Nomaville: The Vineyards are alive with the sound of…

Funny, you don't look bluish...The first badge of honor attainable by a suburban garage band comes in the form of local law enforcement visiting on account of a noise complaint. This proverbial slap on the spiked wristband not only brings to mind the adage that “if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” It also suggests that at least one person outside of the band has heard your music. Two, if you count the cop. Granted, this may not be the quickest way to build an audience, or make friendly with the neighbors, but it is a good way to see your tax dollars at work if the asphalt autopsies being performed on West Spain and East Napa aren’t sufficient.

I should say here that I’m not in a garage band, but am rather one of those twee troubadours to whom an acoustic guitar is the contingency of choice when the battery on the Ipod has gone and we’ve only just served the cheese and port plate. I’ve seen firsthand the kind of psychic devastation wrought by an ill-timed acoustic sing-a-long and would never inflict one upon my friends unless they’ve signed a liability waiver (“kumbaya,” I’ve learned, is Angolan for “we are the cursed, please put us out of our misery”). That said, while dining al fresco in our grotto last Saturday, I found myself warbling some Cole Porter knock-offs for an audience of six wits cherry-picked from my Rolodex (I’m amazed that such an erudite crowd failed to notice that their surnames all ended in either “S” or “H”— except for Mr. L. who arrived later in the evening). The guest list was culled from newsrooms (of both the local and metro variety), our local film festival, slick magazines and the Ivory Tower (our requisite professor wore a bowtie and smoked a corncob pipe while leading a lusty conversation on “American Nietzche” H.L. Mencken’s drinking habits). Later, a spirited discussion ensued over what social protocol to employ after discovering one’s cousin is dating Adolf Eichmann’s granddaughter (Godspeed, Spitzy). Anyway, I mention the guest list only to illustrate the fact that we were not, by definition, a rowdy bunch but rather a chatty set more disposed to the occasional “pshaw” than a power-chord — even after the umpteenth bottle of proseco.

At 11:15 p.m., my wife the Contessa adjourned us to the living room. Within half an hour, we resumed our ersatz tour of the’60s songbook, soon landing on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” At the verse “Look out, kid, it’s something you did, God knows when but you’re doing it again,” the Contessa heard a gentle rapping at the door and opened it only to greet one of Sonoma’s finest.

Verbatim: “Sounds good, but there’s been a noise complaint,” he said, likely a little embarrassed as our eyes widened in utter shock. Later, at my behest, the officer was kind enough to call me so that we could discuss the origins of the complaint, whereupon I availed him of a dozen or so conspiracy theories that included everything from local political intrigues, dynastic dramas and low-rent stalking to plain old sour grapes, which, at harvest time, are particularly bitter. All the officer could do was reiterate that the call had been anonymous. Not for long, I thought, secretly planning a caroling crusade in which my compatriots and I would sing, door-to-door, until we found the fiend (who would look, I imagined in that moment, like a villainous Blue Meanie from the “Yellow Submarine”).

The Contessa, however, thought better of my plan and reminded that the way to engender good neighborliness is to be a good neighbor. And good neighbors call each other (not the police).

Maybe Baby

Mama?In this episode of the Daedalus Howell Show, filmmakers Abe Levy and Silver Tree (The Aviary) discuss the production of their latest film collaboration, One of Our Own, a seriocomic look at surrogate motherhood. Throughout the hour-long chat, we also explore the current state of independent filmmaking; accessorizing with babies in L.A.; and the truth about Scooby-Doo.

[audio:http://dhowell.com/podcast/dhs016.mp3]

Nomaville: The Beard

The Beardlings!My wife, the Contessa, and I recently had occasion to visit a Central Coast college town, quaint but hip, where swarms of students hovered like furtive moths in that twilight between “juvenile” and “minor.” The distinction between these ephemeral modes of being is purely legal – I’ll give you a clue: one’s an adult, but they’re both underage. This is why I got busted at 19 for being a “minor in possession of alcohol” on the junior college campus back in ’91. That it was a bottle of The Blood of Christ proffered by Hell’s own sommelier was beside the point in the eyes of the law – specifically the campus cop who dumped the elixir into the rose bushes with a doleful shake of his head (there, a single Forget Me Not instantly bloomed and has never died).

Seeing as the vino was alleged to be a youth serum on par with this (worthless!) picture of Dorian Gray I keep in my billfold, I’ve been looking for a replacement bottle ever since. Before it’s too late. And it’s already too late. You see, having just gotten hitched, I thought I might attempt to grow a full-beard – something in my 34 years I’ve never had the patience to do. It is also something my exes over the years suggested I never do. The Contessa, however, is more understanding, or she at least understands that it would be silly to get divorced over a beard.
Theoretically. When I chanced to let my whiskers go a couple days longer than I normally do, I discovered to my horror that a vast too many were white. Of course, I shaved immediately, not that I have anything against aging per se, but you know what they say about wearing white after Labor Day.

The college-aged children I noticed filling the coffee houses and brasseries during our visit, however, have no such issues with the color of their facial hair (or at least the matted patches they pretend to grow). They are the so-called Echo-Boom, the blowback from the Baby Boom, in fact their final-offspring, who will wrest control of the cultural agenda the Boomers have set for the past 40 years, once Mom and Dad are convalescing in a mausoleum for the living.

Conversely, I’m a member of “generation x,” the smallest, least significant generation on earth, to whom the corporate world makes nary a nod for we are but a wee market share and the first generation since the advent of American capitalism to make less than our parents (who, mysteriously, are also Baby Boomers). Of course, I have nothing to substantiate this claim other than my own flaccid experience in the marketplace of late (“When did clothes stores become discotheques?” asked the fuddy-duddy. “When did size 34 become the outer-reaches of couture?” he inquired, on his way to the gym). The echo-boom, however, are better, stronger, faster – in essence bionic – and are to be trusted with the fate of the universe. Those of my generation are but prototypes, or as I prefer to think, “collector’s editions;” though we’re really just rough drafts, preserved in the formaldehyde of pop culture and bohemia that makes “the 80s” edition of Trivial Pursuit such a cinch. “What’s Trivial Pursuit?” you ask, young reader? Just Google it.

In Sonoma, those of my demographic number about six. We run into each other on the weekends, host dinner parties, try to remember what happened in the 90s and discuss our plans for local domination (despite our pathetic numbers). You see, we still have the utopian visions of Sesame Street, the Cardigan-clad Zen of Mr. Rogers and the choose-your-own-adventure ethos our parents’ generation to live up to. No matter how white our beards.

SonomaWino: Plumpjack

The better part of valour is discretion.My wife the Contessa has a crush on San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, and I’ve never bothered to fathom why. To me, he’s always seemed like a lost Baldwin brother squeezed into the familial lineup somewhere betwixt Alec and Billy, what with the gravel voice and his post-pompa-do slickened with an extra dab of suave and all. Certainly, we’re all entitled to such extracurricular reveries–I mean, when I’m not thinking of the Contessa, I’m thinking about Marion Cotillard, the sleepy-eyed femme fatale last seen as the sexy villainess in A Very Long Engagement (emphasis: not the gamine permagirl Audrey Tautou, but the deadly serial killer poured into the corset). My fantasies outside of my committed relationships have typically been anima projections, black widows who I’d just assume kill me in the heat of passion rather than awake desperate to ascribe the pangs of guilt to a hangover.

Were it not for the fact that Gavin’s portfolio boasts an interest in the PlumpJack Winery, which is right next door to the place of my wife’s employment, I’d probably never give the politician a second thought. But when her schedule recently dashed my plans for an impromptu luncheon date, I was left knocking around the neighborhood with nothing better to do than peek into her daydream.

PlumpJack is named for Jack Falstaff, the jocular, debauched foil who cameos in a handful of Shakespeare’s plays. The tasting room, by contrast, is a spare and hip affair replete with a flatscreen TV that plays an endless clip reel of the mayor chumming it up with various network personalities, its sound overrun by an ersatz soundtrack that spans Modest Mouse and Sinatra.

In lieu of a Gavin Newsom sighting, spies can glower at Josh, the young dude at the counter who is efficient to a fault, necessitated, surely, by the droves of tourists daily delivered to the winery by the limo load. Within a beat, I had a healthy pour of the 2005 Reserve Chardonnay ($46) splashed before me. A gangly adolescent of a wine with late melon notes and a cotton-candy finish, the Chard might leave a peach-fuzz mustache if it weren’t so deliciously lean. It is not intended as an insult when I say that this wine would pair brilliantly with a corndog–it has a jaunty, “county fair” attitude that awakens the palate and affirms that some wines demand reckoning on their own terms.

The 2004 PlumpJack Syrah ($38) was a comparatively beefy number, roiling with plum and black cherry notes in an exuberantly hot admixture that is 15.4 percent alcohol–perfect for cheap dates like me. The 2004 PlumpJack Merlot ($50) is a no-nonsense easy drinker in shades of pale raisin with a toasty finish that feels like someone just cinched the last strap of some shameful apparatus, leaving only enough breath to wheeze, “Kill me, Marion, just kill me.”

PlumpJack Winery, 620 Oakville Crossroad, Oakville. Open daily from 10am to 4pm. Tastings are $5. 707.945.1220.

SonomaWino: Corison Winery

Cab chauvinism?In the face of the post-Sideways Pinot consciousness creeping over palates, like an umlaut on naïf, winemaker Cathy Corison proudly describes herself as a “Cabernet chauvinist.” It’s refreshing to hear a woman stand by her Cab, but even more so to drink it, which I had the pleasure of doing on a recent press trip to St. Helena. There, sandwiched between wine mavens and menu makers, I noshed on an artisanal antipasto plate and contemplated the good fortune of being invited to a “vertical tasting.” (This is a tasting in which a single varietal from a single winery is differentiated by vintage, and sequentially to boot. A “horizontal tasting,” by contrast, compares wines of the same vintage, varietal and appellation culled from different wineries.)

Of course, I assumed that I would begin the tasting vertically and end it horizontally, seeing as there were no fewer than eight Corison Cabs placed in front of me dating from 1996 to 2003 (with an additional “Kronos Vineyard” Cab thrown in for good measure, not to mention an endearing Gewürztraminer that rang in the morning like a chime around a kitten’s neck).

Corison’s Cabs manage to be both lean and lush simultaneously; they’re gamine but with powerful hips and, as can be expected, reflect the droll Corison’s own tastes: she contends that fatter, jammier wines are “all right–for about half a glass.” Indeed, her svelte, more self-controlled wines demand a full glass.

Particular standouts included the 1996 ($85), which proved to be a finely aged survey of dark, dried cherry and dovetailed nicely into the 1997, which recalled the sweet musk of a girl’s freshly hennaed hair ($85-$90). The millennium-closing 1999 Cab ($65) brimmed with musty notes of leather and tar, as well as a fine-brine salt-kiss, amounting to a pleasing complex flavor profile.

The 2001 ($70) had a slightly woody note and a fine whisper of graphite (which made me immediately want to take a satisfying chomp of a No. 2 pencil–ah, the pleasures of standardized testing!), followed by a blackberry. Brilliant stuff. Likewise, the slightly more tannic 2002 ($60) pulled at the palate with the elegance of an archer, and the 2003 ($65) was a lush tromp through the brambles of dark berry and wisps of peppermint.

Corison Winery, 987 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. Tasting by appointment for a $10 fee, which is credited toward purchases. Open daily from 10am to 5pm. Personalized tour with food and wine pairing, Fridays at 10am by appointment. 707.963.0826.