Thursday throwaway: blogs, Calistoga and the flu
I was going to write more about blogging and making money, for which I got slammed in several recent posts, but then I thought, there’s a limit to how much of this stuff even I can tolerate before it gets boring. So I’m dropping it for a while.
In fact, in my flu-addled mind wine seems a distant topic. Right now all I can think of is sitting on some warm sunny beach far away from the rain and cold that has been afflicting Northern California lately. We deserve it, of course, after six weeks of unseasonably dry, warm weather. The mustard flowers this year seemed more glorious than usual, bursting in riotous yellow between the dormant vines, but I know that grapegrowers worried the buds would break prematurely and then be struck down by late winter or Spring frost. In my neighborhood, Uptown Oakland, the plum trees likewise flowered early, with the most delirious, heady perfume, but the Vietnamese kids always break off the lower branches for their New Year celebration, so even though the trees are old, they’re small and stubby, like bonsai.
It was rainy the last two days in Calistoga, too, where I was holed up for a story in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast. My original concept had been to write mainly about tourism in that old town. I know people, mainly women, who go there routinely for the mud baths, facials and massages (none of which, except for massages, appeal to me). There are now some nice restaurants in Calistoga, which never used to be the case, but they’re not as good as the new crop in Napa. I also figured I’d write a little about Calistoga’s terroir, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon.
But running around Calistoga, visiting wineries and chatting up whoever was around, it struck me that I don’t know what Calistoga’s terroir is. The TTB only officially approved the Calistoga AVA in late 2009 (I think it was), so there are no red wines that say “Calistoga” on them. There are plenty of wineries that make red wines in Calistoga, but except for a handful (Montelena, Araujo) that use estate-grown grapes, it’s not clear to me where these wineries actually source their fruit. (I mean wineries like B Cellars, Clos Pegase, August Briggs, Twomey, Envy, Bennett Lane, Summers). So I’m on a mission now to seriously figure out Calistoga terroir, whatever it is, and I have about two weeks to do it before my deadline.
Ah, the good old deadline. Nothing like a deadline in the morning to clear the mind.
I’ll write all about this in the article, which I hope you’ll read. I’m fundamentally at heart a reporter. I like nothing better than to have to report on a good mystery, and have the clock ticking toward my deadline. I started as a writer working as a stringer (freelancer) for the Oakland Tribune. In those days, I’d have to go downtown to the city room personally every morning at 9 a.m., get my assignment, then have until 5 p.m. that day to file. I did murder cases, child abductions, politics and stupid human interest stories (like one on lady wrestlers my editor called the best she’d ever read). Sometimes, there was no way to make my 5 p.m. deadline because it involved a late night City Council meeting, so I’d have to telephone (!!) my copy in to some kid, probably stoned, at the late night city desk and dictate it to him word by word, pointing out every comma, apostrophe and semi-colon (those late night copy kids were notoriously illiterate). In a way I miss the excitement of those pre-Internet days, but not really. I’m glad I can still get excited over a story, the way I am with Calistoga.
I wonder if having “Calistoga” on the label instead of “Napa Valley” will add value to the bottle’s price. The theory is that the smaller the appellation, the more you can charge for the wine. But like all theories, that one is often disproved by the exceptions. Lots of wineries refuse to put a smaller AVA on their label even if they can. Some wineries in Santa Ynez Valley put Santa Barbara County on the label. I imagine some Calistoga wineries will continue to use Napa Valley because they’re conservative, and they figure their customers might not understand the change. Myself, if I had a winery I’d use the smallest appellation I was entitled to.
Now I need one more day of rest to kick this flu or cold or whatever it is out of my body. Then it’s back to full speed, which I’ll need to be at for next week’s Wine Writers Symposium and all those associated activities, culminating in Premier Napa Valley. Nearly a week of non-stop schmoozing. You need to be well rested and healthy for that Olympian activity. Of course, I’ll be writing all about it.