My Year-End To-Do List

There are three items remaining on my 2013 To-Do list that have haunted me since last January. I’ve been meaning to get to them all year, or rather, I’ve been procrastinating until the final weeks of this year to dare even mention them.
In the grand scheme of my ambition, they’re rather small feats to accomplish, but it still feels lethal to let them languish. What will get you in the end? As any immunologist will tell you, “It’s the little things.” For me, they are as follows:

1. Start a Tourism Bureau for Vineburg

The Wikipedia page for Vineburg, California, presently consists of exactly 35 words. Just about enough for a column inch. I’d quote them here, but they don’t amount to much more than “Vineburg is a place near Sonoma. It has a post office.” Why it even has this post office is beyond me since it has a total population of, like, eight. The mail person could just toss the mail at the border of Vineburg and Sonoma and be satisfied it would get where it’s supposed to go. This led me to the realization that Vineburg needs its own tourism bureau. It’s uncharted Wine Country. Obviously, we need to attract developers. If done right, could it be long before we have a new chain of franchise restaurants – Vineburger? A so-called grape and grill establishment? Get your vineburger and frites (because it’s never just “fries” in Wine Country – or “freedom frites” if you’re holding a grudge).

It’s branding is built into its name. At least there’s a “vine” in Vineburg, which is ostensibly wine-related. What does Sonoma mean? According to the native Wappo, it meant either “chosen place” or “big nose” depending on the translator. And if you’re a Wappo, might we consider chatting about a Vineburg Casino? I know a guy

2. Update ye olde fortune cookie gag

About 25 years ago, someone introduced me to the post-Chinese dinner tradition of reading one’s fortune cookie message, then adding the phrase “in bed” at the end. This resulted in much juvenile hilarity a la, “You will meet an interesting stranger – in bed.” During the height of the dot-com boom, circa 2001, a mutant strain of the gag got loose that added the Internet domain suffix “.com” to the end of fortunes. Thus was born “”

This ungainly URL is available and can be currently had for $12.99 at GoDaddy for those with a yen to start an online dating service. For that matter, is also available if you want to add an “adult” component. Neither one, however, speaks to my present dilemma of updating the fortune cookie trope. There are dozens of mobile fortune cookie apps (go figure), and the one I just downloaded advises me to “Act always in a way to do good.” Perhaps that means I should just let this one go since little good could come of it. Of course, I could just add “-o-gram” at the end of my fortune and flip to Facebook for a cool billion. YouWillMeetAnInterestingStranger-o-gram has a ring to it.

3. Create a holiday for August

Yes, this has been nagging me since the eighth month , when there is nothing to celebrate beyond National Left-Handers day (the 13th) and a handful of birthdays (none mine). But no real holiday. And by holiday, I mean a gift-giving, over-indulging reason not to turn up to work on Monday kind of holiday. The month’s namesake, Caesar Augustus, doesn’t offer much to springboard from, apart from despotism, which generally isn’t celebrated unless the despot is still in power. The dude died in 14 AD, so that’s out. In fact, it was August of that year – meaning – we could have a bi-millennial celebration of the death of Caesar Augustus next August. Mission accomplished.

One down, two to go. Sigh.

Via SonomaNews

Take My Wifi, Please

Wifi Street

So, I’m on deadline penning a puff piece about the local choir’s Mozart program and Comcast, my ISP, took a shit on my block, which meant I had to trawl downtown Sonoma for free wifi to file my story via e-mail. The Historic Sonoma Plaza has no fewer than three wifi signals, mostly concentrated around City Hall. “Sonoma Sq. by Americas Freedomlink” was the name of the signal I tapped, which would intermittently swap with a signal called “SonomaWinos Wifi” After making my deadline, the whole business of casually logging onto an “unprotected network” and wantonly trading bits with an anonymous machine – in the park, no less – suddenly seemed like letting my laptop wallow in some order of digital bathhouse. I checked the “wireless connection properties” and looked at my machine’s networking history. That’s when I realized that my computer is a slut. Continue reading “Take My Wifi, Please”

The Vintners of Our Dissed Content

It all began, as these small odysseys often do, with a misunderstanding. In this case, the issue was entirely my own, and the fact that it persisted for nearly 40 years is not only embarrassing but rather damning to any gustatory gravitas I might’ve claimed.

It went like this: I was strolling through our namesake Williams-Sonoma when I chanced upon a jar of mulling spices. To my untrained eye, it looked like someone had swept their porch and put the results in a jar. I might have figured Williams-Sonoma would try to peddle this kind of foodie chicanery but still, I had to know what made their $25 jar of dirt and twigs superior to others. As I asked the clerk, her eyes narrowed and her brows rose as high as the end of her sentence. “They’re mulling spices, you know, for mulled wine?”

Spore Juice

Wait a minute. I had always thought it was pronounced, “mold wine” and made from mold, not dirt and twigs. Like, for the better part of 40 years, I had confused the “spiced seasonal beverage” with what I assumed was the juice of a spore. Given my delicate palate, naturally, I never imbibed the spore juice when offered. Nor did it ever occur to me that making wine from mold was just stupid. My rationale was (and still is) that humans will make booze out of anything that can ferment. I’ve drunk apple and elderberry wine and have heard tales of prison “pruno” made from everything from orange soda to sauerkraut. I’ve found recipes online for mushroom wine, so why put it past some vintner to slide further down the food chain to mold spores?

Of all the species in the world, we’re the most likely to be sent home from the Animal Kingdom in a cab. There are a variety of reasons for this (we have cabs) but it’s mostly due to our historic inclination for booze. And if we run out, we know how to make more out of damn near anything.

We could be generous and pretend our ancestors developed fermentation as a means of preservation with the happy (and happy-inducing) byproduct of alcohol being more incidental than intentional. We could also pretend the only reason to have sex is to make babies. If our ancestors felt that way, however, most of us wouldn’t be here.

Anthropologists have long conjectured that alcohol was discovered when one of our forebears witnessed some quadruped noshing on rotted fruit (fermentation au natural) and wobbling away with a giddy gait. A similar origin myth recounts the discovery of coffee: A goat herder watched a stray from his trip enjoying a personal disco moment after nibbling some coffee beans from the tree. What this tells me is that “animal testing” came long before Big Pharma, though they certainly pushed it down the road to Hell.

The List

When it comes to controlled substances, I’ve always done my own testing, if not out of moral conviction then because it stops my hands from shaking long enough to type one of these pieces. Seeing as I’m a full-time writer, my ability to type is an important part of my skill set, like thinking, which, like any machine, runs better when well lubricated, right? This is why I’m grateful I’m on “The List.” It’s something of a media profession accolade, like winning a National Newspaper Association Award but inherently more useful.

The List is a directory of accredited members of the media who are known to write about wine and spirits. Publicists use this list when doling out samples on behalf of their booze clients. It’s a peculiar phenomenon – gallons of wine pour in and a trickle of words comes out. And sometimes they make sense.

I first witnessed the power of The List while visiting Christopher “Sommelier to the Stars” Sawyer in Petaluma, CA. When a UPS guy came to his door with a dolly stacked high with wine cases Sawyer all but sighed as he rose to sign for the shipment. His cellar already looked like the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with crates of wine piled high and ominous. Did he really need more wine? Perhaps not, but his friends need him to need more wine because he frequently has us over to help with his storage woes.

I did the math: if a man were to continuously drink one glass of wine after another, it would take him three years to make an appreciable dent in Sawyer’s cellar. And that man would be dead.

Of course, the purpose of The List is not to kill imaginary people in hypothetical scenarios (which sounds like a prospective sequel to Inception) but to help the publicists transubstantiate wine into ink or its contemporary equivalent – pixels today, perhaps brain waves tomorrow. This is where I’ve actually witnessed one of the “Miracles of Chris.” Sawyer actually writes about the wine he receives. And often starts taking notes the moment the cork is popped. I don’t. I take terrible notes. I can’t read my own handwriting. I stand a better shot at getting a prescription filled from one of my own notes than decrypting it myself. It only gets worse the further into the bottle I get. By the time the bottle is done, so am I. This is why my published wine reviews have always been purposely vague: “The Sonoma Brut was a fine curtain opener – a spiny, mean little thing with an acid tongue that suggested a smack on the lips from a femme fatale’s kid sister–haughty, brash and delightfully immature.”

A publicist has yet to send me mulled wine. Nor, I suspect, will Williams-Sonoma send me a jar of dirt to mull my own. Instead, I figured I’d save the $25 and Google a recipe. Interestingly, “mold wine” autocorrects to “mulled wine.” Google must have been expecting me.

To Drink or Not to Drink

One of the results is the Old Hamlet Wine & Spice Company in Bury St. Edmonds in the county of Suffolk, near the southeast of England. It dawned on me that the wine and spice company might be having a bit of fun with its name. First off, Hamlet, at least Shakespeare’s Hamlet, never lived to become “Old Hamlet” and secondly, you’d never want Hamlet, young or old, near your wine since poison tends to end up in it when he’s around.

I dug deeper into the Google rabbit hole and found that several years ago, the Cambridge University Press published scholar Paul A. Cantor’s Shakespeare: Hamlet in which he recounts the misguided efforts of composer Ambroise Thomas to spruce up his operatic version with a raucous wine drinking scene and a song to go with it. The 19th French adaptation included a bit wherein Hamlet throws a wine party when the Players arrive in Denmark and “celebrates [wine’s] enchanting power to bring balm and oblivion to his heart,” according to Cantor. The scholar rightly suggests this is quite out of character for the Melancholy Dane (though it would prop up a sluggish second act, which is usually when people drift back to the lobby for wine).

Perhaps more galling was the happy ending, which completely sidestepped all the poisoned wine. In a version of Thomas’ reconception, Hamlet and Laertes patch up their differences, Gertrude gets “thee to a nunnery” and the Ghost returns to appoint Hamlet king. A quick running through of Claudius with a blade and – tada! – everyone lives happily ever after, if they’re not already dead, which is nearly the entire supporting cast. This also means that a lot of perfectly good, poisoned wine went to waste.

Though Shakespeare referenced wine frequently in his work, he only used the word “mulled” once so far as I can tell. In this case, it meant “insipid, flat” and was uttered by a character simply known as “First Servingman” in Coriolanus: “Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible…”

If I were ever to review mulled wine, I’d simply quote the above, then pour another glass and lay down on the couch to await what dreams may come.

Via Sonoma Magazine.

The Godmother: Eleanor Coppola ? Author, Artist & Filmmaker

Eleanor CoppolaSmartly dressed and looking younger than a woman enjoying her seventies, Eleanor Coppola is a portrait of poise. When it’s suggested that she’s the de facto grand dame of Sonoma County’s wine scene?given the epic, family-friendly winery and resort that bears her husband’s name in Geyserville?she doesn’t take the bait.

Eleanor Coppola is far too grounded and earnest to be susceptible to such platitudes. A few moments with her and one realizes she’s not someone interested in the limelight so much as, say, the use of quicklime lighting in 19th-century theater. As an artist, she has more practical concerns. Chiefly, what’s next? Continue reading “The Godmother: Eleanor Coppola ? Author, Artist & Filmmaker”

Sonoma Slim Pencil Tree

Ceci N’est Pas Un Artificial Christmas Tree

When it comes to the holidays, it seems that nary a nanosecond transpired between Halloween and Christmas this year – just long enough for the Thanksgiving turkey to raise its head and lose it in the process. One of the chief symptoms of our compressed holiday season is the sudden proliferation of Christmas decor. Red and green, used to signify the color of blood and money, I believe, appeared everywhere the moment you closed the dishwasher last Thursday.

Chief among the decorations are the Christmas trees. In Northern California, we’re spoiled to have our choice of sustainably-grown, biodynamic and organic options (the “free range” trees fail to impress because it turns out, despite their freedom to range, they don’t). Further complementing our choices for ritual arboreal sacrifice is Burlingame-based Balsam Hill that offers a familiar-sounding solution: The Napa Christmas Signature Collection and its Sonoma Slim Pencil Tree. Though it’s an artificial tree, it’s also apparently THE MOST REALISTIC “PENCIL TREE” AVAILABLE. The caps are theirs but the amazement is all mine.

Superficial vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

First off, “Sonoma Slim” sounds like either a cheroot-smoking horse thief or the follow up book to the “Sonoma Diet.” Thankfully, the site explains that its name is “paying homage to the spectacular scenery of Northern California’s panoramic wine country.” What’s more, the Sonoma Slim Pencil tree is composed of True Needle that looks and feels life-like,” which sounds more like a marital aid than a Christmas tree. I suppose when one confuses “arbor” and “amore,” the gift can keep giving.

Here are three notions that would make the artificial pencil tree vastly more cool in my opinion:

• If it were REAL and could actually be used as a pencil. What if every branch came preloaded with a graphite center so that you could snap off a twig, sharpen it up and write with it. Schools could grow them to save on supplies. Get a genetic scientist and a botanist stoned enough and this pipedream could come true.

Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything from sci-fi it’s that playing God with nature always results in getting eaten by an outsized version of whatever it was you started with. It’s probably safer to buy the cream-filling injection machine from the Hostess fire sale and pump the trees with lead like a Twinkie (which sounds wrong in so many ways).

• If someone could cook up a good joke with the following set up: “A pencil tree, a pencil skirt and a pencil-thin mustache walk into a bar …” What more is needed you ask? Well, some sort of challenge should ensue or a comic complication that culminates in a punch line probably involving a pencil. I’ve spent too much time on this thus far (half a minute) so I’m crowdsourcing solutions. Also, it should also be funny. Go!

• If, instead of being part of the Napa Christmas Signature Collection (which is trademarked by the way), it would interesting if a Napa Pencil Tree was part of a non-denominational Sonoma Solstice Collection (not yet trademarked) of X-mas Tree-shaped air fresheners. These could be dangled from your rearview mirror to cover up “the smell of puke from the drunk colleague you will drive home from the company holiday party,” says the Ghost of Christmas Future. Tip: Don’t think of your colleague’s offering as vomit but more like regifted cocktails.

Anyway, perhaps Balsam Hill will eventually move into artificial lawn vineyards to fill out their Sonoma-theme. Until then, I’ll content myself with my Sonoma Slim Pencil Tree. Even though it’s artificial, I can still be sappy.