July 29, 2012

Secret World

I loved Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Ponyo from a few years back. It’s the little mermaid story, fantastical, the ocean coming alive in a way you could only dream. It’s a “kids movie” but like all Miyazaki films, it’s not just for kids.

Given how much I liked Ponyo, I’m surprised that I didn’t realize there was a new Miyazaki film. The Secret World of Arrietty was already in second run when I took the kids to it some weeks back. It’s not Miyazaki exactly, but from his studio, written by the old man and directed by one of his acolytes. Secret World is the story of the borrowers, mythic little people who borrow trivial things in the night from the “big” people’s cupboards.

If you remember from my vinous distraction during Midnight in Paris, you can understand that I was momentarily taken away from my suspension of disbelief when the title character, a borrower daughter, rushes into her family’s little home beneath the floorboards past assorted big people things. Among them is a wine bottle with a colorful label I recognized as a southern French rosé.

The name escaped me, but I remembered that it had roses on the label and a quick image search helped me make the match. Ch. Coupe Roses from Minervois, in France’s expansive Languedoc region along the Mediterranean. I thought it would be fun to find the wine and see if it’s any good, or if the illustrator included it simply for its pretty label. Probably the latter, but perhaps not. This movie like all Miyazaki movies is about love, and rosé is in my opinion the purest expression of love in still table wine. Perhaps that opinion is shared?

Coupe Roses might be available in Portland but I couldn’t find it with what little free time I have lately. Then on a recent trip to Texas, there it was when I least expected it at Austin Wine Merchant (incidentally, that shop is vastly improved since my visit some years back – check it out). With temperatures near 100F, it was a perfect time for French rosé, so I made my purchase.

The 2011 Ch. Coupe Roses Minervois Rosé was delicious. Not special, perhaps a touch darker than I prefer my rosé, that greater extraction seemingly giving more black cherry flavors than the pure, crystalline notes of more pale pink wine. But it was delicious on a hot afternoon, and a lovely reminder of this sweet film.

There's a moment in Secret World that struck me particularly well. Arrietty has done the unthinkable and been seen by a big person, Sean, even befriending him in a way. Their connection is limited, and when he writes a simple note when she regrettably drops a sugar cube on her first borrowing, it seems that much more significant. The phrase – “you forgot something” – sticks with me.

I won't tell you how Secret World ends. It's different from Ponyo, but similarly a most unusual love story that complements the earlier film, perhaps less fictional. Check it out if that sounds intriguing. I’ll watch it again, and not just because the kids want to.

July 18, 2012

More Nebbiolo Vecchio

I finally opened another of the bottles of old nebbiolo from Chambers Street Wines in NYC. This one I'll admit I bought because of the label. Of course I trusted a Chambers recommendation, and Spanna is always good to see on a label. Riserva 1967, too. Apparently that was a good year in northern Italy and reserve should mean something, no?

But look at that label. That's what really got me. I liked it so much I bought two, and I'm glad I did.

The Guild crew met up at a house on Mt. Hood a few weeks ago to catch up on business. With the alpine air, the wine geek factor in the house and surely good food, I figured there would be good conditions for enjoying a wine like this, the 1967 Francoli Spanna Riserva.

I'm not sure if my co-conspirators felt the same, but I really liked this wine. It's not cocktail wine. It's something you savor a bit more, with a crowd so everyone can taste but no one has to drink the whole thing. A nice glass with a plate of egg pasta with mushrooms and cream? Really good.

This wine seemed more advanced than the '69 Berteletti Sizzano I had a few months earlier. Strange, '69 is considered a very difficult year and Sizzano is hardly a household name in towns known for their nebbiolo-based wine. Nevertheless, the color was no more than brick, the wine freshening up with air time. I find this commonly with old wine - give it air and you'll coax out more freshness and fruit than is often usually apparently right when you open a bottle.

I loved the tobacco leaf and strawberry preserve aromas, with aged notes of soy and mushrooms in there as well. Wines like this are often most enjoyable aromatically. That was true here. The flavors were delicate and holding together, but not as full and enticing as the fragrance. Still, a lovely drink with a simple dinner, a lovely 45-year-old drink that is.

July 10, 2012

Impossible Things

I finally finished the Steve Jobs biography that I began back in May in the terminal at JFK, waiting for my flight back to Portland.  I mentioned it here briefly. I was thinking about winemaking as biography, how it’s about telling another’s story without getting in the way. About asking good questions, not providing all the answers.

I still feel that way, but a winemaker friend thinks all the talk about winemaking being about getting out of the way of the grapes is bullshit. Winemakers make tons of decisions about their wines. There’s no getting out of the way, and he’s right of course. Choosing to do nothing is still a choice (spare me any quotations of Rush lyrics, please.) And really, we never do nothing. Even the most simple approach to making wine is full of choices. It’s not just the interventionistas.

So, too, with biography. Authors puts their name on the book, as they should. The questions they ask are their own, the words they write, even the stories they tell, even when the story is someone else’s. Their measure is accuracy.

In wine we call that terroir, a word that drives some people crazy, like it’s another word for bullshit. What is terroir, really, they ask. Well, what is Steve Jobs’ real story? Neither can be defined precisely, but I think it’s clear that Walter Isaacson’s accounting of Jobs is true to his subject’s terroir. Perhaps not the only story or even the whole story, but a truth, a good example of Jobs much as we might write that a particular Dujac is a good representation of Chambolle Musigny.

So what of the book itself? I’m a book group of one these days, so why not get into things here. I’m going against some feedback I once received that my wine blog is good because it’s about wine, not straying much into other areas. I haven’t exactly held that line and I’m fine with it. Let me know if you aren’t.

Call it cliché, but I found the book inspirational. My brother-in-law who gave it to me said Jobs really comes off as an asshole, not the genius saint portrayed in the media, and he does. So why do I come away from the book wanting to be more like him? Because he was focused. He got the big picture and the details at once. He embraced simplicity in design. He would tell you to be great at a few things, not mediocre at everything. Those are all things I admire. He also provides a nice story of how to bootstrap a business, something I’m doing on two fronts.

Above all, he did impossible things. And that’s what drives me, the seemingly impossible. Always.

July 06, 2012

More From The Dalles, with Jan-Marc

Destination Mt. Hood, in search of mushrooms
As it would happen, I paid another visit to The Dalles in recent weeks. First, it was to meet Scott and Stephanie from The Grande Dalles. This time it was a long overdue visit with fellow PDX Urban Wineries member Jan-Marc Baker of Jan-Marc Cellars (that's John Mark, if you're wondering how to say it).

Jan-Marc and I made wine in the same Portland facility in 2009, and I took an immediate liking to this skier turned chef turned winemaker, who also likes to forage for wild mushrooms. We'd long talked about his mushrooming adventures on the slopes of Mt. Hood, and he was kind enough to invite me along some time.

Jan-Marc and his wife Barbara also have some land in The Dalles, near some vineyards where they source grapes for their Portland-based winery. I thought it might be nice to tie in a little visit to the vines after mushrooming, and a few weeks back we finally managed to make it all happen. What a great day, even if we pretty much struck out on the foraging.

Bear evidence

Having never gone mushrooming myself, I imagined I'd be required to wear a blindfold and/or swear to secrecy about where we went. Neither was true, though I'll maintain professional discretion and say only that we were at some elevation on the eastern flank of Hood, in tall trees with a mostly clean forest floor, naturally clean. This wasn't recently logged or otherwise fussed with land.

JMB's porcini haul two weeks later

Did we find anything? Yes, lots of various, inedible but beautiful fungi, and a few morels of varying maturity and one young porcini sporting claw and/or bite marks from the lucky animal who ate some and left the rest for our amusement. That is, we found enough to show this was appropriate ground to search, but not enough to really do anything with. And not nearly what Jan-Marc found a couple weeks later when he returned and took home several nice porcini. Call it a bit late for the morels and a bit early for the porcini.

We did manage to find some bear shit. One thing I love about Oregon is how quickly you can go from city comfort to not just a nice hiking trail on a Saturday morning but honest wilderness. Bears equaling "wilderness" to me, city boy.

Old barn

Mushrooming attempts done, we made our way down several roads toward The Dalles, in search of tacos (asada, nice) and Mexican coke. Along the way we found an abandoned barn on the edge of a green wheat field, Mt. Hood striking in the distance. And we saw beautiful vineyards like Kortge, McDuffy and Hillside, all sources for Jan-Marc Cellars wine.

Sonoma county? Central Texas? Nope, The Dalles

Then we headed back up Mill Creek Road to Jan Marc's place, past some of the oldest vines in the Northwest, Lonnie Wright's The Pines zinfandel planted back in the late 1800s. This isn't just newfangled wine country, though most vines around here date back to the 1980s at the oldest. We didn't stop and walk through the old vines, but I'm hoping to at some point.

Jan-Marc in his element

Instead we drove up to Jan-Marc and Barbara's little cabin for a quick rest and then hiked around and then up the hill adjacent to their property. The reward? Stunning views from the top of Lonnie's Volcano Ridge Vineyard, a site planted in recent years that's steep and easy to see from the Baker's cabin.

From the top of Volcano Ridge Vineyard

What did I take away from this beautiful day? One, I love mushrooms and I've already gone foraging again. I won't be deterred by not finding much of anything. Yet. Two, The Dalles has some fascinating vineyard sites that are nothing like the nearby Willamette Valley. This is bigger red country, cabernet, zinfandel, tempranillo, perhaps even mourvedre? And three, Jan-Marc is a total bro. Always good hanging out with him, just soaking in a good vibe and an intuitive sense of where to be at all time. The guy always seems to have a smile on his face. I'm easy going, but I still have a lot to learn to that end.