Friday, September 23, 2005

The Crush is On

Hello dear readers. As you may know, I am currently employed in the practice of turning grapes into wine. As you may also know, grapes are a natural product, harvestable only once in a 365-day period, usually sometime between mid-August and the end of October.

That's right, it's that time. Over at the 'wood, we've been crushing grapes since the beginning of the month, and as of yesterday, we've got about a quarter of our total crop in the door. When we've got everything in, that's just the beginning for us in the lab: after that, we monitor all the fermentations until they go dry of sugar, then monitor malolactic fermentation in most lots. Then we get to work on "stuck" fermentations -- the ones where the yeast culture dies before consuming all the sugar, maybe because of high starting sugar which leads to high alcohol. Maybe because of something else. Whatever the case, zinfandel, the great grape of California (that's right, not Cab. Sauv, you Parkerites) is particularly at risk for stuck fermentations. It can have very high sugars (so far, not terribly many this cool year, though) but probably it's some other factor we haven't isolated yet.

Next point: run, do not walk, to your car; start driving north, to a spot outside the town of Sonoma, this sunday before 2pm. I'm talking about the brunch at Folini & Eichenbaum. It's incredible -- went last Sunday and stuffed myself on the wonderful selection of cheeses, meats (they make this spiral-cut baked ham that's incredible) eggs, (a sort of savory custard called strada is a standout, as are the made-to-order benedicts) salads, bagels and lox...mmmm...and don't get me started on the desserts. Cheesecake, carrot cake, truffles. The amazing thing is that everything is such a high caliber -- it was the best brunch, quality-wise, since I had the smorgasbord at Aquavit in New York several years ago. The quiches and eggs are incedibly delicate in texture, the meat intensely flavorful, the salads well-balanced. If you can't make it for Sunday brunch, then swing by for your lunch next time you're wine touring in Sonoma. Folini and Eichenbaum is on Arnold drive at Grove St, so go straight at the 76 Station with the flashing red light instead of turning right to follow the Carneros highway.

What else? I just tried to take a picture of the new place for this post, but it came out looking a bit more squalid than things actually are. Maybe later today I'll try again.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Flood, disaster, and death, closer to home than ever

I find myself tearing up again and again as I read accounts of this nation’s latest disaster. Although the dead from other recent tragedies probably still outnumber Katrina’s victims, somehow I find this more pitiable.

Last winter’s tsunami dwarfs this humanitarian disaster in terms of death toll, as does the war in Iraq, which also produced lawlessness and disorder on an even greater scale. (Keep in mind that when I speak of the death toll in Iraq, I also think of the Iraqi dead, numbered at around 25,000) Even the September 11 attacks probably killed more people.

I was in New York that day, however, and I did the same thing that most people in the city did: I walked back to my apartment, far away (in NYC terms) from ground zero. Then I went out to Mexican and drank a few beers with my friends, while we talked about politics and world war. Yes, there was terror and confusion that morning, and many telephone circuits were still down. However, we still had electricity, clean water, and the rule of law.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have been trapped in New Orleans. While this disaster raged, I made a flight across the country and went to work. I drank clean water, made gourmet dinners with local craft-made wine, fixed myself lattes in the morning. Not once did I have to worry about my survival, (except on the plane, for a minute, but that’s my own issue) my belongings, or the well-being of my loved ones. Nor have I ever had to worry about these things. For about three hours on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had the facade of civilization stripped away from my daily life. Other than that, like many people from the U.S. of my generation, I have never really wanted for anything, and enjoyed whatever luxury I desired, which is perhaps why this is so unimaginable.

It’s hard to believe the number of people left unevacuated in New Orleans, a city which for years has been in danger of flood. Was it because so many National Guards troops are deployed in Iraq? Perhaps; my guess, however, is that the disaster was simply unimaginable to most of the decision-makers. There has not been a hurricane disaster on this scale in my lifetime; nor in President Bush’s, or most of his generation. For most of our lifetimes, the hurricane cycle has been in a lull. I imagine that the young President’s experience of hurricanes was much like mine: make sure there’s some food and water in the house, don’t go out during the storm. Maybe the power or the cable goes out for awhile. Thus, if a few people are left behind in the city, it’s probably not a big deal; they’ll save themselves some gas money.

Of course, this isn’t what happened; the city flooded: thousands are dead. The experts who for years have been warning us of the dangers were ignored, just as they were before 9/11. Amazingly, the president has, sort of, apologized, saying his efforts were "unacceptable."
And yet, it would be nice to hear the words, "I’m sorry." I’ve personally been waiting for him to say that for four years now. Is it really so hard?

In California, life continues. We got our first grapes at Ravenswood August 30th, fairly late. By next week we’ll be in full swing. Brett and I moved at the beginning of that month, to a new location; since then I’ve developed an obsession with buying hand-knotted Persian rugs on Ebay. I bought the cat a collar and she managed to rid herself of it in five days; don’t get me started on how hard it was to get her into her carrier for the move. Once she got here, however, she seemed to like it. So do Brett and I.