Monthly Archives: January 2010

Definitive proof that wine can cure common cold!

I haven’t been remiss in attending to this blog. It’s just that Your West Coast Oenophile has been pulled in many directions as of late, principally in my efforts to secure the funding Sostevinobile needs in order to be open by September. Then add to the mix that I had to purchase a new computer and port over all my applications and files from the old workhorse that could no longer keep up with the software I require.
Much to its credit, Apple makes migration from one Macintosh to another almost seamless. My first efforts over my home-based WiFi network did freeze up a couple of times before completion, so switch to a direct transfer via Ethernet and within less than two hours had my new Mac a perfect mirror of its predecessor, only running blazingly fast with Snow Leopard, 4GB of RAM and a dual processor somewhere in the range of 10x’s the speed with which I had been contending. Inevitably, I encountered a small glitch or two that required assistance from Apple’s highly commendable tech support, a service that most gratefully is not outsourced to an overseas locale, with specialists whose efforts at approximating colloquial English parallel my utterly futile attempts to dunk on a 10′ rim.
If only the same could be said for Adobe Systems. With my new system, I was finally able to handle the latest issue of Adobe’s Creative Suite, a leap of several versions. Rather than allot a couple of weeks to diligently learning the nuances of these upgrades, I thought by availing myself of their phone-in assistance, it would expedite my learning curve.
Wrong! The only thing worse than the average 65 minute hold time before someone would field my call was the dreaded sound of “Good afternoon, Mr. Marc. How might I facilitate a diligent response to the urgency of your dilemma?” And even that would not have been so bad, but this mangled attempt to offer assistance belied the assumption that the speaker on the other end of the phone had even the remotest connection to technical competence.
Over the course of a four-day period, I endured some twenty hours of complete ineptitude in my efforts to unravel the basic functionality of core features highlighted in the What’s New window of InDesign CS4. With frontline tech support failing to find a solution to my query, my issue was escalated to senior level staff and assigned a case number for further reference. These diplomates of the highly prestigious India Institute of Science only managed to exacerbate my problem, insisting after many hours of research that only a third-party PlugIn could allow me to create a new document and type without the constraints of page limits, a necessary requirement in my 20 year practice of eschewing all Microsoft products for the superior software of its competitors.
Given that this functionality was a major highlight of InDesign’s new capabilities, I objected vociferously and set off to find an answer on my own. Finally, despite twelve phone calls to Adobe and my nearly non-stop torrent of invectives, I managed to uncover the solution up front and center from the Helpful Tips on Adobe’s help site, the same basic manual from which these contractors were supposedly referring for the past 14 months. Forget raising money for Haiti—I am contemplating starting a Facebook site that will solicit the funds I need to acquire an atomic weapon to eradicate Bangalore from the face of the planet!
Meanwhile, in addition to the several days I lost mired in this inexorable abyss, I also contracted my annual winter cold shortly after filing my last blog entry. Nothing too serious—certainly not H1N1—but tiring and annoying nonetheless. Sudafed and Ricola during the day, steam bath after my workout, overly generous glass of hot brandy with honey before bedtime, and within 7-10 days, I’m back with a vengeance (if my usual pattern holds true). So, feeling only slightly debilitated, I pedaled across San Francisco to attend the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association trade tasting at Farallon, a venue for wine tasting that I have repeatedly lauded in this blog.
Coming but a few days prior to the ever-overwhelming ZAP festival, this event compelled me to include an additional criterion to my usual tasting protocol: no Zinfandel! However, I seemed to have been less judicious in limiting my actual intake (vs. the professional swill & spit technique). Or perhaps it was an interaction with the over-the-counter remedies I was taking. Whatever the case, I stopped for a short respite and a chance to stretch out my legs in the lobby of the Kensington Park Hotel once the tasting had ended. Inadvertently, two minutes lapsed into two hours, and I awoke to find myself comfortably draped in a plush, Louis XIV armchair, unaware I had dozed off almost instantaneously. A bit embarrassing, perhaps, but, amazingly, my congestion was completely gone!
So maybe the New England Journal of Medicine will not accept my claim that wine can cure the common cold. This is a battle I will take up in a different forum. My readership here will choose to believe me or not; in any case, I am sure all will prefer to hear about my discoveries at the aforementioned tasting.
And, indeed, discoveries were made. Those who follow this blog should not be surprised I took an immediate shine to Watsonville’s River Run, a winery making its inaugural appearance with the SCMWA. I only wish owner J. P. Pawlowski had brought his entire inventory with him! River Run’s 2008 Chardonnay Moutanos Vineyard was a superb organic expression from Mendocino, as was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Moutanos Vineyard. I found much to like in their 2006 Merlot San Benito County and cottoned to both the 2006 Carignane Wirz Vineyard and their Rhône homage, the 2008 Côte d’Aromas, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Viognier, and Grenache. I yearned, however, to sample the 2007 Négrette San Benito County, only the second time I’ve encountered this varietal from California, and I would have veered from my self-imposed prohibition for a small swill of the 2004 Zinfandel Port.
I probably should have asked Dan Martin of Martin Ranch Winery who J.D. Hurley was. The lower end label for this Gilroy winery seemed to be eclipsed by their more distinctive Thérèse Vineyards (eponymous for Dan’s wife) line, which impressively debuted their 2006 Thérèse Vineyards Syrah Santa Clara Valley and an affable 2006 Thérèse Vineyards Sangiovese.
Another new acquaintance, Hillcrest Terrace Winery, prefers a more orthodox Burgundian catalog, but excels in both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Standouts were the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyard, the always dependable 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, and a profound 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Fambrini Vineyard. Closer to San Francisco, the La Honda Winery shares a zip code both with rock & roll legend Neil Young and the experimental cyberwine forays of Clos de la Tech. Not to be eclipsed by T. J. Rodgers, they offered an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend, the 2006 Super Tuscan La Honda Ranch Experimental Vineyard. Actually, La Honda farms 30 vineyards throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, including parcels in Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, Los Altos Hills, and Saratoga, while making its wine in Redwood City. Of their many selections, I particularly liked the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Lonehawk Vineyard and their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Sequence. Also impressive was the 2006 Meritage, with Cabernet Franc and Malbec in addition to its backbone of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Odonata is the taxonomical term for the order of aquatic palæopterous insects that includes damselflies and dragonflies, a species whose agility at inflight copulation puts the Mile High Club to shame; Odonata is also a family-run winery in Santa Cruz focused on organic grapes and sustainable wines, agile themselves at making a splendid 2007 Malbec St. Olof Vineyard, the very straightforward 2008 Chardonnay Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, and their 2007 Durif from Mendocino.
Having visited with the other participating wineries at a number of Santa Cruz tastings last year allowed me to take a more casual or social approach to sampling the afternoon’s offerings. Methodically, I wound my way down the list in alphabetical order, starting with Bargetto, a winery which intermittently shows flairs of brilliance with its Dolcetto. Though a straightforward expression of this varietal was not part of Bargetto’s current inventory, its proprietary 2004 La Vita, a deft blend of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco from its Santa Cruz vineyards easily contented me. And my earlier partiality towards Black Ridge Vineyards remained intact as I tasted their current release, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.
Clos Títa handcrafts small lots of artisanal wines emphasizing Pinot Noir and Bordelaise varietals. This event afforded my first tasting of their 2005 Gironde, an elegant mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from their Chain D’Or vineyards in Santa Cruz. Similarly, I had tasted the Pinots from Clos LaChance on a number of occasions, so I focused instead on their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast from their Hummingbird Series and a striking proprietary Bordeaux blend, the 2006 Lila’s Cuvée.
The late Kathryn Kennedy was noted as one of the first women to start her own winery, as well as for her exclusive focus on estate bottled 100% Cabernet Sauvignon in Saratoga. It seemed only proper to visit her table after her recent passing for a tasting of three of her vintages. Indeed, the 2006 Kathryn Kennedy Small Lot Cabernet S
anta Cruz Mountains
stands as a fitting tribute to this viticultural pioneer.
Medical pioneer Thomas Fogarty has long followed his success with angioplasty in crafting wines that have proved enormously beneficial not only for the heart but to the palate. Again, having recently tasted several of his Pinots, I focused on his 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains and the 2005 Lexington Meritage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Fogarty’s winemaker, Michael Martella, shared an impressive array of wines from his eponymous label, starting with the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County. But, not unexpectedly, he excelled with his assorted red wines, a quartet that included the 2006 Grenache Fiddletown, the 2005 Petite Sirah Mendocino, a wondrous 2006 Syrah Hammer and the 2006 Zinfandel Fiddletown (OK, I succumbed)!
I don’t know if it’s possible to have every Ridge Zinfandel, but I’d wager my home stockpile comes pretty close. Now, had they been pouring their 2003 Monte Bello, which was depicted in the tasting program, I might have lingered at their table for a while, but I did manage to pay a visit with their mountaintop neighbor, Don Naumann and revisit with his always approachable wines, the 2006 Chardonnay and his 2005 Merlot Estate Grown.
Another prominent Santa Cruz vintner, Sarah’s Vineyard has long stood out for its Pinot Noir and, like Ridge, featured a label of the same on their page. Nonetheless, I veered away from the tried and true and opted for the 2005 Syrah Besson Vineyard and the 2007 Grenache Santa Clara Valley. I also revisited with Saratoga’s Cinnabar, cherry-picking their 2007 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains, the 2005 Cabernet Franc Lodi and their proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the 2007 Mercury Rising. But, alas, it seemed that the 2004 Teroldego Central Coast, a wine I had so thoroughly enjoyed last year, failed to make the journey to San Francisco.
I’d been impressed by the Gatos Locos wines I had sampled at Clements Ridge when I visited Lodi in the fall, so it behooved me to stop by the table of their producer, Vine Hill, and to retry their 2007 Gatos Locos Chardonnay Mokelumne River and the 2006 Gatos Locos Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. I found their 2006 Vine Hill Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains compared quite favorably. But by then, the armchair in the lobby was beckoning, and my medical breakthrough was not to be denied.

Wanna come up and see my composting?

Call me prescient. Right after I graduated from college, I dreamt that Burger King had opened up a bar, and I was its first bartender. There I was, clad in one of their vapid uniforms, complete with yellow & red beanie, drawing Michelobs and chatting up patrons with the usual “How about them Mets?” and what have you. In a word, not the best use of my Dartmouth education. Lo and behold, the nightmare becomes reality! The first Burger King bar is set to open in Miami next month!
Your West Coast Oenophile won’t reveal how many years have past since that sweat-soaked nightmare, but let’s just say we’re past any statute of limitations for me to allege copyright infringement or make any form of claim to theft of intellectual property. Besides, profiteering from a Burger King enterprise might well nullify my credentials with Slow Food or any other segment of the sustainability movement. Still, even I can appreciate the irony that I am once again dreaming of opening a very different kind of bar, albeit this time with a far more holistic approach.
Irony seems to abound these days. I attended the Post-Holiday Party in Oakland this past Wednesday, a cocktail & networking event hosted by the Green Chamber of Commerce, Green Drinks East Bay and the Sustainable Business Alliance. The event’s sponsor, Alameda County’s chapter of, came armed with a plethora of printed handouts, most strikingly a 32-page, 8½” x 11″ pamphlet entitled Paperless Express: A Paper Use Reduction Guide for Your Business. At least it was printed on 100% recycled paper (50% post-consumer waste)!
Of course, we all have moments of sustainable apostasy, including yours truly, who drove from San Francisco to attend this gathering—a mere two blocks from the 19th Street BART station. My excuse was I need to get back to San Francisco in time to catch the première of Phèdre at ACT, a feat I managed, despite the rain, in a mere 19 minutes from the time I left Oakland to parking one block from the theater, picking up my ticket from Will-Call, and securing my seat in the loge! Just try doing that on a regular basis!
So far, such milestones haven’t just been personal. 2010 portends to be a watershed year for Sostevinobile and, more broadly, the entire sustainable wine community in California and on the West Coast. At long last, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance has launched its official certification program. It will still be a while before wines that have earned official certification as sustainable are commercially available, and even longer still before this standard garners sufficient market penetration to become the basis for Sostevinobile to qualify the wines we select for our program, but it does offer a model on which we can base our criteria for gauging the sustainable practices of the wineries and wine labels we consider, particularly with it model of progressive achievement (as opposed to creating a rigid, quantifiable benchmark) for assessing a winery’s implementation of sustainable practices. Still, with all the fealty Sostevinobile has paid to local, sustainable vineyards and wineries, it seemed bewildering that the Wine Institute and the California Wine Growers Association to fail to include this blog at the press conference announcing the debut of this program. But rather than belabor the point, I have sought to ensure that future developments will not reiterate this oversight.
At least the California College of the Arts remembered to invite me, not just to one recept
ion but a pair of openings held on the very same night in different galleries on their San Francisco campus. The first, The Magnificent Seven: Selections from the Life and Work of Michael Bravo, seemed to be an exhibit only someone truly immersed in this métier could fully appreciate. The upstairs exhibit, Route 1: R for Replicant offered a far more accessible, multi-disciplinary display, including some of the most engrossing 3-D photography I have ever experienced.
The truly amazing part of this reception, however, was the complimentary. I have become inured to the frugality of wine selections at art openings, and , historically CCA has offered no exception to the ever-so-predictable Two Buck Chuck, the “official” wine of art openings (or some relatively similar swill). Instead, this evening featured a case of the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyard from Kenwood’s Muscardini Cellars, which an e-mail I had received only a few days before listed as being pre-release. Ceres, CA and its Central Valley satellites be damned! This handcrafted Italian varietal expressed itself superbly, well worth the $38 one must pay retail for one of these bottles. Donated or purchased—I have no idea, but certainly a standard to which other galleries and multi-billion dollar endowed universities ought to aspire for their programs.
Nonetheless, the true high point since I last posted here was a news report on the latest wave in marital discord—couples whose relationship founders because they have differing adherence to sustainability or in their commitment to containing the sources of global warming and other ecological perils! Imagine actually petitioning the court for divorce on the grounds of environmental incompatibility! Thermal negligence! Carbon cruelty!!
The offer I make now is sincere and has nothing to do with my trying to fill the void in my life after my irreconcilable split with the Ginkgo Girl: come to Sostevinobile with proof that you have been divorced because of your spouse’s lack of adherence to your sustainable beliefs, and your wine will be on the house all evening! Afterwards, if you want to check out my water flow reduction system…

Getting Lei’d in the 2010s

Welcome to 2010! Call it hubris (ὕβρις), if you will, but I like to think this will be Sostevinobiles era. Time, of course, will tell.
2010 marks a number of personal milestones. It now has been 20 years since I’ve touched a Microsoft program, other than to reaffirm what an execrable excuse for software the megalomaniacs in Redmond, WA produce. It also marks 35 years since “food” from McDonald’s (or whatever substitute they serve) has tainted my palate. And it’s now been 10 years since I’ve succumbed exclusively to my well-documented febrile predilection.
Nonetheless, things in 2010 have started out quite well for Your West Coast Oenophile (like most folks, I’d have to say that, after 2009’s debacles, where else could they go but up?). Typically, I gauge my prospects for each new year by how I fare in my inaugural squash match, a particularly telling sign this year since I had been plagued with assorted leg injuries over the past 12-15 months. This diminution of my agility, along with a concomitant rustiness to my game, had allowed numerous opponents whom I could previously dispatch with remarkable ease, to prevail effortlessly against my dizzying array of lobs, boasts, and rails.
And it seemed this streak of unmitigated losses might continue, as my opponent, John H., manhandled me throughout the first two games of our match and mounted a formidable 4-point lead midway through the third. But, as the saying goes, squash is to racquetball what chess is to checkers, and I knew I could muster the psychological fortitude that would prove the ungluing of adversary. I steeled my determination and held on to even the score at 10-10, then won 13-11 in the tiebreaker. The spell now broken, I coated through the fourth game and held ground in the fifth before breaking out with an 11-7 victory and, with it, the match. Decidedly, a true portent for the ensuing twelve months, both on and off the court.

An enlightened detail from Custom   

The next day, I managed to prevail against the misdirected zealotry of the San Francisco constabulary and have my most recent traffic offense, a baseless charge of crossing through an intersection without stopping at the blacked-out signal light, dismissed as a gross miscarriage of justice. Actually, the officer on duty merely failed to file his report and appear at the hearing, but I do like to inflate my victories whenever possible.
Later that evening, I had the pleasure of attending the unveiling of Roman Padilla’s new art show entitled We are All Commis, a visual paean to sustainability. Commissioned by Hotel Biron, a quaint confrère near San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. This series of directed pastiches includes several fragments from my more whimsical writings—the first time Sostevinobile has been enshrined in art! Needless to say, copious amounts of 2006 Talmage Barbera and 2006 Siani Farms Carignane from Cazadero’s organically-farmed Wild Hog Vineyard were consumed over the course of the evening’s festivities, though not enough to test whether my earlier triumph over the SFPD might be replicated.

A clarion call?
A most heartening development for Sostevinobile in 2010 has been the sudden rash of blogs and discussions challenging the consistency of restaurants and other locavores establishments serving imported wines. The first has been a rather provocative LinkedIn discussion, started by Jon Wollenhaupt of Excel Meetings & Events in San Francisco and chronicled by SFGate bloggers Michael Bauer and Zennie Abraham, posed the question: “Should the ‘Eat Local’ ethic apply to wine as well? Should San Francisco restaurants only serve Napa/Sonoma wines?”
This thread has already reached 162 entries, including my own, and while it has veered off on numerous tangents that hardly seem germane to the origin query (particularly among restaurateurs in states that have limited production of local wines), it has shown that people here and throughout the West Coast do question the rationale behind serving imports when an abundance of excellent wine is available here. 
Another wine blogger, Amy Atwood, posed a similar question on her mydailywine column: “Drink Local Wine Debate: A Harbinger of Change?” Much to my surprise, the most aggressive response came from local Australian wine evangelist Chuck Hayward, formerly of San Francisco’s Jug Shop:

“Do you mean to tell me that amongst the almost 3000 wineries spanning over 100 AVAs in California that they all make wines that are “too much?” They found those five wines, I am sure there are plenty of wines out there that meet the stringent criteria that somms want today. Just get to work and find them!!

“The real issue here, however, is hypocrisy. Preaching local and then saying that the wine portion of the dining experience is exempt is just plain elitist and hypocritical.”

I can only wish I had the temerity to make such an indictment, though outside of this forum, Sostevinobile has iterated much of the same. With so many others now echoing our central tenet, I suspect a successful launch and enduring run for our venture lays just beyond.

Still, the most auspicious omen for the upcoming decade assuredly has to have been losing, then amazingly recovering my iPhone Bluetooth earpiece. Seen to the right at nearly 150% its actual size, this teeny device fell, imperceptibly, from my pocket Wednesday evening sometime after I had shopped at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery. Several hours and stops later, I discovered that the Bluetooth signal on my phone had disconnected, but it wasn’t until I returned to my flat that I realized the earpiece was no longer on my person. A frantic search throughout my blue Corolla confirmed my worst suspicions—my headset had been lost, and hopes its retrieval, quite slim.

No, this is not a hash pipe!

I placed late night calls to Nihon Lounge and to Heaven’s Dog,the two establishments where I had stopped for cocktails and where I had reached into my front pocket for a pen to sign my receipts. Their searches in the vicinity where I had sat turned up empty, but I was reassured they would call me after the morning cleaning crew had swept through the bar. On the other hand, Rainbow did not reopen until the morning, so I had to wait until then before speaking with their Customer Service team.
The morning calls proved just as futile. Resigned to having to purchase a new device, I headed off to Traffic Court, determined to plead my case as vociferously as needed for my exoneration. I entered the court room at 1:36 PM and by 1:40, I had my dismissal  in hand. Having allocated the whole afternoon for this appearance, I decided to take the time I’d been spared and make one final, implausible search to find my lost Bluetooth. After a futile return visit to Heaven’s Dog, I made a meticulous search of the area nearby where my friend and I had parked the night before, hoping that I might find the earpiece squashed on the pavement (whereby I could still claim it under Apple’s warranty). No such luck. I then pedaled over to Rainbow, in search of the same remnant, then figured I might make one last futile attempt to investigate the space where we had parked by Flour + Water.
From fortitude comes fortuity
As I had before, I crouched down and looked beneath the automobile that was now parked in the same space alongside 13th Street. As I ought to have expected, nothing. But just as I prepared to remount my 14-speed Trek, there on the sidewalk, out in plain sight, completely intact, lay my 1½” long Bluetooth earpiece, as if no one had even touched it over the past 18 hours!
I pressed the activation button and it connected to my iPhone with nary a glitch. Phoning my drinking companion from the night before, I queried through the remote microphone, “How do I sound?” “Fortuitous,” he replied. Here was the first crest of a wave of luck I whole-heartedly intend to ride throughout 2010.
And so far, I seem to be (at least until I show up at the 2010 Olympic Club Singles Squash Invitational this coming weekend). I discovered a pair of wines, grape varietals which have enjoyed cursory mention in this blog as components of blends, but not as distinct wines. The 2008 Sylvaner Flood Family Vineyards from Rancho Sisquoc showed faint reminiscences of a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer and married nicely to a Cajun-spiced catfish I prepared. On the other hand, I found the 2007 Chasselas Doré Pagani Ranch that Berthoud Vineyards produced a wine with no easy comparisons and a somewhat incongruous match for the Dungeness crab I steamed over the weekend. It did, however, pose a fairly decent complement to the store-prepared Italian Wedding Soup I consumed the next evening as the start of my avowed weight loss program for 2010.

The next evening, I attended my first party for 2010 at the Tonga Room, a San Francisco landmark purportedly destined for demise later this year. Guests at this kickoff event were asked to create name tags with their New Year’s resolution or other goals for 2010. Never one to turn down the opportunity for a pun, I scribbled in “Here to Get Lei’d,” a line that my friends and Facebook fans know belies my true avowal:

2010 New Year’s Eve, I will be pouring the West Coast’s finest bubbly at Sostevinobile!