This week is Papa Jack's birthday. I suppose he would have been 90. Jack McGinn was born in Savannah and after The War settled in North Carolina. He was a member of "the greatest generation." He defined it. He was a war hero. He was my hero. He and his family were our neighbors when we moved to Greensboro, NC and after our family moved to Connecticut we stayed in touch. When I moved back to North Carolina to attend college, Jack and Marjorie became my 2nd parents. Papa Jacked passed away on Christmas Day, 2011. Although the Roman Catholic Church may not agree with this statement, he is my "Godfather," and he took me to mass every Saturday evening when I was in town. You would have loved him.
We attended his grand-daughter's wedding in May of this year, and his son Tommy shared Papa Jack's advice about maintaining a long, healthy marriage. It was simple, powerful and true:
"Always be writing your next love letter."
I'll be raising a glass of Jack Daniels this week toasting the memory of Papa Jack.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Sunday, August 11, 2013
|Snake caught in bird netting to|
A Southern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) became tangled in bird netting under the mother-lode vine at the corner of our property and the snake seems about as long as the vine. There is always a serpent in the Garden of Eden. Always.
How do you remove a live rattlesnake from bird netting without a shotgun, 22 or shovel? Death was not an option. “Don’t kill it,” the Vineyardista pleaded. “The last time you killed a snake the princess became ill.” Is not killing the rattlesnake you captured like pissing into the wind? After you let it go, what are the odds that it will come back to bite you (or worse, your dog)?
First, I loosened the net from where it was caught at the bottom of the fence, to Ms. Snake’s hissing and rattling. I could see a way to cut the net to free her, but it became clear she was tangled and would not be able to wriggle free. So, I called the SnakeBusters, aka our neighbor Steve who is something of a herpetologist with a naturalist’s respect for God’s great creatures, among which he includes snakes. When Steve arrived with a hoe this is what we did:
Releasing Tangled Rattlesnake From Bird Netting
1. Cut netting around snake.
2. Before cutting the final strands of net, Steve attempted to pin the snake’s head to the earth, so we could trim the net closer to the body. As the snake was on a steep slope of decomposed granite, traction was poor, and there was a chance Steve –could slip and fall onto the snake. (This California SnakeBuster works in sandals.)
3. We cut the snake free of the snags and she crawled to lower ground.
4. Steve climbed around the vines to level ground, met the snake, picked it up with his hoe and brought her to the dirt road by our shed. (Nothing like carrying a snake along a thin, steep path of grapevines. He could have easily slipped.)
|Snake on ice.|
6. With darkness falling, we decided to bring the snake to the animal shelter in the morning, where they had the proper gear to take care of her.
7. I picked out a wine fermenter (aka, 24 gallon Brute container). Steve lifted the snake into the container, and we put on a lid – leaving a crack for air. (Hint: Don’t knock over a Brute container at your neighbor’s house in the country at night because you never know what’s inside.)
8. In the morning, I checked on Ms. Snake. She was quite “genki” and still very pissed. I pulled the container to a shady area and she rattled at me.
9. Back at the house, I tweeted and called the wild animal rescue shelter. I never got through. Not seeing anything on their website about snake rescue, Steve and I discussed plan B.
1. This was plan B, which in hindsight should have been plan A.
1. After work, I bought two 10 lbs. bags of ice at the Deli.
1. Got home, and carefully poured the crushed ice into the container. The first bag covered most of her. The 2nd bag covered her completely. The snake was iced at 6:30 pm
1. At 8 pm, Steve came over with his hoe (his favorite snake tool).
1. We dumped the container, with the snake emerging on the top of the ice. She was moving slowly, but I would say not immobile by any means. Ideally, she would have been on ice a few hours. Instead, it was 90 minutes. Still, she was moving much more slowly than the day before.
|Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on Ice.|
1. Steve calls Ms. Snake “him” but I’ve had experience with 1,000 year old cultivated snakes in China and I know that this is a snake princess from the Middle Kingdom who is seeking her revenge on me.
|Steve manages the snake with his hoe.|
1. In the morning, I carry the container down to the open space canyon adjacent to our property, kick it over and out comes Ms. Snake, angry as ever. When I’ve let smaller snakes go in the past, they quickly scurry away, but Ms. Snake just sits there. I take “our favorite tool” (a stick we use to hang bird neck) and prod her down the hill as she rattles at me. I tell her the same thing I tell the birds I free from the nets: “Don’t come back.”
A friend asked me, “How long is she?” Answer: “I don’t know – we were too busy to measure.” And we still didn’t measure her the 2nd day. I would say she was big enough and she commanded our respect. Steve called her a beautiful specimen.
In hindsight, plan B would have been a good plan A. After we had trapped the snake the first night, that would have been the time to put her on ice (making sure there wasn’t so much ice she would drown when it melted) and to ice her “overnight.” A few more extra hours of cooling would have made her a bit easier to handle.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
What's the best how to train your dog to search and destroy scorpions in the house? The princess says she found one in her bed this morning. A new twist on the tale of "A Pea And The Princess." How did our daughter manage to wake up with a scorpion in her pajamas and not get stung? Welcome to country living. I think she's ready to move to downtown San Francisco.
Friday, August 2, 2013
Thursday, August 1, 2013
|Scene from "The Dogfather"|
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
|The Blue-Merle label features|
a photo of the Cellar Master.
We featured the 2011 wines Saturday at the annual "San Diego County Wine Festival" a wine tasting event where over 20 San Diego wineries poured. Judging by the number of people who came back for 2nds and 3rds who said "Your wines are my favorite!" and "May I have a double?" and "May I hug you?" I would say the initial reaction has been favorable. (Attendees were limited to 12 tastes of the 50 or so wines available.)
|The Cellar Master keeps watch over|
Tempranillo grapes during veraison.
Kelly Jones, the New York parfumista and the Scent Sommelier of Kelly & Jones fragrances said after trying a bottle of the 2011 Tempranillo, "This wine has changed my life." Tweeted Whitney Bond, author of the Little Leopard Book, "My new favorite wine @bluemerlewinery Tempranillo! Minorly obsessed!"
"The 2011 Tempranillo is the best Tempranillo we've made so far," Justice said. "These wines represent everything we hoped for when we planted our vines in 2007," he said. "The good news is the 2012 wines aging in the barrels are tasting as good as the 2011 vintage."
What made the 2011 edition of Blue-Merle's wines better than previous years? "New barrels and battonage," said Justice, referring to a French term for stirring up the sediment at the bottom of a wine barrel to improve flavor and mouth-feel. "And, after 10 years of winemaking, we've finally figured it out," he said. "One other thing: it's the first year Stephanie and Sadie, two of our grape pickers, jumped into the pick bin and stomped the grapes."
Key steps used in the Blue-Merle's winemaking process include:
* Inspecting every grape cluster before harvest.
* Harvest at a minimum of 24 brix (and not much higher to keep alcohol at or below 14%).
* Foot stomping (very therapeutic for the winemakers and grape pickers)
* Cold soaking for three days after harvest and crush to extract wonderful fruit flavors and color from the must (without hard tannin extraction).
* During cold soak remove every stem (which contains harsh, astringent tannin) from the grape juice.
* Press gently by hand using a ratchet press, so as not to extract too many harsh tannins.
* Malolactic fermentation is induced after pressing.
* One to two months after the wine has settled, the gross lees (sediment) at the bottom of the tanks is stirred up to improve flavor.
* After the wine has settled, racked into new oak barrels (using softer French oak or hybrid French-American oak barrels).
* Not filtering the wines.
* Bottling using a small, gentle Enolmatic bottle filler.
The end result: "Our best wines yet." So much so, the Blue-Merle Winery has entered them into the Sommelier Challenge, a prestigious wine competition organized by the Wine Guru Robert Whitley.
Here are the winemaker's notes about each of the new wines:
2011 Estate Petite-Sirah
Yummy purple! The 2011 Petite-Sirah is a delightful balance between fruit, acid and tannins with beginning, middle and end. A big wine yet at only 13% alcohol still easy to drink, enjoyable with or without food. Deep purple, opaque color, tastes of currants, plumbs. Bulk aged sur lees with battonage for 20 months in new French oak barrel. Unfiltered, only 24 cases produced. One of the winemaker’s favorites. If you’re a Petit-Sirah fan, this wine is for you.
Cherries! This is the best Tempranillo we’ve produced and everything the winemakers dreamed about. Classic Tempranillo nose with a bite of cherry fruit, balanced acid and tannins, an enjoyable, lingering finish. Bulk aged 19 months sur lees with battonage in new French oak barrel. Unfiltered, only 24 cases produced.
2011 "Four Friends" – A Grenache BlendA delicious, delightful Rhone-style blend, 50% Grenache, blended with Tempranillo, Petite-Sirah and Carignan. All of the grapes estate grown, except for the Carignan which came from the next valley over. Aged in a new hybrid French – American oak barrel 14 months, notes of caramel, smoke, cherries. Another terrific wine from the 2011 vintage! May be enjoyed with or without food.
The retail price of each wine is $35 and may be purchased direct from the winery (online, via email or over the phone) or if you live in San Diego they are available at Major Market (Escondido) and the Holiday Wine Center (Escondido). The Blue-Merle Winery's tasting room is at the Hidden Valley Enoteca on the Escondido Wine & Culinary Campus, and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am - 5 pm.
For additional information, Blue-Merle Winery's website is www.bluemerlewinery.com and the winemakers may be contacted on Twitter @bluemerlewinery or Instagram @bluemerlewinery . If you are interested in trying wines grown and made in San Diego Country, be sure and try Blue-Merle Winery.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
|Intelligence photograph depicts|
enemy infiltration. Source: CIA
Assigned to the mission was a canine asset code-name "Bluey." When I gathered the tools I would use for the mission (a shovel, gopher trap, and latex gloves to protect me from the biological viruses), Bluey became as excited as a marine on leave walking through a red light district. We studied the photographs and set our traps where we expected Mr. Gopher to strike. Day 1, Mr. Gopher approached target, found our trap and disarmed it. Day 2, Mr. Gopher found our reset trap and disarmed it. Day 3, Bluey went on reconnaissance to the trap area, took up position and waited as I went on a search and destroy mission in the area to clear out enemy combatants (namely Mr. Mildew, an ally of the Gopher-ban).
|"Bluey" waiting for "Mr.|
When you take a dog out to hunt gopher and you catch a squirrel, that's a pretty good day.
Once a dog has tasted gopher, he's just a guy out hunting for pussy.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
|2009 Aglianico wine. Label from|
a 2001 portrait.
Because it would be several years before our vines (planted in 2007) matured, in the year of our Lord 2009 we decided to purchase Aglianico grapes from Guadeloupe Valley in Baja Mexico because the wine we had tasted from that region was pretty good and this would allow us to begin producing and marketing Aglianico wine. When the grapes arrived I tasted them and detected salt and we discovered I was a super taster for salt. To me, the grapes from the git-go were salty and the wine was salty and I never liked the wine and we contemplated throwing it out but one day at a wine tasting I had it out there and Coyote Karen tried it and said "this is the best wine you ever made" and she said it was "very earthy" and I learned that day she likes earthy wines. I had given a couple of bottles to my ex-boss John from my daytime job who had opened one when a company president he's consulting was dining at his house and I got a phone call from the CEO who said he wanted to order a couple of cases immediately over the phone and he gave me his credit card.
This is proof that what I like is not necessarily what you like when it comes to wine and that's a good thing because instead of dumping this wine we've been selling it and people who like "earthy wines" love it.
|The Princess in May, 2013.|
How does she feel about having her picture on a wine label called "Ugly Hanako?" I'll let her answer that. But as there was no harm meant and we know she is a beautiful person we as the parents see no harm and it's worth a good laugh and she's a good sport and seemed to enjoy pouring the Ugly Hanako in the tasting room when she came back from Africa and even autographed bottles. The label reads: "The wine is beautiful and complex just like our daughter" and that's a compliment.
The salty, earthy, briny 2009 Aglianico is almost sold out and in a French oak barrel is aging wine made from our 2010 Estate Aglianico (15 gallons of our first harvest on 4th leaf vines which was a little high in acid), 2011 Estate Aglianico (30 gallons produced from 2011, which is quite good but not enough to fill a barrel). And how did we fill the barrel? I uncorked and poured wine from bottles and cases of the 2009 Aglianico which I didn't like and which I was ready to through away but I thought it would add some complexity to our estate grown grapes and it did. So those wines, combined with a new French oak barrel and topped with a few bottles of rich, dark 2012 Aglianico, we have quite an interesting, powerful wine with fruit and acid and body and nose and beginning and middle and finish and it's tasting pretty good and we're getting ready to bottle it and the question is what should we call it: Aglianico? More Ugly Hanako? Something else?
Normally, I would offer to send you a complimentary bottle for suggesting a name we end up using but the last two times we did that the vineyardista ended up in the emergency room so let's just say if you have the honor of submitting a name that we use you're invited to taste it at our tasting room. Cheers and thank you for your suggestions!
("Ugly Hanako" wine is produced by Blue-Merle Winery, located in Escondido, San Diego County, California. It can be tasted at the Hidden Valley Enoteca in Escondido, CA and purchased by contacting the winery at http://www.bluemerlewinery.com on Twitter @bluemerlewinery and on Instagram @blumerlewinery. As a postscript (9/22/13), the 2013 Aglianico has been harvested and the grapes were beautiful and the new wine is as dark and purple as it ever was. the grapes were harvested at 24.5 brix and we were able to cold soak the grapes for 4 and 1/2 days extracting all of those dark colors and fruit flavors, and then the wine was slowly fermented - in the cool, airconditioned winery, for another 7 days. This year, 2013, as the vines have matured, the crop yield increased. We harvested close to 1,000 lbs and pressed 65 gallons of wine, enough for a barrel. New barrels have been ordered and we will rack the wine into barrels in November, after a "battonage" - stirring up the lees -- in late September or early October. Cheers!)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
"Ask him what he was doing in my shed."
"Take the fruit picker away from the orange tree or he'll steal all the oranges."
"Did I tell you, he's taking one ounce of pesticide from everyone in the neighborhood and using it to spray vineyards in other parts of town and charging them for the chemical."
"He's a thief."
"He took my eye goggles. Ask for them back."
"And don't let Bluey outside when he's here."
"Yes dear." There's no use arguing with her. "Should I ask him to catch the gopher in the Tempranillo block?"
"No. He'll just pull a gopher out of his truck that he caught at Merlot Mike's and tell you it's your gopher and charge you $10 for it."
"He'll be arriving soon. Why don't you go shopping at Costco?"
"That's a good idea. If I see him, I'll get angry. Just thinking about him makes my blood pressure boil," said the woman who was hospitalized earlier this year for hypertension.
She leaves. He arrives in Mike's Gator, gets out and waddles over.
"Hey amigo, buenos dias."
"Buenos dias my ass Señor."
Craig, how's the little vineyardista?" he asks.
"Pretty good. How's your blood pressure?" He was hospitalized a month ago with high blood pressure. You'd think they would become blood pressure buddies.
"Not too bad," he said. "Craig, may I take some oranges for my wife? She loves your oranges."
Every time he says my name, I cringe. "Yes," I say. I note he's asking permission. "Please don't take them all."
"OK. Have you seen Pedro recently?"
"I saw him last year at the Seven Eleven. How's he doing?"
"Not too good."
"He went to Mexico."
"Why did he go there?"
"I don't know."
"How's he going to get back in?"
"He paid some Coyote $5,000. He's back already."
"I'm surprised he would leave."
"His mother is there, or something. He's limping and has pins in his leg."
"The police stopped him when he was driving. He didn't have no papers no license no anything."
"The cop called the Border Patrol and Pedro started running."
"He ran away from the cops?"
"They chased him all over. Through peoples' backyards. Everywhere."
"When they caught up with him he jumped off a wall and broke his leg."
"They took him to the emergency room. Put pins in it."
"Did they deport him?"
"No, they were nice to him. They weren't supposed to chase him."
"He's not so young anymore. With an injury like that he won't be the same."
He went back to work and I finished up some weeding and shoot thinning and when it was time to go he pulled the Gator up to the entrance of the property. I saw a 5-gallon bucket three-quarters full of oranges.
"Did you pick some oranges?"
"Si, my esposa likes your oranges."
"So does my daughter and my colleagues at the office. You can't find oranges like that in the store. Let me have one," and I take one from the bucket and start peeling it. No avocados in the bucket today. No apples. "How's your wife?"
"She's no good. Always complaining."
"Isn't that normal?" I ask. "Isn't that what wives do? Do you have the eye goggles?"
"Si, here they are." He hands them over.
"I'll put them in the shed so you can use them next time. What about the vineyardista's loppers?"
"I don't have them. Where's your son?" he asks changing the subject. He always calls Bluey (the Australian Shepherd canine) "my son."
"He's in the house." Fidel puts his fingers to his mouth and lets out a whistle that sets the dog off barking.
"There he is," Fidel says. He waddles back towards the gator and clips the dead branch of a tree with his clippers and with oranges aboveboard and who knows what under the canvas cover drives off.