Philosophy for the winter in the vineyard

1. My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dirt and dog hair, your life is empty.
2. True terror should be experienced, but only in ways that quickly evaporate. Like riding a mountainbike on a single track where even the slightest twitch could result in a bad fall off a cliff with nothing but rocks to break your fall, or….expecting some robustness from your wine in barrels at the weekly Saturday morning (early) tasting, only to be met with that stinky sulfur odor, which can only be read as impending doom.                                             3. To work a vineyard, well, you need a lot of guts to do that. To go out there and work all year, you almost feel that the grapes are talking to you…and there’s a lot of crazy in that. Wine is a lifestyle, and you can talk about it for ages, especially to your fellow addicts. It’s a passion, but it’s not something I want to consume myself with, yet it does consume me, like some sexy girl in the dorm over yonder back in college. Growing grapes and making wine is a passion which tears at your soul, and leaves you full and empty, and rejuvenated, and breathless, all at the same time.

Holiday time…..and it is finally cold

Almost freezing the last few nights, and the only color to be found is the bottle tree on the patio:

The bottle tree in Winter.

The bottle tree in Winter.

Otherwise, it is pretty boring around the vineyard….well, except for drinking the wine, which looks like this on the table three hours before xmas dinner:

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We had five for dinner, so we needed five bottles of wine, although only two of us knew the difference between this groovy syrah, and $2Chuck. The three heathens shall remain nameless. We also drank some Ridge Montebello Cab, which was pretty good. Two of the three heathens said nothing about that wine either, which necessitates crossing them off the ‘invite’ list. The highlight of the dinner was the ribeye roast, which was cooked ever-so-slowly on the big gas grill outside, in the cold air, where the good karma of the vines imbued it with the spirit of….oh forget it…you’re not buying any of that philosophical stuff anyway.  This next photo shows the sunset on that day….pretty neat.

December sunset avec Deck

December sunset avec Deck

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good 2015 as well.







It rained here this week

And more is coming next week, according to the Einsteins that call themselves meteorologists.

Offramp – sorry….But has anyone else noticed that the Weather Channel has gone away from the pretty boy/girl  anchors and reporters, and are using Poindexter look-alikes for a lot of work, especially the supposedly “high tech” info sessions where you can look at all sorts of graphs and bars and radar shots, which may or may not tell you what you can probably find out by listening to the radio at the appointed time, or, notwithstanding, look outside.

I prefer just to walk outside and look at the sky, or west to the coast, and do it barefoot, so I can feel the tremors through the ground that Dog intends as a Morse code for “Its Okay, work outside today.” …or…”Hey, idiot, get inside by the fire.” Besides, when you go outside, you can put the Stones on the stereo at high volume and bother your neighbors.

Anyway, we are bound for more wet weather, which is good, because I have been spending a lot of time (A LOT) with creating wells and water retention in the rows, so that if and when it ever rains again, the vines will be ready. I, and they, have been ready since 2012. We are happy for the rain. Here is a picture of the vineyard, taken on 12/13/2014. Not many leaves, but if you look close, you can see all the groovy dirt work and the wells.

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You can also see the loverly east end of the big deck, with the oh-so-uppercrust red balau trim. also visible is part of the bocce ball court, which one just has to have if one aspires to be a lover of all things Italian. Actually, Bocce is the sixth most popular Italian pastime, which means the average Italian spends about 17 minutes a year on it. The other five? Well, I never thought you’d ask!  They are: Soccer, Cycling, Drinking Wine, not working, and chasing women. Don’t take my word for it, just think of any (genetically enhanced) Italian you know (outside of Mario Cipollini). Sinatra, Rocky Balboa, Rudy Giuliani. See what I mean?

Why do you think the last few popes have been from Poland or South America?

Now on to other things. We have been trying to make all the meetings of the (very) informal Alpine Wine group, which normally consists of a bunch of winos tying to socialize. We also try to act like we know what we’re doing, which for me means listening a lot and pontificating less than usual, an altogether uncomfortable situation to find myself in.  We had a nice dinner the other night at the local Indian Casino’s restaurant (Viejas-The Grove Steakhouse) and here are a couple of shots of the dinner table.

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And here is a shot of Ron Wagner, my pal, a truly crazy member (by night only) of this sect. He was at the dinner too, but, as you can tell, was too sauced to sit and eat.

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And finally, as I wait for the next storm, here is a sage bit of advice I received just three days ago, as I worked on some vineyard drainage project.  Honey the yellow dog whispered this in my ear:                                                                                                         Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

Be Thankful

Be Thankful for:

1. Big Red Thursdays; the people who celebrate Thursday with talk and wine in Del Mar.   2. UC Davis, the folks at NovaVine, and everyone else in this weird world of wine.             3. Costco, and the incredible value and breadth they are bringing to the public, and        subsequently every other wine retailer who must follow suit.                                                 4. Ron Wagner, a wino of the tenth degree…and the Wankmeister, just another wino.         5. The Yellow Dog, Honey.                                                                                                       6. Ridge Vineyards, and their help.                                                                                           7. The ubiquitous Sal, the “She” in SWIMO, who never fails to say something decent about some failed attempt at a blend. She knows, and I know she knows, and she knows that I know she knows.

Updates…its been a while

I know, I know…a communication failure is simply a failure to communicate.

Mea Culpa….but I have two damn good excuses.

1. Harvest, and the psychosis leading up to harvest (commonly know as “The rush to harvest”)

2. I had the best part of middle finger, on my left hand, amputated after losing a fistfight with a still-running chop saw. (Ouch!)

First, the harvest:

It came early this year…real early…and that was expected, what with no winter, early bud break, double pruning, outrageous shoot growth, viscous tip pruning/thinning/cluster dropping, blah, blah, blah.

Twelve of my closest disciples (oh for the love of dog, that was a Freudian slip…I meant to say “OUR FRIENDS”) arrived at dawn on Saturday, August 16. They began picking, and I continued my stressed out psychotic behavior from the previous month, running around taking down nets (the entire vineyard got netted this year to fend off birds). Sal and I had already harvested and frozen the Viognier (it came ripe two weeks earlier). The total for the day was enormous, and that despite the dropping of bunches, leaf pulling and severe pruning throughout June and July. We had 3000 pounds of fruit. I estimated that my daughter, Anne, and I dropped (yes, to the ground) an additional 1800 pounds of fruit in June and July. (Dropping the selected ‘weak’ clusters gives the plant the ability to sustain the bigger, better bunches through the rest of the growing season….kinda like not being picked  for choose-up teams on the playground…some make it, some don’t.)

The clusters were trimmed, cleaned of the worst dirt and muck, and we added the thawed Viognier bunches, and stored all of it in 32 gallon barrels in the underground wine room for three days. That brought the temperature of the clusters down to 62 degrees.

But, I am getting ahead of myself…after the harvest we proceeded to eat and be merry. Lunch was oh-so-good, and Sal outdid herself again. Thanks Sal!  I was able to get the equipment cleaned within a day or so; then packed it away.

After that cold storage (called a cold soak among winos), We brought the grapes up to 72 degrees (great for the start of fermentation) and did the crushing/de-stemming (thanks Anne for the help!)…let the ‘must’ (They gots terms for everything in dis hobby!) sit for another day, and then inoculated it with yeast. This year I used two different yeasts, splitting the harvest roughly 40-60 between the two yeasts. This ‘primary’ fermentation was finished in seven days, so I used that time to clean and scrub my barrels (most in their third year of use…a few in their second year of use…all stored since bottling of last year’s wine, filled with water). The must got bladder pressed (removes the skins and seeds) and put in the now sparkling clean (I hope!) barrels. I pitched bacteria for the malo-lactic (secondary) fermentation in those barrels, set all the barrels with new airlocks, and cooled down the wine room to 62 degrees.

I have to tell you, putting all that wine into barrels, placing them in a dark, cold, wet room and closing the door…well, it’s a surreal experience.  I find myself reliving all of the mistakes of parenthood and wondering if that very same technique might not have resulted in better children.

Now, the Chop Saw Incident

Saturday morning, September 6…Sal heads off to the manicurist for her bi-weekly rumor session, er, ah, “appointment”. I proceed to try to finish off the mahogany trim on the big deck (I built two of them this summer….a big one and a little one!) Cup of coffee in hand, everything is going swimmingly, until I forget that the blade is still running and try to extract a piece of mahogany a few seconds too early.  Oopsie…or rather…”whackata-whackata-whackata…”, the middle finger of my left hand is no more….and I get a one way ticket into the house of pain (kinda like racing your bike, but, well, not.)  I call Sal, but her cell phone is off, I call the manicurist, but her cellphone is disconnected, I call the salon, and am put on hold. I finally get through and am told, “Can’t this wait?..she is doing something important, and besides, I don’t even know if she is here now…she might have left.”  I know, it didn’t make sense to me either….there must be some code ring/oath/secret club thang going on in those places!  I give the woman on the phone my kindest regards, but ask if she would “pretty-please” try to find my lovely princess. Sal does get to the phone and I tell her, calmly, that because of the great pain (and the ingestion of enough painkillers to choke Babar, I think it best NOT to try to drive myself to the ER.

Sal arrives, shovels me into the car, and speeds off to Sharp Grossmont. (aside… despite horn honking, emergency lights flashing, and bright lights, hardly anyone moves out of the way). We get to the ER, and the guy behind the desk (after the weapons check security screeing) points “Thataway”.

Long story short, I get a super good (male) trauma ER nurse, a cool ER doc, who gives me morphine (I know, I am NOT supposed to like it THAT much!). The doc takes photos of the wound, carefully wrapping and unwrapping the hand, and I get scheduled for surgery (the hand surgeon is 8+ months pregnant, and happens to be the wife of the ER doc). She is ultra cool and looks at my hand like we used to look at grasshoppers in 2nd grade science class. I wake up that evening in the post-op room, clear out the cobwebs, and Sal drives me home. Another day in the life.

Funny stuff that has happened since:

Ghost pains/feelings – Occasionally, the fingernail, or tip of the middle finger (non-existent) hurts or itches. Weird.

I have used this incident to learn valuable lessons, the greatest of which is to try to do without pain meds during recovery, plus ‘borrow’ all the pain meds your friends have stashed, so that, gleefully, you can hoard, and then, count,  all the different vials you have in your medicine cabinet, much like Scrooge McDuck in that goofy Mickey Mouse “A Christmas Carol” short.

Sal secretly enlisted my daughter Anne in a pact to rat on me (inform Jan) if Anne ever sees me using power tools unsupervised. Less than a week after the accident, Anne is texting Sal about my failure to abide by agreed upon usage of power tools. Anne, however, lets the cat out of the bag, and tells me about the plan, after busting my chops pretty good. Sal would be proud!  I make some lame-ass excuse up about how ‘battery operated’ tools are not really ‘power tools’ and try to ignore the violation, which is impossible, because, well, you know, I was caught red-handed, and Sal knows, and ….blah, blah, blah.

I get my ‘share’ of the bill from the hospital (after tax manipulations, non-profit shenanigans, and reductions in cost by the hospital). Our insurance company has been billed, or paid. In the spirit of good consumerism, I call up the Sharp Grossmont billing department to let them know I got the bill and will be cutting them a check. Before I get that far, though, the guy on the phone offers to reduce the bill by 25% if I pay “today”. so I do…I don’t have to profess poverty, I don’t have to complain..all I did was call.  Remember that tactic, campers!


Saturday morning barrel  ‘tastings’ are now fully begun. Weekend life has never been better. Ta Ta for now!  I promise to post more frequently as the convalescence lengthens.


July 23

Leaving Texas, fourth day of July.                                                                                      Sun so hot and the clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky.                                                   -Robert Hunter

Did some netting today…can’t find the rest of the netting so I only got half the vineyard done. however, that’s a good thing because it was HOT today…100 degrees hot, and I was afraid I was going to melt.  UPDATE…found the netting in the back of the shed covered with a plastic tarp…now I will spend the rest of the day thinking about why it was I felt compelled to cover a supply item like netting with a tarp ( so it could not be found?) or whatever …..

When you grow grapes, it’s hard to think about anything else during the summer. I worry about the strangest things, and then worry about the choices I didn’t make, in lieu of choosing a different path. And then I worry about why I was worrying in the first place. And the grapes just hang there and look at you, being patient and getting ripe .Hmmm.

Did I tell you it was hot today?  How hot was it?  Well, let me explain:

  • The birds have to use potholders to pull worms out of the ground.
  • The trees are whistling for the dogs.
  • The best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance.
  • Hot water now comes out of both taps.
  • You can make sun tea instantly.
  • You learn that a seat belt buckle makes a pretty good branding iron.
  • The temperature drops below 95 and you feel a little chilly.
  • You discover that on days like this it only takes 2 fingers to steer your car.
  • You discover that you can get sunburned through your car window.
  • You actually burn your hand opening the car door.
  • You break into a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m.
  • Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, “What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?”
  • You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.
  • The potatoes cook underground, so all you have to do is pull one out and add butter, salt and pepper.
  • Farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying boiled eggs.
  • The cows are giving evaporated milk.


…Closer, and Scarier…Harvest time Cometh!

It is supposed to be 95+ here this weekend.  Hot and dog days of summer which makes Honey happy, her being a yellow dog and all.veraison honey


The Viognier is getting plumper and more golden in color.  Looks Like This! We should get about 10 gallons of Viognier from these three year old vines. I planted 25 of these and 23 made it through 3 years, with 13 showing enough spunk to bear children in 2014. Impressive fruit!

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Here is a side-by-side comparison of what our Syrah grapes looked like last year in mid July , versus this year on July 21…anyone notice a difference?  The mild winter and early set just may have instigated an early growing season, no?2013 July Syrah clustersphoto (58)

And here is a sample of our overburdened (much like me) Mouvedre…holy mother of wine! These guys are still 6-7 weeks away from picking!photo (57)


Getting close….scary.

Checked the Viognier brix and acid today. It ripens first and I found out that a friend had already PICKED his Viognier (a small crop) on Friday, July 18.  That has to be the earliest harvest on record.

Anyway, looking like the Viognier harvest (25 vines) will fall somewhere around August 1st or so. Now begins the sleepless nights, agonizing over spray pre-harvest intervals, sugar development, acid retention, weather patterns, whether the Mouvedre is going to be late (it usually is) and just when the Syrah and Grenache will be ready…. but most of all I am geeking out about the development of flavenoids in the fruit. It’s has just got to be right.

We have 50 vines of Mouvedre and 50 of Grenache…all get picked this year….The syrah is the bulk of the vineyard (275 vines) and it looks good…very little evidence of powdery mildew (thanks to Didier’s groovy white liquid stuff!) and just a touch of raisening.  This year I paid special attention to canopy management, pulling leaves and tip pruning long shoots in order to promote good air ventilation.  That seems to have had a positive effect.

TaTaForNow! Picking volunteers are welcome!


The dog days of early summer.

I find myself worrying a lot about the weather lately. I never used to worry about the weather, but now I grow grapes, and the weather has jumped from relative ‘back of the closet /dark and never seen’ importance to a constant check of five, ten, and even thirty day forecasts, humidity predictions, National Weather service models, and even some research into Native American prayer.

It is getting hotter, and the grapes are going to mature earlier, and I just don’t know what that means for flavor, volume at harvest, sugar, blah, blah, blah. or when this happens, but I am pretty sure it will be a month earlier than ‘usual’.

I ‘get’ to teach, starting today, lecturing 134 bright young minds about “macro-Economics”, which, while not being my particular area of expertise, is imminently more fun (meaning I get to pontificate with broad and seeping conjecture (and I mean ‘conjecture’ in the most biased and unsupported interpretation) than dull crap like game theory, and how predictable models of class, immigrant, and income strata movement/assimilation can truly be, at least when compared to historical measures. (Has math always been boring to you, as well?) Math is a great thing to be good at, but  a sure tonic for social inward thinking if one dwells on it too much. When you meet a mathematician in a social setting (almost impossible to do) are you just driven to learn about his research and teaching?  Methinks not.  Good thing I get to spout off about Macro, and not micro-economics or econometrics. I even get to bring my own soapbox!

Weather and vines are far more important these days…lemme see heah…da fruit is plumpy and getting sweeter…time to get the watchamacallit out and spectromitize da juice!  See?  Simple is as simple does!

Just got off a conference call with a few lame-brain sociologists, who are hanging onto life/jobs worth/doing NOTHING with their fingernails….pretending to be looking at important issues, when all 90% of the world wants to do is eat daily and drink clean water. Of course, all I want to do is make a decent glass of wine and ride my bicycle more often, so there must be some stage where I passed the “I don’t really care” point.

I have my opening remarks memorized, which will start with, “Macro Economics  — The big picture!  Coming from the big guy!  Hold on to your seats, let go of your long held beliefs and join in the fun – where politics, sociology, and money all come together in one big punchbowl!”

Or maybe I’ll just have them read this very taut list, which describes academia…and many other facets of life.

  • All social scientists love a good straw-man argument to arm themselves with, especially during review.
  • Bold theories get cited a lot in all disciplines, regardless of whether they are right (or even when wrong).
  • It’s more important to bet on the right foreign policy than the right racehorse, but we are perfectly capable of gloating over either one.
  • Being wrong happens a lot more often than being right, so it seems odd that we have not become better suited to being wrong and understanding wrongness in others.




Veraison is here

Earlieset EVER Veraison.


For what it is looking like…see the pictures here:

I would go out in the vineyard and take photos, but I am too damned lazy, I smell like Pennofin (rosewood oil) from all the wood refisnishing I am doing, I am hot and sweaty, and…blah…blah….blah.

The new deck looks like this (photo taken from the upstairs master bedroom deck, so I didn’t have to walk way outside or anything):

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The space of dirt in the front by the chaise is a bunch of wire mesh lying there getting ready to be engulfed by concrete, upon which a whole lotta Saltillo pavers go on. In the background you can see the northwest corner of the vineyard, where my only sick children (zinc deficiency) are strongly making their comeback. Under the deck is the wine room, subterraneanously placed kinda “IN” the hill. As pointed out by our pal, Eldonna Lay, we are getting some nice cool temps in the wine room….much easier to keep it about 60 degrees American.  I still water the oyster shell floor in the wine room in order to control humidity, which, if nature was to do its thang here in Alpine, land of porch-sitting, neck scratchin’ rednecks, would be about zero. Corks don’t like that…they need about 60%, like Panama or Miami.

Anyway, earliest Veraison ever!  Which pretty much means we are planning for an August harvest…probably MID-august if a ‘usual’ summer occurs. Plan your vacations accordingly!!!

Saw Steve Winwood  (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, etc.) night before last at Humphrey’s down on the bay (Shelter Island). Good nostalgic trip down memory lane…can’t believe that guy was 14 when he recorded “Gimme Some Lovin” with Spencer Davis….wow.