Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Merry Christmas

Been super-busy the past few weeks, what with the holidays, work and work-related, uh, stuff. An exploration of all that coming shortly. Meanwhile, a quick, "Merry Christmas!" to everyone.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Wine Education

Today at work I led a tasting of the five wines that are now in barrel in my garage. I love tasting with my colleagues at Balzac. The range of wine experience is great, and the views from all points of the spectrum are always interesting and helpful to me as a winemaker. People relatively new to wine have no idea how fresh and insightful their thoughts about a wine can be.

In order, we tasted:

2002 Pinot Noir: Surprisingly good color, loads of cherries in the nose along with a bit of mushroom/earth/funk character. Light bodied but with a fairly soft, rich mouthfeel (I think it's finally through ML). Not a Pinot that will knock your socks off, by any means—but it's got clear, enjoyable varietal character and should be a very nice wine to have around the house. It sits now in a 2000-vintage 100-liter American oak barrel. I suspect I'll bottle from the barrel (to avoid oxidation) in late May, nine months after the grapes were picked.

2002 Zinfandel: A lighter-colored Zin, but a very fragrant, berry-ish nose. Very zippy acidity, just a hint of tannin. Like the Pinot, this is a wine made to enjoy with food—bistro food, I'd guess at this point. Yum! This wine is in a 1998-vintage 60-gallon American oak barrel.

2002 Carignane: Oops. Something went wrong here. Cloudy, stinky, no acidity. I guess the fact that it's pH was at 4.15 (seriously) post-fermentation was a suggestion that this wine would be problematic. I'm going to dump in some tartaric to get the pH in a fairly workable place, maybe 3.8, and see if the wine might clean itself up with a racking and a winter in the barrel.

2001 Sangiovese: Dark ruby and brilliantly clear. Pretty floral/cherry nose. Firm in the mouth the way a good Sang ought to be. Some have said this wine is suffering from too-high acidity (pre-fermentation I bumped the acidity up every-so-slightly, by .5 g/L). But I'm still not certain. It is, after all, Sangiovese. May or may not do a very light egg-white fining before bottling later this winter.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: This is my favorite wine of the bunch. Dark and brooding. Lipsmacking dark fruit and tannins. After tasting the '02s, this wine seemed finished and perhaps slightly hard. But it's not finished and it will soften, I believe, and gain complexity. It's in a 2001 French oak barrel, and needs more time in the barrel. I think I'll rack it in March and then may wait until late-summer/early-fall to bottle.

Big thanks to the fellow Balzacians for allowing me to share these works-in-progress with you!

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Niko News

Ah, yes, the Picture of the Day. It was great while it lasted but c'mon, it couldn't last! But now there's hope for all you Niko fans who've been moping through life wondering if there's even any point any more. It ain't daily. It's weekly. Way to go, Rebecca!

Monday, November 25, 2002

Chapter Six: In Which Daddy's Psyche Goes on an Expotition

Man, being Daddy to this complex and stupendously brilliant little creature is a trip. Mommy, too, of course. Hell, even more so, inasmuch as she's the one home all day bringing the kid up (and doing a beautiful job of it). But I can really only speak to my own experience and my own experience the past couple of days has been very intense.

On Sunday we met some friends at the playground. Niko doesn't play like most kids. He doesn't tear around furiously. He doesn't jet up the stairs and throw himself down the slide. He checks out the scene. He's interested in kids doing things. He sees a kid by himself playing, say, with dinosaurs and he runs up to the kid, sits down beside him, smiles hugely and tries to imagine a way to become part of the game, whatever the game might be.

On Sunday this kid playing dinosaurs had placed all four of his beastly beasts on the spine of the park's giant concrete lizard. One fell down. Niko picked it up and put it back. The kid knocked it down. Niko, standing behind the kid, took three soft, looping swipes at the kid's back. Only one brushed the kid. No big deal.

No big deal except to Nazi Daddy.

I rushed in, grabbed Niko, picked him up, darn near flung him over to his mom, and barked, "Niko hit that boy!" We were on our way home within minutes. Rebecca was trying to explain to me how she handles such scenes: stay cool to deescalate; firmly tell Niko that hitting is never acceptable; and ask him to say he's sorry to the other kid.

This made sense to me. It made perfect sense. It was so sensible, I took umbrage. Of course. But after a while Pride and Ego stepped aside. I cried a bit, feeling sorry for myself for being such a shitty dad. Rebecca at first felt as though I was questioning her commitment to discipline. Then she saw I was just being a fool. She softened up, gave me a little room to see the confusion of my ways, and everyone calmed down. A half-hour or so later, when the waters were placid, smooth as glass, she said, "You know you're a great dad, right?"

For her, it was a statement—one that by quirk of the vernacular included a question mark at the end. I knew that, but I couldn't help but ponder the question.

Am I a great dad? I think I'm pretty good most of the time. Too often, though, I push too hard for perfection from the wee lad and fear that unless each and every transgression is met by fierce scolding, he'll go bad on us.

To which you are saying, quite sagely: He's 3! Yep. He's 3 and he's going to do crazy and stupid and wrong things. He's going to lose his cool. Which is all the more reason for me not to.

Stay calm. Stay in control. Stay in charge. Stay in love.

Well heck, that sounds like the end of this entry. Can we all hug and take a break until next week's episode, same time, same channel? But I mentioned today being tough as well, so a quick word on that. Thinking about it a little more, today 'twas nothing—but for a while, we couldn't be sure. Every half hour or so Niko was running and doubling over in pain. It was clear he needed to poop, and he always runs before he poops. However, we'd never seen anything like this. I mean, he was in agony. Crying hysterically. Wailing. And in the intervals between these episodes he was slightly delirious, babbling, moving from topic to topic, unwinding strange and complex tales. Which, to be sure, is not too far removed from normal. And yet there was an emotional element to it all—tears were just an interjection or even suggestion away.

Is he coming down with something? Is there a fever? Is it his appendix? Is it merely constipation?

We called the doctor at two minutes till 5 (thank you Lord for getting that call in two minutes before 5 instead of two minutes after). Karen the nurse called back immediately. Karen the Greatest Nurse in the World, I mean. We went through the symptoms. She was neither dismissive nor alarmist. Some of the possibilities were serious, but the probability was he was just constipated. She told us what to look for over the next hour or so, asked that we call back if any alarming signals were sounded at any point, and insisted that we call back if things weren't better within two hours. She also recommended no food but clear liquids—water more than anything, with, maybe, a bit of apple juice mixed in.

Well, by the time I got back from the store with the Martinelli's, Niko had (as we used to say) Dropped the Chalupa. And a rather large clump of you-know-what it was. The delirium faded as evening turned to night, but he still seemed high strung. We eased him into bedtime mode, using every inflection and pat and prod we had learned over the years. Moo Cow (the hand-puppet cow) led the way upstairs, into the bedroom where the scary furnace lurks. Moo Cow was ready to get that furnace if it tried anything, I assured. Moo Cow bit Daddy's nose and Daddy's toes. Moo Cow helped turn the pages of the heffalump chapter. Moo Cow got into bed with Niko just before good-night kisses.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Be Careful What You Ask For (and Give)

When I was 7 years old I desperately wanted Electric Football. Remember it? Though pricey, Electric Football wasn't much more than a metal board painted to look like a gridiron. A motor made the board vibrate. The vibrations caused the players, who stood on plastic stands, to move.

It looked awesome in the commercials, where some incredibly lucky bunch of kids were duking it out, gleefully guiding their teams in pitched battle.

In reality, it sucked.

The players moved aimlessly. Guards were liable to head out on post routes and wide receivers were as likely to dive straight into the mass around the center as they were to go out for a pass. Not that it matter. The quarterback, when he let fly with the little "ball," was as accurate as your great aunt after too many glasses of wine on Turkey Day.

Apparently, a shitload of kids liked Electric Football because you never heard a bad word about it. Me? I thought it was ridiculous. From Day One. I used it several times, trying hard to get over the shock at how stupid the whole thing was. Then it found a place under my bad and there it stayed … for months … and years.

Somewhere along the way, my Electric Football game disappeared—probably at one of our periodic garage sales. But the heartache at wanting and getting something that was clearly outside the usual Christmas-gift price range, well, that only grew. And amazingly, it's still there. What kind of ungrateful son rejects the generous gifts of his hard-working parents? Me. I do. Loathsome piece of dog poop. What kind of son doesn't know better than to want such an asinine gift? Me. I don't. Wretched louse.

Now Rebecca and I are buying gifts for Niko after receiving his input. Earlier this fall birthday money from grandparents resulted in purchase of a little box with four musicians atop it. The box plays a few tunes and asks, repetitively, a short set of far too simple questions about who among the characters is playing what instrument. The minute I saw it, my heart sank. I knew it would fall by the wayside within weeks. And it has. I worried. Was this the beginning of a trend? How do we navigate between his toddler wanna-gotta-have wishes and our adult no-its-a-clunker wisdom?

"But it's what he wanted," Rebecca said, and a pain shot through my heart. I explained my fractured psychology and Rebecca, wise as ever, said that the important thing was that I never let Niko feel bad about not liking a gift he asked for. I said I wouldn't, but thinking about it now, I'm not sure that will safeguard the lad against emotional damage. After all, my parents never said a peep about me not liking Electric Football. All the guilt was self-inflicted, and not just after the gift was revealed to be so idiotic.

No, I think I overreached in ever asking for Electric Football. A new football—a real genuine NFL imitation rubberized-material football—would have been worn to its inner liner before it was discarded. Much joy would have been derived from it. But I wanted something fancy. Something cool. That was the problem. Fancy and cool, where simple would have done the trick. Now, all we have to do is get Niko to understand why he NEVER gets anything that's fancy and cool.

I'm sure "It's for your own good, son" will do the trick.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

The Good Kind of Graft

We're planning on putting a small vineyard in at my parents' house. They have a huge backyard that's rather empty, I love to make wine, so what's to stop us? (Oh, about a thousand technical and logistical matters, but we're going ahead anyway.) In preparation, I've been bopping around grapevine nursery sites, most of which aren't too hot. But the folks down at Tablas Creek, in the Paso Robles area, have tons of cool info. If you're into wine or horticulture (or both), you'll enjoy the page that explains how they produce their plant material.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Fire It Up

Now that the warm season is officially and utterly over, we're using the stove again. Sure feels good. Roasted stuff, boy oh boy. Chickens, sweet potatoes, fingerlings, beets, carrots. Sweet and savory stuff. Tonight we veered in a slightly different direction, to pizza. The best pizza, ultimately, remains one consisting of a thin crust, a lightly (or not-even) cooked tomato sauce, whole-milk mozzarella, some basil and maybe a touch of reggiano and fresh oregano scattered on top after it's out of the 475 degree oven. But that doesn't mean this is the pizza you want to make on a dramatically cloudy, spitting Saturday in the fall. Pizza's greatest charm—to the guy at home having fun, the CD player cranked, the wine flowing—is its ability to succeed no matter what you put on it. I mentioned fingerlings. I love fingerlings. I am on a fingerling rampage. So of course fingerlings went on one of the two pizzas I made tonight. Roasted fingerlings cut lengthwise and salted. Mild Italian sausage bursting with sweet, luscious fennel. Then the white cheeses and a drizzle of olive oil. Done. Pizza 2 was caramelized onion and the cheeses. Niko wasn't too fond of these oddities, really, but Rebecca and I sat in the kitchen while the lad hopped about to Exile on Main Street and we loved 'em. Tomorrow we'll find another reason to crank the oven well above 400 degrees for several hours, I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Say it Ain't So

This morning's story in the Chronicle gave every suggestion that Dusty Baker would not return as Giants manager. The week-plus of time that had passed since the Giants' Orange County Fade Away hadn't left the skipper feeling warm and cuddly toward the ol' gang. The only way to phrase Dusty's posture is to say he continued to whine. It's painful to put things so bluntly, because for ten years Dusty was the heart and soul of the Giants, but honestly: It is difficult to think of another prominent professional so frequently and powerfully shaken by ungenerous critiques (and so unable to separate that minority of viewpoints from the mammoth tide of praise that regularly washes over him). So on one hand, the news tonight that Dusty is officially history here brings a shrug and a "whatever." On the other hand: that's the pain speaking, lashing back, shielding the hurt. Yep, it hurts to see Dusty leave. He is thin-skinned, to be sure. His big-game calls were sometimes suspect. But when we shovel away all the talk-radio BS we find a man of tremendous character and charisma, a man with a peculiar ability to keep and maintain respect and order in a time when shoddy behavior and chaos rule sports. We see one exceptionally cool mo-fo. Damn. No Dusty. I had convinced myself that after the shared agony of Game 6, Dusty couldn't abandoned us. But apparently he did not believe the agony was shared. 'Tis a pity. Good luck, Bake—and keep a close eye on Darren, OK?
Storm Clouds Gathering

If you live anywhere but the arid southwest (which, in my book, extends as far north as the Mendocino-Sonoma county line), this entry will strike you as puzzling. I mean, what the hell, it's going to rain, big deal. But it is a big deal! We haven't had rain since mid-May. I have the vague recollection of a few episodes of heavy fog that could possibly have earned the title "drizzle." But measurable precipitation? Uhn-uh and pshaw. No picnics scrapped, no ballgames washed out, no bike rides cancelled; doesn't happen here in the May through October period. 'Splains, partly, why thirty-whatever million people live in California….


The thing we don't know about this storm is if it'll kick off an extended period of sogginess, or if it will dump and run, followed by weeks of cool, glorious, late-fall-tinted sunshine, the kind that leaves me wanly peering out the office window about 2 p.m. each day, longing to have my softening ass on my bike saddle rather than in the chair it calls home Monday through Friday. Three years ago December was bone dry, not a drop, low 60s and sunny every day. Last year, we got 15 inches of rain in December, spread out over two dozen days such that folks began to get edgy and gripey (except when they were talking to their Seattle and Portland friends, colleagues and relations). You just don't know.

Just to be sure, after work today we picked up all the summer toys and tossed 'em in the shed or the winery (yeah, yeah: garage), and Rebecca and Niko finished their long job of shoveling ten yards of recently delivered topsoil off the driveway and into place around the yard. Seed of a native grass was scattered. As evening fell we found ourselves sitting in the backyard, partially illuminated by a lone light, the big oak brooding overhead, a thick carpet of soft leaves from the eastern oak still reflecting a warm glow. The air was mild and so still you didn't want to breathe for fear of disturbing the holy equilibrium. We talked about some dreams and Niko babbled brilliantly, as he is wont to do, and looked customarily cuter than any living thing in the world in his red Osh Kosh b'Gosh overalls, and we got ready for the new season that was, beyond the hills and beyond our view, pushing toward us.
Day After

We won one! We being the Democrats, who I insist on identifying with despite the debacle. The one was South Dakota, where Johnson outpolled Thune by, like, a few hundred votes out of 325,000 cast. The people have spoken. Prairie wisdom to the fore...

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Election Report

The chatterers on the tube are so uniformly uninteresting that I'm at the computer, getting what I really want anyway: numbers. Or at least, I'm getting numbers from the states that know how to run a website, a group that unfortunately does not include my home state of California. Aren't we the wired capital of the universe? Then why is our server struggling to put out pages—while piddly South Dakota serves up results in a flash? Missouri does well, too. And Minnesota ain't half bad.

I mention SD, MO and MN, by the way, because they are the only states where we Dems have any hope left. And yes, I still care, even if the party sucks and has no vision. I tinkered with the idea of voting Green but frankly, that social and economic justice message strikes me as a too paternalistic, too group-identity fixated. At this point, anybody without a D or an R after their name is just whistling Dixie.

Results as of 10:36 p.m. Pacific Standard Time: It's a complete wipeout. Talent is going to eke out a less-than-1-percent win in MO; Thune is overtaking Johnson in SD and will win by an equally small margin; and Coleman appears headed toward a 3-4 point win in MN. Not unreasonably, Bush is going to see this as a mandate. Which is scary.

Update: Carnahan concedes in MO (margin of defeat will actually be about 1.5 percent), and Coleman maintaining lead in MN. Only the Johnson-Thune race is outstanding, and it's going right down to the wire: with less than 15 percent of the precincts remaining to report, Thune's lead is 1,000 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Last update: Johnson is toast in SD, behind by 2,000 votes with probably only 10,000 votes to count. So EVERY competitive race went to the Republicans, and they will hold a 52-46 margin in the Senate, pending the Lousiana runoff and with one independent.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

It Was a Great Ride

The moment Lofton made contact I knew what we were in for. I could watch it but I couldn't listen, and remote in hand I zipped the sound down to zero. Still it was horrible. The catch, the leap, the pileup on the infield, fireworks and smoke in the air, fans leaping and bouncing deliriously, every last red-shirted one of them pounding blow-up noise sticks as yet more fireworks blast away…. Just as I was sinking deep into despair and self-loathing (You idiot for caring so much about millionaire athletes, you fool for wasting all this time on a game), there was little Darren. You've heard too much about Dusty's boy, the most famous 3-year-old in America, but stay with me: He saved my day. He did it by sobbing in his daddy's arms as the Angel celebration unfolded in the aftermath of Lofton's flyball and Erstad's catch, of Rueter's gutsy performance and Livan's failure—and mostly, of course, in the aftermath of Saturday's monumental collapse. (That's when the Giants lost it, duh. Only the foolishly afflicted—like me, see earlier post—dared let hope make a comeback in the hours before Game 7.) Watching the tears roll down Darren's face I thought, "Yep, little buddy, it hurts." And I laughed. Little boys cry when their team loses. And so do big boys. And it's OK.
So Close

All through the Series, win or lose, I've looked forward to the next day's paper. That's part of the experience–kind of like rolling an interesting wine around in your mouth, gargling a bit, drawing air in and over it to make sure no subtleties are missed. This morning, I couldn't face the full 20-page section of rehash. All I wanted was a little Bruce, who I was sure would understand. At first I felt his merely solid effort had failed me somehow; I read, and the pain didn't go away. But now I feel hope and excitement returning. No doubt, this is a profoundly difficult time for the true Giants fan. The prospect of this long run of happy events ending in sadness, again, looms large. And to have had it sitting there in our hands–eight outs to go, nobody on base, a five-run lead … that's plainly cruel. Rebecca says she's afraid to hope and that is wise; me, I've got no choice. I've been with this team for 30 years, since I was 10 years old and declared my independence from the Minnesota teams I had followed since spending the first five years of my life in the Midwest. We were in California now and I needed a Northern California team. The A's were winners, so naturally I shied away from them. The Giants had a history of disappointing; they would be mine. Then and now. Bring on Game 7.

Friday, October 18, 2002

When last we met, on Monday, I revealed the sad fate of my just-pressed Zinfandel: It was leaking out of the barrel. This led to the purchase of another barrel and of a pump. Along the way this week, I also spent an hour in the hospital while the urologist performed an operation which my HMO calls "removal of sperm ducts." Vasectomy, indeed. Niko shall be the one and only! It hurt, dammit. More than they said it would. Three days later and it still hurts. OK, the pain is as promised--"moderate," not "extreme." But pain down there carries special weight, you'll certainly agree.

Meanwhile, there was craziness at work. Budgets, calls to "drive sales," research to do, plans to flesh out, writing to concoct, numbers to hatch, on and on. It almost felt like a real live full-time job, I swear.

But back to the winemaking. I picked up two 1998 barrels for 35 bucks a pop from Kristen, the charming and informative winemaker at Honig, and with my new pump moved the wine from the leaker into one of the Honigs. I wasn't very careful about pumping the dirty Zin and sent a lot of crud through the pump. The pump didn't mind, but the crud got all beat up and is now floating on the wine at the top of the barrel like pond scum. I've relied strictly on gravity in the past but with this much wine--by the end of this year's crush I'll have 260 gallons of wine in barrel, please don't tell the BATF--that was becoming impossible. I didn't realize how powerful a 1/2 horse pump could be. Next time I'll be more careful, for which the wine should be thankful. We'll let that Zin rest quietly for a few months now. I'm sure it will be fine.

I mentioned the end of crush: It comes tomorrow. I'm going up to Mendocino again to get old-vine Carignan. This poor grape gets little respect, mainly on account of the fact that growers have cropped it to high heaven and picked it too soon, and producers haven't argued with them when they did so. And why would they? The giant Central Valley wineries that bought most Carignan were feeding into jug wines, beefing up the color and flavor, and their first priority was to keep costs low. Treated right, I believe Carignan can make an interesting little wine, with deep color and rustic Rhonish flavors. Like Petite Sirah, it possesses much more character when picked from old vines. My source is Don Lucchesi's 45-year-old vineyard south of Ukiah in the Talmage area. Don gets about 5 tons an acre off his vineyard, a small crop by Carignan standards. At this late date, it ought to be plenty ripe, as well. I'll let you know what I think after I get back tomorrow.

One last thing: The Series, of course, starts tomorrow. Timing couldn't be more perfect. The last grapes are picked, then we settle in to watch the San Francisco Giants take their first World Series. What a wonderful fall this is turning out to be.

Monday, October 14, 2002

We were all out in the winery (you might call it a garage). I had finished pressing the Zin, 60 gallons into barrel and another 13 gallons into glass carboys. Niko was all changed and ready for bed. But we had to watch the bottom of the ninth. An out. Another out. Extra innings appeared likely. I wandered through the open garage door and out to the driveway to continue my cleanup while Rebecca and Niko stayed seated in front of the little TV we have out there. Over my shoulder, as I aimed a high-powered spray of water at the press staves, I saw David Bell's liner fall in. Likewise with Shawon Dunston (unbelievable). Two on. Two out. It dawned on me: If the next guy up gets a hit, the Giants are very likely in the World Series. I put down the hose. "Who's up?" I asked Rebecca. I didn't know. While pressing, I hadn't kept track of the lineup changes. Lofton, she said. "Hmm. He can be dangerous." We stood in front of the TV, me all wet and wine-stained, Rebecca holding Niko in her arms. Base hit. Base hit. There's going to be a play. Bell's not fast. The outfielder's not very deep. The throw is off line. It's over. We jumped and hugged. Niko smiled a big smile. We laughed. "The Giants are in the Series," I shouted. "Oh, my God," Rebecca said. Niko smiled and said, "Why does that little TV have an antenna on it?" "Because the Giants are going to the series," I said. "The Giants are going to the Series, and I think they're going to win it."

Post script: A perfect night. And then, as I sat and watched the post-game revelry, a dripping noise from the newly filled barrel behind me (a beautiful one-year-old French barrel). Drip. Drip. I looked up and down. Hmm. I looked behind. No! But yes: A leak. It's high on along the inside edge of the end, so I'll be able to keep 95 percent of the wine in the barrel for the day or two it will take me to find a replacement. Such a sweet barrel. A pity. But still: The Giants are in the Series.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

The '02 Crush Continues

It was back at the winemaking today. But first an update on the Pinot that was picked a full month ago now: After pressing, I let the wine sit in six carboys for three or four days, allowing much of the spent yeast and assorted other muck to settle. I then racked the wine into one 100-liter barrel and a clean carboy. I left behind most of the muck, but wasn't meticulous about it, since the malolactic bacteria I had pitched into the wine near the end of the primary fermentation works more efficiently in the presence of solids. You could call this "slightly dirty" wine. Nearly two weeks later, the wine is showing remarkable progress in clarifying; the color is excellent for the variety; and the fruit is more concentrated than I expected--sweet and spicy. A bit of fermentation odor does remain--one taster called it hydrogen sulfide, but I'm not convinced of that--but it seems to be fading fast. To my surprise, we may have a winner on our hands.

Now onto today's activities. The focus was a grape at the other end of the varietal spectrum: Zinfandel. Three of us were up early this morning, bound for Mendocino and Greg Nelson's ranch about 10 minutes north of Hopland. Thank goodness for Janet from the office, and for my trusted friend and winemaking comrade, Dan Brekke. Together we were able to pick an estimated 1100 pounds of grapes in about three hours. Compared to picking Pinot, the Zin was a cakewalk. The canopy was a bit more open and the stems were longer and easier to grasp and snip, and few of the clusters wound themselves around wires and canes the way the nasty, difficult Pinot did. The grapes were in good condition--certainly no mold was evident--although there was a good deal of variability among the clusters, which is customary of Zinfandel. Greg brought his refractometer out and we did some informal sampling at various spots in the sizeable block. He found bunches at 28 brix and bunches at 21. Most seemed to be grouped in the 23-26 range, however, and the seeds were brown and nutty in all but the greenest clusters. Post-crush, my hydrometer, after initially checking in at 23.5, twice gave me readings just over 25 brix. Perfect. I was very happy with the timing of the harvest--and indeed, Greg's boys Tyler and Chris were picking in another part of the block. If you're picking on the same days as the grower's boys, you're probably picking on the right day.

Greg, by the way, couldn't have been more hospitable. When Janet and I arrived after the hour-and-forty-minute drive from Napa (Dan was coming solo from Berkeley), he invited us in for coffee. Greg's wife, Missy, then joined us and she and Janet recognized each other from several years ago, when Janet's family lived in Ukiah and Missy was working in the schools. Much reminiscing ensued. They apologized, but there was no need to; I get a kick out of old pals renewing acquantaince.


We knew we were done picking when our bins--two each of 44, 32 and 20 gallons--were full. Plus three 2.5-gallon pails. That gave us 200 gallons of grapes, although by the time we arrived in Napa, settling had left a bit of space at the top of each of the bins. Our estimate of 1100 pounds was based on 6 pounds of grapes per gallon. That should be enough juice to fill a barrel--and what a nice barrel I've got to fill! Thanks to the generosity of Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars, I've got a 1-year-old French oak barrel. Just right to give this Zin some smoothness and sweetness.

Crushing went smoothly. We crushed right into a half-ton bin, a task made easier by sawing a few pieces of wood to size and using them as planks to hold the crusher over the bin. Dan and I are becoming shockingly adept at crushing. The 1100 pounds were crushed and destemmed within an hour. I was pleased, too, with the results: A large percentage--perhaps 30 percent--of the berries were unbroken, which should aid me in my pursuit of fresh fruit and soft mouthfeel.

One last little tidbit: Just after we finished crushing, a colleague of Dan's stopped by with his family, which was visiting from Southern California. Niko and Steve's two little ones immediately began running around and playing. Particular fun was had swinging on the hammock (mom's provided the push and pull for the swinging action). Niko was quite disappointed when the gang had to shove off a half-hour or so later. And boy was he sad when his big pal Dan had to go! But we all agreed that there would have to be a visit with Dan, Kate and Tom soon.

Thursday, September 19, 2002


We pressed tonight, Niko and I, with a little assistance from Mommy of course. She helped carry out the half-ton bin that's been getting in our way in the garage/winery (and which ought to be returned to its owner, Mr. Casey Hartlip of Eaglepoint Ranch, sorry Case). For her efforts I gave her grief about not reading my mind and knowing that I wanted her to turn that way with this very heavy and awkward box, while she was turning the other way. It's true, I can be an asshole.

Niko, meanwhile, was rapid-firing "Whys?" and I gave most of them good, solid consideration. A few, however, I measured to be not serious inquiries and brushed them aside without comment. Though it was 12 hours into his napless day he was a good companion, until something led Mommy to say "No!" and that brought tears. He is a sensitive lad, just as his daddy was when he was a boy. I feel a tightening in my chest every time I see this on display, a tug at the heart. And yet there's a part of my that will mutter, "What a crybaby." The psychology is obvious: I need to come to terms with my own vulnerabilities, need to accept the fragile nature of my own psyche.

Ah, maybe tomorrow.

We press right out in the driveway with the garage door open and the winemaking paraphernalia accessible. Folks passing by give the goings on a look. Kurt, our octogenarian next-door neighbor, did so, up close, and dropped off homegrown tomatoes while he was at it. We were grateful, for we are tomato growers and eaters and can never have enough. Who could? Back in 1997, Rebecca and I traveled to—of all places—the Flint Hills of Kansas in order that I might participate in the Death Ride, an 80-mile off-ride cycling race conducted in 90-degree heat and 85-percent humidity. On the night before the ride the organizers tossed a big party and we heard some sweet Kansas girl sing a song of her own called "Homegrown Tomatoes," in which she rhapsodized that in life only two things are free, and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes. Yep. And that was a sweet night, and a sweet trip, from the flat tire in Reno to Hasty Lake where we took that cute picture to the crappy coffee in those Plains states diners—thank you, my dear.

By the way, that ride featured the one true bonk in my life. Sixty or so miles into it, at the last rest stop, I got off my bike to put food and drink into my sagging self. It would be an hour before I would ride again. I ate a bit; my stomach did a few flips. I tried to drink a little and that came back up. Finally I sat in the cool creak to beat the heat, and fell asleep right then and there. A half hour later I stirred. I felt awful, still, but hungry. I ate something, can't remember what, and after a tense moment realized it would stay down. Drink, too. I noticed riders passing through, including one older fellow, a real live gray beard. C'mon, man, I said to myself. He's got to be 60! Off I went, walking first, then riding, then riding hard. I finished. Strong.

Another visitor as we pressed tonight was a neighbor whose name I have not yet learned. She and I have a history, however. One early morning during our first summer in Napa I scampered out to the sidewalk to pick up the newspaper. Clad, I was, in only my skivvies. It couldn't have been past 6. Was hardly a risky move. I wasn't naked, for crying out loud! So this neighbor lady, who I will guess has rounded the 60 bend, happened to be out for her morning power walk. She appeared just as I picked up the paper and turned back for the house. She wore headphones and, noting my attire, a look of ecstatic shock. I had on no less than I do when I go for a run, but apparently it makes a big difference, running shorts vs. white Fruit of the Looms. Anyway, tonight it was an evening walk for her and she wondered what was up. Funny that right here in the winemaking capital of the United States, in one of the great wine regions of the world, right here in Napa, a name known by little French boys and girls, there are people who view a fellow in the 'hood making wine a curiosity. Or maybe she just a had a certain picture of me stuck in her head.

The pressing went well and Rebecca, whose palate is tremendous, confirmed what I was beginning to suspect: This wine is not as horrid as I feared. I mean, just-pressed wine can be nasty and when I tasted this newborn Pinot a day earlier, I nearly gagged. But now? Hmm. There might be hope. Light-bodied but spry, with some bright hard-to-peg fruit prominent. Hmm.

I dumped the wine, all purple and teeming with yeast and disintegrating pulp, into four 6.5-gallon and two 5-gallon carboys. I sloshed the juice around quite a bit. Everybody tells you to be careful with Pinot but at this point I see no problem with giving young wine, any young wine, a nice dose of oxygen. It's going to be stuck in the damn barrel for months without racking (I rarely rack; don't much believe in it plus it's a pain in the ass), so this is its chance to breathe a bit. Macro-oxygenation, eat ease a leetle, how you say, technique of mine, no?

Niko was done before I was, and Rebecca took him upstairs to get ready for bed. A few minutes later I went up and read the story about the seal who gives her pup squid, then Niko hit the booba and it was lights out on another day of little-boy adventure. Rebecca disengaged to work on, a project nearly two years in the making, and I went back down to clean up. Got the gold nozzle that gives a good jet of spray despite our lousy water pressure and hosed everything clean, and it felt good. While cleaning, it hit me that I'd made wine again. We got up early one Sunday 11 days ago and with the help of friends picked grapes and now there was wine. This is life, I thought. Creating. Creating from the earth. Something of the earth. Way cool.

Meanwhile, I had the tube a-glowin' and it showed Livan Hernandez getting slapped this way and that by the Dodgers to the tune of six runs in the third. When I finished my work I stuck with the game, despite the hopelessness of it. The garage door up front was open and the back door at the other end was too, and after a 97-degree day the cooling air was beginning to stir, moving through, brushing past, and so I watched the game, and looked at my wine, and sipped a decent Cab from Yakima Valley. Life is good, I thought. But … it would be better with a sandwich, so I scurried inside and sliced some fresh tomatoes, mashed some avocado, grabbed some turkey and cheese from the fridge, and threw it all together. I was back in front of the tube in 3 minutes, baby wines by my side. This Pinot Noir. Might not be bad.

Monday, September 16, 2002

The Crush

So, yeah, we crushed the grapes. New crusher from Napa Fermentation and with three guys manning it, 700 pounds of grapes became 70 gallons of pulp and juice in less than a half hour. Intending to do a cold soak, I put a frozen gallon-jug of water in each bin and it was time for pizza. (Sometimes, winemaking really is that simple.)

Next: Fermentation Fun

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The Harvest Begins

I had no intention of making Pinot Noir. After playing with Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon in recent vintages, this year my mind was running toward Zinfandel. It's the classic home winemaker's grape, said to be easy to handle, forgiving of errors—and if you're going to end up with 22 cases of wine to drink and give away, Zin's the one. Ain't a person alive who doesn't like it.

But along comes an email message from a grower friend in Mendocino saying the Pinot Noir is at 23, 24 brix—want some? My first thought was of my buddy Casey Hartlip at Eaglepoint Ranch, who told me once that Pinot is fine but personally he'd rather make and drink red wine.

Pinot is, typically, lighter in color and in body. Moreover, it is widely seen as the feminine counterpoint to the masculine Cab. Even big, powerful Pinots retain a slinky, sexy side. Think of Serena Williams in that black tights-jumper outfit: big and powerful, yes, but very much a woman. Likewise Pinot. And anyway, the probability was that my Pinot would be less than mighty: the vineyard I'd be sourcing from is a warm site and the vines are young. But, then again, with Pinot you never know. The word most often used to describe it is "mercurial," and winemakers who have worked with Pinot vintage after vintage can be counted on to profess their continuing curiosity and surprise at its behavior. So what the hell did I know? Maybe Pinot from this spot would surprise me and be delicious. Anyway, it was September. It was time to make wine. I said yes.

So on Sunday, Sept. 8, we picked 'em and squished 'em. My friend Dan, a veteran of many a battle with the dreaded rented crusher, came up from Berkeley and got his first taste of vineyard action. And this year my wife, Rebecca, and son, Niko (three weeks shy of his third birthday), along with three wonderful new friends—Dawni, Kevin and their little boy, Jacob—also joined in the fun. We tossed several food-grade plastic garbage cans into a minivan and a Subaru wagon and headed through the valleys Napa, Knights and Alexander. We regrouped in Hopland, where the Phoenix Bread Company sells an apple turnover for 5 bucks, I kid you not. (I thought it was $5 for a half-dozen. Dan thought maybe for the whole baking sheet of pastries. Nope. Each.) Then we regrouped again just a few hundred yards past Hopland, when a high school physics exam that Kevin was grading flew out the Subaru window, and they stopped to fetch it.

Greg Nelson's vineyard is a hill or two past Hopland and a hill or two before Ukiah, right off 101. He grows everything. Pinot Gris, Chard, Merlot, Cab, Merlot, Zin, the list goes on. He's a good grower, smart and always looking for ways to do better, keeping an eye out for what's hot, asking questions. He told me he would be around, but water problems on the ranch—"Always the water," said Greg's wife, Missy—had him on the road looking for parts. No matter. Missy directed us to the block and told us to pick away.

(Before I go on, I should say a few words about the importance of the picking of the grapes in winemaking. What is the primary factor in producing wines that dazzle the senses, sway the intellect and woo the heart? There are people who believe that great wine is all about the grapes. They say things like, "You can make mediocre wine with slightly below average grapes, but you can't get your teenage son to mow the lawn for less than $15, and that's an outrage." This is the Grape School. And there are those who say the winemaking techniques employed hold primacy (this is the Winemaker School, which no winemaker in the history of alcoholic fermentation has declared allegiance to—publicly). Lesser known, perhaps, is a third school of thought: the Picker School. Under this thinking, it is the picker, ultimately, in whose hands vinous fate is cradled. I am agnostic on this question, as I have great respect for growers, winemakers and pickers—and, truth be told, I think the barrel cleaners and the bottlers are pretty darn important, too.

Time had slipped past 11 a.m. and the sun was high and strong, but we were a day ahead of the heat wave. For us, warm temps; tomorrow would bring sizzling heat. This picking was more difficult than I had remembered picking to be from my experience in Oregon. Pinot's tight clusters wrap themselves around guide wires, shoots and canes and hide behind other bunches, posts and huge webs guarded by vicious spiders. Mercurial? Ha! this grape is a pain the ass. The five adults worked away, the vineyard quiet save for a whirring remote control car and the chatter and occasional screeches and wails of little boys. Most of the time, one of the wiminfolk kept an eye on the lads and their car while the guys picked (and, it must be said, the little guys were great through a very long day).

When you throw that first bucket of grapes into a 44-gallon garbage bin you think it's going to take forever to fill it—and it almost does. Despite the size of our contingent, it took more than two hours to gather in about 700 pounds, an amount that would fill a 26-gallon barrel and allow for the making of about 5 gallons of rose as well as, quite probably, the spillage of several gallons (I am the world's sloppiest winemaker).

Next: The Crush

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Will somebody please explain to me why sportswriters are so concerned about the financial success of baseball? I've just finished reading this column and can't for the life of me imagine why this scribe is so worked up about whether baseball is as big as football. My only concern about baseball is that when I sit down to watch the game, it's entertaining. Period. Why would I care if ratings are up or down or if more or fewer people in inner cities or suburbs or Mexico City or some podunk one-stop-light village on the far side of them thar hills are watching the games? I'm into baseball because it's a great game. I'm into the game. Last night I saw a thriller between the Giants and the Diamondbacks, and tonight's tummy-twister was the A's against the Twins. Scintillating stuff as the A's chalked up No. 17. The worst thing that could happen now is that baseball undergoes some kind of NFL-style remaking, sucking the heart and soul right out of it. Just leave the damn game alone. Don't touch anything (OK, maybe get rid of the DH in the AL, but that's it).

Friday, August 30, 2002

They didn't strike (told you so; see Wednesday's post), and now the pundits are mopping up. And it's ugly. We see quickly that it's simply not possible for sportswriters to accept a happy outcome. They spent the last several weeks wondering how the two sides could be so foolish as to allow another work stoppage and now that a deal has been reached without interrupting the season, they can't bring themselves to parcel out credit. Oh, no. They're onto their other pet screed—lecturing fans for being dupes.

Take a look at Tim Keown's column on It's condescending—as is most punditry these days, be it political or sports—and in its insistence in being smarter than you, runs aground on the shoals of illogic and stupidity.

First, Keown's assertion that the players "didn't want more" is absurd. Everybody knows that the status quo would practically have guaranteed the players huge raises over the next several years. Fans understood this, that's why they felt the owners were right in demanding a revised playing field.

Second, Keown wants you to know that revenue doubled in the past six years. So? In business, one side of the ledger is only important relative to the other side. A lot of dot-coms that shouted about their five consecutive quarterly 125 percent revenue increases in 1999 and 2000, and are out of business in 2002, can tell you about that.

Third, to say that Minnesota and Oakland are "aberrations" (I think the actual term Selig used was "anomalies") is hardly belittlement. In fact Selig's insistence that the system barely allows for competitive success in smaller markets casts the Oakland and Minnesota stories in an even more impressive light. In the Selig line of thinking, those two franchises did the nearly impossible. In the Keown line of the thinking, it's no big deal for a small market team to succeed.

Fourth, no, Tom Hicks won't get any of George Steinbrenner's money. What Keown doesn't tell you is that everybody will contribute an equal proportion of local revenues, and everybody will receive an equal share. Because it has fairly large local revenues itself (because of the A-Rod deal!), Texas will be a net loser in revenue sharing. Plus, it will be subject to the luxury tax. Montreal, meanwhile, will be a big winner under the rev-sharing plan, as will Minnesota and Oakland (which should help them keep their fine young teams together, something fans, I'm sure, will be happy about).

Fifth, Keown and the others who think they're smarter than fans like to say that greater financial parity won't make dumb owners and general managers smarter. This is a classic straw-man argument. Nobody has said that greater income redistribution would make dumb owners and general managers smarter. Quite the contrary: Dumb management will still be penalized; and now, smart management has a better chance of being rewarded. Furthermore, smart organizations will have a better chance of keeping their teams together, which is a major concern of fans.

Finally, Keown is outrageously disingenuous in his late, brief show of gratitude that a deal was struck. "So it's done. Great news. No games were canceled. The damage was minimized, and after today that's all that really matters." He writes this in the last paragraph of his column, after spending hundreds and hundreds of words ripping the people who run the game and the fans who support it. If he really was happy about the outcome, that sentiment would have been the gist of his column. But Keown, in the typical fashion of the embittered sportswriter, didn't give a shit if the games went on or not Which is fine, as long as he doesn't expect us to think he did.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Niko is deep into Why.

On the Net somewhere I came across a torture technique said to be used on political prisoners many years ago. Worked like this: A rat-filled cauldron was placed mouth-down on the victim's stomach and the cauldron was heated from the outside. The rats, having nowhere to escape, would gnaw through the victim's stomach.

The Why torture isn't quite that bad.

Why you turning on the grill, Daddy?
To cook the fish.
Because that's what we're having for dinner.
Why we having fish for dinner?
Because it's good for us and we like the taste.
Why is it good for us?
It's a lean source of protein and is high in healthy fats.
Oh, I'm sure it has something to do with all that time swimming around in water. Salmon live in the water, of course.
That's where all fish live.

I reckon every parent of a 3-year-old (oh, all right; he'll be 3 in a month) has been through this. And every parent has been tempted to answer: Because. We have vowed not to take this easy way out. The kid is curious. Feed the curiosity, don't stomp on it!

Barry hit a homer.
Because in baseball, that's what you try to do, hit the ball a long way.
Because then you get to go all the way around the bases and score a run.
Because those are the rules of the game.
Because, well, no, it wasn't Abner Doubleday, but somebody about 150 years ago decided that would be a fun game.

I've vowed to wear the kid out, to answer every question ever-more elaborately until Niko caves and says, "Oh. OK." But it hasn't happened yet. Niko remains undefeated.

Daddy, can we make wine today?
Wine? No. The grapes aren't ripe yet. We've got to wait a couple more weeks.
Because that's when the grapes will be ripe.
Well, over the course of the summer the plant converts sunlight and water and nutrients to energy and grows fruit and transforms that fruit into a plump orb filled with just the right ratio of sugar and acid. It's then and only then that we can make wine. And, interestingly enough, the grape alone among all the fruits carries these vital ingredients for making wine. Did you know that?
No. [Pause.] Why we make wine out of grapes?
Well, I think the answer is really a short three-letter word: G-O-D.
God wanted something to drink, that's why. It was John Stuart Blackie who said: "Wine is the drink of the gods, milk the drink of babes, tea the drink of women, and water the drink of beasts."
[Pause.] I don't know why.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Bloggers get grief for being enraptured with their own viewpoint, but I know people who've never even heard of blogs who are just as bad. They feel compelled to deliver an opinion on everything under the vanishing ozone. Maybe bloggers are vanity publishers opining into a dark place that escapes even Google's bright light, on topics about which they have no expertise, with little research and no editing. But I submit that such an assault on the culture is far less abhorent than the (non-blogger) type who consistently accosts you in the flesh with his half-baked, already-evaporating take. Run into one of these guys and you are hopeless. You can feign disinterest, but that won't slow him down. The slashing and pummeling will continue until you finally have to say, "Hmm, yeah, good point."

Whereas, when I get set to launch my opinions, here, you can click away in an instant. No harm, no foul!

1. There will be no baseball strike. But if there is, it will be a good thing because it will free up the great spaces in my evenings and weekends now devoted to watching the Giants. (This is the same way I approach the pennant race when the Giants are teetering on elimination. "Just lose," I say. "You bastards take up too much of my time." And they do lose, eventually.)

2. We shouldn't invade Iraq unless there is real evidence that an attack on the United States is imminent. My suspicion is the Bush administration is hard at work manufacturing such evidence.

3. Warm weather that speeds up ripening and brings the harvest in soon will be lauded by winemakers and growers as a welcome turn of events. The grapes will have shot forward to a stunning state of ripeness. Either that or, continued cool weather that slows ripening and brings the harvest in late will be lauded by winemakers and growers as a welcome turn of events. The grapes will have gathered enormous complexity by virtue of this extended hang time.

4. The new Vintner's Collective in downtown Napa is beautiful and the people behind the project are to be saluted. But I hate it. It's St. Helena plunked down in our crappy little downtown and it makes me think the anti-redevelopment crowd, which I had previously dismissed and which fears for the vanishing working-class soul of Napa, might have a point: Twenty or thirty years from now the whole friggin' valley, from American Canyon to Calistoga, will be a gigantic food/wine/B&B/gallery Disneyland. The Green Lantern alone will survive–as the "scary ride."

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John is one of my favorite winemakers. He's traveled up and down the state for 20 years now seeking grapes that have the potential to be turned into distinctive wines. And he succeeds so often because winemaking, for him, isn't a about convincing critics to reward him with high scores; the goal instead is to make wines that are interesting. But he can explain his philosophy better than I. In addition to being a great winemaker, he's a wonderful writer (and a musician to boot). Check out his brief essay describing his approach to winemaking, and then bounce around the ESJ site a bit to learn more about his wines. They're well worth tracking down--and compared to typical celebrated California wines, are a steal.
Last Week's Workouts
Mon: Swim 2000 yds (mostly 250s and 100s); run 40 min treadmill
Tues: Swim 1750 (a hard 1,000, 2 250s...); bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles)
Wed: Swim 1750 yds (8x100 on 2:10, etc.)
Thurs: Bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles); Mountain bike 1:45
Fri: Swim 2000 yds (8x100 on 2:05, etc.); 4 mile evening walk
Sat: OFF
Sun: Bike--Tour of Napa Valley (103 miles, 6:04 riding time)

Thursday, August 22, 2002

My first mountain biking race was in 1987 at that granite monolith in the eastern Sierra, Mammoth Mountain. I wore a goofy yellow helmet that had, I think, exactly zero air vents, and my bike was unsuspended, front and back. Come to think of it, I don't think anyone had any suspension at the time, even at the NORBA World Championship. That's right: World Championship. They could call it the World Championship because we Americans owned the sport. We invented it on Mt. Tam and the Euros were, for another year or two at least, still skinny-tire weenies. The great veteran runner/rider/triathlete Ned Overend (aka, The Lung) won the race, and I can't remember what happened to John Tomac, the emerging sport's young endorsement-besotted turk. I finished far back but strong, strong I tell you, on my Univega Sport, which weighed in at probably 40 pounds, including the rack on the back.

The point of this windy recollection is as you expect: To establish my street cred as a mountain biker. Because 15 years and a lot of miles and a lot of races later, I've turned on my tribe. Or maybe not. This is my problem: I love mountain biking, but I very much dislike mountain bikers.

I didn't fully realize all this until a visit last Sunday to Skyline Park, on the southeastern edge of our fair town. We were there for a walk in the Native Plants Garden, but the park proper is the only legit mountain-biking option that a Napa resident can hit without loading the bike into the car. As we pulled into the parking lot--me, my wife and almost-3-year-old son--we noticed a pack of mountain bikers getting ready to roll. They had dual suspension, Camelbacks, the latest frame technology--all the accoutrements of fanaticism, or at least weekend warriorism. I was immediately irked that they had, in fact, loaded their bikes into the car and driven to Skyline. Skyline is nice riding, but there's as good or better to be found all over the Bay Area; it makes no sense to come to Skyline from afar. And if you're local, why not ride to the park?

Then they took off and I could tell by the belly-driven tone of their conversations, by the way they shot down the little grade that connects to the trails, by everything about them, that they were ready for some hardcore riding. Never mind that it was Sunday and the park was full of hikers. Never mind that Skyline's track is often narrow and a hiker wouldn't have a prayer getting out of the way of a bike coming around the curve on an off-camber, gently down-sloping stretch. Never mind, moreover, that any other visitor's goal of some modest communion with nature--its sound, its quiet, its delicious lack of human intrusion--would be exploded by the presence of these cyclists.

The question I had wasn't how hikers could have a good time under these circumstances--it was how cyclists could.

A few days later, still thinking about all this, I gave my road bike a rest and pedaled my '96 Bontrager Privateer S (Indy shocks up front) over to Skyline. It was 5 p.m. on a weekday and nobody was there. I clambered up the Lake Marie fire road, cleaned a wicked rocky, rutted, singletrack climb and swooshed down the hill in the invigorating cool ocean breezes rushing from the Bay to the south. Good golly, I had a good time.


I didn't bother anyone. And nobody bothered me. I knew before I even hit the dirt that it was unlikely I'd come across even a single hiker. And I didn't. This freed me to ride unencumbered, and that made all the difference.

There isn't a chance in the world I would have enjoyed myself if every half-mile or so I had been coming across a hiker. I would have known I was wrecking their experience, and fears of a collision would have distracted me. (And a distracted mountain biker is a bleeding mountain biker.)

Where does that leave me? Here: I now know what it is, exactly, that I dislike about mountain bikers. It's their unwillingness or inability to empathize with other trail users. No matter how courteous they might be, mountain bikers on busy, narrow trails are a pain in the ass. Period. They take more than their share of the space, in every sense. They are selfish. But go ahead and ride. Ride hard! Just do it when you won't be bothering everyone else. You'll like it even more.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

It was very late, well past the customary appointed hour of slumber. But we were nearing the station, finally--just about to lie down and read "The Salamander Room." And that's when Niko turned to me and said the one and only thing that would derail the bedtime express: "Daddy, can we go downstairs and watch the Giants game together?"

We sat hip-to-hip on the couch, my arm around his shoulders, as Schmidt overpowered the Mets and Niko talked. He talked about how the fishes breathe water, and about the Duplo office tower he built, and how we could go to a lot of Giants games if we won the lottery, and how black olives have lots of flavor because of the salt and the vinegar, and he looked outside at the blackness and asked, "Is it night now?"

It pours out. The theories to explain the mysteries, the questions to answer curiosities, the speculations to close gaps in suspicions. Niko isn't interested in thrills, in screeching down the slide at the playground or tearing around the yard on his tricycle. Niko wants to understand. (The other day, he and his mother sat for a full 30 minutes studying the area under the kitchen sink, working out which pipes took which water--yucky, hot, cold--where, and how the garbage disposal motor works, and why that white plastic pipe thing goes up to that vent hole thing up there.) I confess: Sometimes I fall into my old impatience and sink under the weight of Niko's unending assault of Whys? and am tempted to grab that wretched ol' buoy Because! But so much is missed, and tonight reminded me of that. Niko unloaded the day's accumulated knowledge and I, the Daddy, sat there full of pride and love, dazzled to my very core, soaring at the wonder of how far his short journey has already taken him, and where he might go in the years to come.

Monday, August 19, 2002

This is great. The Associated Press talks to an expert whose credentials are unspecified, and a clueless neighbor; reads from a lawsuit by a disgruntled former devotee that was settled; and the next thing you know a thriving winery is labeled a "cult." To be sure, it's a fine line between off-beat organization and cult and this "fellowship"/winery may fall on the cult side. But who thinks mainstream media are well-equipped to make the distinction? Not me. I read this story looking for some hard evidence that Renaissance Winery and Vineyards was evil, but never found it. Especially appalling was the passage in the story where the writer says of Renaissance, "[t]hey are virtually unknown to their neighbors," and then goes onto quote a local retiree who, with no apparent evidence at all, proclaims, "They are really on another level. It's a cult. They don't make decisions for themselves." How does she know this? We're not told. Weak stuff from AP, and weaker yet for the Chron to pick up the story.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Speaking of Lileks, he's just gone nutso about an anti-America piece he just read, and says that "with the publication of this piece in a major American daily" the idea that lefty idiots don't have any avenues for their views is shot down. Only problem is, the piece he's talking about (I won't link to it; it's ridiculous) was published in the Baltimore Chronicle, which is neither major nor daily.
Eventually I want to include some thoughts here about being a father, but think I'll wait until I have a better feel for the blog form. Meanwhile, two of my favorite bloggers are Brad DeLong and James Lileks, and here's DeLong, reacting to a recent Lileks' post, on the profound change that parenthood brings.
Daily Howler has the goods again on how shockingly poorly the NY Times covered the 2000 race. As a former reporter and editor, this stuff amazes me. (And if you think that DH is always hostile to Dubya, this is a must-read.)
Last Week's Workouts
Mon: Swim 2000 yds (300 warm-up, 7x100 on 2:15, 500 steady, 500 mod hard--9:10); run 45 min treadmill; 3 mile evening walk
Tues: Swim 1500 (500 warm-up/steady, 2x250, 500 steady); bike 1:20 at 125-135 HR (23 miles); 3 mile evening walk
Wed: Swim 1750 yds (200 warm-up, 4x200 on 5, 500 steady, 200 recovery)
Thurs: OFF
Fri: Swim 1750 yds (200 warm-up, 500 hard, 1000 slow but steady, 50 breaststroke cool-down); 4 mile evening walk
Sat: Bike 35 miles, up Mt. Veeder, down Oakville, moderately hard
Sun: Swim 2250 (250 warm-up, 8x100 on 2:15, 100 breast recovery, 2x250, 500 steady, 50 breast easy/recovery, 50 cool-down); 3 mile evening walk
The Seattle Times editorializes that because the Washington wine industry is so successful--it's now selling $628 million worth of product a year--you and I ought to pitch in and give it $250,000. Huh?

The industry wants the quarter-mil to expand its genetic plant bank, or "mother block." A good cause, but why can't this fabulously successful industry pick up the tab itself? This looks like corporate welfare, pure and simple, and is just the sort of thing we don't need in lean economic times. The sad thing is, the only argument in Washington is whether the big corporations and wealthy independents who make wine in Washington will get $250,000 (House version of the pending legislation) or $150,000 (Senate version).

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Napa has a new wine shop and it appears to be well worth checking out. It's a little shop, called Back Room Wines, and is on Franklin Street between First and Second. Some Californians you don't usually see in Napa--Cedarville, Copain, Ojai, Hitching Post. Daniel Dawson is the owner. He wasn't in last night when I strolled by. More on Back Room after I meet Daniel. For now, check out the shop's website.

Friday, August 16, 2002

NWS guys in Monterey office are a little bent that the ETA drastically underinitialized low level moisture this morning. They think it'll miss the boat again. But that's OK: means temps in the low 80s through the weekend for those of us who live inland (but not too far inland). Ah, the Napa summer!
What's the key to becoming a better triathlete? It ain't fancier, more expensive equipment. It might not even be piling on more hours of training, suggests Slowtwitch's Dan Empfield.

I think Dan makes good points, and so does Gordo, here.
Christine Brennan of USA Today thinks it's time sportswriters stopped writing about what Tiger Woods does on a golf course, and get to the heart of the matter: His views on political issues.

I'm with Brennan in thinking it would be great if Tiger were highly engaged on social issues. He could probably do a lot of good. Then again, I think simply by playing his sport with great dignity he's already done a lot of good as far as breaking down barriers in golf. Golf participation by minorities and women is way up in the last five years or so, and Tiger clearly has much to do with that. Jackie Robinson changed the world not by getting up on a soapbox, but by playing ball with incredible skill and intensity--the same way Tiger plays golf.

It's also worth pointing out that Tiger is barely in his mid-20s and he's entirely focused on his craft (or art, or sport, or whatever golf is). Maybe he hasn't figured out what he thinks about these other issues. Maybe he knows that when you're young you tend to say stupid things (I'm sure glad I wasn't quoted on political issues when I was in my mid-20s). Our culture is so demanding that everyone have an opinion--or "take" in the Jim Rome vernacular--on everything. Doesn't matter if they've studied the subject or even paused to think deeply about it. I kind of respect somebody who doesn't fall into that trap. Let's give the young man some time. Lastly--and I say this as a PR guy and a former reporter, and someone who will doubtless commit journalism again some day--I think it's just this sort of vaguely pious holier-than-thou hectoring that hurts journalists' standing with the public. I don't doubt that many of the questioners are asking them out of sincere journalistic curiosity and/or a sense of journalistic obligation. Fair enough. Ask the questions. And if Tiger has something to say, great. If he doesn't, back off.

BTW, Romenesko links to a nice Star Tribune column on the topic, wherein Dan Barreiro takes on Tiger's disingenuous lecturers.
Lots of letters to Jim Romenesko's MediaNews regarding the twin issues of Tiger Woods and his obligation to speak out on social issues, and the obligation of journalists to demand answers from celebrities such as Woods on such issues.... My own missive, narrowly focused on factual claims of another letter writer, appears at the top of the list of August 15 letters. To follow shortly, a more complete rendering of my view on the aforementioned twin issues.
Now that I understand how this works, a few quick works about me: I'm of midwestern stock, grew up in California, educated in public schools from Stipe Elementary for kindergarten through UC Berkeley, spent several years as a sportswriter, then as a copy editor, then a website editor, then a freelance writer, and now I'm a PR guy.

And about this blog: The best blogs focus on topics that the writer is passionate about. My faves are family, wine, triathlon, politics, media, weather and baseball. If I'm smart, these are the things you'll read about here.

Look what Randall Grahm is up to now. I'm going to ponder this further, but I think the Bonny Doonster might have gone a tad far with this one. "It's crude, but it gets people thinking about the concept that wine is a complex product that derives from many factors in its creation," he says. I'm skeptical; mostly it gets Randall publicity. Grow the grapes well and in the right place and you'll really get people thinking about the many factors in the wine's creation.
You mean you don't have a blog? Wow.

OK, now I do. Real live must-read bloggish matter to come (when I figure out how this works).