The Other, Other, Other, Other White Meat

Full Disclosure:  I have been a vegetarian for fifteen years

Some people write letters to the editor when they read a story they don’t like.   And some of those people anxiously open up the paper for days hoping to see their brilliance in newsprint.  And then when they don’t, they pull up their blog and write a post.

So consider this a preemptive move on my part in response to the New York Times Dining section cover story today, “Don’t Tell the Kids.”

To quote: “Some may feel squeamish about eating it, but rabbit has a fan base that is growing as cooks discover how good the meat tastes.”

Oh yeah, well, how do those chefs or super fans know that cat doesn’t taste amazing, sauteed in a little white wine & garlic, or that a beagle’s hind quarters fry up just right in vegetable oil and served with hush puppies (irony for effect)  make the perfect companion to a hearty Zinfandel?

By framing this story with a cute title then jumping right in to a group of Brooklyn hipsters (does anyone else wish the whole borough would be taken back – preferably with force –  by the  poor immigrants that founded it?) with their carving knives in “Abercrombie & Fitch bags” and catch phrase desires for small, family farming, the article tries hard to foster debate.

But what they really want to say is, rabbit tastes good.  So what?

Don’t tell the children.  Why?  Will their crying drown out the moans of culinary ecstasy?  Will their incessant questions about eating a cute, furry creature add just a dash of buzzkill to the roadkill?

I’ll ask my first question again.  If rabbit’s are fair game (pun intended) why not cats and dogs?  Some cultures eat them while the average American identifies them as savages.  And you can’t tell me it won’t taste as good as Filet Mignon.  You don’t know.  How about whipping up a bowl of Hamster nuggets for that next dinner party?  It might be sublime.

(Jumping down off soapbox)

Truth is, I’m a hypocritical vegetarian.  My kids eat meat, my dog and cat eat meat and I’ve often joked that the cuter the animal the more likely my wife will eat it.  I’ve previously looked down on those who made their children into mini-me’s, mirroring their habits and politics like the little sponges they can be.  But now, I’m beginning to appreciate the mindset of Jonathan Safran Foer even more.  Parenthood changed his view on how his children should be fed.  They’re pretty young so perhaps he’s not showing them the picture or reading them the piece in the Times today.  But I think I’m going to show it to mine.

For in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd, if it’s “Wabbit Season” it may be time for me to make like Bugs.

“Of course you realize this means war.”

Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 3:32 pm  Comments (2)  

The Blind Side

There’s an old Hollywood adage, famously coined by screenwriter William Goldman that when it comes to predicting which movies will succeed and which will fail, “Nobody Knows Anything.”  To wit:  Columbia Pictures passed on the chance to produce “Star Wars”, leaving the plucky sci-fi movie to Fox, thereby losing out on billions of dollars in revenue.  They did however say yes to “Close Encounters” which earned them about the same amount of money (at the time) while it was 20th Century Fox that said no to Spielberg’s masterpiece.

Even more telling is that in asking studio executives of the era about their choices, they commented that if they’d said “yes” to everything they said “no” to and vice versa, they’d have pretty much ended up in the same place.  Put another way you can’t over or under-estimate the public when it comes to what they like.  They just do.

This proved to be true the other night at a dinner party where we did a blind tasting of various wines.  Now I’ve been an advocate of blind tastings many times before and while part of me still believes it’s the only fair way to gauge a wine, I’m now second guessing that in favor of Mr. Goldman’s assessment.  That when it comes to the evaluation of any subjective thing, the only person who does know anything is you.

There’s no need to get into the details of the tasting but I will tell you that the wine I brought – I wine I was a fan of and still am –  a Pinot from New Zealand called, Latitude 41 scored the lowest of seven wines (I had it as my third worse) or that a 2007 CA Cab from Jam Cellars was far and away everyone’s favorite.

What really struck me was that in looking at the scores of the individual wines, the loser I brought was scored (on the ubiquitous 100 pt. scale) by one person as 100 and by another as 1.  Holy swing, Batman!

And it was then and there, in a suburban kitchen, that I realized all this hand-wringing over scores/reviews of anything that isn’t decided by a clock or a scoreboard is a wasted exercise; whether you are trying to evaluate a wine, a building by I.M. Pei or a Hollywood movie, nobody does know anything.  And anyone who leaves their own choices to someone else is missing out on one of the true pleasures of freedom, the ability to do so for oneself.  I know too many people who won’t buy a wine that scores under a 90 (and I bet you do too) or takes the word of (fill in wine reviewer’s name here) as gospel.

I now realize, more than ever, the best wines in the world, the ones that get my 100 points, are the ones I like.  And that makes any number of wines I drink better than anything you drink no matter what’s on the label, who scored it or what its provenance.

The Founders envisioned a world of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So from now on I suggest you embrace the things you like, be it a no name $6.00 wine from Slovenia or a nonsensical movie set in 2154 where science has made it possible to telekinetically leap into the body of a blue alien but the weapon of choice is still a bullet.

At the end of the day, no one knows anything but you.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 10:43 am  Comments (6)  

Don’t Know Much About a Science Book…

As a work at home dad, the daily grind of my kid’s homework falls on me.  This was a fairly easy task in kindergarten, first and even second grade.  Now though, as third has kicked in, more and more I’m realizing that I can’t help.

Oh, I’ll sit and try and figure out that if Mary has forty-eight strawberries and thirty-six oranges and gives two of each to her classmates, how many will each girl receive.  And I thought I used to know that if you were adding an apostrophe to the end of “children” to signify possession it was children’s (or is it childrens’).  But the truth is I don’t remember and have generally left it up to my son whether it’s correct or not.  He’s usually right.

But it brings up the age old question, one that can only be contemplated by adults in the work force, just how much of this elementary learning will be truly useful to our kids in the next decade of their lives?  As I go about my everyday to do list, math is handled by computer programs that calculate anything I need, be it inventory management or sales tax in Texas.  Grammar check assists me when I say “their” but meant “they’re” and frankly, the only bits of my education that can be used in my winery life is, well, if I think of something I’ll get back to you.

I often joke that the only people who really need higher education are doctors and lawyers and most of us find ourselves in  other fields by the time our parents kick us out – the first or second time – to “get a job.”

Certainly I’m not advocating the end of the education system as we know it – though many would argue it’s already dead and buried.  But ask my sons what they want to be when they grow up and as of right now it’s a hockey and soccer player respectively.  What did I want to be?  A movie director.  Instead I found myself running a software company and now a winery.  And of all the great people I’ve worked alongside and continue to share my day with, not one of them used GPS to get there.  Meaning we all find our path eventually.

The wine business has traditionally been a family affair.  Maybe there is something profound in wine’s simplicity, a je ne sais qua, that coupled with an inability to understand the square root of Pi, draws the offspring back to the nest.

So, do I secretly hope my kids end up alongside me with their “virtual” laptops (or whatever Apple has in store for us by 2020) ready to release the new vintages?  Yeah, I kind of do.

It’s way too quiet without them here during the day.  So much so that I can’t wait to do homework…

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Comments (1)  

La Dolce Vita: A Contest

Given the sporadic nature of my postings and as such the sporadic traffic I enjoy, it’s always great when someone in the world reaches out to me after reading the blog.

It’s even more exciting when that person is the owner of a property in Barolo that they rent out to people like me and you.

And it’s even more exciting when for the simple act of becoming a Facebook fan of this property, you can get a chance for a free three night stay.  Yes, this is social networking at its finest.

Italy is my favorite country – I mean really, isn’t it everyone’s favorite?  In fact, I’ve been planning a two-month long villa retreat for next summer with the family, a one of a kind journey that will be cheaper than camp here in California but offer so much more than the 500th game of dodgeball, a rigged fishing trip to a fully stocked fake lake or the chance to make a comb sheath out of bits of leather and lanyard string (thanks for the memories, “Modern Family”)

So if you’re the gambling type who’d just as soon drop 100 quarters into a video poker machine, please ask lady luck to grant you an even better reward than a $5.00 surf and turf; a few nights in wine country paradise and a trip you’ll never forget.

Friend TorreBarolo NOW!  Everyone who becomes a fan of TorreBarolo between now and the end of January will be eligible for this free drawing.  Winner will be announced on February 1st.

And please remember my family only numbers four so you won’t even notice us as we come and go through the extra bedroom…

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 10:24 am  Comments (1)  

LA Story

A few years back, after I had found some minimal success placing wine in a few local accounts, Ryan flew down to LA to help open the market up further.  This strategy had been employed in about half a dozen other cities to unqualified success.  So I was excited to have some places in the city I now call home that poured our wines.  For if the people of Texas or Michigan  loved them, surely the cultured of Southern California would too.

We spent the day with a small distributor, visiting hip wine spots in Silverlake, Hollywood and its western neighbor among others, sharing wine with restaurateurs & shop managers who knew their boutique wines.  And they were well received.  I didn’t expect to see orders by the pallet but…

Sales tally:  Zero

So what was it about Los Angeles that turned them off to our wines?  Were they protecting our fragile feelings?  Did their books already have fifteen Cabs just like ours?  Or can it simply be chalked up to a lack of follow up by the distributor?  Whatever the case we gave up the big city dreams and have focused on building our brands in markets that are every bit as cosmopolitan as LA, if a bit less trend of the moment-centric.

And then I received an unsolicited e-mail from a new husband and wife team hoping to bring some small production wines into LA.

You might think my first thought was to hit delete.  It wasn’t.  Maybe I’m a glutton for disappointment, perhaps like Steve Martin in LA Story I want to be told we don’t belong with the hipper, score friendly wines that populate the wine lists of my favorite restaurants.  Or maybe like a character in another movie, every time we try to get out, they keep pulling us back in.

But the more I think about it, I’d like to begin 2010 hopeful our LA fortunes could change.    If we don’t try, we may regret it, maybe not today or tomorrow but someday.  And if all else fails…

…we’ll always have Houston.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Godfather (of wine)

I suppose after a two month absence from blogging this space probably resembles Love Canal but I’m back and mediocre as ever.

As usual, I wish I had some better reason for being away, like my wife and supermodel mistress surprised me with a trip to Italy – just the three of us –  and we spent the fall drinking wine, helping with the harvest in Multipulciano and I’ve just returned tanned, well fed and tired.

But surely you all (and by you all, I mean just you) know this is not true.  What is fact is that life is busy, work is busy and if our fall sales are any indicator, the wine economy is slowly getting back on track.  And that’s good enough reason for me to have been away from the blogosphere.

I’ve not been without things to write about though.  I started a post about a local wine bar that used to suck and has now made a refreshing comeback, we had our annual customer party in September proving that the hard work of reaching out to your customers in order to build your brand is more powerful than any reviewers score, and I just got back from Asia, where we plan to launch a new wine in the next few months (more on that in a future posting – I hope).

The thing that I decided to lead with as my first post “back” however has to do with a subject I’ve touched upon before, the fact that I’m in the alcohol business and have young children.  That there’s is a certain stigma (deservedly so, if I must be honest) when it comes to sharing my career at school if it comes up.   It’s not as bad as if I say, worked for RJ Reynolds but it might be worse than if I worked for Hughes making missile guidance systems that are used to kill innocent people in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Or is this all too melodramatic? I wouldn’t have thought so but my last interaction with a teacher at school made me feel that I was a member of the Gambino crime family and not a laid back winery partner.

My older son is now a fellow blogger.  He’s proud of it, I’m proud of him, and I’m indebted to his teacher, who happens to have created an award winning classroom blog.  It’s great and has really given the kids in the class a head start on the world they will be inheriting technologically.  As parents we’ve been asked to participate by commenting on their posts and in a recent one I mentioned my job.  His teacher very kindly – and with a true bit of remorse – told me she could not use my post because I mentioned wine as she felt this was inappropriate for the class to consume (pun intended).

I understood her logic then and I understand it now.  And yet I’ve found myself coming back to our discussion wondering if my harmless comment really posed a problem for the class, a group who also have great parents, many of whom I’ve actually shared a glass of wine with.  Would they have minded?  Was the teacher heading off a possible comment from the principal?

My whole point is, I get it, I’m not upset.  But now I’m simply curious if other people – even in other “borderline” careers (drug company rep, “R” rated film producer, lawyer) have dealt with similar circumstances at their child’s school.

Lets open up this debate and get me some readers back!

Bada bing!

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harlan County, USA

harlan-county-usaIts happened.

After 15 years as a wine lover, collector and purveyor I’ve finally gotten to taste a true California cult Cab.

Wine Spectator scored it a 90, Parker gave it a 95  (does he ever not like what it seems he should), and the estimable Steve Heimoff at The Enthusiast bestowed it a whopping 98.

I’m referring to a bottle of 2003 Harlan Estate Cabernet, lovingly shared by our best friends on the occasion of their anniversary (though as I remarked – it felt like mine!)

I’ve often lamented the whole nature of the cult wine world, with their wallet busting price points (this Harlan can currently be had for between $400-600.00 – actually not bad for this level of cultishness), their unchallenged pedigree and the standoffish attitude of these producers.

For those of you who recall Steve Martin’s attempt to get reservations at a swank eatery in, “LA Story” you get the idea of what it’s like to procure a spot on one of these coveted mailing lists.

So a day after we whined here in California that our winemaker, Ryan, was treated to an ’82 Petrus at a market visit in Michigan, we sat down to try and do him one better.

There is certainly an anticipatory moment before you take that first sip of something you suspect will be amazing. That deep purple color (especially next to the Burgundy we very much enjoyed for our second bottle of the evening), the trail the wine leaves along the side of the glass, that chocolately, truffeley nose.

Then, the sip.

Hmmm.

Was it good?  Yes, it was.  Very good.  But as I’m not in the business of keeping score, I’ll simply say this – not many wines can compare to this level of structure, balance, and the knowledge that it’s a bottle bred for greatness.  It delivers.

But as I’ve commented on these pages before, I can’t honestly say it tasted five or six times better than any number of $100.00 Cabs I’ve had over the years.  I suppose it’s like asking if a Bentley is that much better than a Lexus.  For some it will be, based on quality and craftsmanship but at the end of the day, when both cars are sitting in their respective dark garages, you’ll notice each has four wheels, an engine, leather seats, good sound system and will both, providing there is enough gas in the tank, get you anywhere you want to go.

And yet prices and exclusivity keep it away from the many and in the hands of the few.

The good news, from what I hear, is that mailing lists are becoming easier to gain access to.  And Harlan themselves are now offering people behind their velvet rope the opportunity to buy just one bottle (previously I believe, you had to purchase six).

Yes, I’ve joined the wine equivalent of the mile high club, and soared near the top of the Cult Cab mountain. And the view from up here was good.

But as a bleeding heart, I’ll always take the coal miner’s side, the one that says, fairness for all is better than the best  for some.   So the next time I’m lucky enough to get my hands on something as rare as a Cult Cab, you’re all invited to my house to share it.

Published in: on September 3, 2009 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  

I Scream as They Scream About Ice Cream

puppetTheatre_lrgSummer doesn’t officially end until September 22nd, but the end of the season for me is just over the horizon as the boys start school tomorrow.

Its been a nice couple of months filled with swimming, tennis camp, a trip to NYC and various other activities reserved for out of school pleasure.  This included an almost daily trip to a yogurt place in town called, Berrylicious though their name will be changing shortly as someone else called their shop the same name – kind of reminds me of that scene in Spinal Tap, where the band started out as The Originals, but then another band in the east end called themselves The Originals so Tap changed their name to The New Originals and then the other band changed their name to The Regulars.

Point being – sweet, frozen treats are synonymous with summer, but this charming vision of youth is being threatened by the usual collection of parental do gooders who would ban the neighborhood ice cream person because they are tempting their little angels with Bomb Pops, Dixie Cups and Nestle Crunch bars before dinner.

Picture a sparkling day in Brooklyn, in Chicago, in Cleveland, an urban park where children play and laugh.  And then, across the way, the colorful truck, the hypnotic, murderous jingle, the semi-trustable guy peering out at the kids waving a Sponge Bob ice cream bar with gumballs for eyes at their level.

Then see the carrot, apple slice, organic granola bar toting, Jessica Seinfeld discipled mom, powerless against the pull of history.  The meltdown ensues as does the inevitable call to the Public Works department to ban the ice cream truck from the park. Oh, it’s done under the ruse of eliminating unlicensed vehicles from the area but it’s really about control.  I’ll feed my kid the sugary stuff when I decide, not when you flash the lights.

Neither Ben or Jerry stands a chance against these confectionery crusaders when they set their mind to something.

Yes, we need to have an everything in moderation mantra for feeding our kids treats.  And yes, I’ve shielded my kids from the truck, walking out of my way where they heard the expletive laced trash talking coming from the public basketball courts, rather than the evil music emanating from Mr. Softee’s wheels.

But as the summer comes to a close, I look back on all the things I did when I was their age: left my house unannounced to walk or ride my bike, sometimes miles away, to see a friend.  Stayed out past dark playing stickball, or football, or hockey without a care in the world.  Even ran out as the Good Humor truck made its slow roll down my street, pre-dinner, with dollar in hand.

Those times are long gone, at least in all the places I’ve called home since my idyllic Long Island childhood ended.  That’s why I let the kids have ice cream after a long, hot summer day.

If you’re not going to eat it then…

Published in: on August 25, 2009 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

New York City to World: Drop Dead

3066319207_2c0031a3f2I wish my month away from the blogosphere could be attributed to some grand goings on, but alas, all the usual culprits were present:  work, kids off from school, nothing to write about, suburban ennui.

But thanks to that last procrastination excuse, I left the confines of my Encino subdivision two weeks ago for a gaudy, old Manhattan vacation and came back with a new found appreciation for my hometown, but not so much that I longed to live there again.

That’s the thing about NYC, it has the power to inspire and revile, often on a walk between Park and Madison.

The trip began with the usual rush hour cab crawl from JFK to the city but what LA born and raised kid doesn’t love the inside of a taxi?  Even though they now feature TV’s showing what basically amount to promotional videos, the boys were much more fascinated with our driver.  For there’s perhaps nothing as cute this side of a kitten falling asleep on You Tube that compares to an 8 and 6 year old trying to pronounce a name that’s got sixteen letters and no vowels in it.  But the guy was super nice and a great sport and tried his best to answer all their questions, notably Ben’s asking him what he’s going to do for a job once his license expires.

Eventually we made our way to the cozy pleasures of the Upper West Side where we dropped off our bags, and strolled across the street, Woody style, to the local Italian cubbie hole.  This, at its core is the simplistic beauty of the city.  Home in LA, whether you are headed out to dinner with the kids or just another couple, it’s a production before you leave the house – who’s going to drive, should we pick you up or you pick us up?  How long will it take us to get to Beverly Hills, should we take the canyon, the freeway, etc.  Will we have enough time to find street parking or just valet?

None of these questions are necessary in the Apple that is big.

And its magic touched us in many ways (cue: getting groped on the Subway joke here).  Ben, someone who literally only drinks water suddenly felt the need to have coffee (decaf) at every meal.  And like a true New Yorker, each morning’s jaunt to the counter at Zabar’s was an invitation for him to strike up a conversation with anyone who sat next to him, friendly strangers that were regaled with his life’s ambitions of either playing in the NHL or being a bartender (he of wildly diverse vocational aspirations).

Our days were spent walking, a lot, also a rude awakening for those children of LA, who’s sneakers are generally kept immaculate by never touching pavement.  But exploring any city on foot is a pleasure we don’t often appreciate and it made the vacation all the more special.

If there’s a recession going on, the city found a way to hide it from us.  Every restaurant and bar that lined Columbus and Amsterdam (and the Village) was packed, though we seemed to be the only ones with kids.  LA may have a reputation as Nannyville, USA but other than the park, where were the children?  No doubt sent to some upstate summer camp while their parents frolicked in the city or out in the Hamptons.  For as I can attest, there’s nothing like dragging two tikes around like dingy’s off your yacht to slow down your NYC lifestyle.

NYC is alive and well, and dare I say much better than when I left in 1990.  Sure, there are people who will complain about the Disneyfication of their formally crime and grime wonderland, but for me New York is best enjoyed when its clean, friendly and raising its collective middle finger at the world saying, sure come on and visit, then get out.

Which was alright by me because after a week of sharing my personal space with the rest of humanity, all I wanted to do was get back into my car and try to remember what pavement actually feels like.

Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Public Enemies

22-1177236732-1I suppose this is a post I could write each year at this time.  But upon reading today that the state of California thinks it can generate almost a billion and a half dollars a year by legalizing pot, it brings to the forefront how off kilter things are when it comes to the sale of wine.

For the past few weeks I’ve found myself waist deep in paperwork, renewing out of state permits and seeing my local notary public more than I see my wife.  And each year I do this, filling out line items, printing out reports, trying to follow incomprehensible instructions (all to cut checks that don’t exceed ten dollars in some cases), I realize we’re really no better off than we were in the 20’s when the sale of alcohol was just flat out illegal.

Don’t get me wrong, the states deserve to collect their taxes – I’m not against the paperwork, I’m against the mindset that has created it.

Back in my software days we used to joke, after dealing with some henious bug problem that couldn’t be fixed while people left threatening messages on our answering machine, that in our next business life we were going to sell plastic spoons.  An item so utterly boring and idiot proof to use, nothing could go wrong.

So what do I do?  I end up trafficking in the sale of a beverage that has created nightmares for those trying to sell it, buy it, enjoy it.

The questions are simple.  Shouldn’t a company selling a legal product be able to do so to a consenting adult in all 50 states without problem?  Without the need to find a distributor (I’ve never met) who can sell to someone (they’ve never met) who wants to buy from us after meeting us?

(If that sentence is confusing I guess it’s meant to be)

And all this would not seem so absurd, especially here in CA, where you can now walk into a store and buy pot for medicinal purposes of course, with little more than stooping over and pretending you have a back problem.   These stores are not the speakeasy’s of the new millenium mind you, with a black door topped by a sliding window where you are allowed entry only after giving the password (Maui Waui).  No, these are storefront locations with matching websites that have big juicy green buds on their home pages and offer free gifts (choose from one of several glass bongs or Grateful Dead records).

I’m all for the legalization of marijuana, for those who just want to enjoy it as some of us might enjoy a glass of Riesling at the end of a long day, and I certainly want to see it available to people who are simply looking to fight off the effects of endless rounds of chemotherapy.  If it works, it works.

So lets get an extra billion dollars into the state’s pockets by making pot legal.  But while we’re at it, can we please legalize wine too?

Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment