Monday, December 20, 2010

Wine labels, Christmas, and Rentals

The wine labels are in! Looking great, too! Thanks, Tony!  Just because we aren't making money at it doesn't mean we can't be looking professional!  It is so much nicer to open a top foil and pull a cork seeing what we are drinking.  Nothing beats that.  So far, I have just a bit of odd-lot cabernet and the Walla Walla Bing Bang in bottle.  95% of the cabernet and all of the blends will wait until next spring before bottling for drinking starting in May. We will show off these during the annual Balloon Stampede fete at Grape Hill.  I am debating about doing some fining in at least one of the cabernets...we shall see...

Christmas is upon us!  Festivities with the kids and friends for the forthcoming week and then off to Grape Hill for several days to see more friends and enjoy the scenery.  Overall, 2010 has been a better year than 2009, but looking forward to a really good year in 2011. No whining, but it doesn't take a whole bunch of positives to beat these past two.  2011 is our 25th Anniversary Year and Sue and I will be making at least one great trip plus opening our "forbidden bottles" from the cellar to celebrate the occasion.  I doubt that I ever want again to have wines that are so far out from my comfort did I ever get myself into buying those in the first place???

Rentals at Grape Hill have been happy and frequent.  What has been a surprise is how frequently we keep hearing from people wanting to take Grape Hill for a month at a time, or three months, or six months, or a year.  We are sticking to short-term rentals; it is hard enough fitting ourselves in to the schedule as it is.  No harm in anyone asking, but renting Grape Hill for months at a time would be torture to me.

It is so nice to hear such lovely comments about Walla Walla and about Grape Hill.  The kids are wanting me to build a little solar farm to take us "off the grid", while some friends want me to put in a stocked pond to add to their fun.  It is hilarious to see how imaginative others can get with my time! God bless 'em all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

and the beat goes on...

Looking forward to Thanksgiving, although wishing we could all spend it with the family in Connecticut or at Grape Hill.  Too many obstacles this year.  Looking forward to 2011 with unbridled optimism!  Connor and Shane will be graduating from UW, Liliana will be through a tough honors pre-med year one, and I'm feeling a nice re-focus of energies coming on.  Hopefully, Sue's school will not be battered by too many more cuts or even shut down.  For me, a new leaf of sorts.  After never marketing at all, I'm looking forward to reaching out to more people so that I have greater numbers of options and can choose my projects very selectively.  And there is the summer to look forward to, six weeks visiting great pals outside Lucca, Aix, Bordeaux, and then some tourism in San Sebastian and Porto.  All the octopus I can eat and nice wines at every turn.  Hoping also to put up the arbor and maybe one more surprise for Grape Hill.  Fun!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dropping bunches...

The year that things went wrong. Tested the merlot at 22.6 brix and planning to pick merlot and cab franc (20 brix).  If they ever get the sugars up, I'll co-ferment a right bank blend.  Jack and Brian came out with me and we went through the sad task of pulling the nets, harvesting the syrah and cab (left one row of syrah).  After harvesting, we drove the fruit out to a ditch a mile away and dumped it all.  After fighting the mildew in several rows, and fighting gophers forever, plus chasing out birds, with the lousy weather the grapes were soft and lassid and just not an inspiration to make wine.  Probably will make only a couple cases this year.  The plan for next year is to have a couple paid interns get the vines into really healthy shape with very clear regular regimes and goals.  It took me a long time to even understand what needs to be tracked and needs to be done so that I can instruct others on what I want to see happen.  These vines hold the potential for true greatness and they will be respected, by God.

I brought out four chaise lounges and two small side tables that can stay outside throughout the April to October period.  These look like they were tailor-made to go onto the new patio slab we poured this summer.  It will be really nice having four rather than two so that everyone staying at Grape Hill can have a lounge. With a ton of help from Jack, we also put in a walkway to connect the new patio with the outside shower and the back door, plus we put weed-inhibiting cover down underneath and trimmed out everything with gravel.  Looks much cleaner and it makes taking outside showers more accessible.  Sometime next year I think we will start looking at retiring the Adirondack loveseats around the firepit.  These have never been comfortable.  We put a ton of work into them and spent $500 for the kits, but they just don't really cut the mustard.  One more year and then a re-think.

Good times with Jack and Brian. First time to Grape Hill for each of them. Flying directly into Walla Walla was a breeze.  Jack spent six days, Brian three.  We managed to eat at several good spots, try several wineries, shoot trap with Dave, get out to Waitsburg and jimgermanbar, drive way out into the Blues, and Brian liked doing a fair bit of gambling both at The Blue and out to Wild Horse.  Ironically, Jack and I did not know what we were doing with the table games and we won, while Brian instructed us and lost, so we bought Brian a great dinner with the winnings.

Tom is talking about spending a three day stretch at Wild Horse for some big poker tournaments in early November.  I am thinking that I might join him while spending some time with the cab franc harvest.  May see if he wants to stay at Grape Hill and help me with the last of the grapes?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2008 Cabernet

A lesson learned...must not drink any wine before it's time.  All of the '08 syrah went in five gallon buckets to places and consumers best not mentioned.  I only kept the cabernet because Bob Betz said that it was worth bottling just to see how it might eventually turn out.  I used it for topping the vinaigrier, for reduction sauces, and for occasionally drinking by myself (Sue was not a fan).  Only a half-dozen bottles survived through to now, a year later.  Opened one of these two nights ago and, shock, it was quite good.  The harsh edges had integrated, the mouth feel more weighty and pleasing, the flavor showing some follow-through.  This wine was never and will never be anything like the '09 cab "Liliana", yet I won't be so fast to berate myself next time something seems less than OK at the start.  Thank you, Bob, that not all the cab ended up in those five-gallon buckets!

I went through several carboys this past weekend, tasting the Walla Walla Bing Bang, two of the cabs, and one syrah.  One of the cabs is beautiful, the Bing Bang is just as fun as it sounds, and the syrah was coming around...not the disappointment that I felt the last time I tasted it.  Again, patience is a lesson learned.  Bing bang and a small run of cab goes into bottles in a few weeks.  Will wait until next spring to blend and bottle the others.  No idea how this year's crop will be looking at harvest...such a short growing season with so much cold and rain...this may be the year to drop the cab and syrah and make my first co-fermented merlot/cab franc dependent on how these are timing out... Maybe just two carboys of a right-bank Bordeaux this year?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Winter Plans

Hoping to spend more time at Grape Hill, maybe even to get the arbor up?  The real estate activity looks to be mighty lean and light in the months ahead.  Could be a great time to do some writing and spend more time on the farm.  Talk was of everyone going to Connecticut for Thanksgiving, but that seems expensive and such a long journey for the five of us.  Hate missing out, just not enough time or salad.  After fermentation, during malolactic is a pretty good time to enjoy the farm.  Cannot reserve the dates yet, too much to consider, so it all might be moot if the rental guests don't slow down...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Our longest stay yet.

Eleven glorious days.  The first three days we had poor visibility with smokey haze coming in from fires to the north.  Could not even see the Blues!  We watched a giant red glow at night; miles upon miles away there were men and women fighting to save their crops and we truly felt sad and hopeful for all of them.  So surreal, viewing a tragedy from thirty miles away.

Spent lots of time working in vineyard.  Tough year for the grapes.  Cold and wet through July.  We have abundant fruit, but so many have to wait for nature to work its course.  The bunches are so weakened...berries fall off with just any tug at all.  On the happy side, we do have some nice potential for cab franc and merlot...could be the year of the Right Bank if we get enough consistent heat to ripen the fruit and no frosts ahead of harvest.

David took us out for a ride on his combine during harvest.  Not the wheat on our farm, but on another farm high into the foothills.  This was such a great experience, climbing the ladder up into a machine the size of a house, and even driving it up and down the steep fields as we brought in the crop.  It would probably drive the farmers nuts, but they could make a bundle just offering tourists the chance to do this each harvest.  Man...better than Disneyland on the fun side, and so connected to the land, to our foods,  to the whole process of getting our wheat down the Columbia River and onto the freighters that take it along to feed the world.

The new patio is poured, so the arbor goes in next spring.  I left two secure, deep planting spots lined with wire for the vines.  Between now and spring, I'll be studying as to whether to plant grapes, hops, or something else.  Each vine has its pros and cons, beauty, shade, growth speed, how long they hold their leaves, how well they can stand the winters, whether they attract too many birds, whether their fruit will stain the concrete...

The views are stunning.  What a difference it makes to simply move around the corner of the house.  Sunday AM, four elk in the fields below alongside the creek.  First time that I have ever seen elk around.  Later, four mule deer including one fellow with a giant rack.  Since I don't hunt, I sure hope he finds some deep cover soon.  The hunters will be after him like nobody's business.

We did enjoy some trap shooting.  This was the first time that I ever shot at two clays launched at once.  Much more challenging than just one and four times the fun!  I keep the shotgun handy throughout the past week.  The starlings stayed away once they knew that I was meaning business.  I have no sympathy for gophers or starlings...varmints!!!

Spent one evening watching Shakespeare in the park at Fort Walla enjoyable...and returned in the daytime to see the museum there.  Really great exhibits, including full-size representations of how the farming was done a generation or two ago.  Then we strolled down to the old buildings that have been moved there from different pioneer farms.  The best one of all is the Union Schoolhouse that was donated by the Whites from off their farm just down from Grape Hill.  We found Grape Hill amongst the farms showing on the very old map displayed on the schoolhouse wall.  Such a joy to have a personal touch to the rich history to which we have become so attached.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Arbor

The next big phases for the house are so cool...really unique and innovative design that simply doesn't make sense to undertake. It's a shame, darn it, but producing the doubling on the house size means more stress than it is worth, even to realize a work of architectural merit.  So, that means that the south face of the current structure is getting a new patio and pergola instead.  I am going to set it up for new vines next year with table grapes in the future, plus seating for four chaises and a misting system to cool things down on the hottest summer days.  The design should not diminish views at all, and I think I can keep the deer off the vines (hope so!).  I'll be setting heavy galvanized mesh three feet below grade and eight feet up around the vines until these are trained onto the top.  Not the most lovely arrangement, but every critter out there seems to love grape vines.  Gophers love the young roots, deer love the young leaves, and birds love the fruit.  All I need to do is to put in a pond and we'll have the Serengeti outside our doors...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dumd, dumb, dumb, but it's MY blog...

So, I just got the newspaper. It's early morning, rabbits pattering around, birds jostling through the ground leaves. I noticed a new root crack in the driveway and looked up. This one is from a cedar, split into two and growing straight up like two competing towers.  I remember trimming it when it was about six feet tall.  It, they, are now more like fifty feet high. I had to cut away two broken limbs from the plum tree beside the driveway just yesterday. That plum was twenty feet shorter when we moved here.  I am always looking up and thinking about that measure of time, the trees I have planted, when I planted them, and how tall they have become, often crowding one another and jogging for the light.  In another month, Liliana goes to college.  We raised all three of them from babies here and now they are all gone.  That is one thing about Grape trees. Nothing to measure time. Timeless. Permanent.  Wow. No kids in the house.  Makes me cry.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Seattle was still cold and overcast when we left for vacation. Came back to a hot summer evening and two more days or beautiful sunshine.  Then, poof went summer.  Cannot wait until August comes around...two whole weeks on Grape Hill...farmer's markets, getting some work done on the new patio, evening meals at Big Table. July 12th and it is seriously chilly outside. Good grief Charlie Brown!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A lovely weekend.

Just returned from such a nice weekend.  Waking up to World Cup & birds...pheasants, fly catchers, marsh hawks and a red tail.  The full moon rising just as the sun was setting and setting just as the sun came up.  Did almost no cooking, which was unusual, but Sue enjoyed the break.  We stopped in Union Gap and bought asparagus tamales from Los Hernandez.  Dinner at Brasserie Four on Friday night.  A lovely, fun party at Jay and Debbie's on Saturday night, catered by Graze. Amazing potato salad amongst all the good food.  Had some of Jay's library wine, 2002 cab, which was excellent.  Felix, Jay's son-in-law, threw down the gauntlet in defense of his mom's tamales being the best anywhere.  So Sue went to our house and brought back a taste of the asparagus tamales and we had a group tasting.  Scores ranged from 7 to 8 overall.  Very good fun.  Sue sent me to The Blue for some poker on Sunday while she caught up on magazines and relaxed in the sunshine.  Good outing at the poker table, so we splurged on the tasting menu at Whitehouse-Crawford.  The best pairing was a fresh morel soup with a Woodward Canyon reisling...magic.  The wheat is looking good and Tanya is doing a great job with the house.  I called Carlos to get out more help in the vineyard, with the star thistle, especially.  That is some pernicious stuff!  Very hard to tell with this year's grapes.  Late, slow start can mean a wonderful finish or sour grapes...we shall see.  So glad that we are not in the wine business or I would be whining.  Went to Yungapeti for futbol and the albanil burrito with fresh lime juice.  Man...I had never tried the hot green salsa...the best!  We stopped for more tamales on the way west, but closed.  What a difference it makes to have the third night at Grape Hill and not rush back.  Can't wait until next month...two whole weeks on the farm!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Liliana's is Graduating...

No more kids at home.  Sad, but nice having them all at UW and fifteen minutes away.  A good meal on mom & dad is always well-received.  But now the idea is to enjoy more time at Grape Hill.  So lovely that the farm is being well-loved by guests coming for stays, but also getting to be not so good that people are booking as much as a whole year in advance and it is getting so hard for us to be spontaneous in enjoying our own favorite place.  I may just block out ten weeks during next year so we are sure to have times for ourselves...  Tried both the 2009 cabernets and syrahs from Little Vineyard.  The cabernets are sublime.  The syrahs seem to be tasting better than they did the last time I tasted them, but so hard to tell...these seem to ride a roller-coaster of constantly changing flavors during the first year in barrel.  Definitely highly drinkable, but not likely to be cherished the way the cabernets are shaping up to that higher-level.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Wet and chilly has been the springtime mode this year.  For now, the vines are loving it.  Let's hope for some heat units starting in the next couple weeks!  The outside shower is actually good fun in bad weather, but I seem to be the one and only when it comes to appreciating that bit of fun. 
Big red wines still taste right for now.  But soon, let's hope, a crisp dry rose for quaffing at Big Table.  I've been tasting more interesting and worthwhile local Walla Walla roses of late; more substance and flavor with mourvedre and cinsault and grapes that seem to lend themselves to the styles of rose that taste right, at least right to me. Not like flat soda pop, driven by some RS off sweet fruit.  Yes, it is decided, this summer a nice big tasting...Bandols and Provencal roses along with the best of Walla Walla's new roses.  Good give us the sunny afternoon to go for it!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Big Squeeze and The Antidote

As a society, and an economy, it seems like we are past The Big Scare.  It's The Big Squeeze now, with budgets tightened at home and at work, more work for less pay, fewer and more demanding customers in every field.  Nothing to be done about it, certainly not on an individual level, except to appreciate legs that pedal the bikes, eyes that see beauty, friends who want to hold hands and tell bad jokes.  The real irony here is that we will get through this happier, stronger, leaner, and more vital.  There is no room for fat, or for fatuous people, either. 

The first time I sat back and smiled, happy in the moment, was when I was living on Samos. My little house, Pirgalaki, had no heat or electricity.  Sometimes the outhouse has running water, sometimes not.  There was a shower, all cold, and when I showered in that cold water I knew that I was alive because the cold hadn't killed me.

We don't need much.  God help the fakes out there when we all come to realize how little we really need.  Land, sunshine, water, clean air, and people who want to share it with us. I came to Samos after a stranger walked up to me and said, out from the blue "you must go to Samos, to Kokari" and she walked on.  My angel.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More pictures from the fun weekend.

My goodness...what a great time!  Nobody would go in the outdoor shower except me, so I used up all the hot water and stayed under that shower for just as long as I felt like looking out at the world.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So we are having an '89 Rieussec for dessert along with a zurracapote I'm cooking on the side burner of the barbecue. If this isn't good enough to get somebody dancing then I'm useless. Dancing? No, coupling in the weeds!  "Coupling?"  Man, you can take the boy out of Cambridge, but you can't take the Cambridge out of the boy. "Coupling" Fuck me!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Goodie goodie!

Spending a long weekend with good friends and hot air balloons...the perfect time for Grape Hill.  Cannot believe that it has been six months.  But the back is feeling good and I am so ready for joy!  Dinner at jimgermanbar Thursday, hanging out and taking walks Friday, then art walk and dinner at Brasserie and a play at Whitman College.  Saturday, dinner is at Big Table with fifteen of us, paella by John of Graze, good guy, appetizers by Sue and dessert is all mine.  Great wine, friends, hopefully nice evening weather.  Bliss.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It takes all sorts.

Maybe all showers should be outdoors?  Showers can be really enjoyable, yet most often they seem to be a utilitarian purpose.  An outdoor shower is an event.  Baths, too.  Add a candle and bubbles and a good bath is a nice activity.  Haven't tried watching TV from in the bath...does this add to the experience or detract?  Multi-tasking is a lot like too many things inside a room...less is so often more.  I just saw a car commercial that shows two separate flip-down lcd screens so each child in the back seat can watch a separate program.  Is that good? 

This is probably heresy, since hand-held devices are certainly the newest and baddest religion of all these days, but a device-free sit down dinner each night might save more than one American family from implosion.  I still maintain...we should have dropped off-the-grid laptops into Afghanistan and offered free HBO for everyone.  Hulu, too.  Let the Taliban try to stop that momentum!  Don't know what is more compelling and more dangerous, too, the heroin coming out from Afghanistan or the 24/7 electrified existences that we are doing to ourselves?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Odd stuff.

I'm still losing weight, on purpose, which is great. But after having been on diets so many times in my life, it seems unreal that I am losing lots of weight without really dieting at all. With the back still recovering from surgery, I cannot even attribute this to exercising like mad. In fact, I have not exercised since December and still am down 42 pounds.

All that I have been doing is eating differently. Fewer second helpings. Spiced popcorn or fruit for snacks. Generally avoiding fatty foods, processed sugars, processed flours.  Definitely missing great cheeses if I am missing anything.  Not missing most meats.  Easily going for brown rice and whole wheat flours except during sushi.  Frozen yogurt rather than ice cream.  Considering the benefits, this is it for the rest of my life.  Looking to get pretty doggone slender and take the strain off my well-worn back. 

The saddest part of all this is the notable higher cost of these foods.  Healthy eating is so much more expensive than just filling up. Fish costs are insane.  Quality veggies, too.  This is not right!  I'm not any zealot, but my own body is now telling me, every day, that  everyone should have access to affordable healthy foods.  When I think of the societal expenses of shitty foods versus the lower medical costs of reducing diabetes and heart ailments, possibly vision problems, sexual problems, and even cancer...we should be taxing the crap out of sugar and fat-laden processed foods until healthy alternatives are cheaper.  Did North Carolina tobacco ever kill as many people as New Jersey food science?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Curse you, Red Baron!

Actually, this "Red Baron" is my bad back, which, I hope has been shot from the skies to never return! Four months of pain that flat out knocked me down and shut me up...groans aside.  Surgeons are a good thing.  Even if we go broke getting Liliana through med school, having a surgeon in the family sounds very reassuring.
Grape Hill has been renting so often again that we need to reserve time to get there. I have not been over since November, but still wonder if my back can take the four hour drive? At least others are enjoying my beautiful spot! We are going to need to treat Grape Hill differently and reserve our own times months in advance.  It's so sad having to tell people who really Get It and love Grape Hill that there isn't any time available for them.  At this rate, it may become necessary to reserve many months in advance.  I suppose we could raise the rental fees, but I hate that! It isn't about that at all.
So, I barrel-tasted the wines from two syrahs and a one cab this week.  Totally glyceral with bright cherries on the cab along with hints of mint and cedar. The syrahs were divergent and they should not have been different.  I have so much to learn.  One was brooding and backward, the other was much more inviting, with smoked meats and both blue and black fruit.  Damn me if I turn into a winemaker, and damn me if I don't.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Swimming upstream.

I try to make some improvements every year.  It was the new windows last year, and the outdoor shower.  Sue is wanting to see some landscaping right around the house.  We debate about that one, as I like the raw, unfinishedness and the open, agricultural quality.  Just don't cotton to much citified elements here.

This year, the plan is to pour a new slab connecting the front patio to the south-facing view.  Doubt that, this year, I will get around to putting in the arbor and grapevines over the new patio, but it will come, it will come.

The 2009 cabernet, "Liliana", is embarrassing me.  I can't quite accept that I made wine this wonderful and instead have decided that I lack all objectivity where the wine named for our lovely daughter is concerned.