Tiny Wineries Everywhere!

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend the weekend winetasting in Lodi, California. What’s that you say, you’ve never heard of Lodi?  Of course you have.  It was the title of a song by Credence Clearwater Revival back in the last 1960’s.  Okay, maybe you don’t remember that far back, but you could look it up.

For the uninitiated, Lodi is a small town in the northern central valley of California, generally known for agriculture and specifically known for wine.  Really.  Robert Mondavi, who helped make Napa wine specifically, and California wine in general, world famous, grew up in Lodi.  He started in the wine business there before moving on to Napa, and for decades it’s been the center of large-scale, mass-produced California wines.  Sort of like Napa’s rougher, blue-collar cousin.

But the cousin’s moving up in the world. Instead of just massive wineries putting out ba-zillions of cases of just-okay table wine, now small craft wineries are popping up like mushrooms putting out excellent, small lot wines made with grapes chosen because of how well they grow in that specific climate instead of how many gallons can be pushed through regardless of quality.

Yes, I have an opinion on the subject. Can you tell?

Actually, it’s a phenomenon that’s happening all over California, and I think all over the country. Maybe the world, which would be exceptionally cool, but I can’t speak to that.  Today I’m sticking to my own backyard, figuratively at least.

From where I’m currently sitting, which is northeast of Sacramento, there are wineries in literally every direction. Most of them are relatively tiny operations, where the winemaker is passionate about the wine and the chances of overwhelming financial success are seriously slim.

One lovely winery just east of here has its vineyard on a sloping hill behind the winemaker/owners’ house with a view all the way across the Sacramento Valley, and they’re doing some great things with Zinfandel and Barbara (among others). North of here is an actual monastery where the monks are supporting themselves by restarting a winery on land used to grow grapes since 1846, now specializing in unusual varietals.  In other directions, families that have been grape growers for generations are moving into the production side, often with spectacular results.

One of my favorite things about wine is that it’s constantly evolving. A bottle of wine reflects so much more than the grape it’s made from.  It reflects the soil, the location, how much sun and how much rain the grapes receive, and the winemaker’s every decision in the process.  The bottle you open today will taste different, subtly perhaps, than it will in six months or in a year.  To drink a bottle of wine is to capture a moment, one moment, in the wine’s life and in ours.

Is all the wine great?  Sadly, no.  But a lot of it is.  And that’s what makes it worth searching out. I’ve had people tell me any number of times, oh, I don’t like white wine, or I don’t like red, or even I don’t like wine at all.  I tell them you just haven’t looked far enough.  The ranges in flavor and body and character are so diverse for different grapes and styles that perhaps all you need is to try something new.  I thought I didn’t like sparkling wine when I thought it all tasted like what California puts out.  Turns out I like Italian prosecco and French champagne, and Spanish cava quite well, thank you very much.

So I’d encourage you, whoever and wherever you are, so long as your old enough and are not avoiding alcohol for medical or other reasons, to go out and find a new wine. At a local shop, at a winery, or wherever.  Something new, something different, and preferably from someplace small, where the wine is more passion than profit.   And then savor the moment.


How Making Chili is Like Writing

My (day job) office holds a chili cook-off every year on the Friday before Super Bowl. Those who want to can wear the jerseys of their favorite teams that day.  There’s a panel of anonymous tasters and then the entire office comes in and eats chili until we’re all about to burst.  It’s a fun sort of event.  The first year I won, which amazed me to no end, although my husband and I had put a lot of effort into the recipe.  In the years since, I’ve made a different chili every time, and I’ve placed or not, but I haven’t won again.  I’m hoping this will be my year.

In preparation, my husband and I have cooked up test batches of chili and then had friends over to taste and critique. The last one everyone loved, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for this year.   Still, while we were making the chili, leaning over the cast-iron pot to taste the sauce over and over again, and talking about what and how much to add to improve the flavor, it occurred to me that chili making (and cooking in general) is a lot like my writing, or anyone’s writing I suppose.

I’m not trying to make good chili. The first batch was good; most cookbooks have “good” chili recipes.  No, we’re going for great, for amazing, for perfect.  So, with each taste we asked ourselves, “what does this need?”  More salt?  More herb?  More depth?  Some sweetness?  We add just a bit of this or that, let it simmer for a while, then taste it again.  Rinse and repeat, until we can’t find a single thing to change, that this batch is as good as it is possibly going to get.

Then we’d invite others over to have some, and they’d make suggestions. Maybe a little bit more heat, maybe some spice, maybe something that was the secret ingredient in their mom’s chili that would improve ours.  And then we’d go make another batch.  Rinse and repeat on a larger scale.

Until it was perfect. Not good.  Not great.  Perfect.

That’s what I try for when I’m writing. I start out aiming for good.  It’s just too depressing to spend time writing something, then go back over it later and realize it’s nothing but crap.  But good is good enough the first time through.  It’s after that the work starts.  Editing, revising, checking each word to make sure it’s exactly the right one in the right place.  Tearing things out or putting them back, checking for nuance, for rhythm, for tone.  Until it too, hopefully, becomes perfect.

Of course perfection is never actually achieved. I’ve entered a different chili recipe every year I’ve worked at my job and won once.  I’ve liked my chili or other chilies better than the one that won several times.  If there was one perfect chili recipe that everyone agreed on, there would never be reason to ever make another, to try again.

In writing, as well, I don’t know that perfection is ever achieved. If there was one perfect book, what would we read next?  I know I’ve never personally achieved anything nearing perfection in my writing, but I keep at it, stirring, and tasting, and adding a bit of this and that.  And every time I do it, I get better, just like with cooking.  And that’s part of what makes it worth doing, to keep doing.  Not to achieve perfection, but to strive for it.

Up and Running

Well, I’m glad to say that with much less work than I expected, this site is up and running. I’d heard that WordPress was easy to work with, and that was no joke.  Suffice to say, I’m very happy with the results.

Now to content.  I plan to write about all sorts of things.  Food and beverage are things I love to search out and that I love to write about.  Expect posts about places I’ve been to eat and drink.  I also plan to talk about books and writing, and various thoughts I have about them.

I’m deliberately going to avoid partisan politics.  I have my positions; I’m sure everyone who might ever read this has theirs.  I’m not here to try to change your mind.  People who blog politics are fine, I just don’t want to be one of them.

I’d rather write about the body of a dead English king being found under a parking lot, a lost castle found underneath a modern prison.  How brave I think it was for my great grandparents on my dad’s side to forsake the worlds they knew in Scotland and Wales to come to a new country, this one, in a time that meant they’d probably never again see or talk to those they’d left behind.

There might also be some pictures.  Not so much of food in restaurants, because that’s just not my thing.  But I have to tell you that the pork crown roast we made for Christmas was a thing of beauty and definitely worth sharing.

Or it could be anything else.  At this point, who knows.  I’m looking forward to it.

One last note.  I’m blessed with both a great husband and an amazing daughter.  I might blog a bit about them, but right now I’m thinking not much.  I’m a big believer in the right to privacy, and I don’t plan to invade theirs without their permission.

And now, onward and upward.