis  …  cutting off the long vines that would interfere with our spreading nets over the vines.  The nets are intended to keep the birds from enjoying a grape smorgasbord before the fruit has achieved that perfect state of ripeness.  And, Fidel, our trusty vineyard manager, hung out bee traps  …  plastic bags filled with pancake syrup hanging off the trellis  …  each bag featuring a one-way entrance allowing bee after bee to find his way to a sticky ever after.

Next week, we will spread the nets over the vines  …  all by hand  …  covering 2.5 miles of vines  …  using bread ties to attach the netting around the bottom of the vines.  Once done, the vines resemble long rows of green haired women draped in hair nets  …  still beautiful but best left to appreciate once their hair nets have been removed, their make up applied, and all of those little purple dresses indicate that their time to be squeezed is upon us.

Please expect another update from us in the next week.   We hope to predict our harvest date with our next update.

Mike and Nancy

Sunday, July 29, 2012

From Wine Dog To Bird Dog

A mystery: Sparrow caught in net to protect grapes from birds. Sparrow's head missing. How could that have happened? A coyote? But a coyote would just rip the whole bird out, no? Besides, I noticed no bird there 10 minutes earlier. Inspect the scene: fresh blood on the ground underneath the sparrow dripping from the headless carcass. And where is the head? Missing? Could this be the work of Bluey the wine dog? Where is that Aussie? I see him in the row below following the flapping noise of a bird caught in the nets frantically searching for an escape.

"Leave it!" I command, which he understands to mean leave it alone. I walk down to the row and he's in an attentive sit, staring at the bird, no longer moving. This one has its head, but the body is wet with dog slather. The mystery is solved as I hear Bluey sing a new song:

"Love to catch those birdies,
Love to chomp their feet.
Love to bite their heads off,
Love a delicious treat."

The bird wars have begun and despite the two causalities the birds are winning. They have damaged 3% of the Tempranillo crop so far and we are behind the curve, but hope to get caught up today. We are the first vineyard in the neighborhood with purple grapes and the birds know it and are throwing a party and inviting all their friends and family. I was able to save two birds (one last night and one earlier this morning) and I'll keep a closer eye on Bird Dog. Enough writing and back to netting.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hidden Valley Enoteca - Featuring Blue-Merle and Several San Diego County Wineries - To Open September 1st at Escondido Wine and Culinary Campus

The tasting room of Escondido's Hidden
Valley Enoteca is located inside this
castle adjacent to I-15. It is home to the
tasting room of Blue-Merle Winery
and 5 other wineries.

(Editor's Note: On February 1, 2014, the Hidden Valley Enoteca closed its doors. To reach Blue-Merle Winery, please contact ) Blue-Merle Winery is one of the Escondido wineries and San Diego wineries featured at the Hidden Valley Enoteca wine tasting venue.

The Hidden Valley Enoteca, showcasing several San Diego County wineries under one roof, is scheduled to open September 1, 2012, in Escondido, CA. The Enoteca aims to become the destination for San Diego County residents, visitors and tourists who want to taste a variety of San Diego boutique wines in one, convenient location.

The Escondido "Hidden Valley Enoteca" is the brainchild of Dr. Mick Dragoo, proprietor of Escondido's Belle Marie Winery, which has been involved in educating local winemakers and offering custom crush to local grape growers for years. The location of Escondido Enoteca is in the "chateau" on the Belle Marie Campus, conveniently located on the I-15 corridor, about 6 miles north of downtown Escondido. This facility is being transformed into the "Escondido Wine & Culinary Campus."

Escondido (located in San Diego County 35 miles north of downtown San Diego)  has a long history as a grape growing region in the U.S., whose prominence diminished during Prohibition (which reduced the need for grapes) and then disease, which decimated the vines. Escondido has perfect weather and climate for growing grapes, with warm days (today's high temperature at the end of July is 85 F) and cool evenings (59 degrees). The climate is generally frost free in the Spring and dry around harvest time, providing a certain degree of predictability, consistency and high quality for the area's increasing number of winegrowers.

The Escondido City Council, as part of its economic development efforts and to promote the Escondido region, has been very supportive of the Escondido Wine Enoteca concept, according to Dr. Dragoo. City officials aim to see Escondido become a premier wine producing region.

The Hidden Valley Enoteca is part of the Escondido Wine and Culinary Campus (EWCC), which will feature cooking demonstrations and food-wine pairings, according to Dr. Dragoo. There will also be entertainment during the grand opening on Labor Day Weekend, he said, including the local Escondido band "Scaring The Wives" on Saturday, Sept. 1st.

"There's a taste for everyone," said Dr. Dragoo, commenting on having more than 20 different wines represented from almost a dozen wineries. "This is a complete destination campus featuring wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, tours and entertainment."

Founding wineries participating in the Escondido Enoteca include Coyote Oaks and Blue-Merle Winery, both located just 4 miles in the hills behind the Enoteca in a community of San Diego County known as Hidden Meadows.

"Participating in the Enoteca is the easiest and most affordable way for us to open a tasting room," said Craig Justice, proprietor of Blue-Merle Winery. "Up to now, our license has only allowed us to sell wine online, in restaurants and in wine shops, so we're excited to participate in the Enoteca which will provide customers a chance to taste our wines before buying," Justice said.

Tempranillo vines supervised by Bluey of Blue-Merle Winery
a participating winery of Escondido Wine Enoteca
"We have a network of over 1,000 fans around the country," Justice said, "But when you think about carbon footprint, selling wine locally makes so much sense," Justice said. "In my travels around the world, from Japan to England, from Seattle to New York, I always try to bring bottles of our wine with me and people are always surprised how good the San Diego wine is. We're excited to participate in the Enoteca opening and to offer our wines locally," Justice said.

"The micro vineyard owner knows every vine by name, and inspects every grape bunch before harvest and before it goes into the wine," Justice said. "Boutique winemaking is a craft, and the wines can be surprisingly good. This is what the Enoteca hopes to bring to San Diego -- a fantastic wine tasting experience."

"We owe a big thank you to Mick and Mary Dragoo -- and to their winemaking consultant Lum Eisenman and winery manager Jeff Lazenby -- for all the winemaking knowledge they have shared with us over the years and for their tremendous support," Justice said.
Blue-Merle Winery is one of Escondido
wineries. Blue-Merle Winery is a San Diego
Winery located in San Diego County
in Escondido, CA.

The Hidden Valley Enoteca is located at 26312 Mesa Rock Road, Escondido, CA 92026 and is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 am - 5 pm. Tel: (760) 796-7557 Escondido in Spanish means "hidden". The schedule of events for Sept. 1 and 2nd will be free campus tours at 1pm and 3pm, free BBQ demonstrations at 2 & 4pm, free live music in the amphitheater from 2pm - 5pm each day and a BBQ food wagon with food for purchase. Culinary events at the Escondido Wine and Culinary Campus are scheduled to begin in early 2013.

(Editor's Note: On February 1, 2014, the Hidden Valley Enoteca closed its doors. To reach Blue-Merle Winery, please contact )

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Does the Quail Say?

The Raven says, "Never More." What about the Quail?

As I walk down the mountain I hear a call from the vineyard: "Where are you? Where are you?" That's the tweet from Mr. Quail trying to find his mate.

The Queen says the Quail are telling Fidel (that rascal): "Trabajo. Trabajo!" Get to work!

Celestial Sandra says the Quail say, "Picasso. Picasso," calling her adorable Shih Tzu by his artistic name.

The Queen says the Quail are telling me, "Ahou, Ahou" Japanese Kansai dialect for you stupid, idiot fool. She's right again. That's what it takes to plant a vineyard. We should be quoting the Raven: "Never more, never more," but she had me out in rural Riverside County yesterday surveying acreage for our next vineyard. You know what I'm thinking about that: "Ahou, Ahou!"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

That's Not Charlotte's Web

As I lowered my foot for the crushing blow on the Black Widow covering her egg pouch I said to myself,  "This is not Charlotte's Web."

Just because I rattle a shovel around the dark areas housing water valves before I stick in my hand doesn't mean there's not a spider lurking there waiting to get me. I recall my first visit to the Valley Center Water District office to discuss our water allocation 5 years ago when a man telephoned asking what to do because a Black Widow had just bit him when he turned on his irrigation valve. Lesson learned.

We do have a cast of barnyard critters here in the vineyard who greet us most days: RockySquirrel (who defies death daily avoiding every trap I spread for him and enjoying the snack of an orange or avocado slice I leave him; his fur is getting lush from the avocado oil); OwlGore (the barn owl whose pellets we inspect daily in hopes of finding skeletal remains of Mr. Gopher); RoadRunner (beep, beep) and of course WylieCoyote (whose pack prowls the valleys surrounding us); Bugs Bunny (who is baby bugs this time of year and a treat); HawkEye Pierce (a  family of hawks who float on the currents in the sky); DanQuail (a covey of quail which our dog can't quite figure out); CarlRove (the neighbor's cat who prefers hunting on our property -- he knows what to do with the quail); fortunately, we haven't seen Simba the Mountain Lion (though he was caught on a neighbor's surveillance camera) but I've had three sightings of the bobcat (for whom I don't have special name other than The BobCat).

Some mornings as the fog lifts there's a sparking web across vines spun by one of those large fruit spiders which I examine carefully trying to find the letters: S-O-M-E-D-O-G

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1st Shipment To New York City

Dear Wayne,

About that wine I sent you....

You mentioned the New York City wine distributor you know is also the owner of an Italian restaurant so I  included North American wines made from grapevines with an Italian origin. I purchased the grapes grown by Camillo Magoni who immigrated to Baja California from Italy. It is said the cuttings used to plant his vineyard were carried by suitcase from Italy to the hills of Guadeloupe Valley, just over the border from San Diego. We have made a 2006 Nebbiolo from Camillo's grapes that was to die for and I think there are 12 or so bottles left in the world. So it was in 2009 when we kicked into high gear that we contracted to purchase more grapes from Camillo, this time Aglianico and Montepulciano. What I have sent you is a bottle of each: 100% Aglianico (which we call Ugly Hanako since that rhymes with our daughter's name and I had trouble getting my Baja-grown Aglianico label approved by the TTB) and 100% Montepulciano (the so-called "Monty",  because I also had trouble with the TTB with that label if it were called Montepulciano from Guadeloupe Valley). Both wines reflect the tough character of the Mexican soil. Friends of ours have described the Aglianico as "earthy". The Montepulciano is less earthy: its color is lighter, cleaner. You will catch some fruit on the nose. Both wines would pair well I think with rich, hearty Italian dishes.  I will let you and the distributor be the judge. (For my taste, I find the character of the soil salty, although not as salty as your character.)

Opposite the wines whose grapes grew in Mexico is a 2009 Mourvedre whose grapes were trucked to us by Paso Robles Bill. Paso is one of the greatest wine regions in the world and we love the wines produced there and jumped at the opportunity to purchase her grapes. .What surprises me about this wine is its light color (it might remind you of a Pinot) and there are times when I detect the essence of strawberry on the nose.  This is a well balanced wine -- a bit more "fruit" than the others, probably the result of being cold soaked for over a week after harvest, and a slow fermentation that brought out all of the flavors. I have not met a woman who has not liked this wine. It pairs well with appetizers and lighter dishes. I'm curious what the New York distributeur/restrauteur has to say about it. I like it.

The final selection is a wine made entirely from San Diego Grapes.  This wine is still in a pre-release stage and I'm curious (and hopeful) what it will do in the bottle.  Our 2009 "Merleatage" (named after our Blue-Merle Aussie) is made from combining what were full French oak barrels of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah. We also had about 15 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon as well we had to deal with (which went into the mix), and when I tweaked it, I blended in 10 gallons of our estate Tempranillo to give it more bite. Because more than 3 barrels of wine went into the mix, this is the largest lot of any wine we've made (about 80 cases produced). A reason for sending it to you and the distributor to try is that there is enough to sell, if there is demand. We opened a bottle to test after sending you yours and enjoyed it with the lamb roast I slow-cooked for Easter. The wine was enjoyable, and as I said, we are full of hope and expectation that this one will turn out to be "not too bad" and perhaps, even "pretty good" although not among the best we have ever made. (Those are too few to send to the distributor; we are holding those back for our best customers. However, we will soon start bottling some of the 2010 wines and there should be good ones among them and enough to allocate some to distribution.)

We have a few friends and fans alive and well and living in New York City who would love to be able to purchase our wines so we await your judgement and wish you and your friends an enjoyable tasting because our wine is meant to be shared among friends.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Poles, Polls & Pols

Now that pruning and dormant spraying are done, next on the list of vineyard to do's is replacing damaged poles. I used to think it was my Herculean strength pulling the wire tightener that caused 10 ft. poles to snap, but alas, I have been assisted by termites. (Question: If termites are eating the wooden poles in the vineyard why aren't they eating the wooden beams in our house, or are they?) Digging hole, inserting pole, aligning pole, mixing concrete, pouring concrete is all pretty straightforward. Before this, the pole must be cut from the wires, causing the cordon wire to go limp leaving vines to stand on their own, which they do well when dormant. I want to get this done before budbreak -- which has already started --  before the vines are a host of tender new shoots so easy to break.

Removing the concrete remnant of a 10 ft pole four feet underground is a back-breaking task. Easy enough for me to dig down to where the shovel meets concrete, but with so much wood sticking out, we call in Fidel, that rascal, for the dirty work at 4pm in the afternoon to finish the job. When he's done at 6pm he says, "That'll be $30."

"Why so much?" asks the Queen. "The rate is $12 an hour and you worked two hours."

"You always give me the hard jobs to do," he says.

"Why do you think we hired you?!" says the Queen and she's huffing and puffing and can't get to sleep at night carrying on about the nerve of that rascal to request so much when he does so little and what's so hard about the jobs we've given him because we've been doing everything ourselves.

 "Of course we hire him for the hard jobs," she complains to me at 2 am. "Otherwise, I'll do it myself."

Another sign that the recession is dead and unwell and not living in Paris. The Big Recession is so 2008 and it's 2012 and it's a great leap-year forward and it's an election year and this economy is on the mend and it's time for everyone to plan to reap the future harvest if you're not reaping already. The Hebrew Bible tells us the story of Joseph who had dreams of 7 years of famine and 7 years of bounty.  Have we not been through our years of famine? Is there not light at the end of this tunnel?

This is America and there's been cycles of booms and busts throughout our history. Is this not just another cycle? Isn't there a rainbow after this storm?

I've been so busy travelling around the world and selling everywhere I go that there's been no time to write about the winemaking adventures of Bluey & Craig and the carrying's on of Fidel and the escapades of Coyote Karen and Merlot Mike. While I've been out of town two new restaurants have popped up on Grand Avenue in our little town filling up spaces vacated during the downturn. Why, even Joe the Wino himself has been quiet these days, unsure what to say because the economic spring is here and the flowers are blooming and he hates the President and it seems he's upset the economy is improving because he can't blame that on the President. I remember last year when Joe, who owns a high tech company in San Diego, laid off more employees (again) from his very profitable firm and the next day the stock market tanked hundreds of points and it was as if he (and his corporate buddies) timed it perfectly and they believed they were economic and CEO geniuses. While they were cutting jobs and speaking venom and putting millions of dollars into their own pockets, the good stewards of business were investing and building their companies and expanding sales and growing exports while Joe the Wino was complaining about Obamacare and telling his employees they could "go on the government plan" and saying the President was "ruining the country" and Obama this and Obama that. He said "Obama is destroying jobs" and raising his taxes and those of his millionaire friends is going to reduce jobs but it was he (Joe the Wino) who was laying off employees, looking out for number #1 (himself), paying the lowest tax rates in recent history and putting millions of dollars into his own pocket as our country's national debt soars.

Who can afford going to the movies these days or to a ball game or to the theater, so for us there's TV (yes, we finally bought one) and our favorite entertainment has been watching those Republican presidential candidates debate as they rant about Obama this and Obama that and how he's as evil as that Holocaust denier from Iran and this is all we hear on TV and after months and months of this, like the Big Lie, with so much repetition it sometimes becomes hard to discern the truth and we were starting to believe what they say and what Fox News says might have some truth to it.

We went outside and pruned the vines and got rained on and hailed on and did our work and thought about things. We heard the cries of the hawks and the barks of our dogs and found enough money to turn on the heat (whenever we could see our breath in the house) and ate bread and beans and drank the $1.99 6-pack beer from Trader's Joe. We drank the wine we grew which is inexpensive for us to make but has an amazing taste and ate way too much cheese to go with the wine and we didn't go to bed hungry though we might not be eating as well as we should. Now if things are so bad and the President is the reincarnation of 666 and a Darth Vader destroying jobs and job creators, how is it that I'm  involved with a little company that started with  2 people in the garage at the depths of the recession and has now grown to 50 people and we started offering benefits and providing health insurance and all the while the candidates are saying that the President has stifled small companies and yet who could be smaller than us and we are growing like crazy. And, after a couple of years of do it yourself vineyarding we've got  a tiny bit of extra funds to hire Fidel for a couple of hours and Fidel is demanding more money and isn't this also a sign of an economy that's turning around?  If not, why are customers and dealers from all over the world demanding our products?  Even our wine sales are increasing, PTL, because we've got to sell all these cases of wine that are piling up.  So much for the pols and the polls. You heard it here first (although I was too busy to right it down last year): good times are coming and make your plans now to join us for our 2nd Presidential Inauguration Wino's Ball (and yes, Bo the First Dog is invited) and before then let's start planning for a bountiful harvest in the Fall.

Fidel came back the next day and pulled the termite bitten wood out of the holes and he worked for less than 2 hours and said, "You only have to pay me $20 today."

"Good, because that's all I have," said the Queen. As he was leaving she gave him two Italian-made chairs which had once served the dining room of a condominium at the Watergate. He put them in the back of his beat-up pickup and drove off, a truce of sorts between them and a sign of the trickle down economics to come.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Buds, First Gophers

Budbreak at Blue-Merle Vineyard.
Like the first kernel of popcorn that pops, the first bud on the 6th leaf Tempranillo vines has unfolded. Bud break has started in the vineyard, soon to be awash in a sea of light green. As with opening day of baseball,  there is so much hope and promise and anyone can win. This is the year of a great vintage, and why not?

Joe The Wino says "a gopher in February is worth 50 in June" and the gnarly varmints have been stirred by the heat wave the past week when it hit over 70 degrees in the vineyard, causing those buds to swell to great pregnancy.  The Queen caught her first gopher of the season this morning (the carcass discovered by Bluey who goes into Pointer Mode when there's a gopher trapped in the hole -- I shall spare our sensitive readers a photo), after pruning most of the vineyard herself while I was in France trying as many varieties of wine as I could (limited by the fact I was there on daytime job business, not a winetasting tour). The French wine industry is alive and well and producing some great, enjoyable wines, even for my pallet, this said after making my first trip to France since becoming a winemaker. I've inspected every vine, fine tuning the cuts, to make sure we do not overcrop -- the Queen tends to leave a few too many spurs, a few too many buds. Thoughtful pruning now can help down the road with canopy management (avoiding that jungle), mildew control and better grapes, just like weeding out a few gophers early in the season makes them easier to manage down the road.  If good wine is made in the vineyard, this is where it starts.