Sunday, March 27, 2011
Kathy and I attended the annual Blossom Festival at Frog Hollow Farm, our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) depot. Al Courchesne, aka Farmer Al, proprietor of said farm, took us on a tour of his fruit ranch. This is a unique CSA, in that Frog Hollow selections comprise fruit only. At the event, we heard from an attendee whose shipments from another “CSA” often included unseasonal fruit from South America. Contradiction in terms, huh? It was a really nice afternoon spent outside among the groves of pear, apple and peach trees in full delicate blossom, and citrus trees, some laden with fruit. Mid-March, no less! (See photo.)
Years ago, in Seattle, Kath and I attended a Tilth Fair, giving the love to organic gardening and sustainability. We purchased a “Mason bee” condo; then got worried when we saw a million flies buzzing around it. Turns out that those “flies’ were Mason bees, one of nature’s great tiny pollinators. We bought another wooden block last fall at the Brentwood Farmer’s Market, and we think we might have a few tenants already here at the Oakley homestead.
The Blossom Festival here included a couple of great talks by Frog Hollow’s resident beekeeper, as well as a researcher from UC Berkeley involved in one of the foremost bee research projects in the nation. Who’d a thunk that there are over 4,000 species of bees in the country, and that Cali has more than half of them? Farmer Al, with his organic acreage, has partnered with the university to allow plantings of hedgerows and other apiarian attractions at the farm to provide a working research environment for the UC project, while maybe getting a little bee labor out in the orchards to boot.
Hey, gotta tell you that I have the coolest neighbor. On the west side, that is; east side, not so much. East side is the bank VP (who we suspect has his big house up for a short-sale) who tried to play Mayor McCheese when I had beef with his eastern neighbor about noise. It got ugly fast: The noisy folks invoked the “I can do what I want until 10 p.m.” rule; Mayor McCheese (who lives right next door to their bass-heavy car sound sytems) comes out to mediate, and tries to play peacemaker. Dude is no United Nations secretary-general: Within minutes, four households are arguing with each other across the street. McCheese is the same dude who dropped in on Christmas Eve 2009 to introduce himself four months after we’d moved in, then proceeded to drain us of three magnums of Washington state red wine. He’s definitely more Boutros Boutros-Gallo than –Ghali.
But about the good neighbor: Syed is the coolest! Imagine having your house key with a neighbor: That is so 1960s, and in a good way. Syed is a retired restaurateur and “Mad(vertising) Man.” He’s also a self-taught fine-cabinetmaker whose work is exquisite. He calls me “Uncle Tony,” because when Syed or his girlfriend Karen can not get home, I will let his chickens out for feed and exercise. Yep, he keeps hens. We get eggs. I am Uncle Tony.
We’re starting to get down to the last few bottles of our Oakley-area CoCo stash. Last year, when this whole blog idea started, Kath was able to find a 2005 Trinitas Zin from the Spinelli/Live Oak property. Over the ensuing months, we’ve since learned where the Spinelli Vineyard is here in Oakley; we learned that this vintage was one of the last made by Matt Cline, before he and his wife, Erin, sold their ownership interest in Trinitas to their partners; and we learned that Matt and Erin went on to form 3 wine company in Clarksburg, which continues to use fruit from, among other Oakley sources, the Spinelli site.
The 2005 Trinitas Zinfandel Spinelli Live Oak exhibits a nice, rich plum color. It’s got a big smoky nose of lavender and dried blueberries, a flavor that continues on the palate. And for a wine with almost six years of age on it, flavors of clove and cedar wood can be detected behind a band of surprisingly prominent tannic fur.
Monday, March 21, 2011
It’s a rare drizzly day here in the Northern Cali East Bay city of Oakley. Kitty Taz had just been on my lap staring at the computer monitor, before going downstairs to the kitchen, then to finally puke in the living room.
I never believed in paper towels before, but now would never be without ‘em. Green is good, but it’s also sometimes the color of the stuff she heaves.
A few weeks ago, we talked about our jaunt farther east to the Central Valley town of Lodi, long a fertile mainstay vineyard region for bulk wine producers. Kathy and I were so impressed at the region’s turnaround: Farmers were building their own wineries and committing to put their own labels where their grapes were, instead of, as one grower/owner told me, “being dictated to by the ‘big boys’.” Reading between the lines, I connected “big boys” and “Central Valley” and came up with “Gallo.” Not much of a stretch there, Dr. Watson.
So Kath is channel surfing last week, and comes across an episode of “Biography” spotlighting Ernest and Julio Gallo. Now, a 60-minute overview can not even scar the surface of the fam’s secrecy, scandals, lawsuits and sales tactics. But when we heard Harry Smith’s narration that, before the family built their inland Modesto fortress, their old man forced the bros to work a swampy vineyard in Antioch, effectively treating his sons as slave labor (beatings included), we pulled our noses out of our Riedel and started to reassess our neighboring burg to the north.
On the plus side:
Home to Evangelho Vineyard
Randall Grahm buys fruit from here
Echelon thought enough to bottle a “Driving Range Vineyard” designate Zin
The “Driving Range Vineyard” designate is a bogus, made-up name
Jaycee Dugard was held captive for 18 years in an unincorporated part bordering Antioch, mere miles from our house
Kath and I dipped into the cellar, and lo and behold, if we did not unearth a bottle of Gallo reinvention. Not sure if it was one of the bros dying in a car wreck, a third generation winemaking regimen, or just plain marketing, but there have been strides, maybe evanescent, attempted on their winemaking tip. OK, Thunderbird and Carlo Rossi ain’t going away anytime soon; they’re too profitable.
Gallo of Sonoma: The label made some tasty juice. Then you find out that they used their mu$cle to bulldoze hills to manufacture their own terroir.
What Kath and I found in the stacks were a couple of bottles dated to the “Gallo Family Vineyards Winemaker’s Signature” series, a label which the pourer at their Healdsburg tasting room in Sonoma indicated was doomed. Or maybe it was just the varietal bottlings that would be history.
Either way, the following baby is gone.
The “Gallo Family Winery Winemaker’s Signature 2004 Tempranillo Russian River Valley” has a color of deep black, reminiscient of Bing cherry. There’s an earthy nose of mocha, and a dark, rich tannic, plummy long finish. Too bad the family decided to drop this varietal bottling; it was very tasty.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Our oldest kitty, Otis, passed away this morning. She had been doing remarkably well on her new chemotherapy protocol. In fact, Sunday morning we were treated to a chorus of “maow…maow…maow” stated quite emphatically every 30 seconds until we got up to feed her.
We got Otis from the Humane Society in Seattle in 1999. I (Kathy) had wanted a cat for a long time. Tony had never had a pet. While Tony was away doing a play I made arrangements to adopt Miss Otis. (We never could change her name, although we have no idea how a female got the name of Otis.)
I was worried the first night I brought her home. Hearing stories of having to confine a new kitty to a bathroom I was concerned that she would tear the house apart. I shouldn’t have had a second thought. She settled in like the princess that she was. In fact, she kept trying to sleep on my chest all night! I found her the next morning, settled on a blanket on top of a bamboo chest, fast asleep.
These are the things I will miss most about “The Wee:”
She never used a scratching post and destroyed a lot of furniture with her claws.
We always had to have emergency cans of cat food around in case she ran out the front door (treats worked in the beginning…later bringing out the can opener didn’t even cause a reaction).
She would lay in your lap when she wanted to—no other time.
She would clean her fur after you petted her.
In our CA house she would “maow” in front of the gas fireplace until you turned it on.
The only water good enough for her was fresh from the faucet in the second floor shower.
Our other kitty, Taz, was often given a smack in the face at breakfast or dinner time…just for being nearby.
When we would go outside Otis would sit at the back window and “maow” to which we replied (over and over), “What, Wee?”
She was a good kitty. A great first kitty for Tony. We will miss her more than words could ever describe.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Crazy thing: Kathy drives Laurel Road every day to get to notoriously clogged Highway 4, to spend an hour to get 16 miles to the end-of-the-line BART train station for the privilege of paying for parking, also paying, London Tube-style, a destination-based transit rate, to get in to San Fran, another hour later,. Yep, we are at the very end of this particular line. Currently, it’s $12 round-trip at this end of the line, every day.
Ten percent sales tax, a state income tax, the most populous state in the country, and California is broke. Oh, and BART is operating the same trains they bought 40 years ago, and the train interiors haven’t been steam-cleaned since Jimmy Carter maybe hauled out a Bissel. Double-You-Tee-Eff?
Anyhoo, we’re driving down Laurel a few weeks ago, and Tom Del Barba’s Zinfandel vines are sprouting shoots like a bad comb-over (as opposed to those really good, “couldn’t tell” comb-overs). A couple of days later, his Zin has had the full-meal tonsorial deal: the proverbial shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits, ready for burgeoning bud break!
And then I walk into our local Booze Castle to find two generations of the Del Barba old-vine grape growers at the cash register. Tom, the younger, asks if I remember him; yeah, dude, like I could forget someone I met at his grape harvest, and who invited me to taste grapes and check Brix in the refractometer! Tom even asked about das blog.
Man, his father, Fred, reminded me so much of my dad. Physically, dentally, and with the stories. I had asked about “handshake deals” growers would do in the past. Tom, having been screwed last minute by a winery suddenly deciding that they don’t need that extra ton o’ Zinfandel, is currently in negotiation to re-up his 3-year Zin deal with the folks who now own “Cardinal Zin,” having purchased it from Randall Grahm’s “Bonny Doon.” Papa Fred told me, and this at a cash register no less, about how he needed to be able to hold his head up back in the day, backing up his word, in the community.
“It really was all on a handshake,” Fred told me. He recalled one buyer who was supposed to come over at 11:30; when they didn’t come by 3:30, he sold the grapes to a neighbor. The late party finally arrived and offered $1,000 per ton, when, in those days $250/ton was big-time; Fred had nothing to give him, whatever the price; the buyer was late, and Fred had already agreed to sell it: no backing out of the deal that he had struck with the neighbor. “Now, it’s all in writing. And they show up when they say they will,” Fred added.
My unexpected luck in running into Tom and Fred at the liquor store prompted Kathy to suggest tasting a Zinfandel from our stash made from grapes from a vineyard close by the house. The land is not a Del Barba property, but it is but a block or two away from their holdings, and is itself situated on Laurel.
We’ve tasted and posted in the past about a few old-vine Zins harvested from the 20-acre site variously known as Jesse’s Vineyard (on Rosenblum and Rock Wall bottlings) and Duarte Vineyard (appearing on Turley labels). Years ago the vineyard was sold, by owner Joe Duarte, to housing developer Seeno Homes, who, because of the residential meltdown, hired vineyard manager Dwight Meadows to maintain the property until a market recovery. Jesse is Dwight’s dad. Different names; same great fruit.
In 2009, boutique winemaker Stefanie Jackson, then working as part of the Rock Wall Wine Company family of small labels, released 69 cases of her inaugural Virgo Cellars bottling. The 2007 Virgo Cellars “La Vierge” Zinfandel Contra Costa County is sourced entirely from Jesse’s fruit. In the glass, its deep garnet hues also reveal a bright, translucent plum with cranberry hints. On the nose, it’s all red fruit, cloves and baking spices. The mouth soon fills up with the tastes of cracked black pepper, cocoa and a touch of tea leaf. The finish goes on and on.
Stefanie Jackson has since moved on from Rock Wall and we haven’t been able to get in touch. She’s still very active as a winemaker but, alas, we hear that her Virgo Cellars label is no more. Too bad. Virgo’s inaugural vintage name may translate to “The Virgin,” but here’s a “first time” effort that’s truly memorable. For all the right reasons.