Thursday, March 5, 2009


If I could see into the future, I would buy one lottery ticket and finally get that little place in Napa I always wanted. Yeah right "napa"- that'll be the day. Nope, I 'd still live in Sonoma County, and I'd still go to work everyday, albeit in a slightly fancier vehicle. But not being prone to buying lottery tickets, I just don't see that happening to me. Hey- maybe that in and of itself means I can see the future.

But in some circumstances, I actually can- and today I got a glimpse of the future. It was a bit hazy, but it was a glimpse nonetheless. People always wonder about the current vintage- how is it, what do i think of it, etc. All winemakers get asked these questions. I keep waiting for the time a winemaker says something other than "best ever". Just once, I'd like to hear someone say "well, the wines are okay, but not really what we were hoping for, and not as good as the previous year". Yes! I would buy that man a beer- which he would need because he'd be pretty much broke at that point with that level of candor.

Truth be told, I think it is almost impossible to say a lot about a vintage until it has been in the bottle awhile, especially with Pinot. I swear, you go in one day and taste through barrels and it's all "oh yeah! Nailed it baby! Whoo-yaah". Two days later, you taste the same wines and its "allright, who the hell has been messing with my barrels?"- because the wine is nothing like it was a couple days earlier. Pinot is just that fickle. I just hope to bottle on a "good" day- and willing engage in ritualistic ceremonies to ensure just that result (the hallucinations are simply a pleasant bonus).

When a guy presses a wine (at the end of fermentation) and purports to pronounce its quality at that time, I want to walk up and bitch-slap some sense into him. Actually, I just want to bitch-slap him for saying such nonsense- because you just don't know. Anything can happen- and usually does. To think that the wine that just finished fermentation is the same wine you will bottle months or years down the road is simply intellectually dishonest. And stupid. Because wine does change- dramatically- it goes through secondary fermentation- it gets character from contact with the dead yeast cells (we stir them through every couple weeks for a few months), it concentrates by the process of evaporation, it goes through chemical changes, sometimes it changes just because it can. And it should.

So when you bottle it- it may still hold some of the early characters, but it had better damn well have evolved into something different, and hopefully better (wines just finishing fermentation are not usually a lot of fun to taste- they are full of CO2 (carbonic acid) which can make it seem like drinking razor blades. Tart, sometimes unyielding, with all kinds of rough edges....interesting yes, informative, somewhat, but fun? Not hardly. And most definitely not definitive.

It's a process getting to know a wine- it certainly starts in the vineyard tasting grapes, and it evolves every step of the way. Like a love affair of substance- it just takes awhile, and there are always peaks and dips. But a really interesting day is the day you first assemble "rough" versions of the various wines- bringing together the pieces you think will approximate the final result.

This time of year we host two weekends of "Barrel Tasting" where folks can taste a few wines from barrel, and buy them as "futures" at a very low price. Makes great sense in these economic times if you (a) have faith in the winemaker, and (b) can handle delayed gratification (a term I can hardly spell, let alone embrace). So, I have to assemble a few rough blends to exhiit a generalized sense fo what the wines might become (your personal choice of god willing).

Today I put together three of the five or six Pinots from 2008 to show the next couple weeks: our "blend" (from six vineyards) , our "Bucher Vineyard" Pinot and our "Selection Massale" (which is from a vineyard where 9 different clones of Pinot are interplanted so none of them dominate- it allows the site to trump the clones). It was fun to do, and really gets you deeper in touch with the wines. It was also a chance to reflect on the vintage, which officially "started" as soon as the prior year's fruit was picked and vineyard decisions needed to be made.

But really, I think the 2008 vintage began in late August, when I got together with a dozen or so other Pinot producers, and a couple winegrowers, and a great chef from a local restaurant (Tai- the owner/chef from Mosaic in Forestville- check it out). And my friend Michael, a German guy, whose presence means the thing will absolutely degenerate into a booze frenzy, and who will, at that very moment, wax on about why Alsace is rightfully part of Germany. I almost hate to tell him his guys lost. Twice.

But Tai roasted a pig (wrapped in banana leaves) in a pit, we drank heavily of great wines from around the world (nobody brought their own), played bocce, and ate like kings. It was a great night, went on far too long, and when Michael brought out some German brandy the thing went downhill. The real winner was the west county taxicab company. One guy though, who was pretty looped pretty early on hasn't been seen in awhile, and I suspect we need to check the fire pit.

Unfortunately, we were in the midst of a heat wave at that point, and many of us had to roust ourselves after about ninety minutes sleep to go to work the next day, picking or crushing. I had fruit coming in, the earliest pick ever for me. It was hot by 9 am, and we struggled to get the fruit cold enough to cold soak awhile. And it went like that for a couple weeks, until finally, right after I had refused some fruit because I did not have an empty fermenter, the fog rolled in. Then everything stopped, we all caught our breath, and the rest of the vintage kind of trickled in. And we drank a lot of beer, and broke some bread with friends, and had a lot of laughs.

So, racking these wines from barrel and assembling a mini blend of where I see them going (still subject to change, but the big stuff is ~hopefully~ behind us) was a lot of fun- not just to see the future, but to reminisce about the recent past. And even though I've been tasting these wines for months, it was an eye opener to taste some things put together. And the wine that came in so early is pretty damn evolved for the beginning of March. I actually like them all pretty darn well. It tells me that 2008, despite the many vagaries of the year -late frost and freezes, heat during harvest and swarms of locusts and pillars of salt (not really)- we survived,and things turned out well.

Heck, if you ask me, 2008 has the potential to be, well, the "best ever". Really.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Bottles of Wine

The other day I wrote something about how different the world would be if "shock and awe" meant impressing our adversaries with great wines instead of bombs. That comment emanated from a lunch I had last week where several of us discussed how two bottles of wine had once made a difference in a situation in which we had been involved.

It's not easy being a lawyer and a winemaker I might add. “How do you do it all”? It’s a common question I am asked, and honestly, I don’t know sometimes. I think balancing the demands of a law practice, raising a family and being a winemaker is probably too much, but whenever I consider slowing up or dropping one, I decide I am just fine with the way things are. Which is hectic, to say the least.

Practicing law, despite the stress and pressure, still provides intellectual challenges that are unmatched elsewhere in my life (unless you count trying to outsmart my kids, which I have actually done. Once). And, believe it or not, I’ve had a lot of laughs as a lawyer, sometimes at opposing clients, sometimes at one of my clients, and often at myself. 'Cause if it ain’t fun, why do it? But sometimes wine and my law practice intersect (aside from my representing wineries and vineyard owners).

Anyways, to the point of the story, several years ago, a very complicated case I had seemed absolutely impossible to resolve. After a couple years of pretty hard-fought litigation, we finally went to mediation by court "order" (where the judge "asks" you if you will mediate while he or she gives you that look that says you will agree). Things didn’t improve there either- we had mediated for a full day, and by lunch the second day we all knew we were at an impasse. There was a long history between the parties, who owned neighboring vineyards. Although they were suing each other, they remained (reasonably) respectful, and even though the opposing counsel was a friend of mine, we were both really dug into our positions. But at lunch, we all ended up at the same restaurant, and the hostess sat them at the neighboring table.

As we saw each other, comments were made about the coincidence (I went with a classic line: “of all the gin joints…”), but everyone agreed there was no reason we couldn’t sit next to each other. Both tables ordered wine with lunch and as they were served we each commented on the other’s selection. Naturally, I offered a taste of our wine to them, and they did the same to us.

And we ended up basically having lunch together, and our clients started telling stories and reminiscing. And by the time lunch was over, we were all having some pretty good laughs. We all went back to the mediation, and almost immediately the other side conceded an issue that until then they were resolute about, and it had been a deal breaker. My client sighed and then conceded a point, and in about 45 minutes we had struck the framework of a deal. Our clients shook hands at the end, and to this day are better friends than they had ever been.

My friend and I and our respective clients had lunch together last week as we discussed a joint venture they are exploring. We all laughed about it, and agreed whatever concessions each had made, the long term benefits had far outweighed.

It wasn’t “the wine that did it” in the sense of someone being drunk and making a concession they would not or should not have made. We’d only had two bottles and all of us have substantial body mass (unfortunately). But it was “the wine that did it” in the sense that over a couple bottles of wine, our clients, and the lawyers, were reminded of what really matters in life- and it’s not obscure issues like whose Tideland Patent from 1883 gave them control over a creek.

But isn’t that the beauty of wine? It has this amazing power to reconnect us to what really matters. Sure, it can also make us think we are smarter, funnier and more beautiful than we are (as can cocaine apparently), but even in the bottle and in the glass, wine retains its connection to the earth. It can ground us and make us pause a little. I mean who ever heard of a fast lunch with wine? We hear people speak of “sip and savor” in enjoying wine, but sometimes I think the “savor” part is what wine reminds us to do about life.

I don’t get to drink wine in every case-and rarely with my adversaries, although maybe I should. But that day I learned that sometimes the best lawyering can be when you stop acting like a lawyer and start acting like a person. “Leading with your heart” so to speak. Which, coincidentally, is a hallmark of the wines I usually gravitate to- wines made with heart instead of a formalistic approach. I use four things to make wine; my nose, my tongue, my hands and my heart- my brain is for when there are problems. I find the wines that speak to me are from other winemakers who embrace a similar approach.

So, we resolved a dispute over a couple bottles of wine. Might not be the answer to international diplomacy as I suggested the other day, but I'd like to see folks try. Heck, I’d like to someday see a rule that before a suit is filed, the parties need to sit down and talk, preferably over some wine.

But even wine cannot answer all questions. One such issue arises from the lunch last week where we talked and laughed about this case. Since the four of us discussed it, do I bill both parties?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Right Now!

"So when are you going to actually write something about Pinot"? I keep hearing that, and yes, with a name like "The Pinot Diatribes" I guess it's reasonable to expect that there should be an occasional piece about Pinot. And at lest once in awhile, there should be a good old fashioned diatribe. So, while not old-fashioned, and without hellfire or brimstone, here we go...

Burgundy. What the fuck is so goddamn special about Burgundy? We are kicking the ever living snot out of the French when it comes to the comparing the quality of Pinot Noir from California versus Burgundy. I know, some will howl and call this blasphemy, but as Monalisa Vito said when asked if something was her opinion, "It's a fact".

Imagine a pyramid of quality- with the utter crap at the bottom, and the creme de la creme at the top. A very large portion of the Burgundy pyramid is utter crap- tart, tight, overly acidic and lacking substantial palate weight. Setting aside the warm vintages there (the exceptions) when the wines are more California than Burgundy, this is the norm for that place. Often sold as "village" or AOC wines- these often overpriced bottle of plonk are riding the coattails of the few great wines from great vintages. Are there exceptions? Certainly. But it ain't the rule.

In contrast, California has one great year after another. Pinots, in a wide array of styles, are made here every year at a very high quality level. The "quality pyramid" here is very little crap- and a whole lot of very good to great wine. Our typical weather year would have the french dancing naked in the streets. Yup, there's a new sheriff in town, and it's Pinot from California that is running the show.

And yet, if you asked me where the very finest Pinots ever made have haled from, I'd say without hesitation "Burgundy". It was true in the past, just as it is today. Does it pain me to admit that? It should- after all, I am an unabashed cheerleader for the Russian River Valley (which I consider the greatest place for Pinot in California - along with the "true" Sonoma Coast). But it doesn't bother me one iota. I'll stand up among any group of Pinotphiles- no matter how devoted they might be to California and say the same thing. 'cause it's a fact.

Not all of Burgundy makes this grade. Not even all Grand Cru sites rise to this level. Hell. I've had wines from Premier Cru vineyards that absolutely rocked the world, and overshadowed many of their Grand Cru brethren. But when you open a bottle of "the kind", it transcends all efforts from all other places in the world.

I've had more transcendent experiences from one small part of Burgundy than any other- that being the wines from the commune of Vosne Romanee. Sure, I've got to give a nod to some other villages/vineyards in Burgundy that have consistently rocked my world, but for my palate, the wines from Vosne Romanee consistently offer the very best, even in "lesser vintages".

Why? There are three simple reasons: location, location and location. Which is the cornerstone of any good wine. But there, soil and climate converge to make something extraordinary. Is it a coincidence that the world's two most renowned Pinot houses are both there (DRC and Leroy)? And this isn't a "chicken and egg/which came first" question- the place was there first, and these two houses came later. They, and the others who make wine from there, have made wines that reflect how special this place is.

This isn't just the Grand Cru's either. The Premier Cru wines from the vineyards in that area are often astounding. Vineyards like Les Beaux Monts, Les Suchots and aux Malconsorts produce wines that can simply stop you in your tracks. Monday, I shared a bottle of 2002 DRC Cuvee Duvault-Blochet- a blend of grapes from various Grand Cru parcels picked five days after the first pass from a number of Grand Cru vineyards (which DRC then labeled as Premier Cru rather than Grand Cru). This "lesser" wine was just stunning- and it showed the vibrancy, elegance and quiet confidence that reflect that very special place.

The best of Burgundy rarely is about muscle and power. Instead, it's about capturing a sense of place. It's something we in California have a long way to go to grasp. And Burgundy, first and foremost is about cexpressing that sense of place. Which is a hell of a lot easier said than done. This is what the French recognize so much better than us- it's not about the winemaker- it's about the place. It's why their wine labels usually have the place of origin in the most prominent place and the domaine name takes a lower profile.

Pinot should tell a story of place and time. The winemaker should be a footnote to that story. And to this point in history, in my ever so humble opinion, the very best place in the world for Pinot Noir isn't in California, it's in France- specifically in Vosne Romanee. If our leaders tried to reconcile our differences over a bottle or two of Vosne Romanee instead of unleashing missiles, the world would be a different place today. You want "shock and awe"? Try opening some killer Burgundies for a negotiating tactic.

So a tip of the hat goes not to the French, but to that magical piece of land therein. We may be whipping them in general terms, but they are still control the very, very tippy-top of the pyramid. But we're trying...we're trying real hard.....

Monday, February 16, 2009


You'd have to be an idiot, or living under a rock, or an idiot living under a rock, not to know there is some real despair out there. Yeah, it starts with the economic crisis, but that has rippled through the fabric of our country to an extent unparalleled in our lifetimes (which means my lifetime). In a way, the effect of the present economy is like cocaine in the late 1980's.

No, not the t-shirt, sports coat and three day beard look that Don Johnson was sporting (although that particular fashion trend did spread a real level of horror across America- you knew how bad it was when even the guy pumping petrol at the gas station in some Dakota backwater was dressed like that) . Back then, it seemed like everyone had either screwed up their lives with cocaine, or knew someone who had, or at least knew of someone who had. That particular scourge touched everyone, somehow. It happened to confirm the prescient comment of a guy I knew from Bolivia who told me in the late 1970's that "you Americans don't know what we know about this drug- but someday you will". Which we did, albeit a little too late for some.

Anyways, we all know someone who has been hit by the economy, if we ourselves haven't (and let me tell you, the wine industry has been slammed on many levels by the economy). But really, the fact that rich guys are buying less wine pales in comparison to the thousands of middle class families who have lost jobs, homes and perhaps most importantly, hope. Because if there is one hallmark of America, it is hope. it's what allowed someone with nothing to achieve whatever dream they had- without hope, there are no dreams.

Me? I refuse to quit hoping. I continue to be a guy who believes that anything is possible, that "can't" is a word for someone else, and that today is good, and tomorrow will surely be better. And I'm not alone. There are people everywhere filled with dreams they are pursuing, filled with hope.

This week in Healdsburg, a group of them are coming to be tested for their Master Sommelier certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers. A lot of people like to tee off on Sommeliers- and usually it's those that have less actual wine knowledge than ego who find fault with them. The somms I know are dedicated to the grape and genuinely enthusiastic about sharing their world with those they attend to in their restaurants. (And the rare Sommelier who has an asshole/supercilious attitude- would be a jackass no matter what they do)

Not every guy who assists you with your wine is a Sommelier. And to get to the level of a Master Somm takes years of study and preparation. There are multiple levels one must achieve before even qualifying to test. The test itself covers theory (wine knowledge in great detail), service (I love the story of one guy who had to try to handle wine service while a couple was having a [staged] argument- I'd have told them to shut up or leave) and tasting. The tasting involves being served six wines with no information about them, and having to identify grape(s), place of origin, appellation if apropos, and vintage. Which, if you consider the hundreds of varieties of grapes, many of which are grown in multiple places on earth, and the thousands of producers, this requires a hell of a lot more skill than a party trick.

My buddy "D" is coming to town (my lawyer says I have to respect his privacy) for his exam. He is like a little brother to me- and I am so pulling for him. If he passes, I think he will be the youngest person to achieve Master Sommelier status in America. Last year, he took the test and barely missed (he nailed service and theory) but he stumbled on the tasting (he called a Pinot Noir a Pinot Gris- which considering we had pounded down some amazing burgs the week before at his place [some over a century old] was so pathetic it was almost laughable, at least to me). Since he passed the other two parts, he only has to do the tasting part this year.

Anyways, he, and others arrive today for the test which begins tomorrow. Tonight I'm going to do "bacon and eggs": some pork chops over a "hash" of sliced fingerling potatoes seared in pork fat, mushrooms (black trumpets, shittakes and chanterelles) with bacon and shallots, and fresh peas with a red wine reduction to bind it all up, and a truffled fried egg over the top. We'll drink some great old wines (he says he brought the perfect wine) and we'll keep it light and fun.

And tomorrow we'll send him off like parents sending their favorite child off to college- hell, I'll probably stand at the door and wave goodbye. And I'll be thinking about him all day in the back of my mind- hoping that he nails this thing and achieves this milestone in his career.

And the beauty of it is that while these guys sitting for this exam are all filled with hope- the ripple effect is touching so many others. There are somms back in his hometown who have called asking me to let them know as soon as I hear anything- they're filled with hope. And their families are surely filled with hope.

And me? I am so filled with hope- not just for my friend- for all of them- hell, for all of us-these guys represent a small portion of the future- the future of one segment of our society. They're all chasing their dreams- and damnit, plenty of them will achieve them. Which plenty of young people (seems like everyone is a young person to me) in plenty of other industries are also doing. And if these young men and women, who have worked their collective asses off to get to this point in their careers, and who are looking forward with hope are a reflection of the future, I say we are in great shape.

Tough times? Yeah- but right now, I'm feeling pretty hopeful.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


For as ridiculous as that movie character was -"impressed we are"- what- all that brain power and he couldn't speak in ordinary English? For crissakes- I know guys three weeks in country from Patagonia that speak better English than that. They work harder too but that's for another time- anyways, for as ridiculous as that character was, he/it is the gold standard for the all-knowing deity.

I never met him, or even the actor who played him. But I have been in the presence of true greatness a number of times in my life. Like my first meal at the French Laundry after which I got to speak with Keller in the kitchen for awhile (I almost genuflected). There was a time one of my judo senseis threw me without touching me. That was most yoda-like. I once stopped (in the rain) while walking on a path that ran next to a tall wooden fence. On the other side of the fence one of the greatest guitar players I ever heard ( who is still widely unknown) was sitting under a patio just playing- for himself. I had heard him play many times (studied under him for awhile) but this was another level of greatness.

There have certainly been other "Yoda" moments in my life- more than I could count- because as soon as you embrace the fact that you are really insignificant in the big scheme of things (hell, the small scheme too)- the greatness of those around you becomes visible. And you can embrace it and learn from it. If nothing else you are reminded what an extraordinary journey this is, and that those around us are what make it extraordinary for us- it's not something we necessarily do for ourselves. You just have to be open to seeing it.

And I've been fortunate to know some pretty great guys in wine- some great winemakers- some of whom are widely known and inspire awe, and some of whom are barely known and make incredible wine. But tonight, while I was stopping to pick up some dinner, I ran into a couple winemakers I know. They were sharing a bottle of a Zinfandel and offered me a glass. As we shot the breeze about things, the topic turned to the bottle of wine. We all had great things to say about the winemaker- who is an icon to most winemakers around here. (I'd be uncomfortable naming him as he is quite private)

I had an experience with this guy with one of my early Zins. It was close to bottling, and I was concerned about the back end of the palate- just seemed a bit clipped. I had run all the numbers at the lab one morning. I happened to run into "the guy" downtown (one square block of Healdsburg) and he asked me how my wines were doing. (which is some mark of how great a guy this is- that he actually cared to ask how this beginning winemaker was doing.) I voiced my concerns and he invited me by to talk over the wine.

I got there and we talked awhile, and tasted through about 15 years of his Zins- which were remarkably consistent. I'd have been thrilled to make one of them- let alone all of them, and honored to have a chance to taste through with him.

After awhile, the conversation turned to my wine and we opened it and he poured a couple glasses. He swirled and sniffed, and took a sip. "what's your alcohol on this" he asked, about 15.2%"? Having been to the lab that day I could only nod because it was exactly 15.2% alcohol. He tasted again. "What's your TA" (titratable acidity)? About .62"? I managed to nod, because I felt like I was just staring at him- the wine was exactly .62 TA.

He tasted again. "What's the PH? he asked- about 3.57? I almost fell over- it was exactly 3.57. In that moment I truly understood that what mattered most for a winemaker was his palate- and nothing could trump that. I also learned what years of experience really meant, although it's more than merely time in the saddle- it's constantly learning- and honing your skills.

He suggested a small adjustment (but did it in a most artful and diplomatic way that almost seemed like I had thought of it). Of course, the adjustment made the wine.

I have never seen anyone do that since (I'm sure there are those who can- I just haven't met them). I think our industry, being founded in science, tends to overemphasize an empirical approach to analyzing wine, and it can come at the expense of making your best wine. I like to joke that not having gone to winemaker school, I'm not constrained by the basic rules of fermentation science, and I'm free to fuck up any way I want. Which I frequently do, although I try not to repeat my mistakes.

But I can tell you this- I have made my share of wines, and I've drank my share (and yours). And I've known some great winemakers,a nd had some pretty cool moments around wine. But this was a moment of greatness that transcended a lot of great moments. He's a pretty reserved guy, so when I see him I refrain from calling him Yoda. But if he ever tastes one of my wines and says "impressed we are", I'm gonna start believing in The Force.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Speaking of rain...

No rain today. Just sunny and cold. I'm trying not to keep thinking about the need for rain. Of course, when you are trying not to think about rain inevitably you think about...'s like trying not to think of the color red. Really- don't think about the color red for five minutes and you'll know what I mean. I've spent a bunch of time downloading tunes onto the Nano the past few days, so today my mind wandered to songs that were about rain, or somehow reference rain. And there are a few of them that stand out:

Love Reign o'er Me- a classic rock ballad, an all time epic from a great album by the Who. Reinvigorated by the Pearl Jam cover in which Eddie Vedder showed that even though he may lack the range of a young Roger Daltry- the guy has amazing pipes and amazing depth.

Riders on the Storm- c'mon. Along with "LA Woman", this tune made that album. Period. Eerie- dark- foreboding. A journey into the dark side of the Lizard King.

Who'll Stop the Rain- Now here is a classic Credence Clearwater Revival tune- and it's a song laden with secondary meaning. But how many bands have two songs about rain? (can't forget "Have You Ever Seen Rain" by CCR). The former still rekindles anti-war sentiments for me whenever I hear it- which isn't often enough.

Let it Rain- My "go to" song each year when the last fruit is off the vine and in the barn. Great work by Clapton (I think while with Derek and The Dominoes), although if Jeff Healy had covered this with the same intensity he displayed in his cover of "While my Guitar Gently Weeps" he might have been the "go to" reference for "Let it Rain".

Texas Flood gotta give a shout to Stevie Ray Vaughn. You thought I'd mention "The Sky is Crying", but that's too easy. Yeah Stevie, you keep singing that it's flooding down in Texas because you're baby ain't returning your calls and that you're leaving her, but you know it's bone dry and the phone lines are just fine- she's got herself another man. Epic stuff.

A Horse With No Name- what the hell was THAT song about? And what happened to that band (America)? When I was a kid they played that song every feakin fifteen minutes. Which shows how fucked up everything was in the late 60's/early 70's. But just try to not think about THAT melody- and it will stick in you like a barbed hook.

Mandolin Rain- Hornsby. One breakthrough album with two epic tunes ("The Way It Is" being the other) for a guy who after years of being one of "the" guys suddenly became "the guy". Christ, he even played with the Dead. Killer tune- still fresh- perfect to snuggle up on a rainy day.

I'll Be- Okay, maybe a bit pompous and bloated. And Edwin McCain seems to be doing better writing for other folks than as a performer. But when he gets to the "And rain falls, angry on the tin roof, as we lie awake in my bed" line, who doesn't see that in their mind's eye?

November Rain- Sorry. G&R had three great tunes- maybe four if you count Mr Brownstone (although I could go a long time without hearing Sweet Child O' Mine). This tune wasn't one of them. But last year was twenty years since Appetite for Destruction, and I just gotta say "hey" to Axel Rose- the greatest recluse since Howard Hughes.

I Can't Stand the Rain- not a great R&B tune. But Tina sang it, so that's gotta mean something.

Rainmaker- easily the weakest tune on the Low Spark of High Heeled Boys album, which wasn't a great album anyways- waaaay too much flute. I still do not understand how I listened to the title track over and over and over for days, despite the 11 plus minute length. Oh yeah- it was the mescaline. Not Winwood's finest work by any means- I sometimes think it was the cool shape of the album cover that got this album noticed. Hmmm, maybe marketing works.

Red Rain- Peter Gabriel came through on this one. A bit if an opus, but a pretty emotional song that supported it's own weight.

There are a lot more, but these were pretty easy to remember. But the best one of it's ilk might be an instrumental.

Danny Gatton was an extraordinary musician by any measure- and he absolutely shredded the guitar. He got a Grammy nomination one year (lost to Eric Johnson's "Cliffs of Dover" which my son now thinks he can play because it's on Guitar Hero- yeah, right!) and more importantly, had the respect and admiration of his peers- some very heavy hitting guitar players among them. The guy could go from playing bebop to country in a blink of an eye- and woe to the fool who tried to match him onstage. Gatton took his own life in 1994. When someone great passes, a lot of times people will say "we won't se another like him soon" or some similar sentiment- but in this case, it is totally apt.

On 88 Elmira Street he did a cover of the Beach Boys tune "In My Room" that is absolutely stunning- his guitar work just shimmers- with a purity of tune apropos for the song, and a sense of serenity that is so laid back it belies the intensity of the guitar work. It ends with the sound of distant thunder and rain, and is one of those times the cover transcends the original. My nod for "Best rain Song". Check it out.

And pray for rain- we need it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rainy Day, Dream Away...

Let the sun take a holiday....Man I love that tune- not just 'cause Hendrix wrote it (it's on Electric Ladyland), and not just 'cause he takes a big hit off a spliff at the beginning of the song (although that alone makes it listenable). It's a tune that has stuck with me since childhood, and it still pops into my mind on the occasional rainy day around here. Which we really need right now- the water table is low, and drought seems imminent, and we're all more than a little concerned. A lack of water makes worries about the economy pale in comparison- you can live without money, but water is at the top of the "essentials" list along with air. Along with beer. And steak. And a crisp new prescription for medical marijuana for some unspecified ailment issued by a down on his luck doctor with a degree from some internet medical school based in Honduras. But that's about it as far as essentials go.

This morning, I was talking to a guy who thought the worry was not enough water for frost protection. Which could be an issue- we've got all the signs of an early bud break, and lord knows, last year we ran frost protection in a bunch of vineyards we work with for almost a month straight. And right now, there are some pretty empty ponds that normally would be overflowing. So if the ponds are dry and there is budbreak and frost, who knows what will happen?

But to me, the bigger issue that looms is whether there will be sufficient water to irrigate the vines later in the year. Used to be people started watering early and stopped in the fall- but we've since learned that fall is when the vines need water most- just turning off the water causes them to shut down, and they aren't developing flavors and getting physiologically ripe. They don't (generally) need a deluge- just enough to keep doing their job and hanging as long as possible (unlike unwanted guests, hanging around is a great thing for grapes).

Not watering in the spring causes the vines to rely on what is available (and work a bit to "mine" water). It's called early season deficit irrigation, and it helps slow down the growth early on (which manages canopy better, which means better exposure to sunlight and better air movement through the canopy) So, only when the coolest/latest/greatest technology says it's time to water do we add water- which is late in the year.

The question this year is whether there will be enough water in the late season to irrigate- will wells and ponds run dry, and will the vines shut down long before physiological ripeness is achieved? We're hearing there will be rationing this year- but when you live off a well, "rationing" is meaningless if the well runs dry. And though I live in town, many of our friends and growers do not, and we are all in this together.

I have no idea what rain will come or how much water will be around in fall- and even though right now it seems a long way off- it is never too early to worry in farming. Yesterday it rained, but not today. And Hendrix is playing, and I'm thinking I'll do my rain dance.

It's scary to see someone of my description and physique engaging in a ritualistic homage to the rain gods, but as horrifying as it might be, I prefer it to the economic carnage that a drought can cause. It's not a pretty sight, and it really only really seems to work when a front is moving in, but it's a damn fine excuse to go scare some tourists downtown. Which, even in a drought year, can be pretty good sport. But if rain follows, you can be sure I'll be taking full credit for it....