Finding Hope, Truth and Valor in Paso Robles

In times like these when it seems that integrity has become almost negligible in the world around us, it can be hard to maintain a moral compass. West Point has a very simple pledge for their cadets, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” It’s so basic, something most of us are taught as children. Yet, this basic idea, this touchstone for a morally functioning society, can so easily become distorted and neglected through the complications of life.

In 2014 Paso Robles went from a single AVA to eleven AVA’s. The reason for creating so many sub-AVA’s in this central coast region of California can be summed up in a word; diversity. There is a diversity in climate, soil types, and topography in this part of San Luis Obispo County. While the eastern region is warmer and drier with temperatures sometimes reaching triple digits and rainfall in the single digits, the western region is cooler and wetter. Topography varies with vineyards planted as low as 700 feet and as high as 2000 feet. Soils vary from sand, clay, calcareous shale and loamy soils. Single vineyards may even have more than one soil type.

Since 1983 when the Paso Robles AVA was first established, the area has grown from having 17 wineries to having over 200 wineries today. Among these are Austin Hope Wines and Truth and Valor Winery.

Truth and Valor creates a Cabernet Sauvignon wine that reflects the climate and soils of Paso Robles without ‘heavy-handed winemaking.’ The expression of terroir is the wine’s truth, and the hands off approach is the ‘valor’ of the winemaker. With beautiful dark fruit, notes of green pepper and and elevating acidity the wine presents the truth of Paso Robles.

Austin Hope, the president and winemaker of Hope Family Wines, has a goal of having 100% certified sustainable vineyards by next year. He believes that will have ‘positive effects for our vineyards, the environment, our community and the future of wine growing in Paso Robles.’ His namesake Cabernet Sauvignon is made with grapes sourced from five different sub AVA’s of Paso Robles. The variation gives texture and complexity to his wine which is rich and fresh with spice and cocoa notes and a lush, elegant structure.

Simple, bold words make a great structure for social integrity. Simple, bold acts done with integrity produce quality. Part of the terroir for both these wineries is a strong moral compass.

Old World vs. New World

There are four sure ways to tell an old world wine from a new world wine. Old world wines have ripe fruit on the nose and tart fruit on the palate. New world wines are ripe on both the nose and the palate. Old world wines have a mineral finish. New world wines do not. New world wines are more likely to have evidence of new oak, aromas of vanilla, spice and smoke. New world wines are, also more likely to be higher in alcohol. Another way to think of the difference in style between an old and new world wine is to think of them as party attendees. The Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, is full and opulent, loud and boisterous, like the glamorous, loud, sophisticated woman who’s personality fills the room as soon as she enters it. The red Burgundy is quiet, elegant and demure, sitting off in a corner observing. Both guests are great to talk with. The loud party-gal has you laughing minutes into the conversation. In fact she has the whole room laughing. She’s bright and witty, loud and fun. The woman in the corner speaks quietly, but she is endlessly fascinating. The more you talk with her, the more interested you become in what she has to say. But you really have to listen and ask the right questions. You have to work a little to get her to open up.

To my first protest I wore my American flag t shirt. I knew it was an ‘annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman’ thing to do. But I am, after all, an annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman. It’s time I embrace who I am. A protest march just felt very patriotic.

My poster had two sentences, ‘Take a knee for Floyd. Bend the arc toward justice.’ As we marched through the streets of Reno, several hundred strong, we chanted in one voice, ‘Say his name, George Floyd. I can’t breathe.’ I chanted until I could no longer. The power of that moment, hundreds of people speaking out in unison against the horrible injustice of George Floyd’s last few minutes on earth made my voice shaky and my eyes well-up.

There are still people who believe that Colin Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag when he took a knee during the pledge of allegiance. His was a silent, powerful, peaceful protest. He may have been disrespecting and thereby drawing attention to what America is, but he was showing tremendous respect to what America should be. He was demanding that we as a nation live up to the pledge and promise of our founding fathers, ‘liberty and justice’ for all. Colin Kapernick taking a knee is profoundly patriotic. I hope we can all respect our nation that deeply.

What are the next steps to wiping out systemic racism? First, people have conversations like we’ve been having for the past several weeks since the protests started. We have to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in our society. Then we all have to work to make racism unacceptable. That may mean calling people out on subtle racism or overt racist comments. Systemic racism doesn’t just exist in our police forces. It exists in our society. It exists in our conversations

Loud protesting can be riveting and educational. When the protester is loud and has a clear message it can be inspiring. But the wordless protester, the one who kneels quietly, is quite compelling, quite eloquent in his silence. Through both loud and quiet protesting we will bring the old world into the new world.

Covid-19 and Community; an Etude

“I bought new shoes on line today!” my friend shouted to me from several yards away.

“ My husband is really getting on my nerves!” shouted another friend, also several yards away, “ This will be a test of our marriage,” she continued. “Let’s see who comes out of this still together.”

We were walking our dogs at the park, and like we often do, we had stopped to visit with each other. But this visit was all from a safe social distance.

We, all three lingered, even after there was nothing left to shout. It was nice just being together, from several yards away. We were all reluctant to say good-bye, and head back to our respective homes, the place in which all of us have spent way too much time, lately.

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The other night I opened a bottle of Etude Pinot Noir. It was one my husband and I had purchased at the winery on our last visit to Napa/Sonoma in February. Etude makes several Pinots all sourced from different vineyards. This particular wine was made from grapes sourced from the Yamhela Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district of Oregon. It had great dried herb notes, bright red fruit, a touch of smoky goodness with a lengthy vibrant finish. It was dreamy. While my husband loved the wine, it was one I wished I could have shared with my wine group. I’m sure they all would have identified the region. It was a classic Willamette Pinot, and they all would have fawned over the quality of the wine a bit. As a group, I know no better people with whom to share wine appreciation.

I miss the gym. I miss going to work. I miss my wine group. Each is a small community of which I am a part. Mostly what I miss is being with my communities.

Words Matter

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There are three wine certification programs available to whomever has the inclination to enroll. For the service sector, there is the Court of Masters, with four levels. There is a 90% pass rate for the first level, a 33% percent pass rate for the 2nd level, and it drops precipitously from there. Passing the 4th or master level is so difficult and demanding that since its inception in 1977 there have only been 269 people who have achieved that level of mastery. While the level of knowledge required to pass level one is fairly basic, as one would assume, the depth and complexity of the information gets progressively more demanding. That is to say levels two and three have quite a mastery of wine knowledge.

For the retail sector there is the Wine and Spirits Education and Trust. That program has four levels, each progressively more difficult. WSET is often a pathway to the Master of Wine title. Because of the level of depth and complexity of the knowledge required, there are few people who have achieved the Master of Wine title. Since its inception in 1969 there have only been 396 Masters of Wine.

For the writing and teaching sector there is the Society of Wine Educators. That has just two levels, Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator. Established in 1977 there have been 8700 certified specialists of wine and far fewer than that for the top level.

By the 2nd level of Court of Masters, the 3rd level of WSET and the 1st level of SWE, the tests are quite rigorous and require quite a lot of knowledge.

What a good certification program will do is guarantee a high level of knowledge in that field. As does happen in many areas of study, there are people who read a few books, or learn a few facts and present themselves as experts. If you want to know that the person teaching a class on wine has the knowledge, ask which of the above certifications they have. If they are not certified, you may as well just read the book yourself.

Here are some things that a person with certification would never say. Can you correct the errors?

The fruit had a fresh, raisinated quality

Tempranillo and Zinfandel are genetically related.

Rioja is a synonym for Tempranillo

The clay soils of the right bank of Bordeaux give Syrah its searing acidity

This Pinot Grigio has a great pyrazine quality

This young Beaujolais needs to be decanted so it can open up.

The oak on this St. Joseph creates some great tertiary aromas.

This is a dry wine with some residual sugar

Some of these are things actually said by wine ‘teachers.’ The point is, as with all things in life, facts do exist. Words matter. Don’t hesitate if you go to a wine class to ask the teacher what level of certification he or she has achieved. If the answer is 2nd level or above through the Court of Masters or WSET programs, or Certified Specialist of Wine or above through Society of Wine Educators, then rest assured you are in the hands of a knowledgeable professional.

Falun Dafa is Good

“We’re going to see Shen Yun,” I told a coworker.

“Oh, that’s part of the cult Falun Dafa. They put on shows to support the cult,” he responded.

“Also, they’re from China, so you might pick up the corona virus while you’re there,” added another coworker.

Comforting myself with the thought that my coworkers are communists and racists, I was determined to enjoy my night out. And I did, mostly.

The performances were magnificent. The show is traditional ancient Chinese dance with both western and Chinese music and instruments. The skill and professionalism of the dancers and the musicians was fantastic. The costumes were stunning. However, my communist coworker was not completely wrong. There was some not so subtle propaganda in the performance.

The stated mission of Falun Dafa is to create art that celebrates nature and the divine. The inspiration of art is drawn from spiritual practice. As cults go, a community of skilled artists is probably one of the least annoying that I’ve encountered. And it did get me thinking about art and religion, two realms that at times have been diametrically opposed. Perhaps it’s religion that has a small, sheltered tolerance for art and spirituality that inspires art. Or perhaps it’s nature that inspires both art and spirituality. Perhaps, nature is the divine. Or perhaps art and nature are both manifestations of the divine as Falun Dafa professes.

Though the evening didn’t help me sort out the relationship between art, nature and the divine, it did get me thinking about it. It was also very entertaining. And, as far as I know, it did not give me corona virus.

Driving Force

I am trying to master this soil and the crops and animals that spring from it, as I strove to master the sea…” -Jack London

img_1382There’s a spot in Glen Ellen California in Sonoma County, in front of the Jack London Saloon the Hotel Chauvet and the London Ranch Road, that feels like an epicenter of quiet perfection in a small town surrounded by natural beauty. This is the saloon where Jack London drank, the road he took to his idyllic ranch. And it’s here up the road on the ranch where there are groves of eucalyptus trees and stands of redwoods, winding paths and magnificent vistas, Jack London’s beloved home over 100 years ago and now a state park; it’s here that one can experience the powerful draw of nature.

Though known for his writing, Jack London also introduced the ideas of organic and sustainable farming to California. His mission was to improve the land, “I am rebuilding worn-out hillside lands that were worked out and destroyed by our wasteful California pioneer farmers. I believe the soil is our one indestructible asset, and by green manures, nitrogen-gathering cover crops, animal manure, rotation of crops, proper tillage and draining, I am getting results which the Chinese have demonstrated for forty centuries.”img_1447

Along the Wolf House trail are vistas of vineyards. And just beyond the Beauty Ranch Trail is the Jack London vineyard, now maintained by Kenwood Vineyards. Planted here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah. As is fitting to the name, the Jack London Vineyard is farmed sustainably.

img_1460Along with the ripe fruit aromas the volcanic soil of the vineyard lends a vibrancy, a kinetic energy, to the wines that in its own way pays tribute to the driving force that once worked this land.

Wilde About Rosso di Montalcino

D842E4C0-DC27-43C0-A951-6A130A7F7DAD“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” – Oscar Wilde

My daughter recently moved out on her own. I’m very excited for her. It’s an exciting time of life. In her words;

‘Little update on living on my own: 1. The neighborhood isn’t bad, but it’s just sketchy enough for me to feel on edge at night. My neighbors are a little odd. 2. Butter is expensive! 3. This transition feels really natural and I’m really, really happy about it!”

My daughter is charming!

Perhaps I am a wine snob, but I find over manipulated wines, the wines that are under $10 and taste like cough syrup, quite tedious. I won’t drink them even to be polite. And I’ll never tell a customer that I like it or even that it is a good wine. I’ll say it’s very fruit-forward, a crowd-pleaser, well-priced, but never that it’s charming.

Charming wines are fun, they’re interesting, they’re playful They have a lot to say and are vibrant on the palate.

Rosso di Montalcino, the younger sister of Brunello, is made from 100% Sangiovese and aged a short 12 months in neutral oak. From the Montalcino region of Tuscany, she is the light, bright version of her brooding older brother, Brunello.  Renieri’s Rosso di Montalcino is a charming wine! Plump with bright red fruit, and elegant savory notes, it is a playful, vibrant and harmonious wine.

It is absurd to divide wines into good and bad. Wines are either charming or tedious.

For the Glory of Grapes

“I’m thinking of going back to being a wine ass.” I texted a friend.

“Do you mean wine ass or wine assoc.?” he asked

“Both.” I said

The other day as I drove home from work I was listening to a woman on NPR explain why the new policy on overtime would hurt certain types of employees. “There are several jobs where people have management titles and duties but aren’t paid management wages.” “That’s me!” I shouted at the radio.

“It’s especially true in retail,” she continued

“Me again!” I said

“For example a front end supervisor.”

“And is her name Linda?!” I asked, expecting a direct answer.

Last year I agreed to go from selling wine to managing the front end, a promotion of sorts. Operations isn’t new to me. I was a retail manager for several years before I became a SAHM. And I thought being in the wine shop would be satisfying enough. I didn’t have to actually work with the wine I’ve come to realize that it’s not and I do. I miss talking to people about wine, teaching wine classes, merchandising wine… heck, I miss filling the bins. There’s something almost joyous about walking the aisles and knowing exactly where each wine should be because of its region. That’s what we study. That’s our wealth of information. It’s really why I re-entered the workforce, to be involved with wine.

For most of us jobs in wine don’t pay very much or bring us fame or glory. But these low level jobs satisfy a need, a passion. We are all in one way or another evangelists in the service of wine. It is all for the glory of grapes.

Spoofing and Truth in Labeling

My phone was recently spoofed, not hacked, but spoofed. That’s where a caller (aka criminal) uses my phone number, not my phone, just the number to send out those horrible robocalls. Your car warranty is about to expire, you owe the IRS hundreds of dollars, you didn’t call your brother on his birthday…wait, that one was mom. We all get them. We all hate them.

I was at the gym the other day when I got an angry call from a stranger living on the other side of the country in a place called Georgia. ‘Stop calling this G@# D@#4 number. Stop f@#$ing harassing me! I’m tired of all you G@# D@#$ M@#$%# F@#$^&$%.’ ‘But, sir, ‘ I tried to interject, ‘I’m just a middle-aged white woman listening to Taylor Swift while working out at a gym in Reno Nevada.’ I couldn’t get out the complete thought before he interrupted with some more choice language. To be honest, I’m with him 100% I hate those phone calls, too. I think they make us all a little angry. But the point is he was reaching out to the wrong person because the phone id was mislabeled.

Because wine production is regulated by the TTB, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, under the department of Treasury rather than the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, under the Department of Health and Human Services, there is no truth in labeling. In other words, wine makers are not required to list the ingredients on their labels even though wine is, when at its best, a consumable product. All wine is grape juice and alcohol. But there are many other additives that may or may not be in the wine such as oak chips, egg whites (for fining), PVPP, ascorbic acid and many more which can be found on Alice Feiring’s website. And we will never know. Is that acid natural to the grape or was acid added to the wine? Did this wine undergo long maceration with very ripe fruit or did the wine maker add mega purple?

Karen McNeil’s rule of thumb is that if a bottle of wine is under $20 and has oaky aromas, they probably used oak chips rather than barrels. Those barrels are expensive! $20 is a good cut off for other expensive processes. Good fruit is expensive. Long hang time is expensive. In other words, a flavorful, well-structured, oaky wine for $7.99 is more than likely relying heavily on corrective additives. Is that a bad thing if you enjoy drinking the wine? At some point it stops tasting like wine and tastes more like a processed beverage. It loses it’s ‘interesting-ness’, it’s complexity, it’s depth, it’s character. A good wine taster can tell the difference between a pleasant beverage and and well-made wine.

While a spoofed wine doesn’t make me as mad as robocalls make my friend in Georgia, there’s some trickery to them that leaves me feeling duped and unsatisfied.