New Chapters

(Above: sort of a self-portrait from a recent trip to the Grand Canyon. Man, that place is awesome! Also, it ties the UN’s FAO headquarters in Rome for language diversity.)

As some of you already know, I recently left Wine & Spirits, where I have been, successively (and oftentimes simultaneously) a tastings coordinator, editor, staff writer and critic for the better part of the last five years. But now it’s time to move on, and I’ll be joining my friends in the trenches and hitting the streets of San Francisco to pimp wine. Of course, I plan to continue writing — especially here — but also in venues on subjects where there’s no conflict of interest. (And if any of the wines discussed, reviewed or profiled on this site happen to be those that I represent, then I will make that distinction quite clear.)

It’s no secret that times are tough in journalism, publishing and the wine industry (and elsewhere). And where those three subjects come together, well, let’s just say it’s been particularly tough. But I will say that for wine at least, there’s real strength to be found in the people and relationships that make up this business. I’ve worked in wine for over a decade, for the entire ‘aughts’ or whatever the fuck they’re called, and I’m constantly impressed, engaged, and then re-engaged by the relationships formed over those years.

That I believe is the wine industry’s true gift to world commerce and culture — sure, the latest and greatest vintages matter, but at the end of the day it’s the workers picking and pruning vineyards, the cellar crews lugging hoses, winemakers tasting their blends, distributors and reps out working the streets, somms and servers working tables, and retailers walking their aisles, that keep this whole thing going. Nature may make the grapes into wine, but it takes women and men to move it, to build excitement stoke the passions of the people drinking it.

I’m grateful for all the support shown by folks in the industry during these past few days. It’s why I love this business.

Thank you all, and here’s to a great new year!

Depeche Mode’s version of the classic ‘Route 66’ – good times!

(Above: I snapped this pic of tired old cars along historic Route 66 somewhere in Arizona.)


Winter Break

It’s been quiet of late around here at Spume HQ and it’s likely to remain so for another few weeks. In addition to the full-time work, I’ve got a hefty freelance assignment so there’s little time for blogging. Stay tuned in early 2010 for more posts. Meantime, of course, thanks for reading.

State of Thirst, Update

Jeremy wrote in with a childhood recollection of water rationing in California in response to yesterday’s post:

I remember water rationing when I was a kid in San Diego. We didn’t ration but in SF you did. Once I asked for a glass of water in a Chinese restaurant. I was like 7 or 8. The waiter brought it to me and she said: you better drink the whole glass because someone in SF didn’t take a shower so that you could have it!

Freaked me out!

Another drought cycle, perhaps less acute but more widespread, brought mandatory water rationing to Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties (and other parts of California) when I was in 6th and 7th grade. The water company jacked rates to encourage conservation, on-and-off showering was the norm and front lawns everywhere were left to go brown, with the threat of “water fines” for those caught with the sprinkler on. My mother became adept at reading our water meter, and I was obsessed with creating a garden filled with cactus and rocks. Around this time, too, I started frequenting Joshua Tree out in the Mojave Desert. Apart from the temperate areas along the coast, this is arguably the real California. Of course, most of the state’s population is concentrated in the desert areas. Although reclaimed desert is probably more accurate.

ballooning over tract homes in Coalinga

I’m still baffled by desert tract homes with their green lawns. Those seen above are in Coalinga, a town located in California’s heavily irrigated Central Valley. Swimming pools, lawns, all manner of trees. As if those fences and roads can deny the reality so plainly visible.

Don’t even get me started on golf courses.

Unfortunately, it looks like the recollections of Jeremy’s and my childhoods will again become reality in California. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page article outlining the situation. The meat of it:

The rainfall expected in the region through Monday will be too little, too late to turn around a month that usually delivers about 20 percent of the rain and snow needed for the year, officials added.

With no blockbuster storms on the immediate horizon and forecasters predicting a longer-term dry spell, water managers around California are busy calculating just how far they can stretch supplies already drained by two previous dry winters.

So far, two dozen California water districts have extended rationing imposed last year – and more and steeper cuts likely are on the way.

“These are going to be hard times for everybody,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, which represents 450 public water agencies around the state.

For the season so far, precipitation totals around the Bay Area are 40 to 60 percent of normal, according to experts. While that doesn’t sound catastrophic, it’s not enough water to top off critically low reservoirs or soak parched farmland.

Go here to read the entire thing.

State of Thirst

Ask anyone in California about the first few weeks of January and you’re likely to hear about the weather. While the east coast freezes and the Pacific northwest floods, California has been experiencing unusually warm and dry weather. In fact, driving through the Salinas Valley last weekend, I noticed that the outside temperature was pushing 80. On January 18th.

We’re now in the third year of a nasty drought and up until yesterday, we haven’t had any rain to speak of in January. And just last week, Sonoma County officials announced that should present trends continue, they will call for mandatory water rationing. Other counties and/or the state would be likely to follow that lead.

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

“It’s looking horrible, disastrous actually,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Lake Mendocino, northeast of Ukiah, is at its lowest level for this date in 20 years. Storage at Lake Sonoma, northwest of Healdsburg, also is far below normal.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an informative and continuously updated page for Bay Area and statewide rainfall levels. We’re off by anywhere from 50 – 60% in Northern California; it gets much worse as you head south. Yikes.

It’s raining now, let’s hope it continues…


The internet is a strange place. You never know what forces will converge to reveal the oldest known lolcat, say, or in the case of yesterday’s striking alignment of the moon with Venus and Jupiter, will suddenly drive massive amounts of traffic to your blog. WTF?

In any case, a warm welcome to any of you internet astronomers who have stumbled across this site. Hopefully you’ll find something you like. And if you enjoyed a delicious wine during the recent celestial happening, please tell us about it in the comments!

The post in question, from last February, can be found here.

Also, check out this awesome video of an asteroid burning through Earth’s atmosphere in Canada. (Learn more here.)

Guilty Pleasures

Circumstances have found me alone at home for most of this week, which means I get to indulge in a few guilty pleasures. Like tonight, for instance, a delicious dinner and a movie–and about half a bottle of wine. Which wine you ask? Well, I looked in the stash and said, screw it, I’m drinking chardonnay. From California. ‘Cause that’s how we roll over here. Or at least sometimes.

* The geekish-minded will be somewhat comforted by the fact that it was a bottle of Navarro’s ’06 Mendocino Chardonnay, so the wine was rather lean by California chardonnay standards, with high acidity and a bright lemony cut to the finish. You know, it was so delicious I might just have another glass, even though, in the manner of certain experiments, I had thought to save this overnight in the fridge.

As for the movie, well, I can’t even pretend to be high minded about that.

I watched:

Hilarious. Although downright filthy. A bit like how I felt when I reached for the chardonnay in fact.

But as funny as Superbad was, in the high-school/coming of age comedy genre, it doesn’t quite compare to Richard Linklater’s 1993 masterpiece, Dazed and Confused:

And now to further indulge in a guilty pleasure, it’s time to play a little Bob Dylan…

Julia Child – The Spy!

Wow, this news from the AP totally made my day: It seems that Julia Child was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the World War II era precursor to the CIA. That’s right, the grande dame of American cooking was a spy!

From the article:

Famed chef Julia Child shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world. They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The secret comes out Thursday, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.

(Go here for the full text)

I’m amazed! I’m reminded by this news of Donald and Petie Kladstrup’s highly enjoyable Wine & War, an account of several of France’s leading wine estates during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Worth checking out if you haven’t read it.