Bottle Shock (Or what to do with my Empties Collection)

n1344422890_8772I enjoy recycling, though I’m still suspect of where all that plastic, cardboard, and newspaper goes when my blue can gets picked up each Thursday.

One of these days I’m going to follow the truck after it leaves my house, watching as it winds all the way around town before it drops off somewhere.  Maybe once there I’ll sneak in on foot while the driver isn’t looking and snoop around the processing plant only to find out that our recycling is being made into food.

Wait, that’s the plot for “Soylent Green.”

In one area though, I’m such a pack rat for recyclable goods that I’m starting to rethink the clutter I’m creating.  I’m referring to the (at last count) 45 empty wine bottles that grace the top of my wine cabinet and now also occupy space in the kid’s rooms.

Some of these bottles are obvious keepers, my collection of wines from 1966 (the lucky year for wine my wife was born in): Latour, Fonseca, et. al., while others have sentimental values for other reasons, our first trip to France together, some 1997’s from the year we were married, a 1990 d’Yquem from our millenial new year’s celebration.

Some, like the 1982 Chateau Beychevelle, have great stories attached to them.  Linda and I, then newly engaged were given some wine to start our collection with.  So we took this bottle to a nice restaurant where it was opened as we were told the menu.  One of the items, “Osso Buco” was unknown to us both and I proceeded to ask her, “What’s Osso Buco?”  To which our nosy neighbors at the table next to us hissed under their breath, “They’re drinking 14 year old wine and don’t know what Osso Buco is?”

But other bottles have no real discernible right to be taking up space around my house, where they must be polished, dusted and arranged each time the house is cleaned.  I give you exhibit A, the Carr Vineyards 2003 Pinot Noir.  I do recall it being a very nice wine but keeping the bottle?  Forever?

I’m not going to throw that one away though, maybe I drank it at some point after Joss was born (2/10/03) or maybe I thought I’d buy more someday.

But from this moment forth, I’m going to be much more selective with the bottles I keep around like some wine museum, space that can now be used for my new products I bought at Whole Foods cardboard box collection.

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 12:33 pm  Comments (5)  

Wally(s) World

logo1The rain is falling again in Los Angeles, washing bad memories off the sidewalks of life.

And it’s a weather pattern that always reminds me of Wally’s famed parking lot sale, since wet is typically the forecast during this once a year weekend.

Back in my carefree days, circa 1999 BC (before children) I lived at the beach, breathed cleaner air, and actually had money to buy wine.  I always enjoyed Wally’s because the small store made me feel like I wasn’t selecting from every wine ever produced (see: The Wine House – which I’m also a fan of).

But now that I live in the “country” and shop for wine that gets cellared for 3-4 days, wine shops, as I’m mentioned previously, are not on my buying radar.  Each year though, Wally’s has a big tent sale in their parking lot, and from everything I’ve heard, bargains abound in the “you’ve got to be kidding me” range.

I’ve heard of top flight Bordeaux’s going for $25.00 and California Cabs priced so low they’re practically giving them all away.  So this year, when a friend invited me to join him under the big top, I said yes, stack of dollar bills in hand so thick you’d have thunk I just hit a slot machine at a strip club in Vegas.

I’m not sure how crowded they usually get on a Friday afternoon but the amount of wine housed outside was impressive, even if the crowds were a bit sparse.  I pulled out a wet shopping cart and headed to the aisles like a contestant on “Supermarket Sweep”,  envisioning myself running through and loading up my cart while others grabbed and clawed at my hands, hoping to get that last bottle of 2000 Harlan for $47.00.

Okay so maybe people we’re a bit guilty of hyperbole when it comes to the deals to be had at the Wally’s sale.  Or maybe those people had enough money to feel that getting a 2005 Mouton Rothschild for $579.00 was a steal, marked down from $1,000.00.  And I suppose if you just look at it from a math perspective that is a really good deal.  But a bargain?

I walked the aisles, tempted by the many quality wines on the floor but only pulled the trigger four times, three really, if you disclude the $8.99 (was $12.99!) bottle of 2007 Montepulciano called Quattro Mani (four Hands) that is made by “four celebrity Italian winemakers”, none of whom are listed, that was a good buy for me – and a very nice wine – but not the kind of juice I was looking for.

My big purchase was two bottles of 1996 Chateau Rieussec for $54.00.  A good price on a good wine that normally sells at Wally’s for $75.00 but I did find online for cheaper, though with shipping probably would have been about the same.

But the pricing in general as with all things are whatever a customer will pay you for something they want.  If you had had your eye on that 2005 Bordeaux but felt $1K was better spent paying the gas and electric bills, maybe that 50% discount was enough to make you reach for the plastic and support our teetering economy.  All it did for me was beg the question of exactly what Wally’s profit was even at that reduced price.

For those of you who had the displeasure to shop for a car, we’ve all been told, “I’m only making $500.00 on this ($40,000 car).  Really?  Really?  Color me incredulous.  My guess is that Wally’s still made a tidy profit on those bottles at almost $600.00, which then begs the follow up question, where is the wine buying world headed.

We’ve all heard that auction prices are down, if non-existent, and save for the folks who are still pocketing big paychecks (fill in the richest person you personally know here), most of us are happily spending $10.00 and feeling okay about it.

There were plenty of people filling their shopping carts with high priced items though.  Here’s hoping that some of them invite me over when they pop those prizes…

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Picking the Wine: A Dilemma

In these recessionary (depressionary?) times, lets see a show of hands.  How many of you are still going out to eat on a regular basis?  Sadly, and perhaps stupidly, mine is high above my head – and yes, I am typing with one hand…

Granted, some of these meals are at Chili’s with the kids, where the wine choices run the wide spectrum of quality, from Yellow Tail Shiraz to Yellow Tail Chardonnay, to some Pinot I can’t recall, so off in color I could have sworn they poured Ben’s fruit punch in a wine glass by mistake.

Many of these meals though are at fine dining establishments where, as the resident wine “expert” among my circle of friends, the task of picking a wine for the table usually falls on me.   Now I can look at this as a compliment, this assurance that I will take good care of everyone and their wine enjoyment needs.  But for me, now more than ever, it’s a pressure I could easily do without.

Call me a wine snob but I just cannot bring myself to order a Ravenswood Zinfandel at a nice restaurant.  It’s a wine I’d gladly bring home to make with veggie pepper steak and mashed potatoes any night of the week, but when I’m out to dinner, my eyes always fall on the Gevrey Chambertin’s or Brunello’s.  They just do.

And while this is a boon for the restaurant, it’s often an ethical battle for me.  For what exactly constitutes spending too much on a bottle of wine when eating out?  For me, spending $75.00 (on a roughly $30.00 bottle when buying retail) is not much of a stretch.  Not from a financial standpoint, I’m by no means rich, but I know at somewhere between $50.00-75.00, I’m going to get a good bottle of wine that will go well with the food we’re ordering.  But what of the people you’re dining with who don’t drink a lot of wine, who might not feel so wonderful in dropping that kind of money (usually times two before the meal is over) putting the bill at $150.00 before the food is even figured in?

So I sit looking at the list, then back at my dining companions, trying to size up their pain threshhold (read: financial health) and order accordingly.  I’ve even been known to tell a sommelier, give me your best bottle of wine under three figures.  That actually works well since now I’ve put the burden on them.  Sure, he or she could come back with a $99.00 bottle, fully within my parameters, but more likely, they end up pretty much where I was, $50-75.00.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “Hey, Daddy Winebucks, why don’t you just bring your own wine?”  Good question.  I do it all the time.  But because I am the way I am, and because lets be honest, my living is largely made on the backs of restaurant sales, I always buy a bottle of wine off the menu as well, thereby placing me in the throes of my dining out dilemma.

So what’s a guy like me to do, when people all across the financial pie chart are looking to save money?  Well if I listen to that little voice inside my head, or even the actual voice I’ve used to discuss this subject with my wife, I’m thinking this:

Go out less, but order good wine more.

How’s that for a little homespun Franklinesque wisdom?

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Read My Blog, stat(s)

fpdjia-narrowI remember back in my software days, when we first starting selling through Amazon, that daily rush of going on our product page and scrolling down to see where we ranked in sales for the previous day.  And while it was hard to feel competitive in a field in which we had virtually no competition, that any victory was a hollow one, I was powerless to not look.

Seeing us ranked sometimes as high as #5 in all software sales was really exciting, a highlight to the start of each workday.  To think that somewhere out in the world, there was another developer, searching their own rankings, seeing themselves hover at #788 and wishing they were us.  What a buzz!

But alas, humility has a nice way of leveling your life, so now, as I view my blog stats at the start of each day, my general mood is more of a buzz kill.

Visits to Daddy Winebucks look more like an EKG readout or Richter Scale chart than they do say, the stock market of ten years ago.  Put another way, if my stats were like my 401K, well, actually they are.  Maybe I should stop looking at them too.

When I started this blog last August, it was not with the intention of building an audience.  I truly did it in advance of a possible blog for the wineries, a way to familiarize myself with the form so when it came time to “blog” for real, I could do so confidentally.  But somewhere along the way I realized that it was another great, creative outlet for writing.  I’ve since joked that I should write my novel in progress as a blog, as I seem much better at working in 500 word intervals than trying to navigate the world of 50,000 words.

And yet each day I peek at those blog stats, I get my fuzzies when I see double digits and must admit to feeling a little down when I see that once again my “rank” is 5…

For those who do read this regularly, my sincere thanks.  I’ve no intention of quitting, for like Van Halen in the late 70’s, I’m still going to play for 2 people as though they’re 20,000…


Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 9:51 am  Comments (7)  

Movie Review: Bottle Shock

Given that “Bottle Shock” is one of only four movies I can think of off the top of my head related to wine, it may be a futile gesture to create a category for movie reviews.  But I guess there’s nothing wrong with being hopeful more films like these will find their way to your local multiplex, though more likely they’ll be playing once a day at the (almost) extinct art house theater.

You know the kind of place I’m taking about.  A two or three screen box situated downstairs in some mini mall, surrounded by a dance studio and local real estate agent that’s been “serving your home buying needs since 1949.”

The only theater harder to find would be one showing more “adult” fare (and I don’t mean Clint Eastwood films).

Its got the old seats with springs-a-poppin’, a sound system created when phonograph records were popular and a screen so splattered with soda that you think the splotch resembling a man in a top hat is actually part of the show.

I suppose that even prior to Netflix and home theater technology these ancient palaces to movies that don’t make money were long on the way out.  In fact, for all my nostalgia, I saw “Bottle Shock” in someone’s house, on a pristine screen, with great sound and of course a glass of wine resting on the table next to me.

“Bottle Shock” takes place in those carefree California winemaking days of the mid-seventies where many who had found their way to the Napa Valley were former city dwellers who decided that a more laid back existence, absence the hustle/bustle was the only way to live.  And thankfully that mind set does not seem to have changed much – even if big is now the business du jour in NoCal.

Set as the antithesis of this rural paradise is the wine shop of a Brit living in Paris.  Played by Alan Rickman, you just love it every time he’s on screen – though who doesn’t feel that about Alan Rickman in every movie he’s in (see: Die Hard to Sweeny Todd)?  And adding to his charm is Dennis Farina as his ex-pat American sidekick.

For some reason, the actors on this side of the pond didn’t do as much for me.  Something tells me that the real life Jim Barrett is far more interesting than Bill Pullman was in portraying him and the others main characters, playing Jim’s son, Beau, and the blonde intern fond of flashing her boobies to hitch a ride, could have been played by any number of better actors.

This said, I will single out Freddy Rodriquez, he of one of my favorite all time teen comedies, “Can’t Hardly Wait” as well as “Six Feet Under.”  Playing real life winery worker/aspiring vintner, Gustavo Brambila, the passion he showed in making his own wine was inspiring.  So much so that after writing this post I’m going to find and buy a few bottles of his.

But all this is an aside to the real crux of the film.  Alan Rickman’s character sets out to find the best American wine at that time and match it  against the some of the finest French offerings, putting together a panel of experts to taste these wines blind and judge them.

I won’t delve too far into what happened, even though most people reading this probably do anyway.  Suffice to say that the tasting, in 1976 was the “Big Bang” for the California wine industry.

Overall the movie was good, even if there were some flashes of Hollywood contrivance that were noticeable but not offensive.

This was a feel good movie and I finished it feeling good.  Mission accomplished.

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

And the Winner is…

With Hollywood awards season in full swing, I’ll admit to disliking these shows.  And not just because given my wife’s profession (Entertainment journalist, now Entertainment Webtrix) I have not been able to watch one with her for the last fifteen years as she’s always working.

No, my main problem is that most awards of this nature are just so grossly subjective and impossible to truly judge, that they’re simply unfair.  Certain films or TV shows, or actors or Costume Designers find themselves at the right place at the right cultural time, working on a project that has everything going for it and in return the public and critics respond.

In some of these cases, like the amazing “Slumdog Millionaire” it’s all deserved – in my subjective opinion – while others, (and I apologize to Heath Ledger wherever he is because I think he was a very gifted actor), ride a wave of Hollywood narcissism that awards for something noteworthy but not necessarily award worthy. Then again, there are those who feel he’ll be fully justified to win his Oscar posthumously and therein lies the problems with award shows.

Both Woody Allen and Bill Cosby have both decried them as an unfair barometer on talent.  For how can you really judge Penelope Cruz’s brilliant, funny turn as Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” against Kate Winslet’s Nazi guard in “The Reader?”  Was Ms. Winslet more convincing as a Nazi then Cruz was as a Spaniard?

(Editors Note:  Ms. Winslet is not a Nazi while Ms. Cruz actually is a Spaniard).

Yet the academy is forced each year to decide who was “better” in instances such as this.

This leads me to a thought I had last week.  That the wine business is a perfect industry for an awards show.  The reasoning being simple.  Rather than having to judge a comedy against a drama (much like trying to select the best wine of the year by drinking Cabernet from the US versus a Merlot from France) it’s much easier to pick five Pinot Noirs from Oregon, all made in the same general region by different winemakers and selecting a winner.

In this scenario all creativity started out on a level playing field, with artists working off the same canvas.  Think of it as giving five film directors the same script, with the same actors, etc. and judging it based on what the director was able to bring to the table.

The “Winey’s” could be given out in multiple varietal categories, while other technical awards could be given to bottle design, best writing on the back, best foreign wine, etc.  Then you could perhaps have a category for best winemaker, where the judges could select based on a collection of factors that went into a particular winemaker’s vintage for that year – I’m really liking this…

So picture if you will downtown Napa in the summer, wine luminaries stepping out of pick up trucks, dressed in their finest t-shirts and shorts, making their way onto a gravely, red, claylike “carpet” to the pop of flashbulbs.  Copia has been rechristined the Napa Wine Arts Theatre and as the crowd makes their way into the venue and the lights go down, the whole world watches an awards show that can be truly deemed fair.

Okay, wine entreprenuers (I’m looking at you, Vaynerchuk), this one’s on me.

I’m not sure we’ll get E! to cover it (sorry, Linda) but I cast the first vote for Food Network Coverage with Giadada DeLaurentis as host…

Who’s with me???

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 10:07 am  Comments (3)