Prayers for our sisters and brothers affected by California wildfires

Our thoughts and prayers go out this morning to our sisters and brothers affected by California wildfires.

The photo above was taken in early September of this year in Oregon House, California (Yorba County), about an hour’s drive south of the town of Paradise, which has been all but leveled by the natural disaster.

It gives you a sense of how much fuel — dry brush — the fires have to feed on.

Check out this terrifying photo posted by my friend Melanie K on Instagram from Santa Monica. Apocalyptic is the first word that comes to mind.

The fires were never this bad or this frequent when I was a kid growing up in California. This year’s fires are already on track to be the state’s deadliest and most devastating ever.

Our hearts are heavy this morning as we pray for the victims and their families. G-d bless them all.

Thoughts and prayers for our sisters and brothers in Michael’s path

Hurricane Ike struck southeast Texas, where Tracie’s parents live, just a month after we started dating in 2008. Back then, people in Louisiana and Texas were still reeling from the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, which included Katrina and Rita.

These days it seems like a given that hurricane season will deliver devastation by means of a massive storm like Florence or Michael.

A year after Harvey, you can still see debris piled up along the streets of our neighborhood. For many residents here, it was the second or third time their houses flooded in three consecutive years.

Does it really matter whether or not humankind is to blame for climate change? I believe it is but that’s beside the point: the climate is changing and the storms and devastation are becoming more and more frequent, the human loss and damage more grave. The same can be said of the wild fires in California where I grew up.

Today, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to all of our sisters and brothers in Michael’s path.

Image via the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr (Creative Commons).

2007 Barbaresco in glorious focus right now: Produttori del Barbaresco Asili

From the department of “will you take me as I am?”

Every summer when the Texas Parzens visit the California Parzens, our good friends Jon and Jayne at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego let us bring a few bottles from my cellar to pair with their delicious food and share with our friends.

This year, the flight included two bottles of Produttori del Barbaresco 2007 Barbaresco Asili. The wines were purchased on release and delivered to my wine locker in San Diego where they have been sitting undisturbed since they arrived.

The 2007 harvest was part of a string of excellent-to-extraordinary vintages in the appellation (check out this superb article on 2007 in Piedmont by Antonio Galloni; he focuses on Barolo but he also offer some excellent overarching observations about 2007 in Langa).

Tasted last year, this wine was still very tannic. It was already showing signs of opening up but it was still “tight” in wine collector parlance.

But, man, when we opened it on Saturday early evening, every drop just sang as it flowed from glass to palate.

My dining companions and I had dropped one bottle in an ice bucket to chill it slightly. The other was served room temperature (my preference). Both bottles delivered notes of delicate rose petal and berry fruit on the nose. In the mouth, the richer berry fruit was balanced by that ethereal hint of earth and subtle mushroom, all the while wrapped in a sheen of acidity.

We followed these two with a bottle of 2008 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Rio Sordo. 08 is arguably the better vintage but that wine was “shut down”: the tannic character and earthiness seemed like a jealous new lover who doesn’t want to let its fruit dance. Still a great bottle but not nearly as expressive and nuanced as the 07 Asili. The latter is considered to be one of the appellation’s greatest crus while the former is one of its lesser growths. But given the closed character of the 08 Rio Sordo, I’m going to wait until next year to start revisiting my 08s.

In other news…

Parzen family drove our new Ford F150 to California at the end of July.

We had a great time in my hometown of San Diego: visiting with my mom, spending time my brother Tad and his family, lots of swimming and beach, a rocking show with all my buddies (I dedicated my rendition of “Back in the USSR” to Donald Trump), dinner at Jaynes, dinner at Bahia Don Bravo (my favorite fish taco joint). All in all, it’s been a great trip.

This week we’re driving back. That’s sunrise, above, at our Palm Springs hotel this morning (I always get up super early to get work done before I take the girls to the pool). Friday we’ll be at the Grand Canyon.

The girls have been so well-behaved in the car and have really picked up their parents’ love for travel (is it genetic?).

I love the long drives, especially across the desert where I have time to think and reflect. And the best part is we are all together, all the time. That’s where my true joy is.

Thanks to Parzen family west for a great visit and thanks to all my folks in southern California: I have the best friends a man could wish for. That’s the truth.

There’s so much more to tell, including some great winery visits for the Slow Wine Guide.

But that’ll have to wait. My little bunnies and the pool are calling…

Rock out and taste with me in San Diego: July 27-28 #music #Lambrusco

Above: my San Diego-based band The Grapes plays mostly psychedelic country and British invasion.

Please come rock out and taste with me in San Diego on July 27-28!

On Friday, July 27 my band The Grapes will be playing at Beaumont’s in La Jolla (northern San Diego). We’ll probably go on around 9 p.m. And the amazing country guitarist Dave Gleason will be sitting in with the band (not to miss).

And then on Saturday, July 28, I’ll be hosting a Lini Lambrusco tasting at my favorite San Diego Restaurant, Jaynes Gastropub. I don’t have the exact details yet but it will be late afternoon. And Tracie and the girls will be joining me for dinner that night. So please come down and taste some Lambrusco and say hello!

Thanks for your support! Please stay tuned for details and have a great weekend…

The Grapes
Friday, July 27
Beaumont’s
5662 La Jolla Blvd.
La Jolla CA 92037
(858) 459-0474
Google map

Lini Lambrusco Tasting
Saturday, July 28
3-5 p.m.
$15 per person
Jaynes Gastropub
4677 30th St.
San Diego CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Google map

Lambrusco image via Corkscrew Concierge.

Slow Wine: Deborah Parker Wong named senior editor for California guide (2019)

The 2018 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California featured 70 producers. Next year’s edition will include twice that number.

As coverage of Californian wine expands, the editorial team is growing as well: I couldn’t be more thrilled to share the news that California wine writer and educator Deborah Parker Wong has been named Senior Editor for the 2019 guide.

About Deborah:

Veteran wine writer Deborah Parker Wong is Global Wine Editor for SOMM Journal, Tasting Panel and Clever Root magazines where she reports on the wine and spirits industries with an emphasis on trends. As a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Approved Program Provider she offers Level 2 and Level 3 WSET certifications to students in the United States and she teaches as an adjunct professor in the Wine Studies department at Santa Rosa Junior College. She is the co-author of 1000 Great Everyday Wines (Dorling Kindersley 2011). In addition to writing and speaking about wine, Deborah judges wine competitions and scores wine for Planet Grape Wine Review.

Related: Slow Wine: Michael Alberty named senior editor for new Oregon guide (2019).

Cannabis impacts CA wine industry in unforeseen ways

Above: the West Sonoma Coast is one of California’s youngest wine regions. Growers are petitioning to create a new Americana Viticultural Area designation there. The Pacific Ocean lies just a stone’s throw to the west of the vineyard in the photo.

Much has been written about the impact of newly legalized recreational cannabis on the California wine industry. The fear among some trade observers is that consumers will spend less on wine as their spending on pot grows.

But weed is affecting the California wine trade in unexpected ways, even just four months into legalization (which took effect in January of this year).

One of the most interesting elements to emerge from a touring tasting organized by West Sonoma Coasts Vintners last week was the winemakers’ concern that the lucrative cannabis business is attracting current vineyard and farm workers.

“It’s a lot nicer to be using tweezers in a greenhouse” to pare cannabis flower “than it is to be working in a vineyard,” noted one winemaker. Evidently, according to the growers, it also pays better.

Making matters even more challenging for wineries is the fact the the Sonoma, Napa, and Paso Robles fires last fall have drastically reduced the availability of affordable housing. This, combined with the current White House hard-line on immigration, has also made the industry less attractive to the migrant and seasonal workforce.

Another issue faced by wineries, said the vintners, is the decreased availability of storage and industrial space. The cannabis business is so lucrative that the new wave of pot growers is willing to pay higher rent for coveted warehouse and industrial park rentals. Winemakers need those spaces to store and age their wines.

The West Sonoma Coast is just one of the many wine growing areas affected by the nascent recreational cannabis business. But as a relative newcomer, in one of California’s more remote locations, it seems — at least anecdotally — to have been more acutely affected.

There is no doubt that cannabis is already reshaping the California’s agricultural landscape. It remains to be seen how its viticultural industry will react in the face of mounting challenges.

The best Zinfandel I tasted in 2017…

From the department of “my other son, the wine writer”…

It’s not the first time that my fingers glide across my computer keyboard and deliver the following mea culpa to the screen: “California wine, I was wrong about you. And I’m sorry.”

My role as the coordinating editor of the 2018 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California has been an eye-opening and humbling experience for me (you can read our winery profiles for the 2018 guide, soon to be published in print, as they come online — free access — on the Slow Wine guide blog).

When Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first contacted me about joining the project, I asked him, “are you sure you have the right man?”

When he pressed on, I wondered out loud, “will we even find enough wineries to fill the pages of the guide?”

But I finally succumbed to his insistence, despite my skepticism and reluctance.

Man, was I wrong!

In early June I began visiting wineries in southern and northern California, tasting and talking with grape growers and wine makers. In late June, I joined my fellow editors — Giancarlo, senior editors Elaine Brown and David Lynch, and field editor
Elisabeth Fiorello-Sievers — for a tasting of more than 200 wines we had requested.

Over the summer, we traded notes, I wrote and I edited our contributors’ profiles, and we decided on the top wines and wineries that would be awarded the guide prizes.

I was simply blown away by how much great wine we tasted. And I was also impressed by how many wineries in California employ sustainable farming practices. In many cases, I learned, the sustainable legacy stretched back at least one or even two generations.

Although it didn’t win awards in this year’s guide, one of my favorite wines was the 2013 Moon Mountain Zinfandel by Winery Sixteen 600, made with fruit grown by biodynamic pioneer Phil Coturri. Named after the family’s address “on the mountain” (one of Sonoma’s most famous and storied houses, with ties — and tie dyes — to the Grateful Dead), the winery and tasting room is managed by one of Phil’s sons, Sam (whom you might recognize from yesterday’s post).

Not only was this lithe and fresh yet meaty wine utterly delicious, with buoyant red fruit and tasty minerality, but it reminded me of the Louis Martini Zinfandel from the 1970s that Darrell Corti (the renowned Sacramento retailer) once poured for me in his home.

When I shared that red thread with Sam, he smiled broadly and revealed that the cuttings for this wine actually came from the same vineyard where Louis Martini farmed its wines back in the day — before the overwrought, highly alcoholic and concentrated style of Zinfandel emerged as the new hegemony in the 1980s.

For years, the Coturri family has advocated for the Moon Mountain District and I believe Phil had a hand in lobbying for and creating the Moon Mountain AVA (in 2013). Not a lot of California wine lovers are aware of this newish appellation. But I believe it’s one of California’s most exciting wine growing regions, where more and more marquee-name wineries are looking to source higher-altitude, volcanic-soil fruit.

The Winery Sixteen 600 2013 Moon Mountain Zinfandel isn’t cheap. But it’s one of the purest and most elegant expressions of California’s antonomastic grapes. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Check out the 2018 Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California here. Thanks for reading and buon weekend a tutti… have a great weekend, everyone!

Killer trees and a long road to recovery in California wine country (Slow Wine California Guide now online)

Beyond the myriad hand-painted posters thanking first responders for their efforts during the October wildfires, there weren’t a lot of signs that Sonoma wine country had been devastated by a natural disaster when I visited last month.

But when winemaker Sam Coturri invited me to jump into one of his company’s off-road trucks and we headed “up the mountain,” it didn’t take long for us to come upon blackened areas and “killer trees,” like the one above.

State recovery crews, he told me, remove some of the most dangerous burned-out trees. But many property owners are left to clear out the precarious “snags” as they are known in wildfire terminology. The government team marks them for you. But you have to remove them yourself.

Burned out trees and acre upon acre marred by damaged fences and cattle guards were just some of the issues that Sam was dealing with the day we visited in early December.

“Fuel… all I see is fuel, all around us,” he kept saying as we toured his family’s property and the farm where he grew up. He pointed to the dry brush that could instantaneously turn into kindling. The Coturris nearly lost their estate and beloved home in the October fires.

Word of the southern California wildfires had just begun to hit social media as he and I met up that morning. And it was abundantly clear that he, his colleagues, and his family were freaked out by the news they were receiving via text and private messages.

“Up here they call the Santa Ana winds the Diablo Winds,” he explained, referring to the notoriously hot dry air that arrives from the east this time of year.

The weather conditions that day were eerily similar to the day the Tubbs Fire first broke out.

At a certain point, Sam’s wife called him while we were in the car together. You could hear the fear in her trembling voice as Sam helped to soothe her nerves with loving words.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for the California wine trade — financially and emotionally. As Sam pointed out that day, winemakers won’t know whether or not their 2017 vintage will be affected by smoke taint for many months to come. They have to let the wine age before they can properly test it.

There are also many other challenges they are facing, including a drop in tourist dollars and a housing shortage, just to name a few.

I’ll be catching up with Sam for updates to post here in coming weeks.

In the meantime, please check out the Slow Wine Guide blog where we have begun to post producer profiles nearly every day (many of the profiles online have been written by Elaine Brown, David Lynch, or myself). Some of the featured wineries will be joining us for the Slow Wine U.S. Tour in late February and early March.

There’s no better way to help in their recovery than by buying and drinking California wine.

Annus horribilis: posting from So. Cal. where wildfires continue to threaten life and property

Those aren’t clouds. That’s smoke from the wildfires in Ventura County, photographed yesterday from my Southwest flight from Oakland to LAX. You could smell the smoke in the cabin.

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the captain over the loudspeaker, “if you smell something that smells like a camp fire.”

In the photo below, you can see the smoke hanging over Los Angeles.

Here’s the LA Times wildfire live updates link.

The hotel where I always stay when I’m in town isn’t far from where the Skirball fire, still not contained. I used to go to shul up there when I was an undergrad and grad student. My alma mater U.C.L.A., also not far from there, has cancelled classes today.

In my hotel room this morning, you can smell and taste the smoke and my throat is scratchy, my eyes and nose irritated and itchy. I’m 100 percent safe where I am but the fires continue to rage not far from here.

Will this year of natural disasters — this annus horriblis — come to an end?

Hurricane arvey, the wine country wildfires, the Mexico City earthquake, Charlottesville, and now the LA fires… It seems like 2017 has been a revolving door of natural and human tragedy and catastrophe.

G-d bless Southern California. G-d bless us all… Please stay safe.

Slow Wine California guide coming online: first profiles now published

Last week, Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio and I began publishing the first winery profiles from the 2018 Slow Wine guide to the wines of California on the Slow Wine blog.

Click here for the blog.

Even though we will be publishing a hardcopy version of the guide (slated for release in early 2018), each one of the profiles of the 70 wineries featured in the book will be published online. In keeping with the spirit of Slow Wine, the guide and its editorial mission, the idea is to make the book an open source of information about the estates, the wines, and the evolving California wine trade. As with the Italian and Slovenian sections of the guide, the entire California guide will ultimately be available online.

We plan to publish nearly one a day, four-to-five every week.

In other news, the New York public relations firm who handles logistics for the Slow Wine U.S. tour, Colangelo, has launched a website devoted to the annual tasting itinerary. This year, the tour will be visiting Atlanta, New York, Houston, and San Francisco. I’m so glad that Giancarlo decided to include Houston for 2018: our city is a major hub for fine wine in general and a great destination for Italian wine in particular. I’m also glad that Colangelo has agreed to publish the site and update it regularly. It’s an important resource for info that’s bound to come in handy.

That’s a photo I shot earlier this year at Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma (Sonoma Coast). You can see the sloped growing site; the proximity to the Pacific Ocean (and the resulting maritime influence); you can see the naturally occurring grass and plants growing between the rows. What you can’t see is the ancient-seabed subsoil, ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The presence of ancient seabed there is owed to the nearby San Andreas site.

I’ve written here before that I was wrong about California wine. At another time in my life, in the early years of my career as a wine writer, I wrote-off California wine as being too jammy, too oaky, overly concentrated, too hot (alcoholic), and lacking balance.

My experience this year as the coordinating editor of the guide and one of its contributors has really reshaped my thoughts and impressions of the California wine industry.

And California wine country needs us all — you and me — more than ever before. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to northern California to survey the damage and recovery in the aftermath of this year’s terrible wildfires.

Stay tuned: I’ll be posting about the trip here and on the Slow Wine blog as well.

Thanks for reading and thanks for drinking California wine.

Please see my post, from earlier this year, California wine, I was wrong about you. I’m sorry…