Monday, January 30, 2012
Yeah, Napa Valley. We love the joint, but we just can’t afford to tour there anymore. Thirty years ago, they hated the wine train; when we lived In San Francisco 15 years ago, they weren’t sure what to do about buses and limousines; and now, in the new year of 2012, small wineries are banding together in co-op tasting rooms and sending out Internet coupons to entice visitors.
Napa, take your meds.
I truly believe that mags like Wine Spectator can not in any way taste wines blind. How else to explain a $175 bottle, scoring 95, being classified in the “Collectibles” column, while a $37 job a couple of points lower gets relegated to “Highly Recommended” or, dude, “Smart Buys.” You say it’s all legit.
Years ago, a journalist asked sex-advice columnist Dan Savage what he thought was his choice for most pornographic magazine. Barely a beat: “Cigar Aficiondo,” a sister pub to WS.
And, scene; I got your ring gauge right here.
So we go to Napa Valley, albeit armed with coupons, and we had great fun up north in St. Helena and Calistoga, two of the pricier towns in the north end of the Valley. I have no idea why this visit was so cool, but the people behind the stick at Velo Vino (the folks behind the Clif Bar brand) were really personable; the wines, of course, were not spittable; ohh so tasty. Savour, another co-op tasting room mere footsteps away, housing mini-producers, was aces, too.
I was ready to call it quits, but Kathy had the urge to hit Hess, a sweet spot we hadn’t hit since we lived in SF a decade-and-a-half ago. Y’all have to understand that one of our first purchases, in that new format know as Compact Disc, was, of all things, a remaindered (remember that term), CD of the Kronos Quartet “Short Stories.” Check this out: The CD jacket (remember that term) features an Underwood typewriter in flames. It’s the same piece we saw 15 years ago, the same piece on the Kronos piece we dig, and the same piece we saw the other night.
Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.
“Again…and…again.” I.F Stone (1983) kinda reworked by Kronos. (Kathy and I repeat this loop a lot, FYI).
That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Apologies to director Peter Greenaway, y’all, but our latest little Saturday jaunt had us drowning by a number of funky visuals and sightings.
Kathy and I set out in the Lisa Marie to the Old Sugar Mill once again, traveling east of our Oakley homestead toward Clarksburg.
I was a bit apprehensive; we’d finally had some rain (pelting against the bedroom windows mere hours before our departure), and I, unlike most other North American males who’d gained their driver’s license at the legal age of 16 years, hate driving. And I was not looking forward to driving the narrow Delta levee roads in less than full sunshine.
Which we got, thank Hey-Zeus. The sun was actually shining upon departure, and though we had to dodge myriad eucalyptus and palm tree branches in the roadway, we were on our way to see our wine pals Erin and Matt Cline of 3 Wine Company, in order to pick up our latest wine club selections, made from fruit sourced in our CoCo ‘hood.
Now, I know that we’ve talked too much about our trips to Clarksburg to keep your weekly interest, but a few things happened this trip that might even make them worthy of, if not your reading, Prospero’s books.
OK, you’re booting along a two-line (obviously repeatedly patched) blacktop, twisting 100 feet above Delta waterways on either side of you (sans guardrails), crossing a couple of steel bridges showing rust, when you are urged to slow to 40 mph.
You are entering Ryde, California: The biggest monument is the water tower. But the coolest joint visible as you glide along is the pale-pink Ryde Hotel, built in 1927: the height of Prohibition.
Somehow, it makes perfect sense that the original establishment served as trapdoor access to Delta water-bound bootleggers, a brothel, speakeasy, respite to Hollywood celebs, even a stay by President Herbert Hoover.
We discover all of this in passing, because, unfortunately, passing the Ryde Hotel is all that we have done thus far in our many treks to Clarksburg. But their Web site
lists prix fixe brunches, Saturday dinners and other events. Kathy and I look forward to exploring this pocket of our levee travels.
Anyhoo, we’re heading to das Sugar Mill to pick up our juice when I make what I consider a hairpin turn; it’s not, but I whiteknuckle on a curve at 40 mph traffic anyway. We make the curve, and there is a coyote.
Uncharacteristically, we both saw the beast at the same time. Now, you have to know that, at the worst times, Kath will remark, “Wow, a turkey vulture!” just as I am struggling to keep both hands on the wheel. Kathy and I saw this majestic thang at the same time. But this amazing creature was standing along the perimeter of a field of green, hit by sunshine, and standing regally as if to proclaim, “Check me out, mofo!”
We did, pal, and you were resplendent. “Wow” is right.
Then we’re heading toward Bogle Vineyards on the same road, a sure sign that we’re almost at the Sugar Mill, when a red-tailed hawk flies from the Delta water and almost hits our windshield. Three minutes later, it happens again. Not sure if it was a different hawk, or the same one urging us to heed one of the many “Bridge Detour” signs.
None of which affected us. ‘Twas absolutely thrilling, but we made it.
So, the 3 Wine Company’s 2009 Old Vine Field Blend is a funky amalgam o 34% Zinfandel, 27 “Kerrigan,” 19% Petite Sirah, 17 Mataro (winemaker Matt Cine prefers to use the old skool nomenclature v. “Mourvèdre”). 2 % Alicante Bouschet, and 1% Black Malvoisie (winemaker Matt Cine prefers to use the old skool nomenclature v. “Cinsault”). Yep, I cutted and pasted there, I cop. But the wine itself is a bit of a bruiser; could use a bit of cellaring (for Kath and me, 2 months) to chill all of these 100-year-old varietal grapes from the ‘hood.
Not exactly a life in suitcases, but at least a couple of hours with our wine totes.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Man, Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells must have been pee-o’d those first couple of episodes. Chez Gilligan, one can only hope for a 3-hour tour that lasted 180 minutes.
Think the boat ultimately sunk ‘cause Lovey and Thurston didn’t want to jettison the steamer trunks full of clothes, which happened to wash ashore on their island?
Oh, wait. Oyster Bay. No, wait. Walnut Creek.
OK, this is where it gets goofy. We were bemoaning, as Pacific NW transplants, that we could not find any seafood not “frozen for freshness.” Oysters-on-the-half were not to be found, let alone be eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon, or, heaven forbid, a bit of mignonette (house choice recipe). We talked about this with staffer Candice at our Trader Joe’s, and she said to head to the Walnut Creek Yacht Club.
The Walnut Creek Yacht Club is a restaurant/bar downtown in an eponymous city in which we have never seen water.
There may be a “creek’” but Kath and I have never seen a place to park a kayak. WCYC is a trippy joint with an outrageous, welcoming vibe. There’s no lake, river or sea; instead a nice bar area and capacious dining section. In fact, I think that the WCYC is a former downtown bank. Again, no surf lapping at the shore; maybe just parking cops cruising the metered streets, lapping up their monthly quotas.
Candice was correct, and WCYC has become a Happy Hour fave for us, despite the Highway 4 drive. Doesn’t hurt that we found a city parking garage, one block away, for 50 cents an hour.
Now, you must understand, that Candice, touting the Walnut Creek Yacht Club, engendered vi$ion$ of $ugarplum$ dancing in my head. Walnut Creek as a municipality is $pendy enough, and I love to break out the French cuff cufflinks as often as possible, but this sounded like every other “fresh seafood” joint we have encountered since our CoCo adventure: $25 for a half-dozen; maybe $2 each. We ain’t in the Pacific Northwest anymore. (Which not might be a bad thang; as of this posting Seattle is poised to welcome 5 to 9 inches of snow tonight, a “once in 50 years” snowfall that is now occurring annually. BTW: The person in charge of roads during our horrendous Seattle 2008 Christmas, and who was then out of town, has now been hired to manage BART, our multicounty commuter rail system here. Talk about an executive gene pool.)
The Walnut Creek Yacht Club hosts a “Skippers’ Meeting at the Bar” (aka Happy Hour) every day (‘cept Sunday; they’re closed) from 3 p.m. to 6. It’s 15 bucks for a dozen oysters, and 5 bucks for a big pour of wine.
We’ve been in a few times, but the other day was our first time sitting at the bar. Check out Kathy’s photo; Jaws is looking straight at her, and if you squint (Quint?) you might be able to spy a bottle of my favorite Gin, Boodles, in the distance.
We had the pleasure of being served by Dave, the WCYC manager, serving behind the stick in lieu of his regular mixologist who had severed a hand tendon in a horrible broken-cocktail-glass accident previously. Turns out that Dave, an Irishman then studying acting in London, had much in common with the pasts of Kath and me. Between stories of K getting her Masters in acting, Dave’s rollercoaster of theatre v. film, and my ‘Nam flashback of standup and B-Circuit infamy, we all had an unexpectedly heightened level of conversation.
No sour grapes. Sometimes, just a squeeze of lemon makes it all good.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I always loved rapper Chubb Rock, man. He never got the full-metal love beyond airplay of the titular single, but I remember him performing on an episode of FOX’s erstwhile stand-up showcase “Sunday Comics,” this particular episode hosted by the king, Martin Mull.
A total shame that his “Fernwood Tonight” and, later, post-“Mary Hartman” squared, “America Tonight” is not on DVD. I recall attending an outdoor concert of his touring “Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture” in Toronto, wherein he replicated a den onstage and riffed endlessly. I remember someone yelling out, “Where’s Jerry?” (sidekick Fred Willard, from A2N). Mull replied, “He’s dead. (pause) Professionally, at least.”
Man, Karma is a beeyotch.
So, I’m driving in Cincinnati on a gig in 1991, when the Chubster starts, “Nineteen-ninety, Chubb Rock burst upon the scene” on the car radio.
For years, I thought that one of his final rhymes was a shout-out to “Lainie Kazan, my homegirl; peace.” I love Lainie Kazan, but Chubb’s flow hit my ear entirely wrong. It was “Lady” something. We out.
“Treat ‘em Right” comes on my old-skool radio station the other day, and Kathy downloads it for 99 cents. That’s $18.91 more than the year Chubb talked about.
Treating ‘em right is what the Cline family did when Fred and Nancy started their Sonoma-based winery in 1988 (and their latest winery, Jacuzzi, pictured above). Their California Missions Museum, based on the winery real estate, is home to dioramas of all 21 Spanish Mission buildings, traversing over 600 miles from San Diego, up north to Sonoma. The models debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island (the original planned location for SF’s airport) in San Francisco Bay, and later were set to be individually auctioned/sold off. In 1998, Nancy and Fred took possession of all 21 models, and seven years later, housed them on their property, open to the public at the winery.
Kathy and I have lived up and down the California coast, at various times in our various lives. Reading about the lives and relative successes of these mission buildings is enlightening. We all know about the big SF earthquake in 1906. But what about the big one in 1845? Civil War be damned, we’re messed up!
Living in San Francisco three lives ago, we toured Mission Dolores. Based in Los Angeles, six lives ago, we sought out San Juan Capistrano. Many of the structures were decimated by natural disasters; another, cosmetically altered, served as the back-drop for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
“But you can’t care, Madeline, you can’t care!”
Fred and Nancy Cline, thank you for treating them right. These models burst upon the scene.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
We’ve been in Oakley now since Labor Day 2009, and in addition to ferreting out grape sources, growers and wineries employing them, we’ve endeavored to partake of a few of the local festivals and assorted clambakes around our environs.
For the last couple of years of our residency here, we’ve been reading about the New Year’s Day “Frozen Bun Run” on nearby Bethel Island. Connected by a solitary bridge to the mainland, the island is a levee community perched a whopping 12 inches above sea level, and home to marina boaters, retirees, bikers and the coolest joint on the Delta: the Rusty Porthole. Kathy and I have not gone there nearly enough; summer of 2010 we had one of the best hamburgers we’d ever had, and, walking along the levee, encountered some very friendly residents and their pets.
Kathy’s mom flew down for New Year’s, and K had some great local excursions planned for the end of 2011. This year, Kath decided that we would all go to the Bun Run on Bethel Island on January 1, 2012.
The fog was already enveloping our Oakley digs by 8 a.m., and since the fog emanates from the Delta sloughs around the island, we wondered how this would affect the event. We needn’t have worried about anything.
The Frozen Bun Run began 32 years ago, when a ragtag coterie of New Year’s Day regulars were sitting at the bar, staring out the windows of the Rusty Porthole, coming to the consensus that this would be the perfect time to go waterskiing. Since then, the annual event has morphed into a clothing-optional, wakeboard-approved, Harley-Davidson holy day.
We had a blast, despite the 2-hour fog delay before the first brave soul hit the water. Between the biker chicks, Bloody Marys and bartending al fresco, this was one outrageous event: had to be a thousand people, one hundred choppers and 19 Bun Run registrants on the levee. One could get one’s coffee Irish, Mexican or with Kahlua (all liberally poured, BTW), chowder, burritos; your Mary with Vodka, Gin or Tequila.
It was the kind of bee where some folks were sporting more individual leather garments than they had teeth, but DANG!, was everybody cool! Kath and I were sporting cowls, knitted by K, around our necks to ward off the Delta chill. A couple of very sweet, high-odometer sisters approached us to settle their argument about cowl v. scarf. We were wished Happy New Year by more bikers than I have ever seen.
And then we met Bethel Island Queen 2011; Her Majesty told us, unceremoniously, that she was ChaCha (see gorgeous photo). Kathy and her mom had bought, in different U.S. states, the same coat, albeit in different colors. Queen ChaCha approached Kathy and mom Ione to gush over the colors and cut of their coats. Hmmmmmm, coat of many colors: biblical, and yet reminiscent of throwing the moneylenders out of the temple, or, in this case, converting $5 into a Hot Buttered Rum or an Irish coffee.
As is probably apparent (and with one of K’s parents), a swell time was had by all. The fog was hardcore, and the event was delayed for hours. As Bun Run viewer virgins, we just wanted to hang out to watch at least one masochist hit the water on skis. At 11:30 a.m., it was post time.
Dude made the entire circuit upright, and holding the tether with one hand, at that.
Fog was still thick on the roads back to Oakley. But, ya know, as we left the grounds, Kathy and I realized that we had never heard more Happy New Year wishes directed to us in one place. By big time bikers. With gorgeous wheels.
As Kathy said to me, “This will have to be an annual tradition, now.” And since I have not been awake past 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve for a decade, we could just do this thang.
Cash only. Crazy fun always for 32 years.