Sunday, April 27, 2008

Clary Ranch: One to Watch

I usually reserve my wine reviews for the little ticker on the right side of this web page, but this past year I had the good fortune of discovering Clary Ranch, a wine that deserves special attention. I'd like to tell you all about this wine, but first a little background...

Since I left IBM in 2000, I've worked for 3 companies; all of which were based in Silicon Valley. Napa and Sonoma are about an hour and a half North of San Jose, and I've enjoyed extending my business trips out there to explore all that wine country has to offer. Napa is definitely on my list of top 3 places to visit in the US. The combination of the beautiful scenery, the casual yet upscale lifestyle, and the great restaurants and wineries make it a perfect place to visit (or live for that matter).

I recall fondly a leisurely lunch with Deanna at Bistro Jeanty, sitting at the "community table" and getting to know the strangers sitting next to us. My childhood friend Nick Burger and I have enjoyed a couple of capers to the area, perhaps most memorably taking in the "big reds" at Chimney Rock (he was a Club Elevage member, didn't you know?). My long time colleague and friend Mike Loomis and I really lucked out with some VIP treatment at Sterling and an unforgettable visit to Buehler Vineyards. Buehler is definitely tops on my list of best wineries to visit in Napa. John Buehler puts on an a great tour, and Buehler is a consistent producer of outstanding reasonably priced wines.

My friend Mike lives in Sonoma these days, so when we were having a group meeting in San Jose last year he had the great idea of pulling together a group wine tasting in Sonoma. Mike mentioned that his neighbor, Paul Clary, was a wine maker and that we should try to find a way to taste his wines. This would be a little tricky, however, since Paul's operation is pretty small and he doesn't have a tasting room. We agreed to meet Paul at a park in Sonoma center where he would pour his wines along with a picnic lunch.

As Mike was pulling together the itinerary for this trip, I'd just received an issue of Wine Spectator that included a feature on up and coming California Pinot Noir producers. Wouldn't you know it, Paul's Clary Ranch was one of the wineries mentioned along with a stellar "91 point" rating for their 2004 Pinot Noir. What is most amazing about this rating is that it was the first wine Clary Ranch ever submitted for rating by Wine Spectator, and they hit it out of the park!

When we met Paul for lunch that day, it was great getting his insight into the wine making process and his perspectives on the wine industry. He was remarkably down to earth, knowledgeable and friendly. I asked him what it was like competing in an industry where Charles Shaw is sold for $1.99 a bottle. He shared that small wineries like his are hard pressed to bottle *air* for $1.99 since the glass, label, cork, and labor costs add up quickly in a limited production scenario. I remember asking John Buehler why he charges so little for his wines even though they receive outstanding ratings. He said, "You can price wines to production, or to perception. I choose to price my wines according to my production." I'm always fascinated to talk with wine makers in particular about what it is like to submit a wine for rating. I remember talking to Page Buehler (John's son) about how they made sure the labels were perfectly aligned (superstitiously) on the bottles they submitted, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. The difference between an 89 point and a 90 point rating is huge in terms of sales impact and I've got to think when a new issue comes out with a favorable rating, high fives abound at the winery.

Meeting and talking with wine makers gives me a different perspective on the industry. When I'm browsing the aisles of a wine store I don't think much about the hard work that goes into wine making. But when I see first hand how someone's livelihood depends on their wines, and how their passion goes into the bottle, it gives me a whole new appreciation for the different characteristics and quality levels various wines offer.

Last night, we had some friends over, so I opened the second of two bottles I brought back from that trip. It was fantastic. Paul makes his Pinot in a ripe, luscious style and I find it to be more full bodied than other Pinot Noirs. In addition to raspberries and cherries, I picked up tobacco aromas that give the wine a unique characteristic. There were only 150 cases of this wine produced, so it's highly unlikely that you'll find it in your local wine store. But if you visit Clary Ranch's web site or drop Paul an E-mail he may be able to hook you up with some of his great wine.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Red Sox Opening Day

This week I had a chance to do something I've never done before: I went to Red Sox Opening Day. It was an amazing experience. Each year, after 5 months of brutal weather, 30 some thousand Boston fans stand up and walk away from their desks with not a thought about what they're leaving behind at work. I remember interviewing for my first job in the Boston area back in 2000. It happened to be opening day and everyone I spoke with was in such a good mood. For me, opening day marks the unofficial beginning of Spring and it is a great time to be in Boston.

This year was particularly special since the Red Sox won the World Series last year. Highlights included ring ceremonies, introductions, celebrity appearances, marriage proposals and even Bill Buckner throwing out the first pitch. I guess after 2 championships in 4 years, Red Sox fans are able to find it in their hearts for letting that ball slip past him in '86.

Fenway truly is an amazing ball park. A few years back I happened to go to a game at the Bank One Ballpark in Arizona the same week as I went to a game at Fenway; it was like there were two different games being played at the stadiums. While the Bank One Ballpark somehow reminded me of a nice shopping mall, Fenway exuded charm with its dirty concourses, foul odors and cramped wooden seats. Things seemed nicer at Fenway yesterday, but it still had its charm. It is a great place to watch a game. (Note to self: must see a game at Wrigley Field soon).

When I was growing up, the only pro sports team we had was the Phoenix Suns. I remember going to my first games at Veterans Memorial Coliseum with my friend Brent Moser's family. They had season tickets and lived on the next block. It was amazing to see *in person* the games that I usually only heard on the radio or occasionally saw on TV. In the summer, we'd travel back to Chicago and a few times we went to games at Comiskey Park. That was something I'll never forget. It was so intimidating traveling into the big city and seeing a major league game in a big stadium. I couldn't imagine pulling a trip like that off by myself- it was all I could do to keep track of my beloved Kevin Seitzer, Matt Nokes, and Mark McGwire rookie cards!

However, with no kids in tow yesterday, I felt less encumbered than I have in a long time. I felt unstoppable! I could weave my way through crowds, find an easy spot to stand on the train- everything was simple. But as much as I enjoyed spending the day with my friends, I was thinking how great it would be to take Sam and Will to a game. Some day soon I think Sam will be ready. First, he'll have to prove to me he's ready by asking to watch a Red Sox game instead of his current favorite- the dreaded "Caillou".


It seems there is some controversy surrounding the F-16 jet flyover that occurred prior to the game. See the Yahoo! news story here. Everyone loves a flyover, but evidently one of the pilots got a little carried away with all the excitement and pulled a "Top Gun" Maverick maneuver by falling out of formation and performing some impromptu aerobatics:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Three cheers for LOGIC from a 3 year old

A scene from lunchtime today:

Me: (cutting and serving Will a balanced and easy but definitely not gourmet meal of bread, chick peas and prunes.)

Sam: Mama, may I have a prune?

Me: Do you know what a prune used to be?

Sam: No, I don't. What?

Me: It used to be a plum. You can make prunes by dehydrating (simple explanation of vocabulary word here) plums. Pretty cool, huh?

Sam: So what did a strawberry used to be?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Tree Service

We had the nice folks from JT's Tree & Landscape out to our house this week to remove some dead trees from our yard. Their methods were a far cry from my limited familiarity with tree removal (which comes primarily from watching uncles and cousins drop trees with little more than an ax and a rope at the family cottage in Michigan). Sam woke up to the sight of no less than 5 big trucks in our front yard and he was thrilled.

"Papa, there's JT trucks in our front yard!" he said excitedly. I have to admit, Deanna and I were pretty excited too. Perhaps it was because we've received so many quotes, and even when we accepted some of the quotes, the company would never return our call to begin work. Perhaps it was because it was 7AM and we were fearful our neighbors would be awoken by the noise of chain saws and stump grinders. Sorry neighbors- really.

The highlight of the job had to be the bucket truck, seen in action below. Of all the work we've had done on our little house since we moved in, I believe this one rates as the furthest from my (limited) capabilities. I *really* could have hurt someone trying to attempt any portion of this job. Mowing the lawn continues to be the handiest thing I do around here.

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