Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Characters of character should live la vita serenissima for a long time

Paul wrote:
"Sorry about disappearing for a while there.
It seems that I had a very leaky [heart] valve and probably had less than 50% oxygen to my brain for at least a year. I was cutting some wood on my cool new band saw when something went wrong and I took a good hit of sawdust. I went home feeling sick and the next day, still not feeling well, I drove to the hospital in Napa and told them what was wrong. They said I had had at least one recent heart attack and to come right on in. I got a triple bypass and they repaired the valve about three weeks ago.

Amazing technology and not very much pain, in case you are worried about when you get one."

Not long after we bought our home in San Mateo, I began a wine-making hobby. We’d buy grapes directly from the grower, usually from Johnson’s Alexander Valley Vineyards, of Healdsburg. They don’t have a website, which is par for their stone-country style. Tom is a Grower; a Farmer. Daughter Gail is the UC Davis schooled winemaker. Gail raises Bassett Hounds. Venice is (rightly) called La Serenissima, but a close second in serenity quotient is spending a still August afternoon sipping a chilled, lightly-oaked, chardonnay on Johnson’s lawn while a pack of far too adorable bassett puppies tussle for your attention.

This isn’t Johnson’s, just a bassett puppies pic I found at Just look at 'em:

While I’m digressing, I just learned that the etymology of the name Venezuela, probably originating with Amerigo Vespucci, is ‘little Venice.’

OK, we’re back. If a wine-making hobby goes relatively well, some sizable controlled-temp storage soon becomes a necessity. I had to build a cellar. I bought a 10’ x 20’ pre-fab wood shed, slapped in a plastic vapor barrier and fully insulated it with a 6” layer of R-Max. Wallboard on top of that and viola, a functional cellar. I also installed a small window AC unit, but we never used it: the peninsula climate is perfect for a passive cellar, even when it's above ground. (Not too long later, we lost this particular cellar in the ’95 El Nino landslide - the inspiration for the name of this blog, by the way. But we built a quainter cellar later. Link to Pics at the end of this entry).

Next, we had to have some bottle racks. Enter Paul Wyatt. He had a small fabrication shop in San Carlos and from the moment I walked in, I knew he was a character. As a businessman, he’d be the first to admit he’s not standard issue. Paul, on salesmanship:

"To be successful in any serious sales opportunity one must first have excellent knowledge of the product. From my experience, how you feel in the sale is more important than what you actually say. Remember that you are asking for money in a fair and even exchange for goods leaving both parties satisfied. It will help to remember that it is not your money, it is the client’s money and he must make the decision to buy. If you think that you are asking for too much money, everything will be fine because you will probably not make the sale."

But he is a true artisan, a craftsman, and also a heck of a fun guy to have a glass of the old stuff with.

Paul’s premature brush with mortality reminds me, yet again, to always savor serenity. Serenity now! And if you can do so in the company of a few well-spoken characters, life is good. Very good. The picture at the top is one of Paul’s cellars. There are more of his cellar pics here . And here are some pics of my less grandiose effort.


Anonymous Marjorie said...

How cool that you make your own wine. Mark and I were visiting my friend in Los Angeles on one of our recent trips home and one of her good friends had a bottle of some home brew cabernet that he shared with us and it was the best wine I've ever had. Seriously. And we like good wine! Seems wine making at home can go much better than any home attempts at beer brewing I've tried.

1:19 AM  
Blogger deano said...

Hmm, could some expats be mulling over the idea of trying an Aussie grape home brew?

One of my bro-in-laws home brews beer. I still dream of one of his Chimnay-style batches. We both agree 2 things will get you a long way towards making good, even great, wine or beer at home: (a) great ingredients and (b) good hygiene.

Sure, maybe there's some 'art' in winemaking, but great grapes will get a beginner, who can follow a receipe, something to be proud to pour.

So, don't even think of making wine from a 'kit.' You'll be tremendously disappointed. Start with grapes from a grower who will sell to home brewers. You'll have to be flexible, come harvest time, to be able to go pick them up when they're ready. Ripening waits for no one.

And get Mark to agree to do the bottle-washing before he knows what he's signed up for!

7:46 AM  

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