Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hidden Valley Enoteca, Blue-Merle Winery to Host Wine Tasting To Kick-Off AMGEN Tour of California Bike Race May 11 in Escondido

The Hidden Valley Enoteca and Blue-Merle Winery will host a wine tasting in Escondido, CA on the eve of the AMGEN Tour of California bicycle race. The race is viewed as a tune-up event for riders who will compete in the Tour de France. The Enoteca is a shared tasting room and culinary campus of five local San Diego wineries and to celebrate the start of The Tour the Enoteca will host wine tasting with food trucks and a band throughout the afternoon and early evening of Saturday, May 11th.

Hundreds of guests are expected according to Rosie Barnett, Enoteca's tasting room manager. "This is going to be a bid deal," she said.  The Enoteca address is: 26312 Mesa Rock Road, Escondido, CA 92026.

For AMGEN Tour of California visitors looking for a wine tasting experience of local San Diego wineries before, during and after the race, the Enoteca allows guests to taste wines from five different wineries.  "With so many different wines and winemaking styles, there's bound to be a wine for everyone," said Ms. Barnett.  There is a $10 tasting fee per person, which includes 6 tastes of wine, or $15 to try 12 different wines. There is no charge for the music and visitors on May 11th will be able to purchase food from food trucks at the facility, and to enjoy a picnic lunch on the Enoteca grounds. Bottles of one's favorite wine may also be purchased.

"This is a great opportunity for the City of Escondido and Escondido's wineries to showcase their offerings," said Craig Justice, proprietor of Blue-Merle Winery, one of the founding wineries of the Enoteca, which just opened its doors last September. "San Diego County is a fantastic place to grow wine," Justice said, "With its combination of bright sunshine and cool ocean breezes. The area is also a cyclist's paradise."

For more information about the Tour of California:

Here's the Wikipedia entry:
Here's AMGEN's official Tour of California website:
Here's AMGEN's Twitter account for the Tour: @AmgenTourofCali

For more information about the Blue-Merle Winery: or @bluemerlewinery

For more information about the Hidden Valley Enoteca and The Escondido Wine & Culinary Campus please visit:

How Do You Release a Live Snake From a Mousetrap?

King Snake, on the hunt for mice, finds
himself in a mousetrap.
With signs of a mouse in the garage I set traps at various points last night. This morning, when I checked the trap by the entrance - a favorite spot - it had sprung, but no mouse. I glanced under the sink and saw only the dark curved tube shaped as a U. Yellow stripes, not a rattler. Possibly a King Snake and possibly alive. How do you release a live snake from a mousetrap? P.S. Without killing the snake and without getting bit?

King snakes are our friends and have been spotted twice in the garage (7 years ago), once in the vineyard (5 years ago) and once outside the garage last year. They eat mice and are immune to a rattlesnake's venom and are said to eat small rattlers. King snakes are good to keep around. I remember our neighbor Steve the herpetologist telling me about the time he rescued a King and it bit him several times. Not poisonous, but still not his idea of a good time getting bit.  Not even a friendly King Snake knows how to say thank you. I gather gloves, some tools, a camera.

I've seen the"Crocodile Hunter" on TV, notably the episode when Steve Irwin catches the world's 10 most poisonous snakes. I've got our "favorite vineyard tool" (a 3-ft. stick we use to help hang  nets), a broom (in case I need to sweep him out), a bucket and a 32 gallon container.

It's overkill. The snake is not that big.  I use the stick to pull him out from behind the washing machine. He wriggles.  His head is pinned down.  I just pick up the mouse trap and carry it (with snake) outside to the vineyard. My idea is to hold the snake's jaws shut with one hand then use my other hand to lift the bar.  Then I find it's impossible to left the bar with one hand. Duh.  I need leverage.  Next idea, let go of the head, use one hand to hold the mouse trap, use a strong twig as leverage to open the bar of the mousetrap. As I do this the snake coils himself around the bar and won't let go. I shake ever so gently and soon he's on the ground and all balled up, like a tortoise inside his shell, trying to escape the world. He's not in good shape. I want to keep him on our property, so I find a shady spot in some ivy to let him be.
Recovering in the shade.

As I write this story, I make a discovery. The vineyardista keeps coming over to me and telling me her "honey do" list for the day and starts singing a song about why I'm wasting my time writing and she sees a picture of the snake on the computer screen, shrieks and scatters.  Peace at last.  Can I patent this new "Wife Away"?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Birds Will Play

It's Sunday morning and we pull the cords of the curtains and open the screen doors and open the screen windows to let in air. (The screen doors are important around here in summer for keeping out mouse-hunting rattlesnakes.) Then she opens the unscreened windows of the front door.  I give her a look. "I like to let the birds in.  They fly around for a while and when they get tired I pick them up and take them outside."  Bird Lady of the Vineyard. Another symptom of Crazy Lady Disease.   So this is what goes on when I'm at work during the day.
How do you train your dog not to bark when the bird chirps "cheeeeek?"

We call the bird "cheek-ey," otherwise known as a Flicker.

We have trained this dog to do "bird check" along the rows of vines after the grapes have ripened and the birds search for holes in the nets.  He's able to spot the birds who have made it through. We catch and release. At least those still flapping.

I've never seen the "cheek-ey" in the nets.  But we hear him almost every day.  His distinctive cry, which sets the dog off barking.

The temperatures warmed and the winds were blowing and it might have been a mild Santa Ana and Mr. Cheek-ey dove from the tree and sailed right into the glass window by the front door.  The explosive noise startled the Queen but the glass didn't break. Was he aiming for the hole in the door and missed? Was the light on the window reflecting so he just saw open sky?  Did strong winds blow him off course?

The Queen rushed outside and Mr. Cheek-ey didn't move and Mrs. Cheek-ey looked on from her side of the Poplar trees and cried, "Cheek."

Bluey barked. The Queen's eyes watered. Her throat tightened.
Mr. Cheek-ey

She picked up his body and wrapped it in tissue and placed it in a wine box and asked me to bury him when I got home.  I said I would do it during the light of dawn and when I did Mrs. Cheeky looked on from her perch.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Amused By Winemaking As Art & A Muse

We watched "Vickie, Christina, Barcelona" the other night and we're talking about Woody Allen. "He's a genius," she says. "You have to be a little bit okashii to be a genius."

"That's why I'm kawate-iru," I say and she can't stop laughing.

That broke the tension.  Ten minutes earlier I ask if I could move the creeping Passion Fruit vine gripping the door's screen to keep the plant from getting damaged.  Her blood starts boiling and her voice starts rising and she storms over to the vine she admires each day from the kitchen window and rips it from the door. "Isn't that what you wanted ! There!" And she yanks the rest of the vine from the wall and I say I just wanted to move it off the screen but she's not listening and says I'm killing her and if I don't find someplace else to live her brain will explode and that's going to be it and I better move. It's a minefield talking with her and I decide I shouldn't so I keep quiet to keep her calm and hopefully the blood pressure won't elevate over 150 because it's been over 220 at times this year with trips to the emergency room and I'd relax if it would decrease to 120 or lower and she'd feel better too. So I go back to bottling and just concentrate on that because bottling is the cross I bear during the Easter Season and there's nothing to do but face it and confront it head on because this 2011 Tempranillo wine is the first Tempranillo we've made from our 5-year old vines that's the whole package. The winemaker himself is pleased.  Fruit and nose and mouth-feel and tannins; beginning, middle and end -- a winemaker's trinity. Amen.

Not a word for 10 minutes as the Enolmatic bottling machine hums and bottles clank against the hand-power corker. Pull lever down to compress the cork then ram it into the bottle. Swish. Don't let glass hit the steel or that ping will set her off again. Pull. Swish.

"You have to be a little bit "crazy" to be a genius," she said in Japanese, referring to Woody Allen.

"That's why I'm kawate-iru" I say and the dog's ears prick up at the sound of her blood pressure dropping and she explodes into laughter and I've come out the other side of the minefield, this time. I lift up my cross and restart the bottling. She goes to the vineyard to talk with the vines. Bluey stays by my side under the table, waiting for drops of spilled wine.

Ten hours later after the bottling is finished and I'm blending the new wines I have a vision - winemaking is an art - a thought I've never had but I'm feeling it now and the expression of growing, crushing, pressing, blending this wine (and the little touches, tweaks, experience and skill required) is not unlike an artist.  Making wine is just painting without paint. Sculpting without clay. Poetry without rhymes. Then the image of Penelope Cruz painting a canvas with broad, fluent strokes in "Vickie Christina Barcelona"  comes into my head and since I'm creating a work of art from Tempranillo, the famous grape of Spain, why should I not dream of making it for the Spanish actress and the thought of making this wine for her lightens the burden and I smile. I will bear this cross joyfully. Don Quixote and his Dulcinea.

You're not jealous at the thought of Penelope Cruz as my winemaking inspiration are you?  It was just a fleeting daydream during a long day and evening of repetitive, manual labor. Now that the bottling is done and I survived and the wine is safely in the bottles and tastes good it's back to reality and as I'm out thinning, watering, weeding the vines and preparing to rack the blush wine, the simple fact is that I'm writing this for you, making this wine for you. Yes you. No, you're not being vain. This is for you and it's giving new purpose and pleasure to the toil of winemaking. I aspire to make wine that will change your life as you have changed mine. Although the art you inspire will not last as long as a painting or a classic novel, at least you can smell, taste and drink it. Thank you for amusing me, you Muse.