Monday, February 28, 2011
Another hellish week here at the ranch, though this one not so much feline-related (though the vet bill totals seem to take on extra zeroes daily). No, this time it’s been work-related stress on Kathy that, combined with a recent cold snap in our area, prompted her to send me an urgent e-mail:
“Please, can we do a Port run to Livermore on Saturday?”
I’ve posted about Livermore previously, and how this pioneering wine region due south of Brentwood and first planted to wine grapes circa 1840, has become our go-to AVA for Port-style wines. We’re always amazed at how many of the area’s 40-some wineries make fortified juice; it meant that Kath and I could indeed make a “Gumball Rally”-like dash down south specifically in search of Port-like treasure.
Of course, the term “Port” is proprietary, like the term “Champagne,” but slapping “Port’ on a label, even if it isn’t from Portugal, still seems like the best way to describe what to expect from what’s in the bottle. In Livermore the other day, we tasted Port-style wines made from Petite Sirah, from Zinfandel, even, at one winery, a selection comprising 100% Sangiovese.
More than one Livermore winery has committed to make a Port using only grape varieties that would go into a true Portuguese version, such as the varietal clones from the Tinta and Touriga families (weren’t they two of Columbus’ ships?). We visited Bent Creek Winery, whose 2007 Vintage version is a blend of five traditional Old World varieties. Not much of these true Port grapes is grown locally; many of the “true” Livermore Ports, Bent Creek’s included, are made with fruit sourced from Amador County to the northeast. But it’s still pretty surprising to learn that there’s any acreage of these relatively obscure Portuguese varieties in Cali at all.
In addition to dozens of boutique producers in the valley, Livermore is home to a couple of the “big boys” such as Concannon, producing wine since 1883, and Wente, whose current winemaker is the fifth generation of the Wente fam. We stopped in for an elegant lunch at the well-appointed restaurant at Wente Vineyards before walking over to their tasting room to continue “Port Quest 2011” with a lip-smacking Petite Sirah version.
With our haul of liquid rubies running to more than a half-dozen half-bottles, we made one final stop on our Port run. The tasting room was packed, and though our knowledgeable host/pourer was very professional and polite to Kath and me, he did give a quick, withering verbal beat-down to the dude on our right. Apparently, dude wanted more information from the label of a bottle directly in front of him on the counter, so he picked up the bottle to read, something I’ve done dozens of times. Our host leaned over to remark to him,”Do not touch the bottle. If you want information, I’ll give it to you.”
Thereby earning a Seinfeldian nickname from Kathy: “The Port Nazi.”
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Well, the feline hits just keep on comin’. Our female calico kitty, Taz, who is two years younger than Otis’ 18 years, had also stopped eating with her usual gusto, and was losing weight at an alarming rate. We took her in to her vet here in Oakley, and they ran a battery of tests. You probably know where this is heading ….
Yep, they discovered a growth between her small and large intestines. Her veterinary records were transferred to Otis’ kitty oncologist in Walnut Creek, and after an examination and consultation, it was determined that the best course of action for Taz was surgery to remove the growth, which we scheduled for last Tuesday. The surgery seemed to be a success, but her vet didn’t like her red cell counts, so a blood transfusion was called for. So far, so good. She was released on Wednesday, but at home, she displayed no interest in food; I brought her back in on Thursday, when more testing revealed some fluid in her belly. Those lab results yielded nothing drastic, and as of this posting, poor little Tazo is very slowly (too slowly for Kath and me) showing some signs of returning to her old behavior and habits. She’s still not eating very much, she’s skin and bones, but when she jumps up on the bed in the middle of the night to nestle between me and the pillow, it gives us a little hope.
BTW, in other kitty news, Otis’ new cancer regimen seems to be off to a great start. Her oncologist is thrilled with the reduced cell count brought on by the treatment begun a few weeks ago.
No wonder that a feline February like this one is enough to drive Kathy and me to drink wine. Last weekend we attended the “Best of Contra Costa” tasting in neighboring downtown Brentwood; we posted last time about this fun event, wherein five CoCo wineries poured some of their assorted award-winners.
One of the participants was Hannah Nicole Vineyards, a Brentwood operation that is a true pioneer in CoCo wine tourism, with its 4,000-square-foot tasting room, barrel room and event facility smack dab in the middle of acres of estate vines planted to Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. After this week’s Taz travails, Kathy and I thought we should treat ourselves to a visit to work our way down the Reserve tasting card, one feature of which was the Hannah Nicole 2007 Petit Verdot Reserve fashioned from estate fruit.
Reps were pouring this wine at last weekend’s event downtown, and it was nice to revisit this varietal fave a week later in Hannah Nicole’s richly appointed winery tasting room, unique for CoCo County. Their ’07 PV was big and tannic, with smoky notes and traces of bacon. After finishing our tasting with this delicious selection, we purchased a couple of selections by the glass, settled into the big, comfy leather chairs and, ignoring the rainy gray skies outside the oversize picture windows, turned our thoughts from vet bills to Viognier.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Yesterday, Kathy and I fired up the Lisa Marie and drove to our neighboring city of Brentwood for the “Best of Contra Costa” tasting at the local wine shop downtown.
It was a fun, casual event featuring a quintet of CoCo vintners each pouring three wines that have garnered medals at various events, including the prestigious San Francisco Wine Competition across the bay.
Unlike most wineries we’ve talked about on this blog, these featured wineries, though located in Contra Costa County, tend not to source fruit from the ancient vines around Oakley or Antioch to our north and east. Three of the producers, in fact, have their own estate fruit physically planted in vineyards in Brentwood and the town of Byron even farther east and south.
And unlike the Oakley old vines planted to Zinfandel and Rhone varieties, the CoCo wines featured yesterday comprised a wonderfully surprising gamut of Chardonnays, Viogniers, Merlots, Cabs and Bordeaux-style blends — even a couple of varietally bottled standouts: a Petit Verdot and a Malbec from estate-grown fruit!
Last year, we featured Parkmon Vineyards in a post, and spotlighted a couple of bottlings using fruit from Evangelho Vineyard up in Antioch. Parkmon was pouring at the tasting yesterday; their offerings didn’t contain any juice from our ‘hood, but their award-winning 2008 Sangiovese had a pleasantly earthy, almost Pinot Noir-like edge.
Another stellar effort was the “J Jaden” Port-style dessert wine from Tamayo Family Vineyards. Named for the family’s second grandson, and utilizing authentic Portuguese varietal grapes as an authentic homage to CoCo’s early settlers, it’s a deliciously unctuous treat: just the thing for the last days or weeks of Port-drinking Season. It’s a deep red color, and the aromas of dried currants and raisins keep wafting up from the glass. In the mouth, there’s a warm toastiness among layers of sweet, raisiny fruit.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Not the best week for kitty Otis, our female tabby who is due to turn 18 years old in May. “Otis” was the name she came with when Kathy adopted her from the Humane Society outreach in Seattle in fall of 1999. We definitely wanted an older kitty because everyone seems to want a kitten, leaving the mature creatures to languish at the shelter. Or worse.
Otis, dubbed “The Wee” almost immediately, is pretty prissy and somewhat aloof, but she’s been a real indoor sweetheart lo these dozen-plus years. A fighter, too: Over the last decade, she’s been diagnosed with dental issues, a thyroid problem and feline cancer.
Her cancer regimen consisted of oral ingestion, every 5 weeks, of the drug Leukeran (apparently it’s used to treat lymphoma in humans, too) for 4 days. At the time, the vet told us that this treatment might buy us another 20 months or so. That was almost 6 years ago.
Well, this week our Bay Area veterinarian’s suspicions based on Otis’ last blood work were confirmed: The cell counts have shot up drastically; the Leukeran ain’t cutting the gig anymore.
Otis’ new treatment, begun this past Wednesday, consists of a one-time injection of a med to “jumpstart” the process, a monthly oral capsule of something called CCNU, and twice-daily tablets of what Kath calls a “Prednisone chaser.” We should know if there’s any progress when she gets rechecked in 4 weeks. Poor baby Wee. Like old vines, the life of an older living being (her 18 kitty years translate to approximately 88 human years) tends to yield diminishing returns.
In an attempt to recharge from the week’s disappointing pet news, yesterday Kathy and I motored even further inland from Oakley, to the Central Valley, a huge wine region of old and new varietal plantings around the city of Lodi, that for decades has been the prime grape source for cheap jug and box wines from the Gallo bros, Fred Franzia and other labels available at a Rite-Aid near you.
Part of the Lodi grape farmer’s dilemma used to be that when you’re paid by the ton, you’re not doing yourself any favors by adopting best vineyard practices such as dropping entire grape clusters to the ground (allowing those remaining on the vine to ripen and develop fully). A grower selling to, as one vineyard owner told us, “the Big Boys” could ensure a full year’s income. The flip side to baby getting new shoes that year was that the Big Boys knew it.
Spending the afternoon in Lodi was an eye-opening realization of just how much this grower/buyer dynamic has changed in the Central Valley. There are now literally dozens upon dozens of new tasting rooms and boutique wineries, many built or founded by growers who have banded together to create a legitimate, viable “wine country” destination. It’s exactly the type of approach that I wish Oakley growers would adopt. The sense here in our ‘hood is that our growers have been farming the land for generations; running a winery or tasting room isn’t what they do, or worth the hassles. Yet many of the new Lodi tasting rooms and wineries are owned by senior citizens, who until two years ago, were strictly grape growers themselves. Maybe it’s a case of Central Valley growers getting tired of having to depend on Gallo largesse for their livelihood. Everywhere in the wine biz, it’s a classic story of growers having to fight the weather, a client’s vineyard management demands, endless negation and lowball prices for their grapes and even the chance that handshake agreements will go “Poof!” (“Hey Milton. Whaaaaat’s happening? Uh, yeah, we’re not going to neeeeeeed those five tons of Alicante Bouschet after all.”)
Yesterday, we tasted some delicious Petite Sirahs, Zins, Chards, Alicante, and at least one dynamite Carignane from old vines getting ready to celebrate their 100th birthday. And we did it in some of the most modern newly constructed tasting rooms we’ve ever been in: a mindboggling juxtaposition of old skool farming and new school marketing. That the wines being poured were tasty, the prices were astonishingly good, and that the tasting fees on the table card were routinely ignored by management speaks extremely well of this burgeoning wine getaway ready to explode in popularity. Kath and I will certainly be back, especially when an enthusiastic winery pup led us to the tasting room (see photo).
The CV, and Lodi in particular, needn’t be held hostage to das Big Boys such as Gallo. In my Modesto opinion, of course.
Full circle? Maybe. Well-aged kitty, well-aged wine region; with new instructions followed for both. May The Wee transform as gracefully with her new prescription as Lodi has with hers.