Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Few Days Respite

This week Joe and I escaped to our ranch (aka a plot of land with nothing but a cabin on it) for a night of camping and 24 hours off. We hiked, we ate, we drank, and we relaxed with our books and all the industry publications we have a hard time keeping up with. It was heaven.

On one of our walks, Joe thought it would be fun to try a rope swing into the pond that hasn't been used for about 15 years. He tested it, had a trial swing, and then walked farther up the bank to get a little extra speed. Right about the time he reached the water, all I heard was a big "snap!" The rope broke, Joe plummeted into the water, luckily just making it past the bank. My heart stopped, but he came back up holding the rope and with just a few scratches. Whew! It's never dull.

Joe holding the broken rope

The dogs join Joe for a swim

Monday, June 20, 2011

Aftermath of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Part of having a blog is the ability to rant and rave about things, and this is definitely one of those posts, so don't read on if you'll be offended by what 2% of the population does to make the rest of us look stupid. :)

This weekend was the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival -- a music fest mostly featuring reggae artists (and some fabulous ones at that). It's a three-day festival, starting mid-day on Friday, going into the wee hours on Friday and Saturday, and ending Sunday about midnight. A crowd of thousands comes up to mostly camp at the Boonville Fairgrounds, at the brewery. Guest houses, inns and hotels are also booked for those tired of tent city.

It's a great festival in many ways. We enjoy the music and the food inside is fantastic, although I admit I haven't been inside in a few years due to work. However, as with any large crowd, there are always issues, and there are always people who try and ruin it for everyone else.

There are quite a few arrests this weekend -- most due to over-imbibing or overdosing on various substances in abundant supply. There are fights, and there are helicopter trips to the hospital. All standard I think for a large event.

Foursight is in a unique position: literally across the street from all the action. For the most part, the crowd this weekend is respectful and leaves us alone. But there are always exceptions (like the woman two years ago who threw up all over my bathroom).

Now my complaints. First I'll start with business: it's lousy! With all the madness going on in the street, people pass right by, and wineries down the road don't always want to send people in this direction. I've talked to other local merchants, and they mostly agree: this festival does nothing for business. In fact, it deters a lot of our normal summertime traffic. Our wine club members avoid the weekend because of a lack of housing and abundance of general craziness.

Secondly, I just don't like having to kick people out of my tasting room! This year I had to kick out an older man who was already intoxicated and came in without a shirt, in just some jean shorts. When I told him tasting would cost him $5, he muttered "my ass," and walked out. My other customers respectfully tasting at that moment weren't so thrilled.

A young woman came in later in the afternoon. She used the bathroom, bitched about my dog being in the tasting room because she's afraid of them, then tried to leave after making me hold my dog. When I asked her if she was going to taste wine she admitted to just wanting to use the bathroom, told me she was a good person, and that porta-potties have hepatitis C! Okay, now don't get me wrong, I understand that some people are afraid of dogs, and sure, she probably is a good person, but if you're going to camp for three days at a fairgrounds, you're likely going to have to face a blue room or two. Your fear of hepatitis isn't my issue as a local merchant! And believe me, she isn't the only one. I currently have a sign on the door saying my rest room is for customers only, because we get a lot of people (especially before heading home on Monday) using all our paper towel and having a mini-shower in the sink, then leaving.

Another common complaint for me: people trying to park in our lot and go to the festival. One couple yesterday slammed a few tastes of white wine in an excuse to park and walk around for a bit. We have "no parking" signs on our driveway because people camp all weekend, light BBQ grills in the dry grass and leave not only needles and discarded baby diapers, but boxes of marijuana trimmings.

And to top it off: yesterday some guys were feeding chicken bones to my dog and laughing about it!

So, to sum it up, I think we're going to close the place down for the festival next year. It will be a good excuse to take a nice summer vacation and take a weekend off, which we rarely do. It's just a little sad that we have to come to that decision.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Favorite Recipes: Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

I know this isn't exactly a summery recipe, but sometimes it doesn't matter what time of year you make a dish - it's delicious every time! This is one of my favorite lamb recipes, and it helps that lamb shanks are one of the cheapest cuts you can get.

This recipe looks slightly daunting, but it's easier than it seems. It just takes several hours because the shanks have to cook slow and long. Start these on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you'll be good for dinner. Also, you can use canned beans! I normally do. Still simmer with broth, butter and veggies and season.

Drink this with a Pinot Noir. We're loving the Foursight 2007 All-In Charles Vineyard Pinot.

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

For lamb shanks:
  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped coarse
  • 1 celery rib, chopped coarse
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
  • 3 1/2 cups Bordeaux or other full-bodied red wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs

For gremolata:
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

For beans:
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped fine
  • 2 small carrots, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (preferably Great Northern or navy)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 fresh tarragon sprigs


Make lamb shanks:
Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. In an 8-quart heavy flameproof casserole heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown lamb shanks well in batches, transferring to a plate as browned. To casserole add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté until onion is softened. Add wine and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 3 cups. Return lamb shanks to casserole and stir in broth, tomato paste, and thyme. Bring liquid to a boil and simmer, covered, stirring and turning lamb shanks occasionally, 1 1/2 hours. Simmer mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 1 hour more, or until lamb shanks are tender. 

Make the gremolata while lamb is cooking:
In a small bowl stir together gremolata ingredients.
Make beans while lamb is cooking:
In a saucepan heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and cook onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes, or until softened. Add beans, 2 cups broth, butter, and bay leaf and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and adding enough remaining broth to keep beans moist and to reach a creamy consistency, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and add half of gremolata and salt and pepper to taste. 

Transfer lamb shanks to a plate and keep warm, covered with foil. Strain braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding solids, and stir in butter and tarragon. Boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly. Strain sauce through sieve into a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Sprinkle lamb shanks with remaining gremolata and serve with beans and sauce. 

Recipe originally from

Friday, June 10, 2011

2011 Growing Season Update

Now that we're finally getting some warm, sunny days, hope has returned. Or at least it seems so when you talk to a grape farmer like my father, Bill Charles.

Because of the wet, cold spring, the vines are behind. How far behind? Well, as much as a month according to many farmers here, but this summer will be the true determinant for how late we pick in 2011. With an even, warm summer the vines can catch up. With a cool summer, we end up with another 2010 -- just fine for most of us with early ripening Pinot, but not so good with late-ripening varieties like Cab or Zin.

Today the Associated Press ran a comprehensive article about the challenges of 2011 and growers' outlooks on the vintage. Click here to read it.

One thing that a grape grower in the AP article mentions is leaf pulling. Farmers often do this to expose the fruit to more sunlight and to open up the canopy for more airflow. This helps the grapes ripen faster, and helps reduce mold pressure. Unfortunately, this is what many growers (including ourselves) did last summer to help speed up ripening and we got burned. Literally. Several days above 100 degrees arrived in late summer and sunburned the grapes. Luckily, we only had a few blocks with about 5% sunburn. There were vineyards in more southern climes that were almost decimated.

We cut off the sunburnt grapes and moved on with our lives last year, bringing in our fruit before any fall rains. Likely we'll be a little more cautious this year when it comes to leaf pulling!

One thing we always know is that every year is different, and it's truly too early to call whether or not the 2011 vintage will go down as good, bad, or excellent. We'll just have to wait and see, which is one of things farmers are the worst at doing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wine Spectator Magnum Party

This year we were lucky enough to be invited to attend the annual Wine Spectator "Bring Your Own Magnum" party. Armed with a magnum we literally made two hours beforehand, we arrived at the Hotel Healdsburg to find the entire place closed to the public (including the hotel lobby, restaurant and outside grounds) for this spectacular event.

We were greeted at the door with sparkling wine and the magnums were in abundance, organized alphabetically in various rooms throughout the venue. The food was fantastic and they had a band doing covers from 70's hits to C-Lo! Plus dancers.

It was great to reconnect with people from our past in Sonoma and Napa, including every one of Joe's old bosses, and to meet some new friends. A core group from Anderson Valley was also in attendance that night, and it was great to see so many AV winery owners and winemakers there.

All in all, great night. So great that we ended up staying over! :)

Here are a few cell phone snapshots from the evening:

Joe with our 2009 Clone 05 Pinot Noir magnum.

One of the bars at the event, full of magnums.

Our gorgeous magnum!

Attendees mingling outside.

The band.

We looked everywhere for ours, only to find it empty next to the Hanzel1!
Cigars were passed around at the end of the evening.