Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Year of Bees!

Today our third bee hive arrived after almost 15 months of caring for two hives that came to live with us last year.  My mentor Patrick Adams of Blue Moon Bee's has been an incredible teacher and although I have learned a lot the last year, I still feel stupid in his presence!  My two original hives of Italian bee's struggled through a dry and cold winter and 'bee mom' me struggled right along with them.  The two hives were named Cersei and Khaleesi when they came to live with us (yes friends, we are long time Game of Thrones fans) and although they seemed to flourish here in Carmel Valley, the winter was tough. Cersei out grew her hive quickly, living up to her name and being the more aggressive of the two.  She swarmed in late summer with a new young queen taking half the workers and half the honey into the surrounding hillside. We knew she was going to swarm, made the decision to let her (some beekeepers will destroy queen cells to prevent the swarm) and looked at it as building a healthy background population in our area.  We then worried our way through winter concerned that she wouldn't have enough honey to see her through.  Khaleesi on the other hand seemed to have a good amount of honey and although her progress was slower it was steady.  By late November we had closed up both porches allowing only small openings so they could come and go, but keep their warmth and discourage predators.  By January I was feeding both hives and even talked Ted into making fondant for them. That was a culinary adventure he promised me he would never do again. Cersei gobbled her fondant up but Khaleesi was slow about consuming hers.  By the end of February I was beginning to see activity from Cersei but very little from Khaleesi.  An in-depth inspection of both hives confirmed that while both had had a tough winter, Khaleesi was the one suffering.  We continued to feed her both fondant and sugar water and kept our fingers crossed.  Cersei became aggressive in the spring and had several emergences of new brood.  There were no signs of emergence from Khaleesi although an occasional worker was seen leaving or entering her hive.  I would occasionally open the top of Khaleesi's hive and little workers would poke their heads up waving antennas at me but seemed too tired to show much aggression. We were encouraged just to see their little faces however. Ted and I decided to add another hive to our small yard recently and Patrick suggested we try a hive of Tuscan bee's. They are more adaptable to colder climates, with furrier bodies and are reportedly very docile. 
Today that hive arrived with Patrick and the two of us donned our beekeeping suits and went to work setting her up. This new hive (which is named Arya) was indeed incredibly docile.  Upon opening her, there were no signs of aggression.  Most times they lift their tail ends into the air and release a pheromone that smells similar to banana's.  We moved Arya from the travel box to her new home quite easily and gently encouraged the stragglers to join their Queen. While letting her settle we inspected Cersei and found her to have an immense amount of honey. Another box (super) was added, one panel was removed for honey extraction and we closed her up, both of us happy with her progress.  She is a healthy, dominant and productive Queen. Ted and I will need to harvest quite a bit more honey by the end of next week and add yet another super to give her room to continue creating brood and honey. Khaleesi however was a sad sight. There was not a single bee in the hive and instead we found signs that other bee's had probably robbed her of honey. We took the hive apart and moved it to an area where we could inspect her panels more closely and found a queen cell where a queen had grown and emerged. This new, young queen, probably feeling bullied by the neighbor Cersei and without stores of honey made the decision to leave the hive with the workers who were left. The good news is that she was not a victim of Colony Collapse Disorder and is most likely somewhere near us setting up a new home as a feral colony. Once again we have contributed to our background bee population. Patrick is already in the process of ordering a new Queen and bee's to repopulate the now empty hive. We expect that Cersei alone will provide us with nearly 50 pounds of honey this season, which means a lot of hard sticky work doing extractions.  But we've chosen to extract by hand using sieves and gravity so that we can retain the nutrients and enzymes in the honey that are so good for us. Queen Arya has been busy taking orientation flights this afternoon into the yard and should be completely settled and foraging in the next few days.  She'll consume some of the honey she has brought with her while settling but we expect a harvest from her this year also.  We hope some of you who have been considering taking up a little backyard beekeeping will do so this year.  Our yard has never been so vibrant.  From the amount of birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, such as lady bugs to the blooming fruit trees, berries and flowers.My neighbors and I have all credited our little bee's with creating a beautiful balanced landscape in our little part of the world.
Wishing you all the best of all summers!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I know you’re a Sagittarius, but I’d really like you to act like a Scorpio at dinner

What We’ve Been Up To
After leading the staff through a triumphant journey of 40 Days of Writing about wine and a few very busy back to back weekends of major events happening on the peninsula, I felt it was time for some creative, free-style form of wine study. I took my inspiration from Wine Folly’s Wine Personality Blog which was based on the Myers-Briggs personality tests and applied different personality types to various grape varieties. As fun as phycological testing may be (ahem), we needed a little mysticism to lighten the mood, so I added a twist, why not apply grape varieties to... astrological signs?
What We Learned
This exercise opened our minds to not just settling with the familiar, but to try drinking out of our comfort zone. We were also reminded to be accepting of grape varieties or wines for their intrinsic individuality. 
Where would we all be, palate and preference wise, if we treated wine selection as dating by zodiac sign? Opening a wine list can become an opportunity to date a different personality for the evening. You may have had the craziest-wild night ever on a date with a witty Gemini, but would you want a Gemini as your ‘house wine’? As wine lovers shouldn’t we try to experience a few more astrological signs (or grapes) in our lives before we settle down with just one?

Matching grape varieties to astrological signs has also been a great exercise in ‘managing expectations’ of what a grape truly has to offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found a server staring at our tasting notes with a furrowed brow to find they are trying to find their guest’s wine of choice for the evening. All too often the guest is describing something that is genetically and vinously impossible, such as a California Zinfandel that tastes like a Barolo. Have you ever said to your spouse, “I know you are a Sagittarius, but I’d really like you to act like a Scorpio at dinner tonight”?  What one loves about Zinfandel may very well be inherent to the grape or to being grown in California; what one loves in a Barolo may only be expressed from the Nebbiolo grape or that single perfect vintage in Barolo. On a human level we seem to accept a person for the sign they are and can easily understand when someone says, “He’s a libra, of course he said/did that.” Yet have you ever considered Zinfandel as a Sagittarius?  He enjoys travel, and has hopped from Croatia to Italy before settling here in California. His temper can occasionally flare up due to excessive alcohol production, reinforcing his superficial sense of power. On the other hand, the powerful backbone of Nebbiolo would be more deserving of the mysterious Scorpio sign. A Scorpio can be exciting and magnetic, but his dark side can be brooding (tannic in wine terms) or volatile if left with out discipline. To put it simply, we just couldn’t ask to couple these two in the same relationship let alone the same bottle!
In the end, my advice is to date, date a lot. Accept a grape or wine for it’s individuality. If you ask for a wine that tastes a little like one grape and a little like another, at least make sure their astrological signs are compatible (consider that fire and water signs just don’t mix). We’ll do our best to find you a perfect match!
Cin cin!
How to duplicate this project for your staff-
What you’ll need:
A book about or compilation of grape varieties (I created a binder of grape varieties from the Appellation America website, it’s an incredibly useful tool for various staff education activities)
A compilation of astrological signs. Find a zodiac sign web-site you can cut and paste from. Don’t overload your staff with too many traits, offer good and bad traits and no more than a paragraph about each sign. 
Lesson Plan:
We spent two weeks on this project. I broke it down into several phases. The first assignment was to pick a favorite wine or grape off of the wine list, assign a sign to it, and write a brief description about why the sign best represents the grape. Remind your staff to keep in mind not only the personality of the finished wine but also the grape- it’s many or few growing regions, it’s use in blending or not etc…
The second assignment was to choose a wine or grape from the list that that the staff wasn’t very familiar with. You can also flip the project and have your staff use their own sign and decide which grape best matches their sign. 
Toward the end of week two I created a poster with each sign on it and asked everyone to add the sign association they were most proud of to it. Hang the poster where the staff can read everyone’s findings. The most important thing we learned from our 40 Days of Wine project was that the staff really enjoyed seeing what their peers wrote. Having a space somewhere, where everyone can share their thoughts or creativity on a subject evens the playing field of the team and strengthens it at the same time. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

40 Days of Writing Project—Day 8

With a full week under our belt of writing about wine every day,  I think I can safely say we are finally comfortable and enjoying the process.  Or, to put it another way, after a week of shifting up through our wine-writing gears, we are on cruise control. Weʼve made it over the hurdle of nervous laughs and “I canʼt write a poem” comments to what Iʼm currently hearing—“Did you read my poem?!”
Our parameters for the 40 Day Writing Project are different than most of those participating. We have a group of nine different people—mothers, nursing students, artists, musicians, yogis and mathematicians—and I asked them to write about wine for, at the most, 15 minutes a day before their other job of restaurant server absorbed all their concentration for the next 4-5 hours of their night. I thought the fruit of our labor would be just words on a page; but, from what Iʼve seen over the past week, our reward has been building an even stronger team than we had before. The creative process has brought out a supportiveness in those comfortable expressing themselves with the written word; and that enthusiasm has spread to those of us normally less eager to put pen to paper. Iʼve enjoyed watching acrostics shared and written in multiple languages, seeing the contagious proud smiles, hearing the laughter from the written collaborations, and watching the creativity spread, even engaging our guests and wine representatives, inspiring them to get involved in the process too.
I received a phone call from the restaurant late one night last week, and my usual panic when I see my work number on caller ID that late at night was quickly subsided when I realized it was just my staff who wanted to share what they had written that night.They were too eager to wait for me to read their rap about a favorite Burgundy producer the
next day.
Did I ever think going into this process that I would be serenaded to a Snoop Dog song on my night off? That was certainly the furthest thought on my mind. Will I always remember that night and laugh out loud when doing so? It would be hard not to! At only eight days into this project Iʼm starting to realize although this process probably wonʼt garner us writing prizes, and the majority of what we have written wonʼt see the light of day, our memories of this process are priceless and will remain with us much longer than what we wrote on those pieces of paper. This process was simply meant to break the monotony of studying wine and in one weekʼs time itʼs given us so much more. I think the fond memories of what we create in the next 32 days will far exceed the value of what we will have learned and above all I think we are all truly looking forward to the experience.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

40 Days of Wine Writing

We were inspired by a recent Dirty South blog post to accept a writing challenge, “to write each day for 40 days,” and join the 40 Days of Writing project.  As it happens the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event is a little over forty days from now, making this a time when we would normally hunker down to an intense study of wine.  Adopting this project as a means to study for the event affords a more creative, collaborative opportunity to work together to explore and understand wine.  Some of us like to write more than others; some prefer to talk, some to read, some just to taste.  We’re hoping this project combines everyone’s strengths and levels the playing field, allowing us to start and finish each others’ sentences.
We obviously aren’t expecting our servers to sit down and write elaborate essays while tending to our guests.   Rather on the menu of what we want to write are brief and can often be composed in teams: haikus, acrostic poems, journal entries, drawings, in short quick and creative notes on what we learn on any given day at the restaurant.  Our wine director Jannae—usually the only contributor to the blog—and her editor Andrew—the host/resident creative writer of Passionfish—will be leading this project with the contributions of the whole staff.
And if you also find yourself inspired to write we invite you to take the  40 day challenge as well.
We’re looking forward to sharing our creations with you as they come!
Andrew & Jannae

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Love Child II- Galgueira Mencia, Valdeorras, Spain ’09

Cool climate Syrah + Loire Valley Cabernet Franc = Mencia
If you’re as smitten as we are with the white pepper, black olive and lush red fruits of cool climate Syrah as well as the minerality and herbal notes found in Loire Cabernet Franc, we think you’ll love Mencia!
Galgueira’s Mencia offers red currant, olive brine and white pepper on the nose which remind us of our favorite cool climate styled Syrahs, especially Wind Gap’s Sonoma Coast ’07. On the palate you’ll be pleased to find a generous amount of minerality layered with raspberries, tobacco leaf and a hint of the herbaceousness we adore in Joguet’s Chinon Cuvee Terroir ’09 made from Cabernet Franc. 
Mencia is grown primarily in Spain’s north eastern Galicia region. Galicia is known for its crisp white wines made from Albarino which pair perfectly with its plethora of fresh coastal seafood and river fish. Crisp and fruity red wines made from Mencia are beginning to gain popularity and they pair equally as well with Galician gastronomy. 
Our Galgueira Mencia is produced in the Valdeorras region, Galicia’s most inland appellation located on the Sil River. Valdeorras translates to “Valley of Gold” which may have taken its name from the Roman gold mines or from the golden color of the beaches that line the river. On weekends landlocked locals flock to these golden beaches to spend their time sunbathing and barbecuing, and we hope they enjoy a bottle of juicy, herbal Mencia while doing so!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Best Thing I Didn't Taste Last Week

A former member of our staff came in for dinner last week. A visit from this distinguished gentleman—we’ll call him Mr. S—usually means we’ll be showered with some type of lavish gift from his new stomping grounds in Napa.  We’ve been pleased to receive detailed wine tasting notes from his posh tasting groups, as well as care packages of cookies from French Laundry. This last visit included a generous share from Mr.S’ cellar, a 1987 Guigal Hermitage. Hermitage is an appellation located in France's Northern Rhone Valley that consists of a single 1,000 foot granite hill with just 300 acres of vines planted. Syrah vines that cling to the southern slopes and loom over the Rhone River endure harsh hot summers and icy northern winter winds, creating the most revered wines of the region.

Mr. S was seated in Mr.T’s section (and no, not “I pity the fool” 
Mr.T). Mr.T has a younger but eager palate and his New Year’s wine resolution was to focus on one grape variety a month and experience that grape from as many different appellations as possible. As luck would have it Mr.T had chosen to delve into the multiple personalities of Syrah this month. A generous taste of the Hermitage was poured and brought to the back to be dissected. After the first whiff Mr.T rightfully stated thiswine didn’t smell anything like the XYZ Syrah he had the night before. I brought up points as to why this would be the case, the age of the wine, the different terroir, the “new world” versus “old world” factor, the fact that this wine was from what most consider to be the “Holy Grail” of the appellations that produce Syrah. With Mr. T’s expression after his first sip I could tell instantly all of those points had clicked and, at the same time, been dismissed. There was a pause, a smile, and I could almostsee the light bulb or heavens parting above his head. And then in reference to the two very different Syrahs he had experienced in the past 24 hours he said this, “This is like going from reading a children’s book to reading an epic novel.”

I don’t think any of my logical information about the wine mattered at that point. Mr.T was experiencing a wine epiphany. These moments don’t happen all that frequently, but when they do, you know. When a wine stops you in your tracks and has you grasping for words to describe what your senses just experienced, that’s an epiphany, a memory you will savor forever.

When the rest of the staff noticed the tell tale signs of perhaps an amazing taste of wine in a stray glass, they clamored to see what it was that Mr. T and I had gone silent over. Someone asked me how I thought it tasted and I realized, I hadn’t even tasted it yet; but experiencing Mr. T’s reaction and perfect words for that moment was enough for me, I didn’t need to taste the wine, I tasted it through Mr. T’s eyes.  We often find ourselves concerned with the logical details of a wine such as oak selection, points it received from Parker, who made it, how good or bad the vintage was—and in turn these details cloud our expectations of the wine.  I think, or can only hope, that situations like this bring us all back down to earth and hopefully remind us that at the end of the day wine is fermented grape juice.  We all too often forget that for the most part its role in our lives is for hedonistic pleasure, and canoccasionally make us speak poetry of sorts.



Monday, January 9, 2012

New Years Resolution

Resolution- the act or process of resolving: as the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
At the end of every year wine writers flood us with a myriad of predictable “Most Memorable Wine of the Year” lists, just to be followed by a slew of “My Wine Resolutions” posts the following week. As we’ve tried to absorb and reflect on a lot of thought-provoking resolution pieces, some great conversations have been had with the staff over the past week. Our top picks for wine resolution suggestions include: Tailia Bioncchi’s Winemakers and Sommeliers on Their 2012 Resolutions - Vintage America - Eater National, Jay McInerney's 10 Wine Resolutions - and Maggie Hoffman’s 5 Ways to Get Into Wine This Year | Serious Eats: Drinks . The question that posed the most interesting debate and reflection came from Talia’s questionnaire. She asked a handful of winemakers and sommeliers across the country if they had any prejudices against regions or wines that they’d like to work on this year?
For us this question involved a lot of analyzing and coming to a conclusion that wasn’t as simple as one might think. It’s my job as a wine buyer and my staff’s job as ambassadors of our wine list to banish any prejudice we may have toward a grape variety or region. We spend our working hours consciously not forming an opinion as to whether we love X,Y, Z in a wine or detest it; our job is to remain neutral. If you want to drink a wine that tastes like X,Y,Z, it’s our job to find the best match for you off of our wine list. Those of you familiar with our wine list are aware that the list leans a bit more toward the esoteric, less predictable side; so in essence our list is built to help most guests banish their own wine prejudices and it is our job to help navigate you through unfamiliar terr(oir)itory. However this week when we asked ourselves which wine region or variety we habitually avoid, we found it quite challenging to answer, and for some of us, the experience was like sharing a deep, dark secret we rarely get to admit!  
We’d like to offer the challenge to you- how would you answer Talia’s question? Are you ready to work on a variety or region that has previously been off limits in your mind? Does something come to mind immediately or did you have to think for a minute? Did answering this question make you realize you are stuck in a wine rut? If you choose to take the plunge and work on a wine prejudice along with us remember to have fun with it, experiment and have an open mind. Our list and our staff are here to help support you in this endeavor! And you may even pry a resolution or two out of us. Experiment, enjoy and share your thoughts with us! Here’s to an open wine mind in 2012.