Best ways to donate to #Houston #Harvey relief efforts…

Ever since we were able to travel beyond our block, Tracie and I have been working as hard as we can this week to aid our neighbors and fellow Houstonians: helping with clean-up and gutting houses, babysitting someone’s kids as they deal with insurance, washing flooded families’ laundry, gathering used clothing and purchased goods for shelters and relief distribution centers, etc.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites to send donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Based on our research, these are the best resources for contributing directly. As Tracie pointed out this morning, the Houston Food Bank can stretch a dollar a lot farther than we can by simply going to the grocery store and dropping off food we purchase. And by giving to Mayor Turner’s fund, you can be confident that the money will go directly to local relief efforts.
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Parzen family #Houston #Harvey update: helping our neighbors and praying for Tracie’s family on the Louisiana border

Just a quick update today to let everyone know that we are doing fine. Thanks for all the notes of solidarity and concern. The thoughts, wishes, and prayers really made and make a difference. They really do. Thank you…

We were finally able to leave our house yesterday and we began helping our neighbors with recovery.

That’s just one image of a thousand I could have shot yesterday as I was finally able to move around beyond our block and see some of the damage.
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Miraculously, Parzen family safe and dry. So many of our fellow Houstonians flooded and stranded. #Harvey

From the solar eclipse “path of [partial] totality” to Hurricane Harvey’s “cone of uncertainty” in less than a week. It’s felt a little bit like the end of times here in Houston.

According to what I’ve read online and the television news we’ve followed, 30,000 people are displaced in our city right now and flooding isn’t expected to subside anytime soon: Harvey is expected to make landfall on the Texas coast at around 1 p.m. today after it moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news for us is that it seems like the worst is over in our little corner of southwest Houston. That’s a screenshot of the radar tracking, above, on Sunday morning when things got really dicey for us. If you look carefully, you can see Houston’s inner “loop” (Interstate 610). We are just outside the lower lower corner.

On Sunday morning, we could see that the main thoroughfare closest to us was already under a foot of water and it was creeping up our street. At the same time, water was splashing up against our sliding-door window in the back.

We thought the house was going to flood then and so we packed up to get out. It was one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to us as a family. After about five hours huddled in the living room as we watched the water rise in the backyard, it finally stopped raining and the water began to subside.
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The quiet before the storm: Parzen family hunkered down for Hurricane Harvey

It’s been drizzling on and off this morning since Lila Jane, age 4, woke us up at around 5 a.m.

She crawled in bed with us and told us that she didn’t like thunder.

At 8:20 a.m. the drizzle has already turned to a steady but light rain. You can only hear distant, intermittent thunder at the moment but even little Lila Jane knows that it’s heading our way.

As we await the arrival of Hurricane Harvey here in southwest Houston, Parzen family is hunkered down with plenty of water, canned food, batteries, flash lights, a first-aid kit, gassed-up cars, fully charged phones, and even a whistle (see the check list for hurricane preparedness here).
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The strangest vintage on record? Harvest 2017 is full of surprises (and it’s only just begun)

I just had to share the following post by my client Stefano Cinelli Colombini owner and winemaker at Fattoria dei Barbi, which includes an estate in Maremma (I translated it yesterday for the winery’s blog).

    The 2017 harvest at Fattoria dei Barbi in Scansano: In the three glasses in the photo above from left, you can see Merlot (1), Ciliegiolo and Alicante (2), and Cabernet (3). The berries have crunchy brown seeds, wild color, and high levels of polyphenols.
    Notice anything strange?
    Nothing at all, except… The grapes in the first two glasses were picked 20 days earlier than usual and the grapes in the last glass were picked 40 days earlier.
    How can the grapes be so ripe?
    Beats me. But they are totally ripe.
    I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
    But the flavors are great and there is no trace of bell pepper or jam.
    This harvest will make for excellent wines even though, theoretically, none of this should be possible.
    Everything about this year is strange. The woods seem like they’re dying but the vines continue to produce vegetation.

Click here for the complete post, including more observations on the changing climatic conditions in Italy and Stefano’s concerns.

His thoughts were echoed by winemaker Marilena Barbera, who commented (on Stefano’s Facebook version of the post): “I really don’t understand this vintage. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure it out.”

Across the internets, I’m seeing Italian winemakers scratching their heads as they try to wrap their minds around the 2017 harvest and the 2017 vegetative cycle in general. There have been so many “extreme weather events” this year: unusually warm temperatures in late winter, late spring frosts, intense summer heatwave…

When a grape grower is picking his Cabernet 40 days earlier than usual (and the grapes are excellent quality, which is nothing to complain about), there’s something really strange going on. But, then again, nothing about 2017 has seemed normal…

Italy’s harvest 2017 has begun, for better or for worse…

From Puglia to Friuli to Piedmont to Tuscany and beyond… many of my friends have begun sending me photos of the grapes they are harvesting.

Those are Chardonnay grapes in Franciacorta (Lombardy) harvested this week at the Vezzoli winery.

The 2017 is a vintage that will be remembered — without a doubt — as an extremely challenging one.

Warm temperatures came early in February and March, causing unusually early budding. Then in April, over the course of one week, two frosts struck northern and central Italy, capriciously devastating some growers and miraculously sparing others.

Summer rainfall helped some farmers but disadvantaged others when precipitation came in the form of “extreme weather events,” as we have come to call them in the era of climate change.

And who could avoid news this summer of the heat wave that affected European citizens of all stripes and further accelerated a vegetative cycle (that was already ahead of schedule thanks to the early budding in the late winter)?

From what I can gauge (between images that reach my inbox and photos I see on social media), most white growers are well underway with their picking. And many are resigned to lower yields this year.

It’s still too early to predict what will happen over the next few weeks for the red varieties. I’ll be following along…

Thank you, Solouva (my close friends and clients), for the image!

Wine culture takes Middle America by storm…

Above: the mélange of Venetian glass at Brandani’s in Missouri City was as brackish as it was playful and delightful. I loved it and I loved the restaurant.

I have to be totally and brutally honest.

When my editor at the Houston Press asked me to see if I could find any undiscovered wine country in Houston’s suburbs, I headed out to Middle America with the same preconceived notions that any average self-respecting American wine pro would harbor: there is no wine culture or true fine wine life outside our country’s major urban commercial centers.

But what I found was a vibrant, however unnoticed, community of people who love good wine and food, who appreciate good wine service, and who are looking to expand their wine knowledge and experience by adventuring beyond the stereotypes and common places of American wine enthusiasms.

Above: owner and wine director Kevin Rios of Veritas Steak and Seafood told me that his interest is turning from “big, bold” California to Italian and Spanish. Music to my ears!

On my last visit, at a small unassuming wine bar, Off the Vine Bistro, in a strip mall in Missouri City, Texas last night, I was blown away by wine director Manish Asthana’s selection of white wines, including a super groovy natural Arneis.

That’s Manish (below, right) with his wife Namita, who runs the “farm-to-table” menu. He’s an oil-and-gas dude and they’ve lived and raised their children in this southwest suburb of Houston for 22 years.

He told me that of all the places they’ve lived over their lifetime (mostly in Europe but also in Asia and their native India), they decided to make their home in the Houston area because they really loved it here.

There may be hope for (wine) America yet!

Click here for my post today for the Houston Press.

Wine trade in particular might be surprised by how ambitious some of these places are despite their location far beyond Houston’s inner urban loop.

Spirit of the Confederacy still stands in Houston, a dispatch from a Jewish son-in-law of Southeast Texas

Could there be a more apt allegory for America’s damaged psyche than a dark-as-the-thick-of-night, hundred-mile-wide shadow that will literally slice the nation in half today at midday?

The breathtaking (and scream-inducing) path of totality carved by today’s eclipse will stretch from coast-to-coast spreading (or reflecting?) our umbra at 1,800 miles per hour.

(Read Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 essay “Total Eclipse” where she recounts the transcendental experience of viewing the 1979 total solar eclipse in Washington State.)

On Saturday, just a week after torch-bearing white supremacists and Nazis marched in Charlottesville, killing a young woman and garnering the approval of the President of the United States of America (who noted that many of the racist activists were “fine people”), the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter held a rally calling for the dismantling of “the Spirit of the Confederacy” sculpture in Sam Houston Park in the city’s downtown.

That’s the monument, above, photographed early Sunday morning.

My wife Tracie and I have attended Black Lives Matter rallies here in Houston in the past. We even took our children to one of the marches.

But in the wake of the violence in Virginia, we decided it was too dangerous to attend Saturday’s gathering. Luckily, no one was hurt. According to a report by my colleague Meagan Flynn at the Houston Press, only a handful of Confederate-flag-bearing counter protesters were on hand.

The Spirit of the Confederacy monument by Italian sculptor Luigi Amateis (aka Louis Amateis, an immigrant to the U.S.) was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the first decade of the last century, when Jim Crow was the law of the land in Southeast Texas.

Like countless similar memorials erected between 1895 and World War I to “serve as testimony to the Daughters’ aggressive agenda to vindicate the Confederacy,” the installation in Houston was “part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution,” wrote University of North Carolina history professor Karen Cox last week (Washington Post).
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Barcelona, thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers

It seemed that even before the news about the Barcelona tragedy broke in the U.S. yesterday, I began seeing a stream of “marked safe” posts on Facebook. There are so many of my friends who live or are vacationing in Spain this summer: social media remind us how easily and senselessly terrorism can affect people we care about, even when they are far away. And they remind us that we are all connected — no matter where we live or travel, no matter the color of our skin or our religion — by our shared humanity.

When one of my close friends from high school (she’s vacationing there) and the brother of one of my best friends (he’s a genetic scientist there) marked themselves safe, sweet tears of relief were made all the more salty by those that fell in the anguish of a world wayworn with anxiety.

Today, the Parzen family’s thoughts and prayer go out to our sisters and brothers in Barcelona.

Roya and Tyler, I thank G-d you are safe…

Image via Wikipedia.

Mazel tov, Andres Blanco! The new “Best Sommelier in Texas”!

Above: Andres Blanco (center) revels in his new title as the “best sommelier in Texas” after winning the coveted Texsom Best Sommelier competition (photo by my bandmate and food editor for the Houston Press Gwendolyn Knapp).

The wine business has never been more competitive in Texas and the title of “best sommelier” in the state couldn’t have gone to a better man than Andres Blanco, general manager and floor sommelier at one of my favorite Houston restaurants, Caracol. (Today, the event is called the Texsom Best Sommelier competition but until two years ago, it was known as the “Best Sommelier in Texas” competition; it now includes states contiguous to Texas.)

When I interviewed Andres yesterday by phone (for my write-up for the Houston Press today), he mentioned that he is the first Mexican-born candidate to win the competition.

That says a lot about the ever evolving wine and restaurant scene in this rapidly expanding urban landscape, the fastest growing and most diverse city in the U.S. today. (Don’t believe me? Just ask the Los Angeles Times).

Mazel tov, Andres! The award and title couldn’t have gone to a more talented Houstonian.

Please click here for my post and interview with Andres for Houston Press.

Andres’ win — the second year in a row that the title has gone to a Houstonian — and our chat were bright spots in an otherwise on-edge, weepy day for us here at the Parzen household. In the light of the other events that took place over the weekend and Donald Trump’s embrace of the white supremacist and anti-Semitic movements in our country, it’s been pretty tough to get back to “business as usual.”

For all of you who voted for and continue to support Donald Trump: was the “disruption,” as you like to call it, worth it? The stock market is soaring and you foresee lower taxes and fewer government regulations impeding you from doing business. That’s good for you. And to that I say: fair enough (however much I disagree with Trump’s attitudes and policies).

But was it worth these last six months of chaotic, unmoored governance, and the lack of leadership in the face of racism and anti-Semitism? Last week he promised “fire and fury” in Asia and this week he’s saying that Nazi flags and anti-Semitic epithets are okay when people are “defending their heritage.” Even if you promised us all the money in the world, it wouldn’t be okay at our house… It will never be okay at our house… ever… For us to teach our children otherwise would be wholly and absolutely immoral.