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|A Step Back|
|“I didn’t win ’em all,” Lenny Mancini would tell his son. “But I never took a step back.”|
|hat tip to BPVA for the link 🙂|
|Take a Number|
|“In the 16 years since Into Thin Air, Mount Everest has become safer in many ways, with better storm forecasting and amazing high-altitude rescue helicopters. So why did 10 people die in 2012?”|
|the legend continues|
Although I spend most of my time being the Impractical Asian with Delusions of (Eventual, Very Gradual) Grandeur in the Wonderful World of Billiards, I do have friends who have nothing to do with the game. These Very Smart Friends of mine plus one (also Very Smart) designated driver went on a wine-tasting tour.
|za druzhbu myezhdu na rodami|
|to friendship between nations|
|“A hard drinker, being at the table, was offered grapes for dessert. ‘Thank you,’ said he, pushing the dish away from him, ‘but I am not in the habit of taking my wine in pills.’”|
|–Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “The Physiology of Taste”|
|We convened early at headquarters to load our vehicle with non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, and a gourmet lunch.|
|That’s Dylan, the miniature snow leopard. You may have remembered him from an earlier post where I caught him eating roses from a bouquet.|
|He is stalking the sparrows and lizards.|
|This is Kisa, the miniature lion. She’s not much of a people cat in general, but she came out of her usual hiding to play nice with us (and to stalk the birds from the window).|
|In addition to these two parlor predators, my friend was fostering a mama cat and her kittens from the animal shelter. Only one of the kittens was brave enough to investigate us up close, but she was too quick for my camera. The rest peeked at us from behind doors and corners, like little furball ghosts.|
|(The federally-mandated quota for featuring cats has now been met.)|
|Off topic: Read the fairytale “Kisa the Cat” by Andrew Lang.|
It was an early morning departure and quite a long drive to the Land of Wine. The itinerary was cobbled together from mostly bigger-name wine producers in the area. Two were likely to be good and were chosen to bookend the whole trip. Three were a gamble, one was for entertainment value, and one was purely for value.
By the way, we’re not wine snobs. We like wine that tastes good. We can appreciate some of the flavors but there is no way we can distinguish “red fruit” from “purple fruit”, “tobacco” from “brush fire”, or “mineral” from “WTF?” unless someone who actually is an educated wine person points it out to us. We’d rather just drink and say, “Hey, that tastes… dope!”
If you are an educated wine person, this post will likely grate on your nerves the way Meucci’s lacquered wrap grates on the nerves of many who attend the ICCS.
|“By making this wine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt.”|
We started out quite a bit behind schedule but our designated driver had an ironwood foot so we made exceptional time (we avoided looking too closely at the speedometer). First stop of the tour was Cambria, waaay up north (relative to the rest of the stops). Once again, I have to stress we are not wine snobs so the rationale for this winery was: “I saw it in the supermarket and it was on the ‘pricey’ shelf. Also, I had it once and it was good. I think if I had been sober, it would still have been good.”
Below is a picture of part of their fields — they have about 1,600 acres total.
We did a tasting and about halfway through, our Wine Dude asked if we’d like a tour of the winery. Heady with the exultation that can only come from starting very late but still mananging to arrive on time (like waking up late to work and then arriving early — but better!), we said, “Hell yes!” Wine Dude #1 called over Wine Dude #2 (dressed in a lumberjackish flannel shirt) and we went a-touring.
Off topic: Gantry cranes, metal catwalks, high heels, and a buzz don’t go well together. None of that applied to us, but just sayin’…
Wine Dude #2 was super-enthusiastic about his job as an apprentice winemaker. He had gotten into the winemaking program at a local college and his professor/advisor had recommended him to the winery for an internship. He had started out pouring wines to random bachelorette parties in the tasting room (like Wine Dude #1 was currently doing), but he was now well on his way to becoming Legit Winemaker.
|This is a barrel of pinot noir grapes. Three times a day, the grapes have to be turned over gently to mix the juice with the skins (the must). The must is what gives red wine its red color. Grape juice by itself is very light.|
|Because pinot noir grapes were the most delicate to work with (the “drama queen” grape), the turning had to be done by hand. Other wines were turned over in larger vats using a hose that ran from the bottom of the tank to the top.|
The warehouse was kept at precise temperatures and monitored to keep CO2 levels regular as well. Each stage in winemaking required a different temperature. Fermentation required warmer temperatures to cultivate the yeast and aging the wine called for cooler temperatures.
Below are some of the barrels used for aging red wine. They are washed regularly, even when empty. They are cleaned after being emptied of grapes by using a sulfur dioxide wand inserted through the bunghole, then lit, and exploded. We all kept a straight face through the highly detailed bunghole explanations.
You can see some more barrels with grapes ready for turning at the bottom right.
These two Wine Dudes were damn cheerful. I asked if they enjoyed their jobs and they smiled hugely and prattled on about how it wasn’t a job to them — it was so much more and so much fun. They practically shot rainbows out of their bright eyes and every time they said “happy” or “great” or “awesome” I swear rays of sunshine emanated from their gullets.
That made me think about my job.
When we got back to the tasting room, I said, slightly less-than-gruntled:
And wouldn’t you know, they happily obliged. They gave us a complimentary tasting of their excellent dessert wine (not available in stores) and that washed the memory of my job from my brain quite thoroughly. Also, they had maple-leaf shaped crackers that were lots of fun, being the perfect size and weight for throwing like ninja stars.
|“Once… in the wilds of Afghanistan, I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days.”|
|–W. C. Fields|
We bid adieu to Cambria and trundled down the tiny dirt road at an appropriate speed to Foxen, the next stop on the itinerary. Cambria’s tasting room had looked like someone’s nice living room with comfy chairs and a fireplace. Foxen’s tasting room was a rustic tin-roofed shack with a wooden tasting counter. There were large sliding doors on either side of the shack and these were thrown wide open to let in some of the lovely weather. There were also lots and lots of hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds and cute widdle ground squirrels are great but you don’t get buzzed drinking them unless you are a vampire. Our designated driver left to go indulge in nature photography while the rest of us lucky bastardesses got down to le vin.
|Foxen actually had two tasting rooms, one was the rustic shack and the other one, a tiny ways down the road, was known as “Foxen 7200”. I gathered Foxen 7200 may have been less rustic in nature.|
|Tasting options were one flight at the Shack or a slightly more expensive split flight, three-and-three, between the Shack and Foxen 7200. Presumably, you could also have your entire flight at Foxen 7200, which carried more prestigious wines.|
|At this time, we were still conscientious about staying on schedule (read: judgment not yet impaired) so we decided to stay in the Shack.|
While Foxen’s wines were not bad, we had definitely been spoiled by Cambria’s much tastier offerings. Foxen 7200 probably had better wines but, meh — we would save it for a future trip. The Shack was not without its charms, including free temporary tattoos of the winery logo (an anchor) and cute little knick-knacks like a sign that said, “Hippies Use Side Entrance”.
Our Wine Gal was super-nice and that made up for the less-than-stellar wines. She was dressed all in yellow, including flashy rhinestoned yellow manicure featuring daisies, highly detailed yellow-toned eyeshadows in amazing gradients, and lots of amber jewelry. We also experienced the added bonus of jostling politely but very competitively with the members of a heavily Bedazzled bachelorette party for space (we lost — they had bigger boobs).
Slightly tempered by the “utility” wines we sampled (and crestfallen from our elbow-fight loss), but still upbeat because of the fun conversation we had with the sunshine-y wine pourer, we checked off Foxen and chugged down the road to, I think, the largest winery on our list, the, uh, inimitable…
|“Life is too short to drink bad wine and endure bad company.”|
|–me, not taking my own advice|
That’s right. Fess Parker of Daniel Boone fame.
In addition to the winery, Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard also has an Inn and Spa, General Store, and Big Ol’ Parking Lot.
Throughout the large tasting room, there were posters of Mr. Parker in his coonskin cap. It was all: BOOM! DANIEL BOONE! Among the many kitschy souvenir offerings were coonskin caps, made from genuine imitation raccoons. We did not buy one.
One of our party succumbed a bit to the heat (it was getting up there in the nineties) and vino so she sat out this round. The rest of us went up to the long counter (there were two — that’s how big this place was) where we were given a lukewarm welcome by the pourer. His greeting was the verbal equivalent of a limp handshake. Clearly he had better things to do than sell sh#t to people whose disposable income made up part of his pay.
First thing he did was ask for ID. Rats. I had left my wallet and purse in the car. I tried, jokingly, to talk my way into not going to get it, but of course I went to go get it. It was a long, hot, dust-coated walk back outside and across the Big Ol’ Parking Lot and back again. It was all right, IDs were a necessary thing for Drinking While Asian.
I got back, handed the pourer my ID, and let out a short, sharp sigh. It was HOT outside and I was covered in a fine layer of vineyard dust. I was relieved to be surrounded with air conditioning. The pourer proceeded to get all defensive saying I shouldn’t be mad at him (I wasn’t, and gave no indication of it) and that it wasn’t his fault (I said I was aware it wasn’t). Dude’s hackles were up and he was f#cking cranky as all get-out. I was getting annoyed with his passive-aggressive drama-queen act. I could only reassure him so many times. He needed to put a f#cking cork in it. Or he needed to drink some of his own damn product.
People who are having a good time on what is obviously a leisure trip will spend more money on products and services because they are in a good mood. That concept may have been too advanced for the grasp of our wine pourer. We were reduced to glaring at each other, Bay of Pigs style. I said, without blinking, in my best John Wayne drawl, “Well, let’s get to it.”
When I added Fess Parker to the itinerary (uh, yes — I made the itinerary, heh), we all knew this particular winery would be utility wines (for us plebes, at least — maybe they save the good stuff for movie stars and politicians). That is, we did not expect them to be great, but we did hope to be pleasantly surprised. Plus, one of us had a bottle of their port from a previous wine tour and it had been quite good.
I thought about ditching this sour wine pourer, but then decided to plow through. There was still the probability of getting lucky and having a sip of something good. Also, air conditioning.
The pourer hurried through the descriptions, droning like a telemarketer and showing absolutely no faith, interest, nor enthusiasm in his product. I guess we couldn’t blame him. These utility wines were even more utilitarian than usual. The pourer constantly wandered off after pouring so we couldn’t even ask him questions about what we drank. Fine. We finished our incredibly unremarkable flight. I was not yet ready to concede.
“I’ve been told,” I said through my teeth. “To try. Your. Port.”
A tumbleweed rolled by, whispering a fearful lament. Up in the vast expanse of blue sky, vultures wheeled expectantly. The theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly played through all our heads (via telepathy, of course). Clint Eastwood laid a beatdown on Daniel Boone.
The port was, sadly, also utilitarian. It was still easily the best Fess Parker thing we drank. It was not as good as their port from the past, and was now sold in a smaller bottle at a higher price. We lost this round and were content to never return.
|“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”|
We had survived three wineries. Although things had gotten progressively worse in terms of wine quality and then wine people, it was now time for lunch and that was A Good Thing. Lunch was scheduled at (surprise) a winery — Zaca Mesa. This made it convenient if we wanted wine with our lunch. Tee hee.
At the suggestion of our driver, we decided to do a tasting after lunch, rather than before. We had a picnic on their picnic grounds which were very nice, and included a garden chess set — a chess set where the pieces were the size of toddlers. (We later tried a hand at fencing with each other using the queen pieces.)
While we were eating, we saw customers regularly exiting the tasting room carrying cases of wine. This was a good sign. We took it to mean the wines were good and we looked forward to our after-lunch tasting. We cleaned up our picnic, packed everything away in the car, did a few preparatory stretches, and headed for the tasting room.
The room was very busy, which we took as another promising indicator of quality. We finally found spots off to the side of the room. The first pourer came by with the list and we anted up the fee. She hurriedly poured the first selection and left. I let my glass sit for a bit as a scanned the list and prices. I jokingly said, “This is great, these are totally priced like supermarket wines!”
“Probably because they taste like them,” deadpanned my friend.
I took a sip.
Dammit, she was right.
The place was so busy we had a different pourer for almost each wine we tasted. I hesitate to say the wines were bad. I will simply say they were not for us. They were so not for us that we — horrors! — actually discarded the remaining wine after taking a small sip. We did this with the first couple of samples which were the lowest-priced selections. However, our palates did not fare better with the higher-priced wines. We left puzzled and sober.
|“I have the simplest taste. I am always satisfied with the best.”|
The next stop on the itinerary was to be Firestone. We had been experiencing a declining rate of fun with my itinerary which I found extremely embarrassing. As we drove along, we discussed Firestone (which none of us had experience drinking or visiting) and it came to light that the winery was run by Andrew Firestone* of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, former Bachelor contestant (3rd season) fame, and host of a show called Billionaires Car Club.
We were all a little silent, then telepathically, we arrived at the same conclusion: F#ck it. Dude’s got enough money. Let’s go somewhere else.
*later found out Firestone was sold to another major winery and Andrew Firestone only runs the Paso Robles location
With the proverbial squealing of (non-Firestone) tires, the cloud of dust, and the cackle of glee, we jetted off to our final destination in the area…
|“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.”|
…except as we turned into their lane, we saw another winery, located on the same lane.
This winery, Melville, had its tasting room housed in a hacienda-style building which cadged secret brownie points from me since I like that style of architecture very much. The tasting room was small, but bright and colorful.
We found an open spot and were immediately attended to by a cheerful lady. As she poured the first tasting, we asked a question: what was the purpose of the metallic mylar strips attached to the ends of the rows of vines? We each had pondered this question and come up with guesses from identification, decoration, to “scaring the sh#t outta da boids” (my reason).
I was right (VICTORY! IT’S SO DELICIOUS!
EVEN ESPECIALLY REGARDING USELESS KNOWLEDGE!). The lady said the mylar strips, as they turned and flashed in the breeze, scared off birds.
We had a great time at this tasting! The lady was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about her own wines and wine in general. Oh yeah — THEY ALSO HAD GOOD WINE. I wondered, were the bitter people at the other wineries bitter because their wine sucked or did their wine suck because the people were bitter? Eh, who cares. There was plenty of good wine here and my sh#tty itinerary selections were swept under the rug and forgotten.
Now in a good mood accentuated by a pleasant buzz, it was off to the last stop of the area.
|“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”|
Babcock was the final frontier.
Many years ago, when I was just beginning to understand the financial and mental costs of trying to get on the women’s professional tour, a friend brought a bottle of Babcock pinot noir to a dinner. He mentioned that it was one of the cheaper wines he had in his collection so we didn’t expect much.
It was very, very good. My opinion as a wine-for-therapy drinker would not have counted, but my friend was a legit wine snob and even he proclaimed it to be “hella fine” wine.
Therefore, my endorsement for this winery to my friends was thus: “I think they have good pinots?” (God, I hope they have good pinots so I look like I know what I’m talking about.)
They had an outdoor tasting patio, in addition to their inside tasting room. The winery did not let us down. They had nice wines and a fun, friendly staff. After we were done with our flights (wheeeeeeee!), we took a break at one of the picnic tables where we were soon joined by the Lord of the Manor, the Wine Cat.
Wine Cat was very friendly and purred like a thousand-horsepower Bugatti.
|By the way, the best way to get the affectionate attentions of a genius-smart, highly successful, Russian beauty is to be a handsome cat. (Or a handsome dude. With a job.)|
|(The federally-mandated quota for featuring cats has now been exceeded.)|
After a long day of mostly drinking, it was time to get some dinner. One scenic drive later and we were in Santa Barbara, where we, uh, actually had just one more tasting…
|“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”|
This winery was not totally unknown to us. A few years ago, at a sh#tty winery (just the wines, the people were nice), we found only one good thing — a bottle of Moscato (it wasn’t even from that winery). It was a nice dessert wine and we each got a bottle. Now, we were visiting the tasting room of that Moscato winery, Kalyra. (Also, I am not ashamed to admit this was the “value” selection on the itinerary — eight wines for ten dollars).
This tasting room was a retail location — the winery itself was located way back in the hills. We decided it might be nice to drink a last flight before dinner (as if a sensible reason was actually needed). The tasting room had a tiki theme, complete with woven palm, thatch, surfboards, masks, and loud Hawaiian shirts. The wines were pretty good, but perhaps our palates had been spoiled — the Moscato we used to like so much was not close to the dessert wine we had at Cambria.
But, still: eight wines for ten bucks!
After a delicious, no-wine dinner in front of a fireplace, we got on the road back to headquarters where we had ice cream, tea, pastries, fruit, and then played with a bunch of cats until we could fight off sleep no longer. We slept late and then had a delicious home-cooked brunch.
What a life I have and, more importantly, what a bunch of friends I have! Thank you all for food, a place to crash, a clowder of cats, driving, and millions of other things I always take for granted. 😀 Y’all are the best!
|“…good company, good wine, good welcome, can make good people.”|
|–Shakespeare, Henry VIII|
|in other news of the world|
|On a whim, I asked my FB friends about books from their childhood. I ended up with a varied list and now I will go about (rather slowly) reading them all.|
|Have you a recommendation? Post it in the comments section. Note: “Joy of Sex” and “Kama Sutra” have already been posted. By dudes.|
|in other other news of the world|
My cue is on its way back from Florida. I have upcoming tournaments. I got an email asking if I wanted to be put on the waiting list for the WPBA Tour Championships in Lincoln City, Oregon.