Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dysfunctional Family Winemakers

If there's one tasting I look forward to the most eagerly each year, it's the American and International Dysfunctional Family Winemakers tasting ("AInt Dysfun?, as it's known in the trade). There's an electricity in the air unmatched at any other event in the wine biz, except maybe the annual Capital Punishment affair held by William Foley in the majestic ballroom at San Quentin when he executes the staff of a new winery he's purchased. And he spares no expense on the food--it's Last Meal for everybody! But there are so many wineries represented at AInt Dysfun? that it would be impossible to taste at every table. (Unless you're Alder Yarrow. But he has a distinct advantage over ordinary humans. Just ask him.) I usually try to visit a few of my favorite Dysfunctional Family Wineries, after all, who can pass up a chance to visit with Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset, the poster children for AIn't Dysfun?, but spend the majority of my time tasting at Dysfunctional Family wineries that are new to me. I don't spend a lot of time here at HoseMaster of Wine reviewing wine, mostly because you babies whine when I do, but I came across some extraordinary wines at AInt Dysfun that I thought you should seek out.

There's something really inspiring about the wines from Overly Affectionate Family Vineyards. First of all, I don't think I've ever seen so many people working at one table before at a tasting. Seventeen members of the Overly family were present to share their wines. They had formed a long daisy chain of holding hands, so only Tricia Overly, the matriarch of the family, who was standing on the end, had a free hand to serve their wines. I was curious about how such a physically affectionate family got into the wine business, but Tricia's answers were constantly interrupted by her children kissing her repeatedly on the mouth. That didn't bother me. But breastfeeding at a trade show is crossing a line! Though I was curious why her son's beard stubble didn't irritate her. I was impressed with the Overly Affectionate 2009 "Come Here and Kiss Me" Chardonnay. When I asked Bennett Overly what made it so distinct, he looked up from where he was nuzzling his eldest daughter's neck and told me that the secret to Overly Affectionate Family wines was "skin contact, and lots of it." I don't come from an overtly affectionate family, so it was refreshing to see a family so openly touching and kissing and sharing physical comfort, so obviously proud of their family and wines. "There's a little bit of me in all my wines," Bennett told me, "and a little bit of me in all my kids too." Yeah, I guess.

After the Overly Affectionate Family wines I rushed over to wash my hands, then taste at the table where some friendly guys were serving My Sister's Underwear Drawer wines. You just can't get more dysfunctional than that! Each label features a lovely engraving of a different pair of the Bagg brothers', Scum and Doosh, sister's panties. Reminiscent of the Harlan Estate labels, except Harlan Estate's Scratch 'n' Sniff smells like money. I asked Doosh where the name of the winery originated. You don't want to know. First, I tasted the My Sister's Underwear Drawer 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon "Edible." The nose was slightly fecal, and the flavors were distinctly earthy, so I might have mistaken it for a Santa Barbara Cabernet. The My Sister's Underwear Drawer 2008 "G-String" Pinot Noir was my favorite. The wine simply glides between your cheeks. Doosh told me the wine is 100% Pommerde clone grown in very chalky soil. "What I'm really looking for in these wines is the same thing I look for in my sister's underwear drawer," Doosh told me, expression of soil..."

As a person who thinks the whole wine and food pairing culture is stupid, it was refreshing to taste with the folks at Domaine Eating Disorder. Siblings Ann O'Rexia and Bill Emia were candid in their views. "Food, in general, is disgusting," Ann told me, "and has no place at the dinner table." As dysfunctional family members, you would expect Bill to disagree with his sis, "Well, I love food, and lots and lots of it. Anyone who doesn't eat his weight in trans-fats a day is just not enjoying life. But wine with food? Don't make me puke." Hard to argue with winemakers who make such remarkable wines. The Domaine Eating Disorder 2009 "Kate Moss" Sauvignon Blanc was predictably lean and acidic, though Bill admired its bounty of grapefruit, melons and Fig Newtons on the palate. Actual Fig Newtons. In every bottle Bill was able to add a yummy cookie due to a loophole in the TTB regulations that allows Nabisco products in certain wines. (There are Oreo cookies in the Eating Disorder Zinfandel from Lodi, but you can't really tell--it's Lodi Zin, after all.) Bill's favorite is the Domaine Eating Disorder 2006 "The Vomitorium" Gruner Veltliner. "If this doesn't make you Smaragd up your dinner, I don't know what will."

It seemed appropriate to end the AInt Dysfun Tasting at the most sought-after cult wine table with dozens of fellow wine bloggers clamoring for a taste of Personal Failure Wines. Personal Failure's concept is to bring together people who have never been successful enough to have pleased their parents under one roof to make wine. Each bottle has a back label that briefly explains how the winemaker disappointed his mother or father, or both. For example, here's what it says on the back of Personal Failure 2007 "You Married That Slut" Cabernet:

2007 was the year I married my wife Betty over the objections of my mother who told me I was marrying Betty because I was inadequately endowed and Betty was the first whore who said Yes, and that Betty was certain to take many lovers and a mockery of me, and that I shouldn't even think about running back home when Betty dumped me because she'd already be dead after turning the shotgun on Dad first, What was there to live for? This is my tribute to her. I hope you enjoy it. And, thanks, Betty, it was fun.

The stories are compelling, and so are the wines. It seemed that each blogger had a Personal Failure wine he could identify with, and this, along with the astounding quality of the wines, made under the supervision of personal failure Tim Mondavi, is what creates the historic demand for these wines. Here's another, this from the back label of Personal Failure 2008 "You'll Never Amount to Anything" Chardonnay:

I dedicate this wine to my Father, Leonard, who, from the time I was a little girl, told me I would never amount to anything. And now, after a stalled career as a surrogate mother for endangered Amazon River tribes, five failed marriages, three failed suicide attempts, and one failed souffle, I want my Father to try my 2008 Chardonnay, which was aged 10 months in Ethan Allen oak and was bottled unfined, unfiltered and sadly unloved.

You can understand why the Personal Failure table was so busy. Personal Failure speaks to us all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ethics? Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinking Ethics

Ask any wine blogger what the biggest roadblock to success in the wine business is and he'll undoubtedly answer, "Ethics." Stupid, useless ol' ethics. And not because he believes in ethics, that's clearly a waste of time, much like reading wine blogs published east of the Mississippi, but because there are not guidelines to these imaginary ethics. Just where are the lines that one isn't supposed to cross? And where are the lines one is supposed to obey? And the ones they promised me I could snort? You start a wine blog for purposes of personal gain, get a little bit of notoriety, and, BANG, someone goes and ruins the whole thing by bringing up ethics. You win a Wine Blog Award, an achievement equal to passing your driver's license exam without the actual driving test, and some ethics cop, some self-appointed moron of morality, some pompous penis of principles, comes along and points out you were a judge in the competition. All because of ethics! How stupid is that? What does it matter that you were a judge? You won fair and square! There are no ethics on the Internet. The Internet wasn't created so that the cretins of conscience could ruin it for everybody! The Internet can't survive if you expect ethical behavior. What sort of an idiot thinks that? No, the Internet was created so that we can do anything we fucking want to do and not have to answer for it. Christ, it's so obvious.

Nonetheless, ethical guidelines are sorely needed in the wine blog world, if only to know what to ignore. It's tiresome to go to all the trouble of writing a wine blog yet not get the satisfaction of knowing that you're absolutely unethical. I've been giving this issue a lot of thought. OK, I'm actually just making this up off the top of my head, but that's what you're supposed to do when you're blogging--make shit up as you go along. It's what all the top bloggers do. It's how they got to the top. Once again, it's the Internet. What does it matter whether what I write is thoughtful or original or, God forbid, accurate? Only the addlepated, dimwitted, thunderstruck and the anencephalic believe what they read on the Internet. Though that is the core group that reads Palate Press. Anyhow, I have given this issue great thought and now present the core set of Ethics for Wine Bloggers. I'll thank you to follow them.

Free Stuff

This is simple. You're entitled to it. You've got a wine blog, you work at it every day, you're on your journey to discover wine, wineries are supposed to send you samples. And if they don't, wineries can be incredibly stupid about not sending out enough free wine to the people, wine bloggers (duh), who will determine their very existence, just call them up and ask them for it! It's your ethical responsibility to ASK THE GODDAM WINERIES TO SEND YOU YOUR WINE. And don't make the egregious mistake of not telling them your shirt and hat sizes--they'll want to send you swag and can be very pouty if you don't seem to want any.

You are not obligated to report to your readers that the wines you review on your blog were sent to you for free. Who made that up? If you're using them, get rid of your stupid disclaimers. It's no one's fucking business where you got the wine from! The only things that matter are that you liked the wine, that it paired well with the lavish dinner the winery treated you to, and, above all, what kind of closure it had. No one needs to know you didn't pay a nickel for it. What kind of a lousy world would this be if we had to reveal every goddam thing we get for free? The whole country would devolve into anarchy. The IRS would be buried in paperwork. Hookers and pimps don't report their income! Explain to me the difference between wine bloggers and hookers and pimps! Yeah, pimps drive nicer cars, but other than that. Sure, unlike wine bloggers, hookers spit, but other than that. It's outrageous. Your ethical obligation is to say nice things about the wineries that give you free stuff, and only nice things. First off, you're not really qualified to judge wines, so why would you risk appearing stupid and ridicule that Moscato d'Asti for having some sort of chemical problem that makes it fizzy? Just say something nice, you got it for free, didn't your mother teach you to say thank you? This is so obvious, I wonder why it has to be said. Sheesh.


Again, this is simple. Everything you can think of, especially you, to say about wine has been said before and said far better than your miserable vocabulary allows you to say. Oh, goody, you discovered Aglianico, a wine that's been around for thousands of years but you're the first one to notice it's pretty good wine if you like that Southern Italian crap even though the ones they're starting to make in California are sooo much better. Great. Fascinating. I'm quivering with excitement. Believe me, everything you have to say about Aglianico, the grape and the free bottle of wine you're talking about, and every other wine, has been said more articulately and more eloquently. And yet, it is your ethical responsibility to bring the level of discussion down to where the kind of dolts who read wine blogs can understand it. Your job is to educate the poor slobs who know less than you about wine, the fools who've only been learning about wine for eight months when you've been reading Lettie Teague for years, the sad group of humans who don't know what to buy when they're shopping at BevMo and someone has torn down the Wilfred Wong recommendations and put up pictures of kitties instead, though the kitties would be more useful than Wilfred for explaining the crap BevMo sells. Your job is to say, in very simple phrases and poor English, what has been said before. This is how wine blogs work. Don't go trying to be original. Really. This is important. Just look at the top wine blogs. See anything original? No. Take a hint. Figure it out. Genius.

And when you're not reviewing wines or writing about your annoying children or filling your pointless blog with more links than a Jimmy Dean warehouse, you can always plug local events. After all, your eleven readers really want to know about the $150 per ticket Insipid Producers of Oregon Tasting with music by Celine Dion impersonator, Celine Dion. It it your ethical responsibility to post as often as possible without regard to meaningful content. Try to see your wine blog as spam. The meat, not the junk mail. You call that meat? You call that writing?

When reviewing wines that you don't really understand or you are incapable of describing, it is
perfectly ethical to simply quote from the fact sheet the winery provided, or reword the back label. There's no need to try to make up descriptors when the correct ones are right in front of you! The only ethical responsibility you have is to make certain no one knows you've borrowed from someone else's work. That would be misguided and can only lead to uncertainty and chaos. Better yet, why not just skip the stupid description and simply assign the wine a score? Scores cannot be questioned, and make lovely graphics besides. Lately, wine bloggers have begun to use badges instead of scores. I am completely in favor of this trend. Poodles becoming badgers. After all, both wine bloggers and badgers are in the weasel family.
Best New Wine Blog Nominess 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Tweet Smell of Excess

I am frequently asked why I don't have a Twitter account. I don't have any use for Twitter. Twitter is like an Ionesco play--140 characters searching hopelessly for meaning. Twitter is hundreds of thousands of minds without a single thought. It's the viewing audience for the Super Bowl with keyboards. Twitter fills the universe with mindless chatter, allowing everyone to be Maury Povich or Jerry Springer or a troop of baboons. It reflects the culture in ways that aren't especially flattering; it's a funhouse mirror that distorts reality and makes small minds seem large and the trivial seem important. Aside from reading
HoseMaster of Wine, is there a bigger waste of time than Twitter? Sure, there's watching "Eat Pray Love," two hours of comma-tose (I preferred the Japanese original "Eat Play Rove"), and there's reading Lettie Teague, but not much else. Twitter is vuvuzelas played rectally. So don't expect to see the ol' HoseMaster on Twitter any time soon.

But if I were on Twitter, this might be what I'd Tweet...

@JayMcInerney Hmmm, JLoBrow, glad you loved Inception--not sure how much Cab Phelps put in it in '07.

DrinkNectar has something really important to say--"He's important!"

Love the new look over at Catavino! Like putting lipstick on a corpse!

WS admits mixup, put Meg Whitman on cover of "California's Greatest Winemaker" issue.

@HelenTurley I know! I can't believe WS insulted you. You're the Greatest Winemaker in The WORLD!

@JLaube I think she's buying it. I'll take a case of Marcassin Pinot Noir. I use it in my Prius every 5000 miles.

Can't wait for my new issue of Mutineer Magazine! Love how they never use words with more than three syllables.

@JayMcInerney Gamay is the grape used for Beaujolais. Camay is soap. Ellie May was on Beverly Hillbillies. Nitpickers!

Burying cowhorns in a vineyard to make better wine is like putting manure in a toreador's pants for a better bullfight.

@MarvinShanken Is that a Cigar in your mouth, or do you just really like racehorses?

Just loved the Vegan Wine Tasting today, sponsored by Natural Gas. You are what you eat!

@StephenTanzer You have a magazine???! Did you hear Parker's dead? Dr. Miller attending physician.

Catavino nominated for European Wine Blog Award in category Best Judges to Win European Wine Blog Award.

@LettieTeague Yeah, I know, he's pompous, but look at it this way, he makes you seem knowledgeable!

@JayMcInerney Yeah, I know, she's dull, but look at it this way, she makes you seem

@GaryV Sure, I do remember your grandfather. Madman Muntz! Shame you don't have his class.

@HuckleberryJackson Just because "Matanzas" means "slaughterhouse" doesn't mean...

William Foley has announced his purchase of Wine Enthusiast magazine for $100 and a Fred Furth bobblehead doll.

@WilliamFoley Oh, well, easy mistake to make. He's the same size as a bobblehead doll.

@HuckleberryJackson Suggested brands to buy and ruin--Caymus, Silver Oak, Steve Heimoff.

@HuckleberryJackson Sorry, hadn't heard about STEVE! Congrats. "Heimoff" means "homeless" in German.

@SteveH Really? As in "Heimoff to see the Wizard?" Loved the "Lollipop Guild!"

@JayMcInerney Rupert called. Wants you to write expose of Free Radicals in Wine. Excoriate the liberal bastards!!!

@JayMcInerney Means "denounce"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Faint Aroma of Goat Bladder


The first incarnation of HoseMaster of Wine, the one with the nudie cuties, has vanished into the great Internet Cloud. But I saved a few of those posts. Here's one from more than two years ago, without the photos...

I'm not really used to predicting trends, I usually set them. I am so often credited with creating the whole wine blog concept that it has become somewhat embarrassing, especially given how out of hand the whole wine blogging thing has become. I recently read a frightening statistic:A new wine blog is created every 15 seconds and the word "splooge" appears in them an average of twice. But 2008 is coming to a merciful close and so I'd like to highlight some of the year's top stories and emerging trends. This has been done to death on other wine blogs, but splooge on them.

One trend that hasn't changed--Parker followers line up for wines scoring more than 95 points. What the flock, these sheep dips have mutton to lose.

William Foley Buys More Famous Names
After acquiring Firestone and Sebastiani (Wow, way to go after mediocre wineries, Bill, what, was Korbel not for sale?) billionaire William Foley is about to announce the acquisition of another famous name. HoseMaster of Wine has learned that Foley has purchased James Laube. The price is rumored to be somewhere in the neighborhood of eleven dollars but may be as high as seventeen. Negotiations have been under way for some time now but the downturn in the economy sealed the deal. "I was going to purchase James Suckling," Foley was quoted as saying, "but, frankly, I didn't want to take on all the little Sucklings. I think James Laube got out at the right time and I'm happy to have acquired him. These kinds of critics only come up for sale every so often and I think it's imperative you own a couple when you're in the winery business." James Laube will be fully refurbished; his column in Wine Spectator, always for sale, was included in the deal.

Wineries Turning to Biodegradable Farming
First it was Organic, then it was Biodynamic, now the trend that appears to be the next logical step in viticulture is Biodegradable. Created by a cousin of Rudolf Steiner, Henny Steiner, the fundamental tenet of Biodegradism is that vines grow healthier and produce better grapes if you constantly degrade them. Vineyard managers spend a few hours each day belittling the vines using eight basic "tease." "You call that fruit, you piece of mutant genetic material," one such tease goes, "I've seen better set on a twelve-year-old girl." Followers believe the vines respond to these jibes, that it adds to the plant's stress, and they then feel the need to produce better fruit. "It's amazing," says famed vineyard manager Phil Oxera, "just weeks after I told my vines, 'You louse-infested pieces of garbage wouldn't even make a bonfire good enough to warm Robert Parker's ass,' the little shits started producing the most gorgeous clusters." Biodegradism also believes in using a lunar calendar to determine what days are best for insulting the plants. "It makes no sense," writes Henny Steiner, "to give the vines the finger during a new moon. No, a new moon is when you urinate into a cow horn and pour it over their fucking heads."

Wine Vessels
Bottles are so last year! Corks are so last year! Last year is so last year! In their never ending search to improve wine quality and figure out ways to fool Alcohol Control Boards in non-reciprocal states, wineries are experimenting with many new and different containers. "Most consumers, frankly, are sick of the problems glass can cause in their expensive wines," says consumer expert Frank Lee Bloated. "Once you've had a bunch of 'glassed' wines you start looking at alternatives." Aside from the jejune boxes and cans, wineries are looking at several other possibilities. A couple of French biodynamic wineries will soon be packaging their wines in goat bladders. "At first we just made the goats drink 750 ml of wine then butchered them and, voila, the wine was in its vessel," says winemaker P. Chevre, "but then we figured out it was easier to kill them first." As a bonus, the bladders are reusable as party favors. Other wineries are looking at giant latex condoms. "My wines smell like mercaptans anyway," says longtime winery owner Kult Winery, "so the condoms make it seem normal." One drawback--they always burst when you least want them to--ain't that how most of us got here? Look for wineries to keep looking for new vessels for their wines in 2009, perhaps even cloth bags similar to the ones all the self-righteous people haul into supermarkets!

Wine Bloggers Continue Self-Deception
I call it the Blogger Bubble. As wineries become more and more desperate to sell wine in a struggling economy, even the most ridiculous ideas take hold. Hoping that wine blogs will one day actually sell wine rather than solicit it, winery marketing directors have encouraged bloggers to believe that their recommendations, based essentially on their stupid opinions, have commercial value. This in turn convinces bloggers that what they've long wished for may actually be coming true, which leads to endless posts about the power of the new media (roughly equivalent to the power of gerbils in an exercise wheel), which makes wineries nervous that it just might be true so their marketing people pay even MORE attention to bloggers...and, well, that's how the Blogger Bubble inflates. Watch for this bubble to get bigger than Gary Vaynerchuk's stubbly head in 2009, but disappear in a resounding crash in 2010 that will make the 45,000 wine bloggers and their 38 accumulated readers gratefully vanish.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Healthy Brown Movement

Interest in the fabulous wines of Carbon Footprint (Wine Enthusiast, for example, recently scored their 2008 "Offshore Oil Spill" Chardonnay at 96 points, though no one reads Wine Enthusiast except the proofreaders and people in waiting rooms at psychiatric hospitals) has also spawned great interest in the fledgling Brown Movement in wine. (And it's easy for a consumer to actually smell the Brown Movement in a wine--so many wines proudly do.) The tiresome histrionics of those who would have us believe that natural or organic or BioDynamic wines are better than real wines, and better for you, has led to this natural backlash. The Brown Movement is dedicated to saving the world from the Feiringization of wines (named for wine writer and librarian impersonator Alice Feiring who has tirelessly and admirably crusaded for natural wines while suffering from dysgeusia) and the sissification of the wine industry itself, and to promoting the use of as much of the world's natural resources as possible before those loser Millennials take over and ruin the fun for the rest of us. The Millennials are a seriously dull lot.

The recently formed Brown Movement Society (Motto: Have you enjoyed BM'S today?) is an association made up of Brown wineries, Brown PR people and UPS drivers (why just this morning I could be heard chanting, "Go Big Brown!" during my morning ablutions), among others, who have joined together to promote the awakening of the Brown wine industry. They seem to have tapped into the American wine consumer's dreams and desires, and the Brown Movement is gaining in popularity. Though some might say the Brown Movement was simply waiting for the proper peristaltic moment to make its big splash.

The Brown Movement Society has put together a list of wineries that are Certified Brown. Becoming Certified Brown is an arduous process and the list of requirements is lengthy and demanding. In brief, the consumer can rest assured that any wine purchased from a Certified Brown winery was produced with only one goal in mind--making a great wine at the expense of the environment! We've come to expect this from so many industries, from McDonald's admirable devotion to destroying rain forests (do you know how many creepy insects lived there that might have infested Ronald McDonald Houses?), to DeBeers making every bride proud of the exploitation of poverty-ridden and starving Africans with that shiny thing on her finger, to the automobile industry's devoted destruction of the oceans and Alaskan tundra (but at least Toyota had the class to name a truck "Tundra"--which is like naming a nuclear weapon "Hiroshima"), so why not hold the wine industry to the same standard of excellence?

I recently attended the first Brown Movement tasting at Fort Mason in SF (which was organized at the behest of Alder Yarrow, who was kind enough to let others attend), Consume Resources Advocates and Producers, and I came away impressed by a good, healthy CRAP. I won't try and list my scores of all the wines there, (for an overview, check out Alder's Vornography website for his evaluation of all 548 wines presented during the three hour tasting) but I thought I'd provide a quick overview of a couple of the wineries I found most impressive, both for the quality of their wines and for their dedication to the Brown Movement.

I was happy to see my old friend Bowie Teak of Bowie Teak Winery there serving wines from his eponymous winery in Napa Valley. (Bowie made his fortune from his invention Boner in a Can see my April post on Bowie Teak, and has a new product out which is also sure to add to his fortune, an instant breast enlargement product called Titsicles!) Boo explained briefly how he had always been into the Brown Movement, he just didn't know it. "After all, HoseMaster, I hired David Aboo to design my vineyard to maximize soil erosion, his specialty, and I very carefully tented my 250 acres and fumigated it for a couple of weeks to make sure every damn microbe and bug was dead. The key to making great Cabernet Sauvignon is environmental exploitation--death makes us stronger." Wise words from Boo, and, indeed, his Bowie Teak Winery 2007 "Where the Dead Things Are" (Artist Label Series by Maurice Sendak) Pritchard Hill Cabernet is a perfect expression of the the classic Napa Valley Boutique Winery terroir--black currant and cassis fruit followed by the definitive soullessness that these wines are famous for. At $250/bottle it's a bit steep, but so's the hillside vineyard that's mostly slipped into Lake Hennessey; and the wine comes in a 15 pound bottle designed by Waterford guaranteed to pump lead into your guest's bloodstream, so you get your money's worth.

At the table serving the vibrant and aromatic wines of Toxic Runoff Vineyards I had a chance to speak to its owner, the opinionated Murky Rivers. "I have 200 acres, and I own all of it. If I want to flush chemicals and fertilizer into my creek, who's to stop me? " Murky told me. "I'm damned proud of my wines, and damned proud to have cleared the creek down to the lowest critter on the food chain. Say, have you had my Chardonnay with trout? Mighty fine eatin'" Indeed, the Toxic Runoff 2008 "Acid Rain" Chardonnay was amazing. "The secret," Murky told me, "was how often we turned on the irrigation in the vineyard. Lots of folks are stingy with water, and the vines don't like it. We run the big overhead sprinklers day and night during the growing season to help the vines. And, as a bonus, it also washes all the pesticides into the creek." Murky is justifiably proud of the waste of water, and the water waste, that every bottle of Toxic Runoff represents. And, on a personal note, he was also proud of his Siamese triplet grandsons, who he was using as a table decoration to hold his business cards and brochures.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wine Bloggers You Can Trust

I was under the apparently false illusion that I had discovered Carbon Footprint Wines. I got suckered into publishing some of their marketing material because I believed I had scooped the wine blogging community. Foolish me. As if I could outwit the parade of brilliant bloggers the Internet has to offer, those titans of wine journalism. Oh, the hubris, the hubris, my aching hubris. I was surfing the blogs, if one can surf in what amounts to a Poodle puddle, and, lo and behold, everyone is talking about Carbon Footprint! Some sort of mass mailing of samples had occurred that gave the top bloggers something to write about, and UPS guys hernias. I've taken the liberty of quoting a few of them here.

SwirlSmellSlurp (Best New Wine Blog, Same as Best Old Wine Blog)

Pinot Noir, "Screw the Ozone," Carbon Footprint, 2008 (sample, retails for $65)

She said: Delightful and Decadent, the heavy bottle reminds me of one of Mannfred's Sine Qua Non bottles, which I can say because I know Mannfred and he admires my palate and I helped him start his winery. Initially, the wine comes across as floral, but the flowers give way to huckleberry, Bartlett pear (Josiah, not the Familiar Quotations guy--damn, my nose is discerning!), and pluots. The wine has a lot of heat, not just a little heat, damned Al Gore kind of heat, but it's the heat that carries it. If the bottle were a bit heavier and the wine a little higher alcohol, it could be Sine Qua Non, a winery I'm very familiar with, did I mention?

He said: I was pretty sure this was Merlot when I first smelled it, but then I thought, why would they put Merlot in a ten-pound Burgundy bottle? It was definitely red in the glass though, so that got me confused. On the palate it was red too, with white undertones. It tasted a lot like red wine and I liked it. Definitely a wine I'd drink for free again because I'm all for climate change because it's really hot here today. Do I seem drunk to you? You'll never guess what I'm rating it because I have my own opinions, really I do, that's what makes us so important.

BiggerThanYourHead (Best Wine Reviews and Little Else)

You'd never know the Carbon Footprint 2007 "Amazing Hurricane Season" Cabernet Franc was made from grapes farmed irresponsibly. I wouldn't have known if they hadn't bragged about being part of the fledgling Brown Movement, a Movement I believe I had this morning. Dedicated to the pursuit of the end of civilization as we know it through the frivolous use of chemicals and fossil fuels, clearly someone at Carbon Footprint knows how to make wine. Now I'm going to tell you exactly what it smells and tastes like, and you can take my description to the bank. I'll be certain to explain my precise terminology so that you can follow along. I make it an iron-clad rule to talk down to my readers, though what choice do I have? Intial aromas of macerated cherries and oolong tea lead to tertiary aromas (aromas from the tertia) of powdered cufflinks and Certs, but without the Retsin. In the mouth, the wine is layered and warm, like my Brown movement this morning, and displays a fascinating sense of doom, which comes from the barriques (or "barrels") which are made from heirloom plantings of oaks from now completely logged and barren forests. Drink now through the Rapture.

Jay McInerny On Wine (Who Says Ignorant Bloggers Can't Get Paid to Write)

We had friends over for a simple meal over the weekend. Bill Gates was looking trim and fit, fashionably skinny like he was a citizen of one of the Third World countries he and the lovely Melissa are always trying to save from themselves. And how handy that they'd brought immunizations for dysentery for everyone. Mick was feeling full of himself and insisted I turn him on to the wines I'd be praising in next week's WSJ column so that he wouldn't be shut out when he tried to buy them. I told Sir Mick that I'd be waxing rhapsodic about the great wines of Carbon Footprint, and that we'd be having some with dinner. The old queen Sir Ian laughed in that funny way of his I adore, as though Zelda Fitzgerald were there with us in spirit having recognized me as rightful heir to her husband's literary legacy.

I'd been turned on to Carbon Footprint by Larry Ellison. It was on his private jet that I first tried the Carbon Footprint "Revenge of the Dinosaurs" Chardonnay and it was a revelation. Why can't all California Chardonnays be this amazing? I was reminded of the great Chardonnays of J.J. Prum, but, perhaps this was not as oaky. I decided to accept samples from Carbon Footprint, though I confess I felt bad refusing their requests for autographed books in return because that violates WSJ's policy of never giving anyone anything.

I was very impressed by one of the wines that I served at our casual meal, the Carbon Footprint "Creeping Deforestation" Grenache, a grape I was unfamiliar with. It reminded me of a good Burgundy, maybe from Joguet, though it wasn't nearly ready to drink. I remarked that I felt like I'd committed infanticide, which inexplicably offended Melissa Gates. As I once said in my best-selling novel, "Bright Lights, Big City," "Fuck her."

WSJ readers will be pleased to learn that Carbon Footprint Wines eschews organics and other cultish Green viticultural practices in favor of massive resource consumption. My boss, Rupert, will be pleased to know that, after Sir Ian is through buggering him.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Introducing Carbon Footprint Wines

It certainly seems like every winery on the planet is jumping on the Green band wagon in an effort to sell wine. Organic, BioDynamic, Vegan, Techron, OxyContin, Martinized, Fleet--these are the words now commonly found on bottles of wine and in winery marketing brochures. All in an effort to convince wine buyers that not only will the wine get you trashed, but you can get stinko with a clean conscience. And, really, it takes so little effort on the consumer's part, requires virtually nothing except you believe what it says on the bottle, and you can spend all evening congratulating yourself that you've done your part to save the environment. Not like the BioDynamic winemaker who's flying off to South America, as he does several times a year, after Harvest to consult, and help make their vineyards "green." Luckily, United Airlines uses BioDynamic jet fuel. And it's not like you have to drive a fuel-efficient car, for God's sake, that's insane. Every 105 lb. woman needs to drive a four-ton SUV. For safety, dammit! But I shop at the farmer's market, and my wine is made by BioDynamic monks who never kill European grapevine moths
, they just capture them, thank them in French for their love of vineyards, and release them in their neighbor's non-organic vineyard where they'll be Dow-chemicaled to death. It's a win-win.

However, I have recently come across one winery that is bucking the Green trend, a winery following its own unenlightened path.


Our motto at Carbon Footprint Wines is "A bigger footprint gets us closer to our destination." We believe that climate change is real and unstoppable. And while others see this as a negative, we see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to speed up climate change, get this whole thing over with, end the suspense and get right down to extinction. We're not killing the whole planet; Nature will survive, it always does, we're just killing off ourselves, the human race, an entirely worthy goal. When you open a bottle of our Carbon Footprint wines you can rest assured that we've done everything possible to not only make the wine delicious and satisfying, but we've also done everything we can to have degraded our natural resources and contribute to greenhouse gases. You have our word.

In order to produce the finest wines possible, grapes need to have the least competition possible. Every insect or weed, every living thing in the vineyard, detracts from the vines. This is simple scientific fact. At Carbon Footprint, we spray every single available herbicide, pesticide and fungicide over and over again until the only living thing in the vineyard is the grapevine. We've even contracted with the state of Arizona to have them ship us their suspected illegal immigrants to work in our vineyards where they spray without the benefit of masks and hazardous gear and soon cease to be a problem. The result? Award-winning Cabernet! Yes, Senator John McCain has given us an Arizona Medal of Freedom for our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon "Wetback Reserve."

And that's not all we do here at Carbon Footprint Wines. We make sure and plant on our steepest hillsides for the best soil erosion results, leeching lots of chemicals into our local streams and ridding them of annoying piscine pests. Hillside vines make for fabulous Carbon Footprint Zinfandel, which sucks with fish anyway. And we recently dynamited our caves and built a gigantic air-conditioned warehouse so that you can be certain that every bottle of Carbon Footprint Chardonnay will be in perfect condition after its stay in our electricity-guzzling storage facility. And, luckily, the cave was where so many of our Arizona friends were living!

Naturally, every bottle of Carbon Footprint wine weighs several pounds. Many people will believe that we use a freakishly heavy bottle for marketing purposes, to try and make our wines seem more serious, more valuable. But that's not the case. We use heavy bottles to drive up the consumption of fuel in the various vehicles used to deliver it, and, of course, to prove we have a bigger penis than anyone in the wine business. Just try to pick up a bottle of Carbon Footprint "Adios Coho" Zinfandel with one hand! Don't hurt yourself! It's a Hernia in a Glass. In God We Truss! A case of these babies weighs more than your ego-, oh, sorry, eco-friendly Prius. It has a bottom you can fit a cake in. A Bundt punt. But, please, we're begging you, don't recycle it. Why not just toss it through your neighbor's solar panels?

We do hope you choose Carbon Footprint wines to serve to your friends and family. We're destroying the earth so you don't have to.

Here are some recent reviews from notable wine bloggers:

"The Carbon Footprint 2007 "Polar Burial" Sauvignon Blanc is really, really good and shows the grape's typical aromas of gunpowder, nasal spray and RAID! It's brilliant! The music to go with it is Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot." This sample was provided by the winery in the knowledge that I would praise it. --Wine Hurl Lots

"A complete surprise to me was the quality of the 2007 Carbon Footprint "What Glaciers?" Merlot. I know Merlot isn't the most popular drink right now, but this is far and away the nicest Merlot I've drunk through a straw (I couldn't lift the bottle) in months!" --Chaim Steveoff

"For the 2008 Carbon Footprint "Tribute to Roundup" Pinot Noir is farewell in a bottle. Farewell to my ancestors, upon whose shoulders I stood, before dandruff shampoo. Farewell to the beauty of the Adriatic, the bounty of the sea denuded and destroyed and delicious. Farewell to the stories of the old masters whose wisdom has been ignored in the making of this wine, a fine Pinot Noir that may almost be worth the degradation of this perilous planet we call home for now, but not for long. Farewell to the meals shared with grateful wineries who call me Jupiter. Farewell." --On the Wine Trail in Flipflops

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Mentor Vin Dispenses Wine Wisdom

No matter what your line of work, almost everyone has had a mentor, a person who freely and generously gave you advice and guidance on your career path, perhaps even in your every day life. I thought I would introduce you to the man who has guided me on my wine journey, a man who has taught me as much about life as he has about wine. Perhaps in reading about him you too will benefit from his wisdom for he has much to teach everyone who loves wine. His name is

I met Vin at one of the first wine tastings I ever attended as a member of the trade. If memory serves, it was a tasting of wines made by apes. It was Vin who directed me to the table where a gibbon had made a particularly lovely Brachiation d'Acqui, and we struck up a conversation. It turned out that Vin wasn't really in the wine business, but he was so passionate about wine he frequently crashed industry tastings, and was very adept at it. He had a series of fake business cards that seemed to be successful at gaining him entrance to even the most exclusive tastings. One card, I remember, proclaimed he was the wine columnist for the "Wall Street Journal," which, given the fact that in real life his face was actually pixelated (stemming from a childhood accident with acne cream), was entirely credible. And it was even more credible when you talked to him and realized he was simply bluffing all of his wine knowledge, a tradition at WSJ that lives on today. But it was something that Vin said to me that very first meeting that has stayed with me, and that also made me realize I had a lot to learn from him.

"You don't have to know anything about wine to be a wine expert,"
Vin said, "because everyone is stupid." It's advice that has served me well my entire wine career, and has become even more meaningful in this wonderful age of wine blogs.

(I should also add that at that wine tasting I was also impressed by a very delicate orang muscat from Borneo, a Lodi chimpanZin, and the wines of Helen Turley.)

After that, I would always look for Vin at wine tastings. I was new to wine, but passionate about it, and Vin could sense that in me. Perhaps he identified with my thirst for wine knowledge and my drive to be a great sommelier. At another wine tasting early in our friendship, I think it was a tasting of wines made by albinos, Vin remarked in his characteristic aphoristic style, "What makes a great sommelier isn't letters after his name, or that doohickey that hangs around his neck. What makes a great sommelier is a shitty goddam attitude." To this day I remember his words when I meet a newly minted M.S., and am struck by its wisdom whenever I'm around a member of that brotherhood of imaginary experts. It helps to remember they're just doing their job when they're talking down to you.

Oh, I have a million bits of wisdom from the great Vin, more than I can share in one post. Eventually, I invited Vin to wine tastings at my apartment where we would taste wines from all over the world and he would teach me about them, about how to understand them, how to rate them, how to analyze their components and make sense of them. But Vin doesn't like to taste wines blind. "Never believe anyone who says they taste wines blind," he told me, "that's like believin' your Boy Scout troop leader is required to give you a prostate exam. They're both just giving you the finger for fun." Together, Vin and I tasted through hundreds of wines, and much of what I know today about the great wines of the world I learned from Vin. I don't think anything he told me turned out to be wrong, even if, at the time, I didn't understand what he was saying. Which may have been because he always spoke through a kazoo.

Here are just a few examples of Vin's wine wisdom:

"Any moron can make great Cabernet, and most of them do, but it takes a genius to make you believe it's worth more than thirty bucks. Unless you're a butthole."

"Chardonnay is the McDonald's french fries of wine--it's better with ketchup."

"You couldn't puke and make it smell as bad as Retsina."

"Terroir is French for 'April Fool!'"

I don't get to speak to Vin as often as I'd like lately. I've moved to Sonoma, and Vin is busy pursuing his lifelong dream of eating every issue of Robert Parker's Wine Advocate just to pass him through his lower intestine. But he and I have talked at length about wine blogging, about its impact on wineries and the wine business in general. Vin has some amazing insight and wisdom regarding the proliferation of wine blogs. "The combined wisdom in all of them wouldn't fill Jancis Robinson's left nut." It's funnier through a kazoo. We talked about wine reviews on wine blogs and Vin's take was, "They're as worthless as shelf talkers for sex toys." Our most recent conversation was about the Wine Blog Awards, and after I complained about the nominees and the winners, Vin remarked, "Giving awards to wine bloggers is like handing out condoms to castratos."

Eventually, I'll understand what he means.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The HoseMaster's Honest Guide to Grapes Volume 7

Volume Seven takes us back to the world of white wine grapes. If white wine had never existed, would anyone really care? Sort of like white soul singers. Who'd miss them? If every variety of vitis vinifera were red what would we be missing? Why I simply can't imagine my life without those two bottles of Riesling I drink a year. And who wouldn't miss Chardonnay? We need a grape to badmouth like we need Barry Bonds or Glenn Beck or Mel Gibson (who, ironically, only drinks white, really white, wine). Chardonnay is the Tonya Harding of grapes--pretty good on ice but liable to try and hurt you with wood, and incredibly fun to hate. But there are plenty of red grapes to despise--we'll always have Merlot. And let us not forget Gruner Veltliner, the pride of Austria, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger. What would life be without Gruner? Well, just like Arnold, I can't wait to find out. Yet we do live in a world of both red and white varietal grapes. So let's just get this over with.


Albarino belongs in the category of aromatic grapes along with Gewurztraminer, Muscat,
Viognier and Jessica Alba, for whom it is named and who, as an actress, really stinks. Albarino has just recently come to the attention of consumers from its Spanish home of Rias Baixas (pronounced "wrinkled bike ass") where it has been quietly producing plonk since the 12th Century, much like Fred Franzia. Albarino is believed to pair nicely with food, only no one has discovered what food yet. I like it with a traditional Spanish dish like Raquel Welch (who took her stage name from the famous grape juice because she can turn your tongue purple). Aside from Spain and Portugal (where it goes by the name Alvarinho so that consumers know not to buy it in Portuguese), there has been some interest in the variety in California and Australia. However, recently it was discovered that most of the Albarino planted in Australia is actually the Jura grape Savagnin, so they wrote it a Dear Jaune letter and ripped it out. There are a few acres of Albarino in California so it will be interesting to find out what variety it really is. Best guess is it's actually the variety named for Stevie Nicks--Hi Ho Stevierino.

Interesting facts about Albarino:

The hybrid grape created by crossing Cortese with Albarino is Albacore, which produces wines your grandmother might enjoy with cat food.

Albarino's large number of pips can cause bitterness especially when it's made from sour grapes.

Albarino was the darling of sommeliers before Gruner Veltliner, making it the equivalent of Natalie Wood. Dead in the water.

Other names for Albarino:

Battlestar Galicia
Peaches and Herb
Spain Killer


There was a time (this was before the majesty that is wine blogs) Arneis was referred to as Barolo Bianco because it was often blended with Nebbiolo to make Barolo more palatable. Now they just use new oak. Arneis was on the verge of extinction in the 1970's, much like bras, when it was rescued by a couple of Piedmont producers, most notably Bruno Giacosa, ironically, a famous producer of Brabaresco, a famous jug wine. An upsurge of interest in the wines of the Piedmont fueled more plantings of Arneis, and now the variety has achieved a certain amount of notoriety, and its wines of uncommon mediocrity are no longer strangers to wine shelves. Several producers make Arneis in the passito style during which the grapes are allowed to dry on mats, which concentrates the sugars and really makes your feet sticky when you wipe them. If I were you I'd passito on most of them. A few acres of Arneis also exist in California, where some jackass is likely to plant any old grape and try to sell it to his wine club at a hefty profit to help finance his unprofitable obsession with Syrah (see HHGG, Volume 4). In aerosol form, Arneisal Spray, it can effectively combat allergies to thin, insipid white wine.

Interesting facts about Arneis:

"Arneis" means "little rascal" in Piedmontese dialect, which explains why it smells like Alfalfa.

A famous song was written for Arneis after it was no longer being used for Barolo and was being pulled out by winemakers. There have been many versions of the classic, "So Langhe, It's Been Good to Know Ya."

Fans of the grape are known as "Arneis Army" and hold an annual tasting at Chateau Palmer.

Other names for Arneis:

Desi (oh, you knew it was coming)
Almond Joyless


Drinking Trebbiano is like spending a day reading wine blogs--about as dull as it can get and you're grateful when you wake up the next day and don't remember a thing. It's painfully and horribly thin, like Taylor Swift in a bathing suit, and often just as flat. Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted white grapes in the world and is included in a startling number of Italian white wines, mostly because Italians don't drink white wine themselves and don't mind ruining the meals of foreigners. There was even a time (again, long before the Golden Age of Wine Writing that is Wine Blogs) when Trebbiano was allowed in Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is more than you can say for James Suckling now. But Trebbiano is a very important grape under its alias Ugni Blanc. Ugni Blanc is the grape from which Cognac and Armagnac are distilled, perhaps brought to Cognac during the Papal retreat to Avignon, probably in distill of the Knight. Trebbiano is also important in the production of Mexican Brandy, a product that rivals the finest French tequilas. And Trebbiano is also used to make balsamic vinegar. So, basically, it's a wine grape at its best when not made into wine. Like Gruner Veltliner.

Interesting facts about Trebbiano:

Trebbiano is a very prolific grape producing upwards of eight tons an acre, like the set of Biggest Loser.

In Portugal the grape is known as Thalia. Ironically, the singer Thalia is the Mexican Brandy.

Trebbiano is a favorite among very dull sommeliers. Are there any other kind?

Other names for Trebbiano:

Bolla Soup (Soave)
Urethra Blanc
Dropping Acid

Friday, July 23, 2010


A career in the wine business is fantastic and utterly selfish. For 30+ years I've been paid to learn about wine, drink excessively, talk about wine to everyone I meet, and accept countless free rooms and trips and hats and polo shirts. And for this I earned admiration and unwarranted respect. Walk into a party and announce you're an accountant, no one cares. Walk in and have folks discover you're a sommelier, everyone seems to want to talk to you about wine. It's shameful, really, our obsession with wine. The number of hours we spend writing idiotic Dear John letters to Pinot Noir, or compulsively Tweeting about wine, spreading the wit and wisdom of high school sophomores around just as actual birds relentlessly spread crap all over windshields and statues, or relentlessly romanticizing the stuff we mostly use to alter our simple states of mind, is near criminal. But what's worse is the glamour and prestige attached to it. I was just a guy who knew a lot about wine who was paid to get folks drunk on expensive stuff. I never deserved much respect or admiration. Of course, now that I've been writing HoseMaster of Wine, most of that is gone. Good.

I met Karen Bopp ("My last name is not a verb," she used to tell me) at Pacific Dining Car. The restaurant is across the street from Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown Los Angeles and Karen was a nurse there. After her shift, she would occasionally stop in with a bunch of coworkers for a glass of Champagne. At first I only knew her well enough to say hello, as one does to a regular customer when you work in a restaurant. But, well, she was beautiful. The word "statuesque" may have been coined for Karen, and I wanted to get to know her. Karen had an aura about her, a sweetness and intelligence that radiated from her person, and the kind of infectious laugh that makes the entire room smile. She was irresistible.

There was a time when every Valentine's Day I would send Valentines to as many women as I could think of who made my life more interesting and richer. I'd post fifty or more Valentines. Sure, I was making Hallmark rich, but it was fun; and I was often told that mine was the only Valentine she'd received and that it had made her day. Each year I would also try to surprise a woman who was virtually a stranger to me with a Valentine, a woman I was vaguely acquainted with but didn't really know. In February of 2000 I shyly handed one to Karen. It was the one Valentine that changed my life.

Karen was flattered and surprised by my silly Valentine and agreed to have lunch with me. I can still remember how nervous I was to meet her for lunch, but the instant we began to talk everything was fine. We polished off a couple of bottles of wine, had a leisurely lunch, and it was suddenly time to leave. Karen had to pick up a birthday cake for a coworker, then would see me at Pacific Dining Car where the birthday party was being held. We began the day strangers but by party's end she had embraced me as a friend. All for the $3.95 of a Valentine.

Karen loved so many things. She loved singing. She loved wine. She loved nursing. She loved film, man, did she love movies. She loved yoga. She loved science fiction TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. Can't say I shared that passion, but perhaps working as a surgical nurse and running emergency rooms leaves you with a taste for believing in eternal life and the power of blood. She loved Sting. She loved fine art. She loved to spend time with her family. I've never met a closer family than Karen's. If there was any animosity or jealousy or anger or coldness in her family, among her and her three siblings and their clans, I never saw it or heard about it. Frankly, it was annoying in that Ozzie and Harriet way, although, really, I was simply jealous in the sort of petty way that would have disqualified me from being part of the Bopp clan. But this laundry list of her loves is like a silly FaceBook page and does nothing to explain what a beautiful, spiritual, funny, charming, compassionate woman she was. And how often Karen's Light enriched my life.

I won't soon forget a wine country trip I took with my wife Kathleen, Karen and another friend, Sue, a flight attendant. When you're a sommelier, everyone wants to go to wine country with you. So the four of us rented a house in Cambria and spent a few days touring wineries in Paso Robles. Our first day wine tasting was quite the endurance contest. We'd been to four or five wineries and it was getting late, around 7:00, but as we were driving by Linne Calodo I wondered if Matt Trevisan, the owner/winemaker, was still around. It was September, harvest, so it would be unusual if he weren't. He was. Karen, Sue and I piled out of my car (I was driving since I was the only one spitting, mostly because I was the cheapest drunk of the three). Kathleen had had enough and lay down in the back seat. Matt came out, recognized me, and offered to taste us on some barrel samples. Great! So Matt grabbed a thief and began crawling up and around all his barrels to sample us on his amazing wines. And what were Karen and Sue doing while Matt was climbing up the barrel racks?

Taking pictures of his ass. Closeups. Giggling all the while. They were like bung paparazzi. It was kind of embarrassing, the sommelier showing up with his drunk women, but Matt laughed and seemed to enjoy their enthusiasm for his, well, high end wines.

Karen and I had one huge falling out, and it was over a man. She had been dating him for six months or so and one night in the bar she talked to me about him. I won't share her confidence, but what she told me made me erupt with anger. I told Karen in no uncertain terms that she needed to lose this guy, that he would absolutely and inevitably break her heart into a million pieces. I was outraged and I crossed a line, threw far too much anger at Karen, and she didn't speak to me for about six months. Didn't come into the restaurant, didn't answer emails or return calls, just shut me out. I was crushed. I loved her, truly, deeply, loved her, and I knew, as only a man can know the perfidy of another man, that this clown would wreck her. But I'd been wrong to be so angry.

Another six months passed and my birthday rolled around. I got a card in the mail. A surprise card from Karen, as my Valentine to her had been a surprise. Inside the card were three words she had written. "You were right." The first and last time anyone has written that to me. I called Karen immediately, she briefly told me how the jerk had abruptly and cruelly jilted her, and we resumed our friendship. She taught me forgiveness in those moments, and she taught me about compassion, about the power of love and kindness to teach instead of pedantry and smugness, my normal tools of persuasion. This fool had crushed her loving spirit, she had believed him to be "the one," and humiliated her as only a turd like that can, yet she had thought to reach out to me, forgive me, and ask me to forgive her. When I looked into Karen's eyes I often felt I was looking into the very face of Love.

Karen had given her working life to helping people. Just how many people had she comforted in her life as a nurse? How many people had she saved with her hands and her intelligence? So many doctors she worked with in surgery admired her, leaned on her, trusted her completely. How many families had she helped? The numbers, could they be calculated, would be staggering. How much pain and suffering did she absorb? How many people walking around today owe her a debt of gratitude? Hundreds? Thousands? What is a life in wine worth compared to that?
Nothing. Her selflessness compared to my selfishness continues to haunt me. And yet I've been the lucky one in life, the one who doesn't deserve that luck. Would that I could have given her most of my luck as she gave me so much of her heart. I'd have gladly given it to her.

Karen would not have wanted praise or thanks or admiration. She was an extraordinary woman, filled with life. Life burst forth from her in a ceaseless stream. From her singing voice, to her beautiful laughter, to her skilled and graceful hands, Karen gave life. She was much loved, and had so many friends I cannot imagine how she even remembered all their names. And yet I know how much she would have liked to have found "the one," to have had children of her own, no matter how much she loved her nieces and nephews, to have shared her life with one special man. That this never happened for her is yet further proof of what cowards and fools men can be. There she was, right in front of them. Beautiful, brilliant, sexy, vibrant, loving, compassionate, charming, funny... Well, there it is. She may have just been too good for this world.

When Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer I don't think anyone believed it would beat her. Not her. It had been detected early and Karen had done everything right, had the absolute best care from doctors she knew were great and gifted. Her cancer went into remission. And came back. And then it seemed to be alright again. It was a seesaw battle for roughly six years, and there were many times it seemed Karen was returning to health. But, finally, the cancer spread to her liver, and on a family trip to Hawaii she became very ill. After doctors stabilized her enough to travel, she was flown home to Irvine Medical Center, where she was employed, to spend her last few days among family and friends. She died June 30th. She was 54.

During one of the worst stretches of my adult life, when I was frightened and depressed, feeling hopelessly lost, it was a visit from Karen that saved me. She came to Sonoma for a visit and seeing through my forced joviality she sat me down and forced me to talk about my mental state. I felt profoundly, for the first time, the strength of her healing heart and love, the sacred gifts that had made her such a wonderful nurse. As I shared my distress, my horrible fears and hopelessness, Karen held my hands and listened. When I was finished, she shared her own experiences with fear, her own insecurities and anxieties, her every day battle with cancer, in a way that was the very embodiment of courage and hope. And I knew, after just those few minutes we spent talking, that I would be fine. I knew in a way that I'd not known ever before. And it is that knowledge, a gift from my friend Karen, that I am clinging to now. Now that she's gone.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

House at Spew Corner

Chapter 1

We are introduced to Winnie-the-Spew and our story begins

So here comes Christopher Robbin and his precious Bear kerplunking and headthunking down
the stairs, bump, bump, bump, one at a time, having awakened Daddy, MS, from his sound, bearlike slumber. One swift kick and Christoper Robbin and Winnie-the-Spew are already downstairs for breakfast, all of their arms bent in funny and unusual ways.

"Oh, look at this, Spew, I can point in two directions at the same time with only one arm!"

"I'm sorry," says Christopher Robbin, "but I just wanted you to tell us a story. Please tell us a story, or I'll simply have to tell Mummy you've kicked us down the stairs again. And you know how much she hates that when her hands are still shackled in the morning."

Usually Bear likes some sort of game when he comes downstairs, a game of matches or running with scissors. But today Winnie-the-Spew, for that's the name Christopher Robbin most often calls him, though it's more of a girl's name and makes Bear piddle, wants to hear a story.

"And what kind of story do you want me to tell you?"

"Oh, please, not about wine and bouquets and drinking and feeling the lovely bumps on Jancis again. Spew likes stories about himself. Those are his favorite stories. Tell us about the adventures of Winnie-the-Spew!"

And so our story begins.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it must have been before 9/11, Winnie-the-Spew lived all by himself in the vineyards under the name of Mondavi. Winnie Mondavi. It was on a big gold-plated sign so that's how we know. This is all the explanation you're going to get.

("But what does it mean, 'under the name?'" asks Christopher Robbin.

"Shut the fuck up and listen."

"I hope you die," says Christoper Robbin.)

One day when Spew was out walking in the vineyard he came to a strange building and from the building there was a lot of noise and many strange smells. Spew sat down and stroking his chin with his paw he started to think.

"I don't have much of a brain," said Spew, "but I know that there is a lot of noise coming from this building, and there wouldn't be a lot of noise unless there was something going on. If I'm in a vineyard and most of the grapes are gone it means the noise is wine being made. And if wine is being made then there's only one thing to do. Get shitfaced."

And so Spew entered the large, strange building and there in front of him were giant, shiny steel tanks. "That must be where they keep the wine!" thought Spew. And so he began to climb. He climbed up and up, higher and higher, up and up, and while he climbed he sang a little song.

Isn't it fine
How a bear likes wine?

Slurp Slurp Slurp

You can smell it on my burp.

He kept climbing...and climbing...and climbing...and he climbed so long that he thought of another song.

Wouldn't it be funny
Wish I'd thought of it sooner

If instead of tasty wine

This is filled with fuckin' Gruner?

Spew was getting rather tired now but he was almost at the top. He began to sing a Complaining Song, but we shan't sing it here, and when he was through he was peering over the top of the giant, shiny steel tank.

"I wonder what it smells like," thought our nearly brainless Bear, "if it smells like melons or figs or catpee or Christoper Robbin's bed sheets, though he's nearly nine years old." To find out what the wine smelled like, Spew lowered his head into the giant, shiny steel tank and took a deep breath.

It was carbon dioxide and Spew fell into the shiny steel tank of wine and drowned.

Chapter 2

In which we meet Eelaub and search for his nose.

One day Winnie-the-Spew was walking through Nap Valley and came across his friend, the ever-morose Eelaub.

"How are you today?" asked Winnie-the-Spew.

"What's it to ya, you stuffed piece of crap?"

"Oh, bother, you are a pompous ass. Let me take a look at you." And Spew walked round and round Eelaub until he noticed that something was missing.

"Something is missing," he said.

"Yeah, your genitalia, for one thing."

"No, it's your nose. You don't have a nose."

"Are you sure?"

"Well," said Spew, "you either have a nose or you don't have a nose. I think everyone would agree you don't have a nose."

So Eelaub walked over to the Nap River and peered at his reflection. Where once he'd had a nose, and a very nice nose, there was nothing. "Where's my goddam nose?"

"I'm sure that's what everyone in Nap Valley wants to know, Eelaub. Should we try and find it?"

"Well, this accounts for Everything," cried Eelaub, "it explains it all. I've lost my nose. Somebody must have taken it. Isn't that just like them? The whole Valley's full of assholes."

Spew didn't know what to do. He wanted to be helpful, but, really Eelaub was a smelly ass. So Spew decided instead to be helpful, and off he went to look for Eelaub's nose.

Through tasting rooms and walking wine train tracks, Spew searched and searched for Eelaub's nose. Then he came to the CIA, a Stone Grey building where his friend Owl in Meadows lived. Spew knew Owl was home but he banged and banged with the door knocker and nobody answered. The door knocker was kind of wet and mushy, not like most door knockers Spew had seen. Though he'd seen very few knockers of any sort save for Christoper Robbin's mother's set.

"Owl, come to the door. It's me, Bear."

"What is it? I'm rating coats right now. Coats of Bone and Coats of Nuts."

"Something terrible and wonderful has happened. Eelaub has lost his nose. What shall we do?"

"Reward! We'll offer a reward to anyone who has seen Eelaub's nose, though I don't know why anyone would want his terrible nose. But you'd have to believe they'd give it back."

"That's a great idea, Owl in Meadows. We'll offer a reward. And we'll get Christopher Robbin to write out the reward, if his arms aren't still broken."

Then Spew took a closer look at the door knocker. It was a very suspicious looking door knocker, not at all hard and not at all attractive. "Just where did you get this door knocker, Owl?"

"Why I found it in the vineyard. Why do you ask?"

"Because I know someone who wants it. This is no door knocker, Owl, it's Eelaub's nose! We've found it! Hooray!" And Spew grabbed the door knocker, which was really Eelaub's lost nose, and left Owl standing there in amazement.

"Where's my fucking reward, you silly ol' sack of bear shit?" But he never got a reward. And there's a lesson in that for everyone. There are no rewards in life.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dusty Rutherford's Greatest Hits

As long as I've been tasting wine I've wondered what the hell "Rutherford dust" is. What makes it different from any other dust? And isn't dust mostly just dead human skin cells? Why do I want to smell that in my Cabernet? "Hmmm, smells like cassis, green olive and a nasty case of eczema--must be from Rutherford." I think it was Andre Tchelistcheff (I just call him "the Sheff") who first coined the expression, and even he didn't know what it meant. I, personally, think it was in response to the famous Oakville Litterbox character everyone was talking about, though it could have been the Stags Leap Greasy Fingerprints. No one knows what the Sheff was thinking.

I weaseled an invite to the "A Day in the Dust" tasting of, primarily, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford District held at Rubicon Estate last Wednesday. I attended under an alias. I went as "Dusty Rutherford." Only one person asked me if I sang "The Look of Love." I said Yes.

Industry tastings are more about social networking than they are about the wines being served. Since I relocated to Sonoma from Southern California I go to tastings and know only a few people, mostly winery owners and winemakers. In Los Angeles at a tasting like this, I would have spent 60% of my time shaking hands and catching up with other folks in my line of work. You taste the wines in between conversations. It's crowded, it's loud, and very difficult to judge wine at these things. But that's not what they're for. They're like FaceBook gone awry. Imagine having to actually talk to your FaceBook friends in person! Gawd, what a nightmare. You don't want to talk to them, you just want to have them! Like children. And now here they are with stuff all over their face demanding your drinking time. Not at all how you'd imagined it.

Since Dusty Rutherford knew so few people, I was able to focus a bit more effectively on the wines. It's still a crappy environment to judge wine. It's dark, it's dank, it's filled with sweaty people. It's like judging wine in John Wayne Gacy's basement. Which really makes me nervous now about those hors d'oeuvres. But I put on my serious evaluation face, took copious notes, tried really hard to pay attention and discovered what everyone has been saying all along is true--2007 is a great vintage for wine in Napa Valley (and other wine-growing regions in California as well). I tasted about 25 Cabernets at the Rutherford Dust tasting and the only one I wouldn't consider buying (were money no object, which it fucking is) was the Heitz 2005 "Bella Oaks" which I thought had far too much Brett, though it brought back childhood memories. Of petting zoos.

I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of tasting notes. No, I'm going to bore you the way I usually bore you, with poorly conceived humor. The wine blog world is overflowing with amateurishly written tasting notes, and, frankly, I'm not good at tasting notes. They all taste like paper to me. (See what I mean about poorly conceived?) I hate reading the tasting notes on blogs. They're awful. I read just one of the longwinded and pretentious tasting notes on "Bigger Than Your Head" and I am awestruck at the remarkable ability he has to wring every last bit of pleasure out of drinking wine. It's wine with a side order of anhedonia. But at least he doesn't match up wine with music. This is the realm of genuine idiots. Wine doesn't need music and music doesn't need wine. And they go together about as sensibly as literature and perfume. So I won't dull your senses with poorly written wine descriptions. But I will tell you which wines I thought were the best, and the not so best.

Let's start with the best. Much as I hate to agree with STEVE!, I think he's right that the real dazzler of the event was the Staglin 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. But Staglin has made brilliant Cab after brilliant Cab in recent years, so it's hardly surprising. The '07 may be legendary. Wow. If Rutherford is known for elegance, the '07 Staglin is damned Fred Astaire.

The first wine I tasted at the event completely surprised me. When the first wine you taste is sensational, it's always disconcerting. You start to think you're being too easy on it, that there has to be something you're missing, that it can't be that good. It's like losing your virginity, which, sadly, I've only done once. But I kept tasting it, and tasted it again later, and it's terrific. It's the 2007 from Round Pond, not normally a producer I would seek out. But this is seamlessly luscious and rich Cabernet from Rutherford. And then it was nice to see some of the legendary names of Napa Valley perform so well in 2007. The 2007 Rubicon is breathtaking, and the 2007 Beaulieu Georges de Latour returns to greatness after some time away. Finally, among this top five, I'd list the Meander 2007 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet for it's sheer power and purity. For those of you who haven't been in the wine business for a long time, or ever, let me tell you, it is very unusual to go to an event and find five wines that are absolutely classic. You're usually lucky to find one or two. These five were topnotch, and a joy to taste.

Maybe just a notch below these five winners were a handful of other wines, all very worthy and memorable wines. The 2007 Long Meadow Ranch was very seductive, Rubicon Estate's 2007 CASK was almost hypnotic, Honig's 2007 Campbell Vineyard is by far the best wine I've ever tasted from them, the once famous Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard was the best it's been in years and I like very much the suppleness of 2007 Quintessa though I'm not normally a huge Quintessa fan.

And there were some disappointments as well. Flora Springs 2007 Hillside Reserve, Hewitt Vineyard, Martin Estate's Reserve, Provenance, Freemark Abbey's Sycamore Vineyard--all nice wines, but hardly in a league with the others.

Any of the top ten wines is worth considering for your cellar. The prices vary considerably, and some haven't been released yet, but I think all of them are worthy if your budget allows. You're welcome.

And now back to our regularly scheduled stupidity.