26 June 2007

24sun - Oregon Pinot Camp. 3rd in a series of incredibly self-indulgent entries
first seminar
We were assigned to buses based on which hotel where we were staying. My hotel was to be serviced by the Gold Bus. The Gold Bus would soon become synonymous with the drinking crowd. Within moments of our departure our camp counselors listed the various beverages available to us that morning. Beer. Wine. Sparkling wine. Oregon gin and Oregon Vodka. Tonic. This bus was better equipped than a number of parties I'd been to.
The bus took us to downtown Carlton where I was to find an exciting exercise in not only Oregon Pinot Noir terroir but also how incredibly inexperienced my taste is. It began with a blind tasting of several pinot noirs in the effort to try to isolate common factors among them. What made Oregon Pinot Oregon Pinot, in other words. As luck would have it I sat next to someone who seemed to have an enthusiastic opinion on everything. I nodded at his comments but I later learned that this man, whom I'd thought to be simply a little loud and conspicuous was someone of note. This man turned out to be a master sommelier; the first American to have served as President of the Court of master sommeliers; and the current president of the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation. So shut my mouth; I was sitting next to a celebrity. So I tasted and discovered that I generally found the Pinots to taste like Pinots and that I had little else to contribute than that observation. They were filled with nuances, sure, but to my lagging tongue describing the nuances would've been like describing the differences between the more contemplative pieces of Liszt and Chopin. I'm just too dense to tell the differences. So listening to all of the intelligent questions and observations was very helpful. We had lunch where this tasting took place: at the winery of Scott Paul next to a building right out of a Charles Sheeler painting. It was here that I noticed that a lot of the women who are involved in Oregon winemaking are unusually cute.
second seminar

Our next workshop took us to the vineyards of Elk Cove, where we experienced the mercurial and chilly winds of Oregon as we trekked up 45degree incline hills to learn about viticulture. We learned about spacing of plants, what should be considered when choosing a planting site and the rudimentary ideas of pruning vines. There was then a discussion on organic/sustainable vineyards. Somewhere during all of this I realized that I was back in high school, it seemed. People seemed to know each other left and right and I'm simply not the personality to leap into a conversation. I suddenly found myself adhering to a "Don't speak unless spoken to" attitude that made me quite the wallflower.
Anyway, after this we went back to hotel for a nap and then we were off to dinner at Domaine Serene.

This hilltop estate boasts gorgeous views, exemplary lawns that begged to be lied down on (I was too self-conscious to) and a dedicated crew to keep it all up. At one point I sat on a hill watching the swallows dip and swoop in the gusts of wind that fluttered the grapevines. The view was, it goes without saying, spectacular. I spoke with Michelle Groshell, property manager, for most of the evening. It was a satisfying conversation that ranged from the sartorial quality of the golden age of travel to archicture to opera and 80s fashion and art, specifically Patrick Nagel, of whose reference I haven't heard in some time. It was refreshing not to talk about business or wine.
Day two and I've managed not to return to the hotel drunk.
It's remarkable the wine to which we're all exposed. It seems like the average bottle prices are in the 30 to 40 dollar neighborhood so it's almost surreal to me (to whom a 20 dollar bottle is a bit of a splurge) to have $50 bottles of wine rolling around the floor of the bus as we're headed back to our hotel.
It's also an amazing experience to be somewhere where every single wine I've tasted I've liked on some level or another. There just doesn't seem to be a poor wine here and I think that's because for every tasting the panels have carefully chosen the wines from many to illustrate their lessons.
The bus sang "You've lost that loving feeling" on the way back to our hotel.

25 June 2007

I bolted awake at about 5.30 this morning with the feeling that I was late, then returned to sleep on and off until the real 8.30 rolled around and I got ready to find the Pacific. On one of the times I got lost I stopped to browse through an antique store's parking lot sale, where I saw a lot of rusted farm equipment and a man sitting on a trailer surrounded by his rustic wares. One item was labelled "Varmint Trap." He wore black cowboy boots, black jeans, a black leather, embroidered jacket and a black cowboy hat. The most peculiar part of his ensemble was the cigar he was smoking, or rather how he was smoking it. He'd nestled it in the bowl of a pipe, which he'd then set to smoking contentedly. The rest of the trip was a remarkable sampler of Oregon countryside as I drove through lush fields, farmland, wind-rippled tall grass then douglas-firred mountains. Serpentine roads cut through cliffs covered in huge, prehistoric looking ferns and there cropped up, from time to time, on the side of the road little bunches of what looked like tiny pine tree clusters in a bright, vivid green. There were tight turns that became nerve-wracking one-lane bridges where it was trusted that oncoming cars would yield to whomever was on the bridge first. And the quality of ubiquitous green was simply breathtaking. My first view of the coast was from a highway vista point and I gradually worked my way down to the beach where I was pleased to find no more than 5 people at any given time. It was rather cold, though, for the introduction of Pacific to feet but it was a nice moment. I called Leigh and Alex and walked up the beach picking up little smooth black rocks here and there. I came across some cliffy rock things that were impressive in their size. It occurred to me that I had said little more than 10 words to anybody for almost 24 hours and I found that somehow satisfying.
On the way back from the beach I stopped at one of those half-moon shaped shoulders on the side of a mountain and, as luck would have it, as soon as I got out of the car I heard the crashing of a waterfall. I took a peek over an embankment and there was a gorgeous creek, part of the Yamhill River I later learned, and I clambered down the hill to reach the water. There I found a wonderfully peaceful scene that inspired me to lean down and fill the cup of my palm with river water and drink of it. It was clear and sweet and good to drink. I enjoyed this communion with nature for a moment then, upon turning around, I noticed that I'd also stumbled across a couch cemetery. Evidently this spot was where people liked to stop and toss out their old couches.

The Reception.
So the reception was fun. I registered and received a tote bag, a water bottle (not to be lost) and a windbreaker. Then the wineries involved were situated in a big circle and I visited a few that I thought seemed interesting. This was my first exposure to the crowd and I found it to be predictably peculiar. A quick glance at the manifest showed that I was the only person from Columbia, though a number of people from Charleston, Greenville and Hilton Head were present. So I poked around and tasted around 15 or so wines, the only one of which that I really enjoyed but didn't have South Carolina representation was Eyrie Vineyards. Then I broke away and headed towards the dinner I'd chosen. Several of the wineries had made invitations for campers to join them after the reception for a dinner and I'd chosen to go to Adelsheim (pronounced Adels-heim, not Adel-sheim, like I first thought) vineyards. I was the first one there and I met Eugenia Keegan and David Adelsheim. I was so charmed that my introduction to David Adelsheim (founder and president, mind you, of the whole thing) included his coming out in an apron and holding a bowl of cherry and pinot noir vinagraitte that he'd made. This wonderfully intimate quality set the tone for the evening as the entire affair had the flavor of joining friends for a meal at their house. There were a few people there, including, coincidentally, a young woman from Charleston with impressive restaurant experience. The current winemaker, David Paige, sat at the table where I was and I was able to ask a few questions about consideration of Burgundian appellation archetypes (little consideration) that I'm sure made me seem more concerned with France than I should be, considering where I am. The dinner was a fantastic rosemary grilled pork, green beans, some sort of bulgar thing and a salad with that cherry/pinot dressing I'd seen being finished up. The wines were a delightfully refreshing Auxerrois and several different vintages of their Elizabeth's reserve. Desert consisted of local cheeses, the gorgonzola-type of which I loved. This was a great way to begin everything with a nice dinner, interesting conversation and a tranquil view of vineyards as the setting sun cast its different shadows.

23 June 2007

22Fri - on my way to Oregon. 1st of a series of self-indulgent blog entries

Well, this is very exciting. the plane is striving for its cruising altitude and I'm well and truly on my way to Oregon. It's roughly at this point when I begin to have doubts and wonder if, when I get to the reception, I will have forgotten something key and I'll be cast out into (this being the Pacific Northwest) the rain. Then I'll have several days to do with as I will, I suppose.
Thoughts run rampant as the plane banks and shimmies. I look out the window and see the countryside as a pleasing patchwork of shapes and shades of browns and greens. It calls to mind the complexity and variations of an Andreas Gursky photograph. And as we turn so that the sun is more or less in my eyes I'm reminded of the other day when I saw a young-tough wannabe walking up Roswood with the sun shining in his eyes. He held his hand up to shade his eyes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he wore what appeared to be a perfectly serviceable baseball cap with the bill facing backwards. Does he know that, properly angled, that bill could do just as good a job, if not better, as his palm? But as I consider how many clothes I'm taking with me, I realize I have no business making fun of someone else's preference for fashion over logic.
I'm astonished and gratified at how quickly the mother in 9B (to my 10A) has quieted her child who suddenly began shrieking in such a way that threatened to awake the timpanist in my head. While on a different day I might have been more wary of its abrupt silence, today I'm just glad of it. And besides, it appears to be moving again.

After the plane's descent, and the sudden and totally unexpected sensation of the upper left side of my face both imploding and expanding at the same time, I purchased some sinus pressure medication at Leigh's suggestion. At my own suggestion I purchased a pair of socks at a Brooks Brothers I was surprised to find in the Houston airport. While the purchase didn't immediately soothe my still sore sinus I suspect that, in the long run, I'll feel better about the whole thing.

I got to hear someone speak of Columbia from the point of view a visitor. The person two seats down from me had just been taking classes at the National Advocacy Center and was discussing how he kind of liked Columbia. Quite likely not knowing what he was getting into, the man on my right asked something I vaguely remember as innocuous which seemed to pull and break the string on the Chatty Cathy that guy turned out to be. It amused me to watch the reluctant audience of this soliloquy and how his body language changed from accepting to facing straight ahead to playing and tugging at the hair on his forearm while occassionally sighing. Whether the message was received or he'd grown dizzy from his efforts, talky guy quieted down and pretty much stayed that way.
Meanwhile, and I don't remember when it started, the view outside grew more and more fascinating. Cloud formations always entertain me at this height with their variations and their resemblance to terran topography. I like imagining that I'm flying low over Antarctic terrain. Then, suddenly, we passed mountains and there were these magnificent, rocky plains with what must've been gargantuan canals gouged out of them. More mountains with rivulets flowing down them that may or may not have been roads. More craggy plains and a peculiar expanse of what seemed like silt left over from a flood. Its smoothness confused and, out of nowhere it seemed, a mighty highway erupted from these flats and charged off towards the horizon in an impressively straight line. Clouds, sedate mountain ranges, scarred valleys.Then suddenly a sharp, snow-dappled peak that punctured and split a tumultuous carpet of clouds with an almost Japanese grace.


I'd reserved an economy car from Alamo (a Chevy Aveo) and was told to go out to the lot and choose which one I wanted from spaces C10 and C11. Oddly, the spaces seemed to go from C9 to D and when a man who worked there parked a Prius I asked him where C10 and 11 were. He looked at me flatly and gestured towards the Prius he'd just exited. "You laihk? You tehk it." I said that I was supposed to get an economy, not a compact. By this time another Alamo employee had joined him and leaned against a pearl Dodge Magnum. "You choosss phdum deez." he said, gesturing to two Priuses and something else kind of wagon-ny and the first guy repeated "You laihk? You tehk it." I warily put my bags in the back of a silver Prius and watched their expressions carefully as I pulled out, waiting for an explosion of laughter but saw only their heads swivel to follow my departure. The man who took my ticket and lifted the gate seemed to have no problem with my being in that particular car, even after he checked something on his computer, so off I went. Thank god for my experience with Leigh's Prius since it's just different enough to confound someone unfamiliar with its layout.

Changed my mind about driving to the coast tonight. By the time I'd get back to the hotel my body would think it's 4 in the morning and I should get my rest. Drove straight to McMinnville while listening to the Magnetic Fields CD that Matt made me. Called Leigh when I walked in the room, then let her go back to sleep. Put up all my clothes. Found a number of love notes that Leigh had hidden among my things (read a few, saved a few) and now I'm off to bed.

16 June 2007

16June -Four Poems for our new Beers

Sonnet for the J.K. Scrumpy's Hard Cider
6% alc/vol - 22oz
Michigan, USA

What makes this cider charm this drinker's heart?
What qualities could this one beer possess
that make it shine- that set this one apart?
Just what could make its memory caress?

Is it the fact that just two things go in?
Just yeast and apple fill this bottle's chest
so when I taste the fresh delight within
it pains me that my joy goes unexpressed.

Oh, sparkling farmhouse cider that is hard;
to drink you takes me to a different place.
To crisp, autumnal evenings so be-starred
and lips on necks and passionate embrace.

I enjoy this beverage to its appley core.
To drink another cider now would be a bore.


Sonnet for the Delirium Tremens
8.5% alc/vol
(served in an aroma concentrating glass)

What Belgian delectation have we here?
This brew - so full, but can it fill my heart?
Perhaps it's foolish now to hope this beer
can mend that which your absence tears apart.

Just what are those aromas that I sniffed?
Mm. Yes, I know I've smelled those notes before.
Banana yeasty undertones uplift
my soul that dragged and scraped upon the floor.

This satisfying finish: oh, how smooth.
Good things that end should always end like this.
This beer that thrills- it, too, knows how to soothe;
a feeling missing from your parting kiss.

If life insists our love must be no more
at least I have this beer that I can pour.


Rondeau for the Samichlaus
14% alc/vol
(served in an aroma concentrating glass)

The Samichlaus is quite a brew.
It was, 'til now, a sales taboo.
Fourteen percent is alcohol,
(the fact, alone, has me in thrall)
and beers this strength are overdue.

It's strong and malty, very true
but this exceeds all beers I knew
for almost brandy-like I'd call
The Samichlaus.

It's gently warming. Creamy, too.
Sweet's a term I might pursue
but nothing cloying, not at all.
And years from now you will recall
the beer that few are equal to:
The Samichlaus.


Villanelle for the Mackeson Triple Stout
US (British recipe and brewed under British supervision)

The world can change in just a blink.
It did for me when I first tried
the Mackeson I love to drink.

So easily my coins do clink
now that I spend my dough in stride
for that rich stout that pours like ink.

How all its flavors work in sync.
Such malt and cocoa thrive inside
the Mackeson I love to drink.

From civilized to missing link
this beer appeals both far and wide.
It is our armor's dreaded chink.

Should I nod off and catch a wink
and dream that no-one could provide
the Mackeson I love to drink

I'd dream I'd put up quite a stink.
I know should sense and want collide
that in my tummy I would sink
the Mackeson I love to drink.
16June - update on our time off and new beers

I've been terrible about keeping everybody up-to-date with what's going on but it's been pretty busy lately. An explanation, but not an excuse.
Anyway, the highlights are these:
New beer list.
With the advent of high-alcohol beers in the state we've taken on some new items. We've got a delicious and refreshing hard cider; a lean and taut Belgian blond ale; a (normal alcohol) British-style porter; and a tremendous Austrian 14% after-dinner beer that becomes less a beer and more a liquor.

closed for vacation.
We'll be taking some time off in a few weeks. The first and second week of July we'll be closed. Our first day closed will be July 3rd and we'll re-open on Tuesday the 17th. So mark your calendars. Re-arrange important dates. Pick up our newspapers so it looks like we're there.

And, while this doesn't concern you in any real way, I'm very excited because I'll be gone this upcoming Friday until Thursday because I'll be in Oregon. I'll be taking part in a Pinot camp, during which I'll be learning a lot about Pinots Noir and Blanc, Pacific Northwest terroir, winemaking in general, and whether I'll have the self-control not to get blotto during the tastings. In Oregon! Verdant, lush Oregon.(See how excited I am? I used an exclamation point.) I'm sure I'll inundate the website and MySpace pages with photos of my trip. So Alex will be taking my place behind the bar and I'm sure he'll do a great job.

So that's what's happening.
I hope this message finds everyone well,