It’s an Oak Farm, Maggie

“Oh lord, stuck in Lodi, again,” echoed somewhere in the deeper corners of my consciousness. When someone mentions Lodi – a tiny rural metropolis just north of Stockton – Credence Clearwater Revival’s seminal tune about plans going sideways is always front and center.  These day, if you are paying close attention to the FX hit “Sons of Anarchy” there are several Lodi references per season, but then you are not really looking for that if it isn’t in your back year.  In truth, I live about 45 miles from the edge of Lodi, travelling through the delta.  How do I know this?  I have spent many hours racing the clock and avoiding slow moving trucks and open drawbridges to reach the truck stop there to on time for a child swap.  Good times.

Today was different.  Over the last several years, Lodi has started building a good reputation for zinfandel and other wines.  Though I might be a bit of oenophile, I had not gone tasting Lodi yet.  Today that changed.  My friend Peter was organizing a blogger preview of the new tasting room at Oak Farm and, why yes, I am a blogger.  And I do love my wine.  And I’m social and always up for adventure.   I know, you are surprised again.

I really didn’t need directions, having driven far too often to Jackson (CA) and knowing there are no freeways from Lodi to there.  I was taking the road that runs east, taking longer looks at the grapevines I’d driven by many times in the past 12 years.  Turning left to go north on a well-marked road, I passed vineyards and small farm  Then, almost out of nowhere, l large attractive wooden structure rose to my left.  It was big and clearly my destination.

Oak Farm

Oak Farm

Oak Farm has been around for a while, buying the grapes for their wines, while dedicating most of its estate the rewarding pursuit of growing grapes destined to become adult kool-aid, or as you may know it, white zin.  While it is not my choice to drink, it has a huge market and no one should blamed for making money from a willing market.  I’m a capitalist and I approve this message.

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Chad Joseph, the wine maker, toured a few of us around the facility.    As we approached the new buildings, the older one, lovingly referred to as the “the barn”, looked out of place.    It fit well in with Lodi’s basic bucolic history, but juxtaposed to the new buildings, it reminded me of how people once viewed the changing world as the industrial age reached into the countryside changing transportation, farming and communications.  In this change is about destination.

The new winery and tasting room was stunning.  The court-yard between the tasting room and the winemaking facility would have been appropratiate at an upper echelon Napa winery.  It was stunning with fountains, a reflecting pool and several comfortable places for lounging with your wine and traveling companions.  Of course, this being a preview, I had to imagine the water, but we are in a drought and the water was not on yet.  Luckily for Oak Farm, and you, I have a wonderful imagination.

The winery had new tanks and equipment to go along with the new facility.  I am very interested and excited to see what they do in the coming years as they grow their own fruit.

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The tasting room was magnificent and well laid out to accommodate well over 30, if not 50.  I am not going to pretend to be the expert on the Lodi wine scene, but I can see Oak Farm becoming the destination it appears to want to be.  The room was well-organized and decorated, adding eye-catching details such as the lights without detracting from the main attraction the wine is meant to be.  The room and grounds allow a visitor to feel a bit of luxury without going too far and becoming pretentious.  IMG_3163When the room starts to fill and the wine begins to flow, I think this will be fun place to visit and hang out.  If they didn’t want me to hang out they shouldn’t have put such comfortable lounging chairs outside.

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Oak Farm is also set up for weddings with a wonderful grassy area under a 400 year old oak.  Of course if you are reading this and looking to me for advice on wedding spots, you already know you’ve made a mistake.

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I was able to taste several of the current release wines, paired with some delicious food from the Lodi Airport Café.  The food was as tasty as it looked and paired well with the wines.

Let’s talk about why you are here.  The wines.IMG_3169

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) tasted slightly of apple with a grassy undertone, a bit of butter and a tingling finish. I like this and thought it paired well with the corn and tomato crustini.

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2012 Oaked Chardonnay ($22) had a hint of vanilla, with a good balance of butter and fruit.  It was not overly buttery as many Chardonnays are and had a nice balance of fruit notes which are my preference these days.

The (non-vintage) Tievoili ($24) is a red blend with some oak on the nose and very few tannins.  It has nice round flavor with a bit of a berry component, making me want some salumi and hard bread.  It may not be vintage designated, but all the components were harvested in 2012.  In a move as cheesy as one I might make, the wine’s name spelled backward is “I love it.”

The 2012 Barbera ($32) is dark, warm, and velvety.  It is moderately complex with berries in the middle between mild tannins and the warm glow of your smile.  There is a hint of oak in the nose.  It paired well with the roast beef crustini with a hint of horseradish.  I really want a cache of this for my meals.

The 2012 Dolce Blanc ($22) is a Gewurztraminer based desert wine.  It was not too sweet, a perfect match for a slice of deep dish apple pie with a slice of good cheddar or alternately a hard cheese course.  It reminded me of a perfect pear in a glass, slightly viscous, silky and decadent.  This was my favorite wine of the day which is unusual for me.  Oh, and it is a 750ml bottle, not 375ml.

I should mention that the food was from the Lodi Airport Cafe and was quite tasty.  It even looks good in my picture.

Oak Farm is having its grand opening October 25 and 26.  This is the sort of place that you’ll tell your friends about and build your reputation on for having found it first.  You don’t need to tell them I told you.  The environment is great and I’m excited to see what Chad will do when the estate grown grapes come in the 2017 and 2018 harvests.

This is a farm I want to visit over and over.  No, it is not Maggie’s.

IMG_3164IMG_3162(yes, I finally put me here)

 

 

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A Modest Apology

Earlier this week I decided that I would participate in National Novel Writing Month.  Lambchop has nudged for this off and on for several months.  I don’t think I have a novel in me, but what is the harm in trying? I mean besides my own ego.  I am sure you’ve noticed that my blog posting is irregular.  Sometimes I have 3 posts in a week and other times I can go two week s till I force myself to find something to write about.  More often the trouble is finding things I can write about.  No sense in digging myself into a hole.  Sadly I blame it on my muse.  She is as fickle as four-year-old picking out lollipops.

This has been an interesting year and a time of change.  No, I don’t think it’s my mid-life crisis; it’s still over the horizon, lurking behind the earth’s curvature.   At this point in my life I know what I do and do not do well.  Rather than focus on what I know I can do, I think I should stretch and try something I am pretty sure I’ll struggle with.  That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?  I hope so.

I’m sorry.

My first order of business is to apologize in advance.  I am positive that I will offend at least one person.  My imagination is not nearly as well-developed as it could be.  Someone will see themselves in a character.  Others will recognize a situation and say “How the fuck could Lee write that! He knows I don’t want people to know about that.”  They’ll know.  They’ll see.  They will know I know.  They just won’t know who you are; unless they already do.

I’m sorry.

Once wasn’t enough was it?  Seriously, it never is.

In a perfect world, the words will flow and images and concepts will transfer from mind to fingers to keyboard to keyboard to internet to you.  We both know that won’t happen.  I will probably find comfort and inspiration in the bottom of glass.  That worked well for Poe and Hemingway, and we know how they turned out, right?

Why am I doing this?  I don’t know.  Probably just because.  It is a good enough answer to give our kids, so it must suffice now.  But don’t think I’ll stop watching football, cooking or miss my niece’s bat mitzvah for this.  I won’t.  I guess it is as much of an obstacle course as it is a mental stretch and marathon.  Great.  I have the body all athletes aspire to.

In the end, it really is just an experiment.  I have no illusions that I’m the next George R.R. Martin or James Patterson (ok, I don’t read Patterson, but the Monkey does.)  With a little luck and perseverance it will improve my post quality and frequency here. We will know on December 1st, won’t we?

Now it is time to stock up scotch and maybe some of Evil Twin’s Wet Dream (damn that stuff is great.).  I already have plenty of wine. You knew that.

It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Pizza.

My last thoughts of Chicago were of the oppressive heat.  The sun seemed hotter and thus the shade sweeter than home; the humidity was cruel and ever-present. I loved the city, but hated the humidity.  As a coffee fiend of minor renowned, the weather disrupted my joyful drinking on the walk back from that particular den if inequity.  Instead, I needed to leave enough time in my busy schedule to take my fix onsite, cutting my expected number of trips in half.  The coffee shops (one mediocre, one fantastic), much like my hotel, understood the importance of heavy hand on the thermostat.  I often imagined the patrons lingering extra hours, without buying more dark elixir, to delay the unpleasant task of re-entering the warm sticky air just a bit longer.  There was free WiFi after all.

In packing for Chicago I thought about the weather and decided on shorts and t-shirts.  Clearly these were fine for our time at the World Science Fiction Convention, but if it was that hot and humid I would need to change my shirt often.  And who wears shorts to nice restaurants?  Surely, not I.   So, I packed lots of shorts and t-shirts.  A great deal of effort went into picking those shirts.  As I am not a wall flower, my attire is often chosen to elicit a response, generally a smile or laugh.  It’s harder to do than one thinks.  My friend Chataya says it’s all about the shoes.  Of course she’s right, but no one notices my shoes.  Everyone notices hers.  It’s the plan and, in my opinion, a very good one.  A few times my shirts got noticed, so my plan was not completely flawed.

It is so hot outside in Chicago that the hotel has decided to keep the internal temperature just slightly warmer than the North Pole in winter.  Inside I’m freezing and outside I’m dehydrating like beef jerky, just much slower because the humidity makes sure that my skin is wet and slimy like a salamander, and you know how tough it is to dry one of those.  I’m thinking it is easier to survive a Chicago winter than enjoy a Chicago summer.  I’d like to see the Wicked Witch of the West avoid melting there.

To combat the cold, Lambchop wore pants one day.  She was cozy and comfy in hotel.  When we took a walk for lunch, her comfy was roasted on a spit.  Thus ended the experiment of “pants in the daytime.”  While we often wear shorts at home, neither of us have 10 pairs and we were in the Windy City for 8 days.  I hope no one noticed me recycling my shorts.  I’m paranoid about things like that.  Look at my fun t-shirt people, not my sad, ready for the laundry basket shorts.  And yes, at least twice I wore shorts to restaurants that implored, “Please, Lee – dress a bit nicer.”

To offset the heat and humidity, there were a few cool moments.  Our friend John Picacio won the Chesley Award for Best Product Illustration (the 2012 Song of Ice and Fire Calendar) and then proceeded to call us and several of our friends out in his acceptance speech.  I’ve never been thanked like that before.  It gave me chills.  Of course karma was looking out for him and he won the Hugo for the Best Professional Artist 2 days later.  I’m thinking at this rate its time he puts the EGOT on his goal sheet.

There are a few times of when I wear my fanboy hat for a few moments before I revert back to the suave, cool dude I am.  I try to keep the fawning to a minimum, but I am a bit out of practice. If I fawned too much, I apologize in arrears.  At a party I finally got to meet Melinda Snodgrass, who is as nice as nice can be.  I also had short conversations with Ian Tregellis and Stephen Leigh, writers whose work on Wild Cards I’ve always loved.

One of my favorite moments in Chicago, was one many people missed. There was some serious bonding as  Adz, Allythia, Arantius, (what’s with all these A’s?) Fragile Bird, Lambchop, Jeebus and I had a quiet night of cocktails and pizza.  Friendships were built and I can’t wait to hang out with them again.  What is interesting is that only Lambchop and I are from the US.  Australia, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg were all represented.  Sadly, there were no hobbits, but I do think I saw some trolls across the room.

Perhaps I have the wrong attitude toward the humidity.  It doesn’t seem to bother the natives, though I saw far too many working women going back and forth from their offices in flip-flops.   Have we come so far from the tennis shoes as an accessory in the 80’s that flip-flops can survive in the office?  No, they were not Gucci, at least I don’t think so.  The trick might be to embrace the humidity and treat it like a sauna; think of it as the soothing schvitz integral to rejuvenation and part of a cleansing.  I do feel invigorated after my trip.  As my friends return to their homes, many of them falling from the high of comradely, booze and unbridled joy, I have different feelings.  I don’t have that emotional drop several of them are describing in social media.  I find myself smiling and ready to enjoy life in the best place on earth.

You didn’t know that fall in the bay area is the best weather in the calendar year or that the crush has started in Napa?  Add in Football and the smile that waits for me at home and life is pretty good.   Suddenly, oppression is the last thing on my mind.

Chicago in 3 dots (or Barfleet, Coffee and Furries Oh My!)

Chicago, the windy city, home to the Billy Goat Tavern and Wrigley Field.  Two disparate locations – one well-lit, the other down in a hole –  linked by a single curse.  Lambchop and I were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention.    At least 3 of you are now smirking derisively, but that’s ok.  We had a wonderful time.  Everyone knows about Chicago Style Pizza, christened pretender pie at the con, but perhaps I might add some new insights after my time there…

Lambchop met her twin in a hobbit from down under. Actually they met as the hobbits journeyed from the Shire to Chitown, stopping in San Francisco.  I fear the havoc the two of them will cause in the coming years, especially if they realize what that ring can do.  Could be I’ll be voted off the island…  I never expected the replacement for the Mudshark in my lexicon to be Trebla, but seeing the girls now swoon for him, I must admit its inner truth.

John Picacio finally won a well deserved Hugo in addition to his Chesley award.  I am pretty sure he’s going to need a bigger trophy case soon.  It will be interesting to see how he fares on his home turf in San Antonio next year…I found the art show terribly disappointing, but I found a gem in an older Don Maitz painted sketch, which hangs proudly in the entry to my office…. now if I only liked The Book of the New Sun.  Perhaps I’ll reread them with older, wiser eyes…

It seems that Chicago is a Pepsi town.  By my count it was 3:1, Pepsi over Coke.  One of the few things the town got wrong… On the other hand Arlington Bill provided more beer than any one man had a right to have in his hotel room…There are signs everywhere declaring it illegal to put ketchup on a  hot dog in Chicago. I don’t know, I might have put more effort in to helping the sad panhandlers shaking their cups of coins.

We were stalked, or so it seemed, through out Chicago by Ron Donachie, aka Ser Rodrik Cassel in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  He and his wife are two wonderfully nice folks, going so far as to walk over and say hello in restaurant after he’d met several of us at a party…those of you that don’t get Star Trek, would surely have missed Barfleet and that would have been a shame.  They won the award for most creative use of  a Kiss song,  “Detroit Rock City,” but I seemed to be the only one to notice. But we did miss the Klingons shouting, “Revenge is a dish.. BEST SERVED COLD!!” … Cam was giving out schmoozing lessons nightly.  I should have paid more attention.

If you are reading this you probably already know Peadar Ó Guilín.  If you don’t, I would suggest you look for him and read his book, The Inferior.  Of course he’s a friend, but I really like what I’ve heard him read.  Needless to say his two books are near the top of my reading stack and I am eagerly awaiting The Shatter…I will be hiring X-Ray (the Enforcer)  and Mr. X to run my next party.  They run a tight ship and really went above and beyond this year…

The programming at the con  was a bit disappointing.  Last year there were so many panels, talks and readings that I couldn’t attend then all.  This year there were few that called to me and inevitably they conflicted…Clearly the organizers did a very good job overall, but how could they not give George R.R. Martin their largest room for his reading and interview?  Those chosen were too small… And Patrick Rothfuss was scheduled to read in a room with 20 chairs?  Even I know he’s a huge draw….but the food in the con suite was great and the midnight pizza after the Hugos, sheer genius.

I never realized how close John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Chip! Chip!  No Coke, Pepsi” was to reality at the Billy Goat Tavern.  Great atmosphere, well priced and solid, if unremarkable, grub. Its one of those things everyone should do at least once… Remarkable might be an understatement for Intelligensia coffee.  I am now a huge fan, but please reconsider your baristas.  Those cute boys in skinny jeans and skinny ties pushed the cool environment towards hipster doofusville.  It just seemed wrong…There are not enough superlatives to shower on Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless is a genius…And Trebla is sex symbol.  What next, dogs and cats living together?

One panel was called “The Secret History of Science Fiction” where George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman and Gardner Dozois, who arrived 30 minutes late,  told stories of cons past.  The room was overflowing with bodies and laughter.  Entering the room as the panel started, I was relegated to stand in the back.  500+ seats were not enough. While I enjoyed this to no end, laughing for the better part of that  hour, I still don’t understand why the guy behind me was wearing stilts…The gumbo at Heaven on 7 was really special, in a foodgasm sort of way.

I don’t really have a bucket list, but one day I need to help Chataya organize a real Furry hunt… Not only was there a complete absence of alcohol at the Hogwarts party, those bathhouse pin-ups of Malfoy combined with the Harry/Snape cuddle pictures crossed the creepy line.  Had Lambchop not been bonding with the Kiwi who did the elf ears in LOTR, we would have left much sooner.

Leigh Bardugo can write — that’s not news.  What is news is that with charm, wit and humor she single-handedly took over a panel that could have flopped, offsetting a few others who were didn’t realize they were sinking.  One day, she’ll be on Kimmel or Leno and she’ll blow up.  Huge.   In the meantime, read Shadow and Bone.  You’ll feel better…I don’t understand the position of the con having a few Young Adult (YA) panels, but refusing the consider the category for a Hugo.  Based on the stories I heard, the passion level on the “no way” side seems over the top for my sensibilities.

And yes, a few too many con-goers did look like they escaped from their mother’s basement.  Other than the 3 or 4 that interrupted panels or were simply clueless in regards to social cues, who cares?  It was a 5 day celebration of shared joy and fandom — much love and thanks to everyone I drank, laughed, talked and debated with… Next year in San Antonio can’t come soon enough.

Chicago: Day 1

As we flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport, I noticed the landscape was very different from home.  Green open spaces and small forests, covered with trees unfit for lumber filled my view.  Then houses and more spaces.  But no real hills or mountains.  I thought it odd that the genie in my iPhone didn’t jump to Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy”

In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

</required song quote> Of course I was in 22-C, so there was some logic to the Genie’s decision.  Looking across the row out the window by Lambchop, the description was apt.

A friend had recommended we take the L into town rather than a cab.  A $4.50 train ride beats a $40 cab ride most of the time.  We had two large rolling bags, a duffel bag, a computer and my murse.  I know it’s a messenger bag, but since my niece named it, I always hear her voice when I think of it.  Had we been on a Sunday stroll, it would have been a nice walk. It went on.  And on.  There were elevators and hallways.  Ups and downs.  Lambchop was a trooper and didn’t complain, but I knew she would have been happier in a cab in traffic. Take a  cab on the way back

A few years ago, they added an extension to BART that ran to SFO.  My current position allows me to commute on the train (but of course by now you know this.)  About half the trains I take to work end at SFO and half I take home come from there.  The amount of luggage and neophytes on those cars  make the journey harder than it used to be. Somewhere along the way people decided their luggage should block the aisle and empty seats. Commuting etiquette has gone the way of the dodo. As we wheeled our luggage into the L  and looked for ways to be out of others way, I realized the cost of cab ride made me “that guy.”  I guess everyone does have a price.

As we rode into town, I saw what a different place Chicago is from San Francisco or Oakland, my local urban references.  Flat.  Lots of brick.  Houses, then industrial areas, followed by more houses.  And then, looming to the right, a large skyline.  As much as I love San Francisco’s skyline, it is just a cute puppy compared to Chicago’s Polyphemus – awe-inspiring and, perhaps, partially designed by gods.   We were speechless.  As we drew closer on the train, I think we both noticed each other’s smiles broadening.

Finally getting to our hotel, we quickly checked in and kidnapped our Aussie friend Neal for some <food!> Chicago Style Pizza </FOOD!>and to begin drinking. There was a larger group going out later, but evil forces had scheduled a fantasy football draft at 8pm local time and it was 6pm.  We really hadn’t eaten other than the crackers and pretzels on the plane.  Football and famine demanded a meal then and there.

Dining alfresco was fun, but the humidity did take some getting used to.  We caught up on the last year and enjoyed the cocktails and beers.  I had a chocolate stout that just blew my socks off.   The pizza was pretty good too.  The final crescendo to the meal was our waitress; explaining we were in town for a convention, I asked her for some recommendations.  She came back with a 3 page hand written list that looked like it came from a laser printer.  Such penmanship must delight the kitchen staff.   Mine isn’t good enough to be a doctor.  My favorite Chicago spots were on that list including 1 I had not heard of yet. But one I was to learn to love.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and my football draft.  Later, we headed down to the bar where we knew our friends would be.  There they were, in the bar almost, but not quite, waiting for us.   We squeezed in to hang out with our friends.  New friends were made and there were copious drinks all around.  Then, there was more drinking.  I had a few cocktails and discussed the “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Chip! Chip!” SNL skit  with the guy  that wrote The Song of Ice and Fire books.  Did I neglect to mention we were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention and that is basically the only sectioned event for the Brotherhood without Banners, the George R.R. Martin Fan Club?  I may be a Knighted Ser of that group, but I learned early on that I couldn’t drink like Jebus or schmooze like Ser Cam.

It was a great start to what was about to become a most excellent week.