Monday, June 27, 2011

Dress me like a clown.

But seeing as I am a hopelessly devoted lover, read: I get attached and can't tell an abusive situation when it, well, hits me in the face, I pine after her.  Of course I talk a big game about leaving her and truly starting over here in Salt Lake City, really make some forward motion on this Utah wine thing.  Those vines aren't planting themselves, are they?  All the while, my almost lover is on my mind.

So I begin to assimilate back into the real world.  I buy a car (ok, its a van), I begin the search for a house, and a few really good job opportunities crop up.  I begin to think, "wow, maybe this time I've done it.  I've left for good."  I tell everyone the news; Salt Lake City, my home! "Maybe this was a sign," I say.  "Perhaps it just took something like this to get me to actually chill out and stay for a while."

In walks the devil.  Isn't she so beautiful?

With the slightest of emails, the faintest glimmer of hope returns and I burn for her yet again.  We begin to see each other again, somewhat on the DL...I've told everyone we are through, my pride won't let me admit the fact.  Countless messages to the Binner family (even Audrey's sister chimed in on occasion) finally pay off and they agree to sponsor me.  'On s'occupe des papiers,' is easily the greatest French phrase I've ever read.  This is a bombshell.  This absolutely does not happen every day.  I can count on one hand the number of American citizens I've heard of getting sponsored by a French company...esp in the last few years.  Even still, they're typically highly trained, expert-type medical researchers and IT specialists.  So I'll put on the silly costume, big shoes, red nose, face paint and do the France dance again.  Love is a funny thing, isn't it?

On again.

I'll take her back a thousand times.  The sad and beautiful truth.  I think of peering out over the vines, over the rooftops, the steeples, and setting eyes on the Rhine.  It absolutely kills me and I am no one else's but hers.

"It’s not that you have to achieve anything, it’s that you have to get away from where you are."
- Marguerite Duras (The Lover) 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Relationship Status: Complicated

When it comes to relationships, I am no guru.  I haven't had a serious relationship since high school (wondering if i can use the word serious in that sentence at all).  Oi, cut me some can't imagine how hard it is to find a suitable Jesus-loving homo in the backwoods places I've found myself over the last decade.  That's a different blog altogether.
Wait.  That's not entirely true.  There is one, a lover that continually and very persistently causes me to swoon.  She beckons and calls and I come running.  Her name is La France and for whatever reason, it always ends in some sort of fireball trainwreck.  My eyes are glazing over just thinking about her.  All things good come from her...think of the words even English speakers use to describe the goods...'haute cuisine,' 'haute couture,'  the 'champagne of beers.'  I've been burned before, more than once.  And I'm currently in the throes yet again.  Over the last two months, we've been 'on again,' real hot and heavy, and then 'off again,' frustratingly cold.
I was all set to jump from the Hunter Valley in Australia to Alsace where the holy grail of jobs awaited me, chez Audrey et Christian Binner.  Oh, man were we 'on again.'  If you've dabbled in the 'natural wine' scene, you've most assuredly seen these, drank these and experienced 'une peine de coeur.'  They are heartbreakingly good wines.  What my fickle lover, France, had failed to mention, however, was that my assumption that I'd be working under the table sans visa was entirely wrong.  A week before my scheduled flight, Audrey politely asked me to send along copies of some documents to get the administrative stuff in order.  Passport and work visa, s'ils vous plait.  S'ils me plait?  No, NO it doesn't please me...because I don't have an effing work visa.  Wow...its a good thing my darling France makes it real easy to get one of those.

Oh wait, no she doesn't.  Off again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I blame Quintessa.

My life may look like chaos most of the time...I've left my sunglasses or keys or wallet in more random places than I can begin to count.  I'm late almost always.  I write nothing down and forget nearly everything.  If I wrote anything down its not like I'd be able to find it anyway.  My travel arrangements, dates and times are a joke.  I arrive too early or too late...sometimes by a factor of 24hrs.   But when it comes to anything having to do with wine or vines, I'm rainman.  Sure it comes in handy to know how many gallons are in a case of wine (to 5 decimal places).  Or exactly how many ppm 100ml of sulfur in a 600 gallon foudre equals.  Acre feet and reduced deficit irrigation,  the exact location of barrel 'x' (I have a grid in my head...3rd row in, 3 stacks up) and how it tasted last month on a particular root day.   But this wine numbers thing has infiltrated my everyday life. And its really starting to bother me.

It began in the autumn of 2007.   I found out that grape sampling (for pre harvest maturity tests) at Quintessa Rutherford was the worst (or perhaps the best) job a neurotic guy like me could possibly have.

If grape sampling doesn't interest you in the least, feel free to scroll down to where I confess to being OCD.

Now, EVERYONE knows that grape sampling is only as accurate as the sampler himself/herself.  For any reliable result it has to be totally and precisely random.  For berry sampling, one typically needs at least 100 berries.  Never sample from end rows or end vines.  These are typically not representative of the vineyard block as a whole and will tend to be poor ambassadors of maturity info. If your sample rows are long, you'll wanna keep that in mind and space your sampling points accordingly apart.  Read: count your steps between samples.  Remember, as humans, we're wired to be attracted to the ripe fruit.  The darkest, biggest berries are usually what we'd go for (The blacker the berry...) So, don't look at the cluster. Sample 3-4 berries in a 'corkscrew' pattern from the top to the bottom of the cluster making sure to include the shoulder or wing of said cluster.  This way you'll get berries from all parts with all levels of sun exposure.  So you see, I began to count everything in the vineyard.  How many rows are there in the Dragon's Terrace block?  How many vines between mid posts?  Since no two blocks had equal length rows, each block had a different number of steps between samples to achieve the 100 berry minimum.
Don't think it ends there.  Once you get the samples back to the lab...yeah, that's when the real counting begins.  Understand that patterns, trends...a history of a particular vineyard is super helpful if one wants to take a stab at forecasting anything from the all important picking date to how your vines will react to particular weather events. To establish a vineyard history (or continue one), each estate has their idea of what needs to be tracked.  At Quintessa, I was responsible for tracking avg berry weight, number of seeds per berry, brix pH and TA.  It goes a little something like this.

1) count out 100 berries, weigh them and take the average.
2) count 20 random berries, break open and count the seeds.  Divide by twenty.
3) push the glasses up on the bridge of your nose.
4) then do all the nerdy techy stuff which I'm too lazy to type out and which obviously involves a number or two

Don't get me wrong, it was an awesome internship.  I really was lucky to get it.  I started in the vineyard...ooh which reminds me.  I spent a week on a quad counting vines with Peirce's disease.  Burning up and down every row with a little clicker.  More numbers. Then I learned how to live in a lab, and then ended up perfecting the art of the pumpover (and believe you me, Quintessa pumps it over.  and over.  and over).  When my time at the big Q ended, however, the space between my ears was altered forever.  The counting didn't stop.  I think I've only admitted this to one person, but I'm pretty much counting all the time.   Steps.  Stairs.  Tiles in the shower, number of toothbrush strokes, number of mastications (don't...just don't.  you're so immature).  I've caught myself counting pedal strokes on my bike, powder turns, chairlift support poles, hell...the number of chairs on the lift.
Fast-forward a few years to the present.  I'm writing this and gazing out the window on the highest vineyard in the world.  'Altura Maxima,' its called by Bodega Colome'.  And wouldn't you just know that I've been charged with the task of performing a comprehensive vine count and classification.  Perfect.  I'm just shy of halfway finished counting 24 hectares of vines...that's over 50 acres in case you were wondering.  Every.  Single.  Vine.  Grandes, Chicas, y Falles.  Thriving, restricted or replanted, and missing vines.  As with the sampling, it doesn't end in the vineyard.  I then come back to my house and put all the info into a spreadsheet and color code it accordingly.  For hours at a time I pound away at the 1,2,and 3 buttons on my computer.  Its shocking.  And the counting is once again taking over my head and I'm wondering.  Am I the only one with this problem? it a problem?  Am I sick?!  But really, take a look at this...

I suppose it could be worse.  If I'm gonna be counting things, it might as well be the highest vines in the world, right?  Knowing your vines on an individual basis can't be a bad thing, hey?  And as with Quintessa, I'm sure I'll walk away having learned a great deal and will look back on my time here and feel ultimately blessed to be granted the opportunity.  For now, I'll just keep counting out there...and continue to establish completely irrelevant distances and silly routines.  Steps between my bed and the toilet?  9 from the left side 7 from the right.  How many times must I stir the sugar in my crappy instant coffee?  At least 20, or it doesn't count.

Hey, I gotta go, Wapner's coming on soon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pre-Germaly, Part Two.

Just beyond the walled coast of Siracua's Ortygia are seemingly endless crooked meandering streets leading to any number of historic, interesting and charming little nooks and crannies.  If you've got the time and no one to cry about the fact that you've walked by the same piazza eight times, keep the map in the bag the first day to really get acquainted with the place.  You quickly find yourself lost...eyes wide, mouth agape, thinking about the city's past and how neatly it melds with its present.

I was lost most of the time I was here...but didn't care because I kept bumping into the coolest things.  Archways above entrances like this one, for instance.  Something tells me this one is old.

A recurring theme all over the country, former Roman temples converted into amazing Christian churches. Bible-themed sculpture filling in the gaps between the original Roman columns. I'm guessing this is Salome, the sexy sexy dancer girl with the head of John the Baptist.  Yikes.  Veggie Tales material.

Your "standard" facade addition to a Roman temple

Siracusa's history is tied to the sea and for that reason I didn't stop eating for more than an hour between arrival and departure.   "I'm sorry, the man I get my fish from didn't have luck with the sardines this morning," said the waiter at ___.  "Dammit, I suppose I'll just have to go with the carpaccio of tuna and swordfish with pistachio."  Win.

I thought the menu said "Fish Balls."  I was pleasantly surprised...I imagined they'd be smaller.  If you're wondering if Restaurant Syraka is worth your time, I'd say yes.  I'd go back for sure.  Although it seemed they thought mood-lighting and flood-lighting were one and the same, the food was good and the service was great...I was still so new to Italian (not that I don't suck at it anymore), and the family that owns the joint was so accommodating.  My waiter (apparently the was opening wines left and right that weren't on the glass pour list and doing his damnedest to speak my language, recommending what I should eat and in what order depending on how hungry I was.  Since this was a solo trip I usually had my journal and camera on the table...maybe this is why people at restaurants are always so nice to me.  Perhaps they think that if I'm not some sort of journalist, then at least I'm super interested and that's gotta be worth something hey?

With no trace of the previous night's ridiculous torrent save the clean crisp air, I was free to enjoy my rooftop breakfast.  Local everything...butter, honey, orange juice, teeney little pears and plums.
Making my way west towards Agrigento, I had to stop in Noto.  Multiple acquaintances and winemakers said to make sure and wrap my face around the sweets at Corrado Costanzo's place and also the granite at Caffe Sicilia.  There was no time for a before photo of the trifecta.  I went Mandorla, Mirtillo, and Limone.  The mandorla was the hands down favorite although all three were ridiculous.  icy and creamy at the same time...not too could even taste the skin of the almond.  I really can't explain how good it was.  I almost just cried thinking about it.
The streets of Noto
En route (sorta) to Agrigento is Cerasuola di Vittoria.  As if I would drive by and not stop at Azienda Agricola COS.  Upon viewing this picture again I realized I've pulled yet another "Evan."  I arrived at COS and there was no power to the joint due to the previous nights storm.  Unabated, the flashlight wielding Antonella made sure I was properly shown around.  When it came time to purhase some wine, I handed over my Visa and she gave me the "hey...Americano...I wish I could miracle some electricity in that credit card machine, but even Italian women have their limits" look.  So what did she do?  She gave me the wine and the bank information for a money transfer, hoping I would be good for it.  I assured her I was and I happily went my way, thoroughly impressed with life.  Well, wouldn't you know it...USBank makes it difficult and damn expensive to transfer internationally.  Wouldn't you also know that I completely forgot about it until now.  Surprise.  But I just sent the lovely and trusting Antonella an email so hopefully we'll get this all sorted out.

Sure, aging in amphorae is a pretty neat idea, but you can imagine the risks.  Bacteria, temperature, leakeage, etc.  When done well, as is also the case with COS, the wines really are something altogether different when compared to your conventional wood or stainless aged lot.

Fermentation hall.  Ooh, banks of brand new concrete.  I want.  There is a bit of wood at COS, but its large format botti
 one floor below.

New old-school is new old new-school.  What?  Wooden BioD Stirring machines.

The Pithos Bianco really was a revelation.  I'm not sure if this one makes it to the states but if it does its in tiny quantities and surely doesn't last too long.   100% Grecanico aged in amphorae.  Due to extenuating circumstances, I was forced to drink this entire bottle in one night.  Come on...its only 12% alc!  And the next day, the only remnant of an entire bottle of wine was the memory of how awesome it was...and a pang of sadness that it was gone forever.

If I was some sort of VIP wine person, I'd have stayed in one of those two tower apartments.  But I'm not, so...
I imagine we invented the idea of a "wine town," or we were at least the ones to commercialize the shit out of "wine country."  Vittoria has nothing to do with any of that.  You'd have no idea it was THE Vittoria of the Cerasulo di Vittoria DOCG...THE Sicilian DOCG...just rolling up the main street.  I found this while wandering around the side streets (looking for lunch...surprise).  No miracles or transfiguration when I climbed the steps...just a view of some shabby roofs and a fairly non-photogenic valley beyond.  Now...where is that art gallery with all the Ed Hardy-looking paintings and dammit if I can't find a Tommy Bahama shirt!

La Scala dei Turchi off the beaten pat a bit on the way to Agrigento.  Amazing.

Atop La Scala dei Turchi.  I promptly climbed down to the far less crowded beach.  you can't see them, but I was amazed at how many weirdos were lathering chalky water all over themselves.   Perhaps its good for you, but I could only imagine how many bottles of lotion they were going to need later.  And they looked stupid.
The blurry town of Agrigento at twilight
Yes please.

Heaps of history near Agrigento in the Valley of the Temples.

Some of it has been miraculously preserved.  The Valley of the Temples

World's first cul-de-sac in the Valley of the Temples

And just think, that's all gonna wind up on someone's plate drowning some chicken product at the Olive Garden (OMG this salad is soooo good).  The town of Marsala was all but closed on this Sunday afternoon so I just kept rolling on towards the town of Trapani.  If Marsala is really cool, don't tell me...I'd rather not know what I missed.

Just outside of Trapani is the hilltop town of Erice where you'll find a Norman castle built right on top of the ancient Temple of Venus.  A freaky-deaky time was had by many at this site.

I dug my toes in the sand all over Sicily but this was by far my favorite beach.  I drove out to San Vito lo Capo and it was a cuh-luuuh-STER.  SO many people.  Not a parking space in sight, but Peroni and CocaCola umbrellas as far as the eye could see.  Yuck.  I saw the above beach (just before you reach the little hamlet of Macari) on the drive out there and I could count the people on two hands.  No hire umbrellas, no carpark...just cars parked in a field.   So I turned the Clio around and returned to this place for the rest of the afternoon.  It was the perfect last day on Sicilia.  Then I went back to Trapani and ate my weight in couscous.   The end.

So there you have it.  It took a few months and traveling a few thousand miles to finally get part two up there, but being the weirdo that I am, I couldn't bring myself to post anything else before I did.  Now I can post other things that I did 3 months ago.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pre-Germaly, Part One.

Yeah, so then there was that one time that harvest arrived late and I too early in Italy. I was gutted for a minute...and then I went to Sicily for a week. This did not suck.


It sucked at first, but that's only because I arrived at the airport in Rome and soon realized I mistakenly booked my EasyJet flight to Palermo for the following day. Oopsies. I wasn't going to admit this fact to any mortal soul, but there it went...oh well, I'm not the only one that's been bent over by the unbending butthole bargain Euro airlines.

As soon as the jagged coastline of Palermo came into site, I totally forgot and forgave EasyJet (and myself). I jumped in my little Frenchie rental car armed with an outdated copy of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, and I was a dot, so to speak.

 Palermo was the first stop. The fact that the edition of my trusty guide book was also a bit rusty (nearly ten years old) frustrated me to no end in more than one city, but none more than in Palermo. Luckily, as I wandered about looking for currently non-existant restaurants, osterias, and winebars I stumbled upon things that tourists who aren't motivated predominantly by their palates normally find very interesting.
Like this fountain thing. The story goes that, post-fontana construction, when Sunday mass was over in the adjacent cathedral, the churchgoers crossed themselves and averted their eyes from the copious quantity of genitalia on display, water flying this way and that. They dubbed it “ The Fountain of Shame.”

Also, this church, La Chiesa Martorana. I read somewhere that it was a first built as a Greek Orthodox Church, later renovated by an order of Benedictine nuns when they took over the building. Said nuns give “order” a bad name as it seemed to me to be quite a disorderly mash of gold leaf and generic cherubim fresco in place of the original intricate mosaics which the guilded sisters chucked, for the most part.  Its a damn good thing those nuns made ridiculously good sweets from almond-paste...their legacy still lives on in the 'frutta di Martorana' you can find in many pasticceria joints in town

Don't worry, La Antica Focacceria di San Francesco still stands, just as it has since antica times, apparently. Surely they changed the name along the way, right, adding the word, “antica,” after maybe 20 years or so? Whatever, this pic is of “second lunch.” I also ate “first lunch” here about twenty minutes prior. Yeah I know, but I couldn't help myself, and I could've gone another round...but I had a loose itinerary to stick loosely to.


on the left: Panino con Milze (ooh, veal innards sliced thin topped with fresh ricotta and grated parmesan)
on the right: Stuffed Rolled Sardines, aka, Sarde alla Beccafico alla Palermitana

Needless to say, I was fueled up for the long-ish drive to Mt. Etna to peep Frank Cornelissen's place (thanks to of Zev Rovine Selections, his NYC importer distributor and long time man-crush of mine for the contact). Unsurprisingly, I had a rough time finding Azienda Agricola Frank Cornelissen. I learned it is, in fact, a universal truth that the small-town auto mechanic knows everyone, and will even lead you to the little bar that one may likely find a character such as Mr. Cornelissen. Frank was all smiles and quite welcoming despite the fact that he is a very busy dude as many winemakers tend to be. We quickly checked in on the finishing touches of his new cantina, that is to say, the installation of his cache of amphorae.

Hell yes.

We talked construction, cellar hygiene, lava rocks, and Italian bureaucracy. It would appear building anything in Italy is nearly as difficult as producing mind-bending natural wine devoid of sulfur use.

I met him early the next morning to do a little vineyard work. First, however, was a stop at the cafe where Frank was well-known and warmly greeted by all. We drank espresso and he suggested I try the deliciously Sicilian granite di mandorla. A slightly milky-sweet almond ice concoction. Perfect. I made a note to do that every chance I got on the trip. Parting company with the cafe go-ers, he quickly paid for everyone's coffee (such a dude) and we set to a little canopy management in one of his vineyards. 
Perhaps you think, “if you've pulled leaves in one vineyard, you've pulled leaves everywhere.” Not so. True, all over the world we pull the basal leaves (the lower ones,) for the same reasons, mainly increased airflow in the fruit zone greatly reducing fungal pressure from Botrytis as the fruit nears optimal maturity. However, when one pulls leaves on old albarello-trained vines with Frank Cornelissen, one learns lessons not only in grape sunburn and humidity and transpiration, but lessons in life, love, loss. After the requisite viticulture conversations (which I obviously relish) we settled into an easy banter of life, philosophy, and personal histories. I'll say it again, such a dude. I departed not too sweaty, but incredibly inspired, ideas and dreams swimming in my mind as I made the stunning drive up and down Mt. Etna to Siracusa.

“(Grape) Variety matters only in choosing one that is appropriate and speaks loudly of the soil. After that, I couldn't give a shit about variety...” Mr. Cornelissen.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On the short list of things that I'm good at, the word 'blogging' would not be found.  Unless, of course, it were to be included in the phrase 'not blogging very often.'  I'm pretty good at that.  I blame my neuroses.
I once asked a girl in some trendy hipster Williamsburg restaurant,
 "What's the most neurotic thing you did today?"
She replied,
"Um, I might have lightly vacuumed my dog..."
I found that neurotic, yes,but the words 'might' and 'lightly' really made me laugh.  And she was really cute...that curly, dark, pinned-up hair, doe-eyes behind vintage frames, milky complexion, mid-eighties sun dress kind of cute.  Still, the girl vacuumed her dog...but I can relate.  I'm the guy that keeps constant tabs on the 'play count' column in iTunes.  If by some arbitrary  reason (remember, we're talking neuroses here), I deem 27 the max number of plays for a certain song, I'll actually skip ahead before the end of said song the next time I play it so it iTunes doesn't count it.  I've got more examples.  Just ask.
And so it is with blogging.  I'll post something...then I forget that I even have a blog for like 6 months.  When I come back to it, I read my the most recent post and my life doesn't even resemble what was going on last time I made an entry.  If I were to post something new, it would completely render the former entry invalid.  Besides, more often than not, I think I sound like a fool in the previous entry anyway.  Every time I sign in to this blog, I want to delete all my posts and start over again.  See?  Told you I was neurotic.
But I won't delete the previous posts, seeing as they kind of have something to do with what's going on these days (truth be told...I actually deleted a bunch about 8 months ago.  Come on, they were totally irrelevant and my writing was really really lame),

Utah wine is still happening.

Yes.  It is.  Yes.

I just thought I needed a bit more experience in shorter growing seasons, higher altitudes, and with more appropriate grape varieties before I should plant in 'Zion.'  Unfortunately, Dry Creek Valley, CA couldn't afford me those things.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Old" is the New "New."

Pretty good with the lapses in blogging, right?  Maybe that means I'm super busy with other really important things.  Perhaps...
Whatever the case, I did in fact go visit the 'ma and pa' winery in southern Utah.  Yes I did.  The owners were nice enough to let me and a few amigo/as just camp in the vineyard, aka, the front yard.   
To make a long story short, I just don't think its in the cards for this particular property.  The asking price is a fair chunk of change.  Its nothing a few enthusiastic investors wouldn't be able to come up with, but in the end, if I'm going to round up that kind of dough, my vision for Utah wine is four hours north of this site. 
So I'm back to my original drawing board.  Only this time my drawing board is of a much smaller scale.
Earlier in the year as I was crunching all the numbers in order to put some sort of coherent package in front of imaginary potential investors, I realized that I was falling into the California winery debt trap.  On paper, asking for 3.5 million to develop 20 acres complete with a modest little production facility began to strike me as laughable.  Is it 2006?  Are we in Russian River? Doi. There's a reason so many wineries are folding right now.  Completely overextended, in over their heads in a saturated market, there's no way they can sell their booze with the inflated bottle prices they require to pay off their vines/land/shiny-ass new pumps and presses.  And now I'm using their model in Utah of all places, and in that scenario, what do I actually own? Nothing.  No way man, not my style.

So...We start small (thanks Nate).