Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Buffy Phenomenon--The "Seemingly" Mundane Scene of Realization

Dear August,

I am so unbelievably angry my body is shaking with an irresistable inclination for an unexpected...Bloody Mary!

Damnit, that doesn't sound right.  Bloody Mary--what the hell am I thinking?  Ooh, a Bloody Mary!

April shoved her pen and paper away, disgusted with her disjointed thoughts.  This was her ninth attempt at writing this overdue letter to her sister and time was running out.  For whom, she will never know.

Dear August,

I should have sent this letter weeks ago, but I could never find the right words, so I'll settle for those that you will understand.  How we arrived at this place in time is an absolute uncertainty to me but the need to offer you...

"What?" April thought out loud.  "What can I possibly offer her?" And, for the first time in weeks, it hit her so unexpectedly.  "Judas Priest," she whispered.

Dear August,

I'm writing to tell you that I love you.

I found this piece, dated 4.26.2007 recently while cleaning out the garage, readying myself for another move--a good move, albeit another one.  And oddly enough, what came to mind was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5, Episode 21 "The Weight of the World."  (Bear with me.)  It's that precise moment when she places a book back onto a shelf in the Magic Shop and she just knows.  (netflix it.) It's that total awareness, that undeniable known--to know concretely, as if it's an intimate moment with a particular piece of information.  Frankly, at this moment in my time, it is the Meaning of Life.  Tomorrow is another story, but right now that's it--to make aware, to know undeniably.

There's quite a bit of power associated with knowing something so deep in your bones. And as I sit, stand, saunter, sip and generally swoon about this liquid in my glass, I realize it's not so much what's in my glass (unless I'm drinking Burgundy) but how it makes me feel--the memory associations it brings forth from my mind. That's my "Buffy Phenomenon" moment.  (Ah, the Muppets.)

What's in my glass you ask? Were you not reading along? Well, just so happens I do mention it below, and instead of "correctly" evaluating, like a good Sommelier should, I'll just give my "in the moment" impressions.  Have at it:

Királyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec 2009

petrol, lemon--so heady, wet rocks, unripe (but on point) apple acidity, candied citrus, rock dust, and I want to taste it so bad!!!!! Wait. clover honey, spring flowers still in the ground so there's a bit of soil/earth scent about it. Now...

slight viscous palate, like a candy coating left on the upper palate and teeth, lemon / honey candy.  Oddly enough I can feel it in my ears.  ( I love it when my wine talks back!--so naughty...) And I let it sit, watching, waiting, 10 seconds, 15...25...30...aahhh! 1 minute! And it's still on the tongue, whispering, "another sip..." Oh yeah.  long finish. Huh, the Hubs says it's "over the top."  What does he know? Engineers, pthhhh.

Ok, you get the idea, it's good. Although, you may not like it and it's ok.  But there is a nice story here, so read on and if nothing else, if a conversation is started with the words, "the king's court" you can jump right in...

American Anthony Hwang imbibed in a Tokaji Aszú, recommened by a Sommelier. He was so enamored with the wine he had to learn more.  Back in the day, Tokaj, Hungary produced two highly-coveted and expensive dessert wines, Aszú and Esszensia, but two world wars devastated the local wine market and the wine fell out of favour.  Just after the Iron Curtain fell, Anthony teamed up with local Tokaji backer Istan Szepsy and together they knew they could return their beloved Tokaji to its original glory.

Anthony purchased the Château Királyudvar, (pronounced Kee-RYE-oohd-var) best known as supplying wine to the Imperials for centuries.  The most invaluable collaboration came with Noël Pinguet, of Domaine Huët fame, one of the best Loire Valley producers and the move to convert the Tokaji estate to Biodynamic. Anthony took all this a step further by recognizing the same Furmint varietal can produce exceptional and world-class dry, semi-dry and sparkling wines.

Yes, it's been a while on the posting front, but I've been busy with the new business venture:
Please follow along on the wine journey with my wine startup business blog site:  PROTOCOL wine studio and Facebook: PROTOCOL wine studio
Twitter:  @ProtocolWine


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Glen Manor RePost

I wrote this piece back in December because I liked the Vin Rouge.  I find out today that Jeff and his Hodder Hill Meritage 2009 received the Virginia Governor Cup's best wine award.  Good to see this happen to a farmer / winemaker.  I spoke to Jeff today at the Wine Expo--such a nice guy, low key--he just wants to grow grapes and make wine for goodness sake.  Anyway, just thought I'd repost.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Some Say there is Wisdom in Wine...

If that is indeed true, I wish I had been suffused with the civilized liquid for wary sanity slipped out a cracked window and fled during a harrowing car ride from the Napoli airport to the hotel that left me in desperate need of a long, hot bath and acutely agitated.  A little background information: a work trip for the Hubs, so I wasn't prepared to go (don't judge me).  I have a Santa-long list of to-dos for my business, plus taxes, and a million and one other reasons to stay firmly on state soil.

"I'm telling you, that kid is NOT moving!" my voice was slightly raised.  I cracked the passenger window for a breath of fresh air but traffic noise hit me instead.  Think good thoughts:  fresh, milky mozzarella, famous Napoli pizza... "Did he just flip us the bird?" One wrong turn from the airport and somefrikkinhow we end up climbing higher and higher into the residential section of Naples.  The Hubs is driving (it's been years since he had a manual in his command) and thank all the wine gods he is because I wouldn't have wanted Mario Andretti himself driving our larger-than-99%-of-most-cars-on-the-road auto. The man is a machine:  he has this uncanny ability to drive a stick, not hit any of the million people, birds, dogs and cats on the road and still point out some of the more beautiful sites on our precarious route. The GPS is just too slow for city driving.  At one point we came to a screeching halt in what looked to be our turn but soon enough bells rang alongside my clench-jawed "shit!" and we found ourselves in a road/parking lot for churchgoers.  Talk about a hasty three-point turn!

Needless to say, that all was the easy part.  The GPS kept taking us higher and higher until abruptly the Hubs shouted "Mirrors!" and hastily (ok, it took me a split second) I grabbed the rearview mirror and pulled, moments before we nearly toppled a row full of motor bikes.  And as we kept climbing (we could actually see the hotel, damnit) the view was overpowering:  the buildings so tall and close, and some so old with laundry and plants off the balconies that for a dreamy moment I could swear that one ornately-carved stone apartment building was reaching over to the next across the alley as if to say Ciao, mi amore! A quick jolt on the brakes brought me back.  "We're here." he said.  Just like that. I don't recall pealing myself out of the car or riding the elevator.   I do remember the bath though, the salts smelling of basil.  Soon after we had a drink, several.  I know it was wine, I know it was red--a little spicy and it went down fast! Wisdom indeed.

End of Day 1.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Biodynamics: The Power of Life

After such knowledge:  what forgiveness?
                                    …Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism.  Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.
                                                               --T.S. Eliot

I’m not one to throw my opinion in randomly, especially since I am not a winemaker and I’m not physically practicing Biodynamics.  However, I am a believer in the power of life and within all its constraints and possibilities.

Recently I read a piece describing Biodynamics and its relation to Mid-Adlantic region winemakers.  Good writing, facts, opinions, but what made it successful was the ensuing onslaught of comments—all poignant and passionate, with some a little more heated than others.  Despite some disparate points of view, it’s all still good—variety is the spice of life.  This all gets us thinking, moving, doing—to improve ourselves, to become better human beings by rediscovering ways to a more healthy and whole lifestyle.

A Powerful Life
Super easy definition of Biodynamics:  First, let’s break down the word:
Bio:  life
Dynamics: powerful
Biodynamics is the power of life.  It is “wholeness” in its most basic form. According to Biodynamic farmers, they view their farm as part of a circle - animals, other crops, people, weather, lunar cycles, with a unique balance between all the elements.

Of Conferences and little white Pills
The whole "farm" should be self-sustaining, which means no synthetic chemicals (remember, it’s the power of life.)
I attended a Boston University conference many years ago and the gist of it was the rise of the urban farm.  Why? Because large, “conventional” farming was destroying our fragile ecosystem.  By farming on a much smaller level, folks are able to “control” what goes into the soil and what comes out of it.  Now, control is in quotes because none of us is in total control of anything, but that’s the point.  (We’ll come back to this in a minute.)

What was absolutely exciting for me is that the attendees came from all over the world and from varying occupations:  farmers, politicians, scientists, psychologists, chefs, etc.  Meaning, the safety and well-being of our food sources are paramount to the survival of our species.  I even attended a discussion board speculating on the future of our food system if we did not adopt a way to grow with a conscience.  The words extinction and little white pills were common in the room.  Scary stuff. 

6 Degrees of Separation is now about 4.2
There’s been lots of talk about whether Biodynamics is a faith-based system.  Anything and nothing can be faith-based.  By history's accounts, "faith" makes people do some crazy things.  Why? Because logic, philosophy and science are thrown out the window.   Biodynamics uses the principles of biology, logic, philosophy and science as a whole.  Each principle is treated with respect and each gives to Biodynamics its power, because by employing these principles, Biodynamics is not just “one” as religion, but made up of many.  Frankly, I think biodynamics is the “new” farming reality for our 21st century.

There is a reverence towards Biodynamics, not because it’s a religion, but because of its possibilities in achieving agricultural wholeness. 

On Rudolph
Rudolph Steiner was a little nuts, but brilliance sometimes breeds a little insanity.  When I lived in San Diego, I traveled over two hours inland to attend a Biodynamics seminar.  And again, the attendees were small farmers, vineyard owners, a large-scale cattle rancher, homemakers, students.  Steiner was mentioned, but only in passing. Biodynamics itself has become most important, not Steiner.

Vineyard Dynamics
Biodynamics and terroir go hand in hand.  When we talk about minimalism in the vineyard, with the winemaker letting the power of life forms: soil, air, water do its work:  do I dare make the jump and say Biodynamics is terroir?  What we put into the vineyard we get out of it:  cause and effect.

All my words here have a common denominator:  human interaction.  Religion, biodynamics, logic, philosophy, science, technology—it’s all based on the human condition—how we use this knowledge, which is  “evolving” whether by good or bad. Technology can work for and against us—the trick is in its intended use. The only thing that’s truly constant is the Earth.  Its only purpose is the preservation of life, in the most natural way possible.  Nature does not give us the illusion of control.  As we’ve seen, Nature is influenced by human interaction. Hopefully, by employing Biodynamics, we can achieve a naturally occurring wholeness.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Talk Soil to Me: A Tasting Visit of Glen Manor Vin Rouge

Tasting a wine first then  visiting the winery is second.  Why? I think it’s more civilized that way.  I’ll never forget listening to a wine blogger go on about if she does not like a wine, she’ll film herself pouring the bottle down the drain and then proceed to post it.

I’ll write about the wine if:  1) I like it and 2) If it is varietally correct and 3) It makes me think.  Number 3 may sound odd but this very topic came up when someone asked my favourite wine.  I don’t technically have faves, but I am partial to those wines that indeed make me think:  of a past boyfriend, my grandmother’s house at Christmas, that Hawaiian pizza after that crazy party…  It’s all about the memory association.  But of course before that association, I’m seeing, smelling and tasting the wine’s story.  I’ve tasted many a wine and I’ve also had the training to know good wine from not so good, so if I report negatively on a small winery’s mediocre wine, I’m doing no one any good.  But when I find a wine that gets the pistons firing and before I realize it I’m on memory lane and half the bottle is missing, that’s quite the exciting bottle.

A wine’s story comprises quite a lot.  It tells me, believe it or not, about the farmer, vineyard manager, winemaker and everyone else who had a hand in producing this bottle of wine.  Jeff White is the current winemaker of Glen Manor Vineyards and The Virginia Commonwealth recognizes the entire property as a Century Farm with a history of four generations of family farmers / winemakers.  Talk about a story.

What I’ve noticed about Glen Manor is that they are soil conscious and cognizant of what will grow properly with each soil composition, elevation, sun exposure in relation to the “glen” effect from the nearby mountain range, and natural rain runoff.  Mix in the classic Bordeaux varietals and without even tasting the wine we can figure out what the wine will taste like.  But let’s do taste.

Glen Manor Vin Rouge 2008 Virginia
When tasting wine, the majority of all sensations will come from our sense of smell.  The palate merely confirms what you smell.  Then your brain tells you if you like it or not and how much to drink.
Pour, sniff once, twice, then swirl, swirl, swirl.  Let’s see if what I’m smelling and tasting is actually in the wine:
53% Cabernet Sauvignon:  The juicy scent of blackberry, dusty rocks and the unmistakable pencil graphite, sweet vanilla, acid
33% Petit Verdot:  Alcohol--a little biting, exotic spices, violet finish, chocolate?, a little meaty, tannins
7% Cabernet Franc:  Slightly vegetal—green pepper
7% Merlot:  Coffee notes, juicy mouth feel, crayon

The only “issue” I’m finding with the Vin Rouge is the mid palate is somewhat thin.  What I mean is this:  When the wine hits my mouth, there is an explosion of flavor, then it’s as if it all drops off for a brief moment, then it returns with a long finish.  Wine is a living liquid, constantly changing, evolving: opening.  Sometimes during its life cycle the wine will “go to sleep” (call it natural preservation,) especially if it has the ability to age, which I do believe this does.

Again, a vigneron who understands the value of planting thick-skinned grapes that resist rot, those that ripen later or flower earlier, and those that resist frost and damp soil.  This way, weather variations are easily negotiated.  Couple this with the right soil, and you have a varietally correct wine.

I purchased the Vin Rouge from a small shop in Fredericksburg, The Virginia Wine Experience.  A tiny bit of a thing, Bethany, spent a lot of time with me, discussing her favourite Virginia wines and why.  If you’re in the area do go, it’s well worth the time.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Abbott and Costello Meet the Half-dressed Wine Bottle

I akin this to Who’s on first? Third base.
With the arrival of cooler weather, red wine seems to dominate the old “liquor cabinet”.  Inevitably, the Hubs and I rarely finish an open bottle, so at any given time during the wintry months, we could have upwards of five bottles in different states of “undress” if you will.  If we were still in San Diego, we’d have some folks over, with both the inside fireplace roaring and the outside fire pit keeping up. And a huge pot on the stove would be the simmering cauldron of Mulled Wine.
Medieval Europe being a practical lot, they made a lot of wine.  Sometimes it didn’t work out, but they still had a lot of “wine” liquid “goodness”.  What to do? Mull it of course.
Below are ingredients I’ve used for years.  Sorry, no measurements because I never know how much wine I’ll have at any given time and frankly, it’s not rocket science.  The only important instruction of note:  never boil the below concoction, it will make the resultant mulled wine quite bitter.
Red wine
cane sugar (gives it a slight caramel twang)
whole cloves
cardamom pods
anise stars
cinnamon sticks
zest of orange and lemon
a shot of brandy or cognac for a little bite
Infuse spices, simmering for about 30 minutes.  Third base.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boxwood Winery: A Southern Belle in Northern Virginia

A Virginia July can be brutal: temperatures in mid 90s to 100s, humidity topping 98%, give or take. I tasted some of the best wines on just such a day at a wine conference, from Boxwood Winery of picturesque Middleburg, VA. After living in California the past twenty years and tasting some of the world’s highly regarded wines, I found something quite intriguing about Boxwood. By now, we’re all familiar with the story: In 2001 John Kent Cooke, with his wife Rita, purchased the former horse farm and began plans to construct a state-of-the-art winery on the rolling hills and forested property. With guidance from successful viticulturist Lucie Morton, Executive Vice President Rachel Martin, who runs the winery, said that what sets the winery apart is it’s “quality level of our plant material and rootstock , our practices in cultivation and selection of site on the property.”

Of Granite and MicroclimatesI’m no stranger to Virginia, and living farther south and driving up on a cool, somewhat overcast Virginia Wine Month October day, I was unprepared for the rock outcroppings that dotted the landscape. When I reached the winery I asked winemaker Adam McTaggart if it was granite and he confirmed. Middleburg, where Boxwood resides, sits on a bedrock of granite, with sightings of limestone and of course Virginia’s ubiquitous clay. And although clay is ideal for food crops, which Virginia is known for, it’s not the ideal soil-type for growing wine grapes, although just the right amount can work perfectly. Middleburg bears a unique microclimate: mountains and rolling hills combined with a primarily granite and limestone geography, produce an ideal terroir: spring rains, dry summers and mountains to break up rainy weather patterns. Include 2010 vines per acre, like the Bordelaise use, and you get dense planting which controls the vine’s vigor and concentrates grape flavor, which means more complex wines.

It Takes Only a FewAt the moment, Boxwood creates five wines, and as vintages differ, so does the blend—that’s the beauty of what’s going on at Boxwood: the result is not 100% varietal, because frankly, in such a varying climate, that just won’t do. It’s not the varietal itself that matters, rather the combined end result—intelligent wine making at its most refined.

2010 Topiary Rose, Cabernet Franc, Malbec
2010 Boxwood Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
2009 Boxwood Trellis, Petit Verdot and press wine
2009 Topiary, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec
2009 Boxwood, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot

The grapes are nurtured with whole berry fermentation and the end result is evident in the finished product. “The fruit is harvested based on its ripeness and maturity”, says Martin. “When berries are not crushed, wine ferments little by little and adds to the complexity.”

It’s in the GlassRachel’s enology studies began at Napa Valley College and at the University of Bordeaux. In 2006, she convinced flying winemaker / consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to visit Boxwood: “I met Stéphane through my friend, Jean Baptiste who I met while at the University of Bordeaux. I explained to Stéphane about Virginia and her history in wine. But most importantly I told him of our passion to make a wine true to our Virginia terroir and more pointedly Boxwood terroir. He was hooked. When he came to visit Boxwood and saw our plant material, rootstock selection, vine spacing and site selection, advised by our vineyard consultant, Lucie Morton, he fell in love and took the job.”

So what grabbed my attention during my first taste of Boxwood, was that it reminded me of a Bordeaux. Varietal correctness spot on: graphite, blackberry, tobacco…and what really struck me was the structure. Acid, tannin, mouthfeel, lingering finish—all were present. Those extra phenolic scents and tastes are gorgeous, and they’re present as well, but ultimately, the structure of a wine tells the full story. Good wine ages, good wine pushes you to sniff again and again until the wine evokes a long-forgotten memory, and once it hits the palate it sings even louder.

What’s the Price for a Talented Singer?One look at the stone, glass and wood modern building, with a nod to the property’s past farm roots, and you know that a great deal of money was spent: from an award-winning architect to advanced systems of weather-recording, planting, pumping and bottling. And yet, Boxwood’s wines are priced to move, and move they do. As Rachel points out: “The Virginia wine industry is young and hungry for knowledge and exposure. Having new wineries with ownership that can fund the highest quality in grape growing and winemaking is naturally a positive addition to the Virginia wine industry and we all recognize that.” Boxwood has gone one step further and applied for a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) designate for Middleburg, Virginia. It’s a big boon for Boxwood Winery and the thirteen other wineries included within the proposed AVA.

Names on a MapAccording to viticulturist Lucie Morton: “Once you really understand things from the vine's perspective, you are better able to help someone create a vineyard according to their criteria, from the cheapest scenario to shooting-for-the-stars. You also know that there are some things money can't buy," she said. "The real core issue beyond viticulture itself revolves around the people--their goals, temperaments, values, intelligence and vision." With vine and wine lovers like John, Rachel, Adam, Lucie, Sean and Stéphane, Virginia certainly has the makings to plant itself and grow roots in the fine wine arena, with Boxwood shepherding the way.