Sunday, November 29, 2020

Another Snail Story for 2020


Who knew pet snails would become a thing during the pandemic? Here's what happened when one winemaker found a snail gorging on a young grapevine's fresh green shoots, excerpted from About That Wine I Gave You.

Spring rains paved the way for slugs to glide along paths and some ventured up the trunks of vines to forge on fresh greenery. When Paul found a snail in a spot where there should have been baby grapes, he plucked it from the leaves and crushed it with his foot. Snails were everywhere, in birds of paradise, roses, and shoots, and when he found one, he either crushed it, threw it onto the road with a splat, or sprinkled salt and watched it squirm, writhe, and melt. Paul noticed Bluey the dog chew one of the salted snails and lick his lips.

Bluey and Paul were hungry so he lit a fire to cook a leg of lamb and after the meat met the flame, Paul remembered when Marie-France took him to an escargot farm in France. He collected plump snails from the garden and placed them on the barbeque. Paul admired the well-mannered dogs of France who behaved under restaurant tables and wished Bluey would behave like a French dog instead of a bull-in-the-china-shop Tasmanian devil. At least he’ll eat as well as French dogs. He offered Bluey a flame-roasted escargot. As Bluey smacked his lips, Paul heard his name.

“Who’s there?”

“Paul, why are you persecuting me?” he heard, and at that moment, comprehended his cruelty. Ashamed and humbled, from that day, whenever he found a snail on a flower, vine, or walkway, he picked it up and gently placed it out of harm’s way. He was transformed from a killer of snails to their protector.

His new-found pacifism didn’t stop with snails. The next day when he lifted the top off an irrigation lid, he found a family of mice, terrified at their discovery. Normally, the shovel would have been called upon to do what shovels do. He let them be. Next, he stopped setting gopher traps. Then, he became a vineyard pacifist, saying kindness towards all people begins with kindness to all creatures. The dog, however, having tasted the best of French gastronomy, continued to chew raw snails in the shell, to the point of secretly following Paul when he was on a rescue mission, devouring the snails Paul saved.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

A Winemaker's Advent

To the Scent Sommelier and Faithful who walk the Way of the Vine,

And to all those who would learn more,

Greetings from the vineyard!

It’s time to prepare, to cut into the side of the mountain to make the paths straight!

Don vestments of purple and violet in preparation for the season. Paint your nails and toes shades of dark grapes.

For the next six weeks, open one celebratory bottle per week, remember and honor:

·         Prophets

·         Shepherds

·         Angels

·         Mary & Joseph

·         The Birth

·         A New Beginning

·         The Wise Women

Week One: Prophets live among us as our venerable elderly, the Greatest Generation, and their offspring, the Lucky Few. Let us toast them with a well-aged wine, our 2009 Merleatage. It’s like sinking into an old leather couch, absorbing aromas of tobacco our elders smoked and many wisely gave up, as they impart their wisdom to us. Prepare yourself for the season. Honor the prophets. Be still - listen for the voice crying in the wilderness.

Week Two: Shepherds are the front-line employees in service industries who keep us fed and going. They tend our flocks. They harvest fruits and vegetables in the field. Pick grapes from the vines. They work in slaughterhouses, preparing meat, defeathering and dismembering chickens. They pick the white flesh from crabs; descale and debone fish at the market; labor at grocery stores. They drive the buses and the trains and attend us on planes. The salt of the earth. They were chosen to hear the good news first announced by angels and faithfully proceeded to bear witness. To remember them, sip the 2017 Aglianico wine, which is endowed with the strongest structure of any of our wines, the highest acids, the sturdiest backbone, the ripest, darkest of grapes. And as the Aglianico will age beyond our earthly lives, so too will modern-day shepherds inherit the earth.

Week Three: Angels are the nurses and doctors who care for us, instruments of the Lord’s healing power on earth. An angel’s kiss on the forehead is a blessing, as light and joyous as a sip of 2017 Tempranillo – the elixir of angels in heaven and caregivers on earth.

Week Four: May our souls magnify the lord. Mary the Magnificent, the Magnificat. The handmaiden, who with Joseph her betrothed, both, full of faith, accepted their callings, accepted their duties. To honor their faithfulness is Petite Sirah, the color of the Bishop’s ceremonial advent vestments, the wine that magnifies the grape.

Christmas Eve:  As the word becomes flesh and dwells among us, celebrate the birth with blood extracted from a stone, grape juice extracted from sun-stressed raisins clinging to vines gripping a craggy slope. King of kings. Queen of Queens. Wine of wines. Port of ports. This is the treat Santa Clause, and you, will appreciate after climbing down the chimney. The late harvest, fortified, 2016 Zinfandel port, an oasis in a bottle vinted in the time of drought.

Week Five: New Year's – a new beginning. When everything is clear – you can see the future. The purity of a rose, flower of the virgin’s rosary. It’s fresh, it’s clear, it’s pure - it will make you blush. A wine to begin a meal, a wine to start the year, a timely Tempranillo rosé.

Week Six: They carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and mir – three wise men from the east, bearing gifts for the Messiah, arriving on the Twelfth Night, King’s Day, the epiphany. The most treasured gift may have been a fragrance, frankincense. Today’s bearers of wisdom are the wise women who bear us, nurture us, labor for us, and who lead us. Honor these women with the most fragrant wine we know, the 2008 Petit Verdot. May its magic continue to inspire and strengthen you this day, throughout the year, and beyond the time when we meet again.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving for an "Open Book"


"Open Book" took on a new meaning today when the host of the same-titled  program revealed his own personal struggles, like an open book.

It all started at the beginning of the pandemic when he broadcast a live video stream each day at 5:15 pm Chicago time choosing to read a paragraph or a page or two from a book, often dusty, from his library then expound on it, inviting authors, historians, and others for Q&A to a live audience of 100 or so people online, an intimate setting for a man with over a million followers, inviting questions, calling us by name.

You know his voice. If you listen to NPR on Saturday mornings, he is the host of Weekend Edition. He is a voice of reason in an age of insanity.

To express our thanks, one of the regular viewers, Peggy Shannon (author of the forthcoming book Churches of Paris) contacted other regulars and invited them to answer what does Open Book mean to you? She collected the answers, bound them, then delivered the present.

So it was we gave thanks, letters of gratitude, today to Scott, and Open Book, and to his family.  And to all those who feed us, transport us, shelter us, and comfort us. Caroline called for the tissues. At least a box was needed to soak up the tears of those who read from the opened book, not to mention those who watched in real time on Twitter and Periscope.

For the family who gives so much, Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for your gifts to us.


Dear Scott,

In the early days of Twitter in 2009, I heard your touching essay on the radio about a close family friend of yours who passed away. I tweeted you about the afterlife. You responded. Who does that? You made me a fan for life.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I said to myself, “I hope Scott never retires. We need his voice of reason and reassurance on Saturday mornings.”

And then,

One day,

My phone sent me a message: “Scott Simon is live….”

I clicked…

It was Open Book.

What it means to me is new ideas, learning new things, things I should have learned in school, for example, the writings of James Baldwin.

After your session with a historian about Robert E. Lee, I called my dad who had attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia in the 1930s. “Dad, there’s this program you should watch. It’s with Scott Simon, you know, the NPR radio host on Saturday mornings….”  This is an example why truth matters, because dad grew up with the theology Lee was a great man, a loyal statesman to his country, Virginia.

How Open Book inspired me is like this:

On Valentine’s Day this year I completed a manuscript that took one year to write and four years to finish, because of wine, or the effects thereof, having a daytime job, a thousand vines, and a wife to care for…

The book was finished, but my godmother’s eyes had failed, and mom’s eyes weren’t as good as they once were, so I had an idea, inspired by you. I would read them my book, a chapter at a time, and this became my project during the lockdown, during the pandemic, that at happy hour, I would open a bottle of wine, talk about how it was made, and read a chapter of the book. And when it was June 6th, I’d talk about what that date meant to me, and read the chapter that featured D-Day events and characters, and then when you and Caroline talked about your experiences during Open Book about Normandy and D-Day, I realized we were connected by more than Twitter and Internet signals but by life events.

The last chapter of my book reading recording experiment acknowledged all those who had inspired the work with a huge shoutout to you, who gave me the idea to read it aloud, record it, so those whose eyes were bad could listen, and with their ears, see. Here’s a link to it on YouTube:

I don’t have your address, so I can’t send you wine. But if I could, this is the note I’d send to accompany the bottles. Since Peggy has given me an impossible deadline of writing this tonight, when the wine bottle is now half-full, I could think of no better essay to send than what I wrote to another pair of Chicagoans ten years ago:

Dear First Lady and Mr. President,

For months, there has been nothing but dreary news in the media about the economy. No city or town has been passed over by the damage and pain. Even in our semi-rural, gentlewomen and gentlemen farmer community, we have seen neighbors’ homes foreclosed, families uprooted, shops on Main Street abandoned. I am reminded of what scripture tells us about the biblical patriarch Joseph and his dreams; he foresaw seven years of famine followed by seven years of abundance. In ancient Egypt, after seven years of drought, the rains returned and so did the crops. And from the depths of the 1932 Depression, the United States emerged to become the world’s greatest economic power. The lessons from the past speak to our time. We will rise again.

We come and go – but the land is always here, always serene. You should visit this area sometime and experience it – to park your burdens at the entrance for a day and reconnect with Nature and the Earth. In the vineyard among the vines, there are answers to all dilemmas. All things have their seasons. After midnight’s darkness, the sun will rise again. After winter’s cold, spring’s thaw will follow. We spent the cold, dark winter pruning vines, cutting back, cutting expenses as well. In winter, the vineyard is barren. Just as the sun must rise and the swallows return to Capistrano – this Recession, it too shall pass.

Yesterday in the vineyard, I came across a shoot – a green shoot – with fragile green leaves – signaling the start of spring. Then I saw another, and another. Green shoots, everywhere. Mr. President, just as there are green shoots in the vineyard, there are green shoots sprouting in the economy. The recession is ending. Growth is on the way. Stay the course and keep the faith. We are keeping hope alive.

About that wine I gave you …The first bottle is Petit Verdot, the most fragrant wine known to womankind and dogkind – a wine made for fine ladies. It is for Michelle. The second bottle is a blend made from all the different grapes of our vineyard, some Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot and Zinfandel and Tempranillo and Grenache and Aglianico … the recipe is a little bit of this, a little bit of that. This is the Ellis Island of wines, an assembly of our leftovers, our poor, our huddled masses. Grapes yearning to be free. A melting pot. A kitchen soup. And the result? Bluey the Aussie gave it six licks, the most I’ve ever seen, and it is perhaps the best wine we’ve ever made. Just as the good Lord brought people from all over the world to this country to make America the Beautiful – we have taken grapes from each corner of our vineyard – and carboys of wines from all corners of the winery – to create this blend, which we henceforth call President’s Cuvée.

May God bless your Presidency and the United States.

Sincerely yours,


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Towering Trees Grow From Tiny Seeds

When you were a kid, did you ever try growing an avocado tree from a pit? Enjoying a second childhood,  keeping hope alive, planting seeds.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Time to Let Go



        As leaves fall from vines, canes protrude as skeleton bones. At year’s end, only a few leaves cling, except for two green rows at the block above the leach field, fueled by organic matter powering perpetual growth that faithfully produce a second crop picked December 31st, a dozen grapes eaten during the twelve strokes of midnight to usher in luck for the new year.
        “It’s OK to let go,” Paul told the last leaves gripping vines for their lives. “Your work is finished. Have faith spring will come again as surely as a rainbow after a storm.”
        With last rites read, the leaves took a deep breath, exhaled, and when the next circling air current arose, released their grip and were borne skywards by a wind funnel, and the vines closed their eyes and fell asleep, their songs silent for a long winter siesta, the vineyard, a cemetery of stick figures, crosses, and memories.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Blush, Roses, and a Special Rosé


       On Thanksgiving Day, he bottled the blush wine bucketed away in a fire brigade from the Tempranillo juice immediately after crush with no added sulfites. The pink wine had notes of apples, light citrus, brambles – a descriptor Jayne would appreciate – and was as delightful and addictive as wine could ever be. Once opened, a bottle never survived until dawn, and often not the next hour, an obstacle to productivity and gateway to Saturday afternoon siestas. It was fresh, fun, and good.

Paul thought of Jayne as he bottled and admired the photo of her in Central Park surrounded by flowers inspiring the name for this batch. Upon a bottle he affixed a print of the photo and wrote with metallic ink in flowing cursive letters:


Jayne’s Roses


As for a second bottle to fill the two-shipper case, he searched his cellar and found a case of Petit Verdot hidden in a corner – the fragrant wine that brought them together. He wrote on that bottle:


To the one who understands Petit Verdot

To the one who understands me

Enjoy the wine that changed our lives forever


He opened a bottle of Petit Verdot to taste how it had aged. The initial aroma was musty, perhaps a bit of mildew from the South in summer, with barnyard overtones, so uncharacteristic of the aromatic, floral wine this was supposed to be. Then, he tasted, and, oh, the taste was there. If you get by the smell, you’ve got it licked. I hope she likes a bit of earthiness in her wine. She’s a wholesome, earthy woman. She’ll get it.


He wrote her a note and slipped it into the box:

Dear Jayne,

I found a case of Petit Verdot! From the same vintage as the first bottle I gave you you described as fragrant as dew on a honeysuckle midsummer morning. The wine has changed in the years since our first encounter and I suppose we have too. A little earthier now, a bit more mature, a bit mellower, and the taste is still delicious.

About the blush wine … it’s made from the ripest Tempranillo grapes separated from the dark skins leaving behind a light, pink elixir, the color of the unicorn of your dreams. I call it Jayne’s Roses, as fresh and as vibrant and as innocent and as fun as the first time we met. After you sip it, I think you’ll want more. This is how I felt the first time I met you and every time we meet… I want more …to see you again, more. Again and again. Merry Christmas!

Jayne replied with an email December 26th, Boxing Day:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. The rosé label makes me laugh, cry, and rejoice. This is so special. I am beyond grateful. The Petit Verdot is spectacular. I almost feel guilty about how good it is, and that I get to experience it again, one of the last bottles. It takes me back to my grandma’s raspberry patch, sun-ripened fruit next to grandpa’s rhubarb and tobacco. Then, I journey down the rabbit hole into a bootlegger’s speakeasy – the air is smoky and alluring. The most special aroma in this bottle is a faint hint of creosote. That resilient desert brush that reminds me of walking with you on Paris sidewalks when it rains. That note is so special. I am beyond grateful. We have to meet again soon – but it will be different next time. Like going down the rabbit hole to other worlds. More and more. Curious and curiouser. And all the more magical. Can’t wait to see you more in the New Year.

- Excerpt  from About That Wine I Gave You  (C) Copyright, All Rights Reserved