Regarding the Wine Bloggers Conference-- in a lingering daze

Am I fading into an early, fatigued senior fog? Scary. I am overdue for a medical checkup-- since I flew back to Puerto Rico from my informal learning stint around Crushpad in San Francisco, on February 15, 2007...!

I bring this up because I'm drawing an embarrassing blank on the Saturday Grand Tasting of Sonoma Wines. With the level of tiredness I was carrying, relaxing my guard & swallowing instead of spitting soon after joining the poolside anti-Conference was a grave mistake.
Seems I may have been masking most of the symptoms of a lingering, silent flu by doubling up on my usual caffeine intake. I don't have the greatest stamina for alcohol, but I was dimly aware I was feeling lighter headed than usual, even after spitting 99.9% of the time. D-oh.
Only when I woke up in the five AM predawn of Monday morning with suffocating chest congestion unyielding to the hacking cough my body was revving up did I get the message.
A couple of days of rest & reflection yielded some versified impressions--

...about my spiral fog
an abstract ferment breaks
down into spirit love manure
rising into manure love spirit

as if built & meant for lingering
flat in my convection current
lifting my convictions higher
than spirits downed

(Is redundant solitude given
or able to heal its own wounds?)

A life remade crawl by crawl into bed--
now lie in it!

For the last few days I've been slowly but nicely recovering in the care & company of Sam & Karen, owner-operators of the Arbor House Inn. Their cozy B&B is located in one of my favorite pieces of California redneck heaven: Lakeport, in the shade of Mount Konocti on the Western shores of Clear Lake. Jed Steele's winery is in nearby Kelseyville, & Jim Fetzer's handsome, dramatic Biodynamic project, Ceago Vinegarden, is across the water in Nice. More interestingly, people like Andy Beckstoffer & other names associated with Napa Valley have actually been sourcing & growing grapes in the volcanic soil prevalent here for some time now.
I have some catching up to do-- I discovered & started exploring the area nearly two years ago, & it seems some things may have changed a great deal up here, while others have not. Besides Lake County wineries, Mendocino's Redwood Valley is a short drive away. I'm champing at the bit, frustrated by the lingering malaise. Argh.


Wine Bloggers Conference, Day One

I'm walking a (metaphorical) tightrope I might be tempted to literalize at some point: high above the dizzying chasm in attitude between knowing my limits & testing my stamina.
Happy to be in the company of des vrai amateurs du vin: true lovers of wine, quite a few of whom are talented, tenacious, & astute enough to earn their living as some type of oenological industry professional or another. Of course, I'm also still nursing the familiar 'out-of-my-depth' feeling.

The proceedings got under way with an event fairly close to tradition: a lunchtime tasting at Kick Ranch Vineyard, under the gracious hosting of owner couple, Dick Keenan & Kathy McNamara.
Insufficiently caffeinated, my tendency to thoughtful, meditative & conversational tasting limited the number of wines I sampled. Fifteen different wineries source from this farm, where only 40 or so acres from the property's total 100 are cultivated. Out of the top-flight wineries presenting their work, I focused mostly on two small, intensely personal projects: Enkidu Wines, where Phillip Staehle is winemaker-owner, & Renard, Bayard Fox's Rhone-focused winery.

Making our way back to the Flamingo from this setting meant diving headfirst into Wine 2.0 ...tropes? --with winemakers making six minute presentations, table to table, while bloggers shared tasting impresions 'live to the Web'. I posted, somewhat disjointedly, on Twitter. Mike Wangbickler has published a succint & organized write-up on his blog, Caveman Wines.

There was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blind tasting after this, & I missed my chance to rest & freshen up as soon as I was eliminated. Couldn't quite catch up with the massive selection of wines from New Zealand. Enjoyed dinner. Gary Vaynerchuk's keynote address was fun & awesomely inspiring. From now on, I want-- no, I demand!-- a couple of tablets of multi-Gary washed down with a glass of Vaynerchuk every day. Missed a ride out to 'Pinotblogger' Josh Hermsmeyer's, where an 'afterhours' event featuring wines from New York, both Long Island & the Finger Lakes, was taking place. Yes, I'm a wimp: a wimp, a wallflower, &, as we say in Puerto Rico, a Wally Schneider. Over'n'out.


A Twisted Post gets Detoured!

-- delayed, derailed, unbent, unhorsed...?

A pen, a pen-- my kingdom for a pen!

Run, sit zazen, write, loiter, browse, mull it over...now is the morning overcast in Murphys dispelled & warmed into glorious Indian summer '--by this sun of York'.

The misshapen, yet lovely, gibbous moon rose like a casual gob of cosmic mustard over the Oakland hills, flashing between the Bay Bridge girders in rotoscope animation. I was behind a steering wheel for the first time in a whole year, driving East towards the Calaveras County foothils of the Sierra Nevada after a decade of rail & roading rather strictly North & South along the coast in my visits to the Golden State, the former Bear Flag Republic. Kicking up the road ambience with a mix of cultural dislocation & time warp, a version in Portuguese of the old pop ditty 'Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini' played on the radio.
Deflating Selene's form brought the pretty young woman at the Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco to mind. She stood out among the layered-bagpants neo-hipppie chicks & the boho-patrician gypsy-skirted Boomers, wearing a close-fitting denim jacket buttoned up to the neck & short-short cutoff sweats that brought attention to her long, well-turned legs. What's her story, I wondered? Then she turned around: her left arm was missing. I stared-- it seemed a trick of the light, a problem with my glasses...

What is it about flawed or wounded beauty that will bring us to our knees in a welter of contradictory emotions?
Maybe it's the way it pointedly engages the (dominant, normatively male) gaze with the discomfort of self-consciousness without denying or shutting out the desire it excites-- but how much am I projecting my own issues with self-image & self-acceptance (--& desire, & aesthetics...) & how much am I also being invited to project, in such a situation? How aware or at all concerned might this woman be of the range of reactions her particularly striking appearance may trigger?
I haven't read deeply enough in Feminist Critical Theory to address any of these issues in a consistent & disciplined manner, yet I feel compelled to raise them & explore how they might have some bearing on writing that concerns the evaluation of sensuous (sensory?) pleasure-- i.e., in relation to wine; with attendant & pertinent debates on the possible desirability of strictly defining objective vs. subjective criteria for such evaluation.

These weightier concerns have hijacked what I had planned as a travel update in a much lighter vein, focusing on my visit to Murphys & Twisted Oak Winery. I am much indebted to both 'El Jefe' Jeff Stai & 'Fermento el Magnífico', Scott Klann, in ways I must absolutely find time & occasion to detail forthwith, at greater & more leisurely length. For not-quite-full disclosure of my personal relationship with this winery, this post & this one will provide some background.

The Wine Bloggers' Conference is scheduled for the upcoming weekend, & a sizable sampling of intensely dedicated wine professionals & amateurs who double as Internet-focused scribes (read: bloggers!) are looking to meet up & possibly test their sense of community as well as define their relationship to the broader worlds of the wine industry & wine journalism. Serious debate on the above topics & others of more practical import--on making some sort of a living from this sort of writing, & the tools to achieve this, for example-- is on the conference's agenda & I look forward to meeting some of the outsize personalities making their mark in this field, this context, this realm.

Still, the inner parent's voice in my head keeps nagging, 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing'...welcome to the Hotel California!


Armas Ajenas (Maipú-- reposteao)


junten filas

el pasillo de olivares
endereza y yergue
su pelotón de jorobas

ramas rascan
hojas arañan
y el fruto perdido
ciega caricias al caer

no hay rastro de camaradas
en el murmullo incierto
que premia la carrera

danza de oscuro sacrificio
entre amargos funcionarios
rinde confuso servicio
a la memoria


The Wild Gone Missing: Wine Blogging Wednesday #50

Ah, yes-- the Big Five-Oh. A big thank you to Winehiker Russ Beebe for hosting this milestone installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I fully expect to get some 'winehiking' in during my upcoming couple of months among los Californios-- maybe a haunted Hallowe'en traipse by the River of Skulls? For now, unfortunately, this is probably ending up as a virtual ramble down a wild stretch of memory lane.

My younger brother Alberto did not live to see fifty. Just about five weeks after celebrating his 49th birthday (On May 21, 2005, to be exact: the incident made the front page of the Orlando Sentinel the following morning.) he confronted three Brevard County officers who couldn't handle a drunk-- with a knife in each hand, admittedly-- any other way than sending him to his grave with eight bullets in him. These days I'm angry mostly at my own lack of resolve in marshalling resources to question & investigate the official 'justifiable homicide' excuse. I am also, however, enduringly irritated at the dismissal voiced by members of our extended family who argue that Alberto, in his spiral of alcoholic depression, had set himself up into a 'suicide by cop' situation. To me this seems an obvious, likely variation on blaming the victim.

How is any of this pertinent to the topic at hand? One of the last good times we had together was when we bagged the three main peaks in El Yunque National Forest during the course of a sweltering afternoon hike, led with dogged focus & persistence by our German (half) brother, Peter. If memory serves me right, this must have been close to my own birthday, in March of 2001. There are wilderness trails in El Yunque, but I'm not certain the loop we improvised around the peaks, connecting as it did by a service road, could be considered such. The tallest summit in the area is actually 'El Toro' (Its height variously estimated at 3,524 feet here, 3,533 here) which now lends its name to what was formerly designated 'El Cacique' Wilderness Area-- as you can read in this succint summary of what makes the Forest unique.

I say three peaks-- Peter can actually claim four: before beginning our descent with a planned pitstop at Mt. Britton tower, he insisted on making his way past the electrical substation & broadcast antennas at the end of the main service road to the narrow outcropping fittingly dubbed 'La Roca'. Delays had made for a late start around midday & the afternoon heat rising in waves from the pavement seemed to aggravate the pain in my knees as well as make me dizzy. I had prepared only one seltzer bottle of my homemade peppermint-green tea 'soda', hardly enough to stay hydrated in the local climate-- it was finished by the time we took snapshots on Los Picachos, our first summit.

I can't remember how I convinced the family crew to trust me & chance the shortcut of a barely discernible path along what seemed an abandoned branch of the forest service road. It was fern-clogged, overgrown, & somewhat rough going; but there was shade overhead, softer ground underfoot, & we saved quite a few minutes of precious time which was starting to run scarce. I had something of a personal agenda taking shape at this time, given urgency by the heat: I wanted to cool off in my own special pool.
Back in '89 or '90, showing a visitor from New York around Puerto Rico, I had taken the opportunity to revisit El Yunque for the first time since childhood. I discovered there were a series of more or less secluded pools both up & downstream from the showcase 'La Mina Falls'-- La Mina 'trail' is actually a narrow concrete sidewalk, slippery with rainforest moss & fairly steep to boot. I'd only returned once to the special pool I'd identified, bringing friends David Sower, his then-fiancée, & Alex Schachtner from Germany for a cooling dip when they were all my guests in June 1999. Now I wanted desperately to soak my aches & pains in the cool, churning stream.

Long story short, I got my wish-- & you may have already surmised this is the place where I'd like to open that bottle of wine-- but there was a price to pay: access to vehicular traffic is closed off at six in the afternoon, by locked gate. The hour was late & close enough to that cutoff point that we decided I should jog the two miles or so down to the gate to make sure it stayed open while Peter, his wife Astrid, & Alberto hiked the steep mile back uphill to the trailhead parking lot to get our car. I made it to the gatepost, gasping for breath, & waited anxiously by the deserted roadside. I seem to remember they were delayed somewhat, but still, no guard or caretaker turned up before we were gone-- & I haven't been back since then...

Oh, the wine-- ! Quirkily enough, the wine I'd want to drink-- to share, preferably-- in this place is one I have some mixed feelings about: Naia Verdejo is something of a 'tropical fruit bomb' (according to a reviewer who shares my opinion, in Spanish) crafted for the international palate & maximum ParkerPoints by Oenologist Eulogio Calleja under the sponsorship of importer Jorge Ordóñez. Sometime over a year ago I shared a couple of bottles with my friend Ricardo. It was a great match with his ceviche of Mahi-Mahi, the heady perfume of honeysuckle & passion fruit, (Parcha in Puerto Rico, Maracuyá in Spain & most of Latin America) carrying over with a touch of sweetness on the palate & playing nicely off the lemony marinade & the soft oiliness of the fish. While other tasting notes suggest there may be a fair amount of vintage variation, attributable as much to the subtle blending play of Viura (Macabeu in Catalunya) & Sauvignon Blanc allowed under DO Rueda regulations as to other technical factors, I dare say the slightly over-the-top character is what the lush rainforest setting calls for.

On a less idyllic note, I needed two days-- Thursday & Friday of last week-- of 40-minute pavement hikes each way to board the Tren Urbano into town at its Torrimar station & finish the paperwork for renewing my driver's license. It was then I decided I needed more time to tie a few loose ends before flying West, took a deep breath & paid the 150 smacker fee to postpone my departure. Otherwise, yesterday I might have been trying to find my jet-lagged way out of San Francisco to some trail with a wineshop nearby. In the meantime, & not to stray too far from my longstanding pursuit of Viognier knowledge (most extensively chronicled here) I've managed to get my hands on a few other different takes on Verdejo, most notably from Bodegas José Pariente & Solar de la Vega.

Having missed my deadline, & not to delay posting any longer, tasting notes will have to wait.
So I will sign off with with my all-too-often recurrent-- 'to be continued...'


TASTE the Wine, Write the Walk

Lurking invisibly down a-ways the list of posts there's a fragmentary draft waiting for a recovery & resurgence in my energy & writing motivation: my health & political issues collided & conspired against my participation in Wine Blogging Wednesday #49. The wine? Chapoutier's Hermitage bottling: (Monier de) La Sizeranne. On top of everything else, the meaning of the name became an issue. I do also have some emotional venting stuck in my throat regarding issues with my place & family of birth...later.
Meanwhile...I've postponed my flight into San Francisco until next Saturday the 11th, only secondarily to give me a slightly better chance at participating in WBW #50.

Well, maybe I will vent a bit: after seven months in Argentina, I was happy to be drinking wine from anywhere else, but variety & access to Old World juice comes with an increasingly steep price tag in Puerto Rico. The most recent experience with sticker shock concerns my bête noire grape, Viognier. Until recently, V.Suárez had Guigal's basic Condrieu pegged at 32 dollars & change (--plus tax these days, don't forget!) at El Hórreo, their retail outlet. They're still peddling the '97 vintage, by the way, & the wine has miraculously & consistently come through all those sweltering Summers in great shape. I had figured I could afford a bottle every other week or so, but on ringing up the purchase after my last outing two weeks ago I was told-- warned-- the labels were outdated, & from now on (after courteously honoring the sticker listing) I'd have to be shelling 50-something smackeroos for a bottle of the precious elixir-- a few pennies less than Guigal's famous vineyard selection Condrieu, 'La Dorée' --really, WTF???
I guess I can consider myself lucky to have had the chance at a few bottles at the earlier, more reasonable price-- & at a couple of the Hermitage mentioned above, the latter at something over 42 dólares.