The Myth of Sisyphus
Every June, after yet another year of planning, diligent work, some nail-biting, and plenty of waiting, two signal events transpire, and pass, as though in a whirlwind, leaving me, alas, back at square one, ready to try it all over again.
The apricot tree in our back yard is about 20 years old, and seems, after those 20 years, to be fairly healthy and happy. But our back yard just may not be the most fortuitous location for an apricot tree. I’ve been tending this tree, now, for quite a few years, and I’ve never seen it produce more than about three dozen apricots in a year, and that only happened once — the next biggest crop may have been half that many. One big problem is that, in most years our apricot tree blooms in the latter half of January.
It’s beautiful when it blooms — the blossoms are a heart stopping burst of white and pink — but nearly always, within just a few days of the appearance of the first flowers, the latest cold front from the Gulf of Alaska comes barrelling through, or there’s an offshore low drawing a nor’easter from the Sierra Nevada, or maybe even a tropical incursion (in those El Nino vintages) bearing inches of rain per hour, and the next thing you know the bees and the hummingbirds, and all the other pollinators in the neighborhood are sequestered in a cave somewhere, or headed for points south. So, when all is said and done, there may be a few apricots, but may is the operative word in that sentence. There was a year with only one (oh, but it was GOOD!) and also one year in which not a single fruit set. (Which, of course, makes three dozen sound little short of miraculous) No wonder, come June, the rewards from this little tree often seem fleeting.
Marty, er, Steve Edmunds performing
at Hospice du Rhône, 2001
photo by Mel Hill
Fortunately, Hospice du Rhône offers a bit more payoff, and this June, I have to say, I had a blast. (If you’re not familiar with Hospice du Rhône, go directly to www.hospicedurhone.com) There was an article published in the San Jose Mercury News comparing the event to “summer camp,” and I think the author had it right. Remember, back in ’55, (OK, you’re right, I’m dating myself) The Adventures of Spin and Marty?
Hey! There’s Moochie! (Oops! Mat Garretson) You know the fairgrounds in Paso is a kind of campground. And there’s a corral! Look! It’s Spin! (Uh-oh — wrong again; it’s John Alban) Group meals, staying up late. Not a care in the world. The Farewell Barbecue. Wow! Is that Marty up there on the stage, with the guitar? (My God, no — it’s Steve Edmunds!) The cute dancer in the pink tutu — that’s not Annette, is it? (It’s Jim Fiolek.)
OK, back to the future.
We had the usual bowling tournament Thursday night, on the heels of the usual heat wave (106 degrees at 2pm Thursday) which began to break after 7:00pm, (83 at 10:30pm, low 70s at 10am Friday) leaving us with, for the second consecutive year, perfect weather for the weekend.
I was bad Friday morning, skipping the Clarendon Hills seminar, to explore Peachy Canyon Road on my bicycle, which is a great introduction to the pleasures of riding in the hills west of Paso. From what I could gather from my more studious colleagues, it was a great seminar — really good wines, especially of the Grenache persuasion. I did catch some of the following seminar, matching Rhône varietal red wines with spicy Asian-cum-fusion food, featuring Randall Grahm, from Bonny Doon and Randy Caparoso, the sommelier and wine director for the Roy’s restaurants group. There was considerable disagreement amongst the panelists, so it was fairly entertaining, and provoked a certain amount of controversy.
Lunch, prepared by McPhee’s, (a fine establishment in Templeton) was really splendid, and there were a lot of great rosés to drink (among which, the Canto Perdrix from Tavel stood out to this taster). Mat Garretson was kind enough to put my CD, Lonesome On The Ground, on the sound system for musical accompaniment, and I have to say, I felt right at home.
There was the usual great tasting of Library (pre-’97, this year) and Hospice barrel-auction wines after lunch, and that evening, the SLO Dine-Around. I was fortunate to get a seat at Bistro Laurent, where the featured wines for the evening were all from Beaucastel/Tablas Creek/Perrin. Francois Perrin, from Beaucastel, was there to hold forth on the wines. The two standout wines, for me, were the Tablas Creek white, a Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier/Rolle blend with tremendous depth and vibrancy, and the Perrin Gigondas, a negociant wine that was marvelous. (Take note — this was not an expensive wine!)
But perhaps the highlight Friday was the get-together in the latter part of the evening at Villa Creek. The energy at VC both Friday and Saturday nights was magic, and I think there’s a connection to the thought expressed in the newspaper article about the summer camp feeling. People were connecting, really enjoying what seems to be a growing sense of community among the participants in this event, which has truly become a kind of festival. The socializing went on late into the night; for my part I indulged a bit longer than was wise (they do have Pilsener Urquell on tap at Villa Creek, after all, and it was my pleasure to introduce a beautiful young woman from Ohio to this venerable beverage.). Drinking lots of water on the way back to my hotel was helpful, but nothing helped when, at quarter to five Saturday morning the phone rang, and the person at the other end asked for Ray.
Saturday’s seminars were great, especially the Syrah/Sense of Place gathering. John Alban and Michel Chapoutier each made significant contributions to the ongoing conversation about terroir. Chapoutiers’ comments were especially interesting; he spoke at some length on the expression of terroir. He asserted that it was of the utmost importance for the vines’ roots to penetrate through the topsoil layer to the subsoils in which the minerals that characterize a site are to be found, and of the important role each mineral that finds its way into the composition of the fruit plays in fermenting that fruit, by activating the different types of indigenous yeasts contained on the grape skins. Each of the yeasts, in turn, has its own role to play in the development of the aromatic complexes that make up the expression of the terroir in the resulting wine. (Or something like that. I haven’t articulated it as clearly as Michel did, but I know I, and many of my colleagues were greatly intrigued.) Michael Havens moderated the discussion, and did a fantastic job of steering the conversation, again and again, into thought-provoking territory.
The Chateauneuf du Pape seminar that followed, with both Chapoutier and Perrin was also a good one. Once again the moderation was exemplary, Ehren Jordan playing that role.
The auction and Grand Tasting were both highly successful, and, all in all, the event was a great success — I’d venture to say it was the very best yet. At the farewell barbecue many a venerable bottle, brought in for the occasion by enthusiastic participants, was opened and shared. I tasted ’90 Beaucastel, ’92 ESJ Les Cotes Sauvages, ’88 Pontifical, ’92 Guy Bernard Cote Rotie, ’89 ESJ Syrah, and so on. But, again, the memorable feature of the evening, was the camaraderie, built up over both the weekend, and the succession of these events over the past several years. Sweeter than apricots. If you haven’t done Hospice du Rhône yet — don’t let it pass you by, it’s too much fun.
Points West: Peay Vineyard
This Fall we’ll add yet another vineyard to the roster of grape sources for ESJ wines. Nick and Andy Peay have planted a beautiful vineyard near Annapolis, in the Sonoma Coast AVA. In addition to planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, (which are the varieties most people think of in relation to the Sonoma Coast) they planted Syrah, which is what brought us into the picture, and also Zinfandel.
This is a vineyard that I anticipate will produce truly exceptional wine, if my instincts are worth anything, and I’m excited to be working with both the Syrah and the Zinfandel, beginning with the 2001 harvest. I have a feeling this is a vineyard you’re going to be hearing a lot about. You may never see it in person; you have to be really stubborn, or have a lot of time on your hands just to get there, (it’s roughly an hour and a half west from Warm Springs Dam over an insane road) so maybe these shots will give you an idea of what the place is like.
The view down from the farmhouse
The view up from the reservoir
Rocking, Late at Night
In the July issue of Food and Wine, there’s an article titled: “IT’S 4AM; DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SOMMELIER IS?” about a group of SF sommeliers who meet regularly after hours to taste wines together, and cook for one another. It includes a great recipe for a Croque-Monsieur, and the wine that washed that baby down in the most pleasing way was none other than our ROCKS AND GRAVEL 1999. (Mais oui!) You can try this at home! Check it out!
LOS ROBLES VIEJOS… and back by popular demand: PINC FROID