Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Phone Is Ringing


It was after the fourth ring that I fully persuaded myself to not answer the phone.  The restaurant was closed, I had work to do and was still pissed off about missing the gathering at Kennedy campaign headquarters, that little house on Forest Ave.  The phone continued to ring.  It’s probably just those damned square dancers anyway, looking for late night pancakes, consistently messing with my closing shift schedule as a cook at IHOP.

The phone began to ring again but I didn’t even think to answer. I had to focus on finishing my work, getting some sleep and being alert for an early morning speech class where my final presentation fell into the “if time permits” category.

My “cook’s galley” was clean but still needed to be stocked for the morning. The AM shift will do a thousand pancakes before noon and if they didn’t have enough of everything, I’d hear about it.  Besides, I promised Chris, the evening waitress, that I would cover some of her work. She needed rest.

Chris Fuller and I had become friends and she had revealed to me that she was pregnant by her boyfriend who was infantry, somewhere in Vietnam.  She was strong, but all alone and we had bonded through our shared wit and a passion for music and politics.   With barely a high school education, she had an uncanny grasp of the world around her. When Bobby Kennedy entered the Presidential race in 1968, we were both ready to get involved, although I was too young to cast a vote.

Looking like I had been tar and feathered with fresh orange juice pulp, flour and egg yolks, I locked the doors at ten minutes after one, as the phone rang once again.  It must be a wrong number, not even I am supposed to be here at this hour.

Dragging myself out of bed the next morning was difficult, resulting from lack of sleep and the absence of coffee in the house.  I just needed to get through the morning, then plan to  meet up with Chris and some other volunteers.

My anticipated celebration, my day, and maybe my decade ended when I reached for the San Jose Mercury News on my way out the door.  The headline read, “Bobby Shot.”  Two words.  I was stunned.  How could this happen and why didn’t I know about it?  The morning edition of the paper could not confirm his condition, but early morning radio was reporting his death, the result of a shot from a single gunman.  I had heard this same scenario once before and my thoughts carried me back to a high school geometry class in November 1963.

There it was, face down, the latest quiz and that clammy feeling that began on my forehead was moving south, past the heart that was pounding more than usual.  Mr. Bender did his best to make geometry simple, but was not capable of re-wiring the brain of a fifteen-year-old.

During last-minute instructions, the phone rang, a brief reprieve.  The call seems to be longer than normal and Bender’s extended silence was noticeable as conversations subsided.  Should I be concerned or go over my meaningless notes one more time?  Everything became meaningless when Ron Bender spoke in  monotone as he put the receiver down,  “Class, the President has been shot in Dallas. We are all to report to the cafeteria immediately.”

Everyone was scattered, some moving quickly, some slowly. There was little talking, several students walking together, each alone in their thoughts.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  President Kennedy had moved me.  This was so unfair.

The school staff had very little new information, leaving the official acknowledgement of death to newscaster Walter Cronkite later that afternoon.  There was some talk of a book depository in Dallas where a shot or shots were fired at the motorcade, striking the President and Governor Connolly.  Then, as his comments ended, the Principal simply told us all to go home.  There was no mobilization of grievance counselors or heightened security,  just instructions to go home and be with our families.  I wondered if my parents had heard the news.

I wandered aimlessly through the school parking lot looking for my ride.  It was gone amid the chaos, my backup was hours away and the thought of walking home would be too “uncool,” even on a day like this. Then, a voice uttered, “Need a ride?”  I looked up.

It was Mike Jackson, a senior.  Mike drove a hot car, hung out with somewhat of a rough crowd, smoked cigarettes and I would place myself fairly low on his list of people to offer rides to. Maybe he remembered that I once played baseball with his younger brother, Danny, but it was probably the lost expression on my face or simply this moment in time.  “Sure, thanks,” I muttered, using a short answer to disguise the trepidation in my voice.

Once off schools grounds, Mike, with one arm slumped over the steering wheel, lit up a cigarette. I pretended not to notice.  Our limited conversation was mundane, clearly avoiding the reason we were both driving together in the same car on a Friday afternoon.  He asked me where I lived and I told him.  Without looking at me, he said, “I’ll take you home but I gotta make one stop.”  My mouth said, “Ok” while my brain frantically explored a dozen scenarios on where we may be going.  At this time I realized that I knew very little about him.

Confusion, surprise and relief all set in as his car stopped. Mike opened the door, giving me the option to go in or not.  He said that he wouldn’t be long, so I decided to go in.

I knew St. Martin’s Parish.  The neighborhood Catholic kids all went there.  On this visit, Mike Jackson, the intimidating senior, and I knelt in a pew and prayed. We prayed for our slain President, our first Catholic President.  Raised a Methodist, I had to follow Mike’s lead on all the formalities but the experience, although very surreal, was somewhat comforting.

During the next semester, I would direct a quick nod toward Mike as we passed in the halls of the school.  He usually nodded back.  Although our experience had not made us friends, he no longer intimidated me.  He would always be the answer to the question, “Where were you the day JFK got shot?”  I was in a strange church praying with a less sinister Mike Jackson, trying to cope with the setting and what I thought was the assassination of my lifetime.

Now, less than five years later,  this tragedy was even harder to accept than the deaths of JFK and Dr. King.  A large part of me was invested in a small role to make something happen.  Now I was just angry, without an answer.

I seemed to float as I walked across campus, looking for familiar faces, often being judgmental of those not expressing my grief and emotion.  Do they not realize what happened last night or that we have had three assassinations over the past five years?

I needed to find Chris and I knew she was looking for me.  Without cellphones, searching was an arduous process of elimination once people left their homes.  I finally found her later that afternoon.  Paychecks were ready for pick-up on Wednesdays and I knew she would be there sometime.  We both needed the money.

Today, she had been crying.  We hugged as she whispered that she had been looking for me all day.  “I tried calling you last night,” she said, lifting her head from my chest, “why didn’t you answer the phone?”  Lacking a meaningful response, I just continued to hold her in silence.


Ancient Vines Of Limerick


Ancient vines in Oakley, CA

“Old Vines” or “Ancient Vines” is an uncommon designation, often synonymous with rich wines with great texture and character.  Aside from some “old vine” designates in the Rhone Valley in France, the overwhelmingly vast majority appear in California with the zinfandel varietal.

Most research shows that vines of popular varietals like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc have a life span of approximately 50 years and the terroir, rather than the age of the vines, is what translates into quality.  However, leave no doubt that the ancient California zinfandel vines uniquely translate into a higher standard.

The distinct life of a zinfandel vine goes through several decade-long productive transitions until reaching maturity in 70-80 years.  This is when they begin to produce dramatically lower yields which as we know, equates to heavily concentrated flavors and overall high caliber wines.  We see this with many varietals during times of

Gnarly "Old Vines"

Gnarly “Old Vines”

destructive weather impacts such as a late frost when the damaged grapes must be sacrificed for the good of the others.  In these years, volume and profits are low but, as many wine makers have told me, it’s the time to submit wines for critical review.  With zinfandel vines, reduced yield, or lower tonnage, occurs naturally, appealing to those consumers who prefer big, luscious zinfandel releases and are willing to pay a premium price.

Ancient vines are as physically identifiable as the rich flavors they produce. In dormancy, they are thick and gnarly, looking like headless ogres waving their

Limerick Lane estate vineyard

Limerick Lane estate vineyard

arms in all directions, otherwise appearing lifeless.  They become more majestic in late spring, serving as a strong foundation for what is proportionally, moderate leaf and fruit growth.

France, Germany, Australia and other countries boast “ancient vines,” but old California zinfandel vines, from Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Lodi and Paso Robles afford us the opportunity, firsthand, to experience what the excitement is all about.

Cline Cellars produces a series of reasonably priced  “ancient vine” wines from their Oakley vineyards in Contra Costa County, first planted over a Century ago by Italian and Portuguese immigrants.  Among many consistent vintages, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel Contra Costa County ($20) adds a combined 10% of petit sirah,

Cline "Ancient Vines" Zinfandel

Cline “Ancient Vines” Zinfandel

carignane and syrah to the blend that delivers ripe fruit flavors and a creamy mouthfeel.  Used primarily to add structure and texture to the Rhone Valley blends in France, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre Contra Costa County ($22) is a rare solo release with hints of chocolate and a luscious deep plum flavor.  Equally rare, the 2013 Cline Ancient Vines Carignane Contra Costa County ($23) adds a degree of spice to the rich flavors.

The iconic Napa Valley Rombauer Vineyards produces old vine zinfandel from a historic vineyard in the Sierra Foothills of Amador County.  The 2012 Rombauer “Fiddletown” Zinfandel ($43) comes from Gino Rinaldi’s 100+ year-old vineyard, located some 1,800 feet above sea level, producing very low yields and a wine both intense and complex.

For observing “ancient vines,” I recommend a drive along the Valley of the Moon Highway, connecting Sonoma with Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco.  A gorgeous site during any season, but the late winter vines, interspersed with yellow mustard plants, using the Mayacama Mountains as a backdrop, are breathtaking.  Tasting the fruits of these vines is available at a plethora of valley wineries along the road including Landmark Cellars and Ledson Winery.

The classic ancient vine zinfandel story comes from Geoffrey and Alison Wrigley Rusack of Rusack Vineyards in

Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

Rusack Zinfandel Santa Catalina Island

the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara.  Geoffrey received permission to explore and excavate cuttings from some ancient vines discovered on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Ventura.  The University of California, Davis confirmed that the vines were zinfandel, most likely left by missionaries over a century ago.  The zinfandel vines have been re-planted on Santa Catalina, another of the Channel Islands, as part of Rusack’s Santa Catalina Island program that includes pinot noir and chardonnay.  Having recently enjoyed the rare 2012 Rusack Santa Catalina Island Zinfandel ($72)), these ancient vines certainly delivered a rich texture and complex flavor profile that will continue to improve with age.


My recent curiosity in “old vine” or “ancient vine” zinfandel was peaked when a small, little known Sonoma County winery with vineyards adjacent to the Redwood Highway, south of Healdsburg placed their vintage 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) in the #12 spot

Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley

Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley

on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2015.  A very high ranking of a zinfandel from a local winery within 10 miles of my home led me to investigate further.

The year 1910 was when the Del Fava family planted the oldest vineyard on the property in the northeastern Russian River Valley.  They saw potential in this site that has less fog and considerably warmer soils.  The family owned and farmed the original vineyards for over 65 years, sourcing grapes to many wineries before they sold it in 1977 to locals, Michael and Tom Collins.

The Collins operated the small winery on Limerick Lane for 34 years, making significant strides to improve the property, including the new dry-farmed, 25-acre Collins Vineyard, directly across the road.  Also, during their stewardship, the Limerick Lane Cellars label was created to produce estate wines.

When the Collins brothers decided to sell the winery in 2011, they rejected any corporate interest, handpicking local Jake Bilbro and his brother Scot as the best team to maintain the small family operation that had been productive over the past 101 years.  After some preliminary challenges, the sale was consummated and the Bilbro brothers sought out on a journey through Limerick’s most recent evolution.  We sought to taste some of their new 2013 vintages following up on the 2012 estate zinfandel that put them on the map.

With some mourvedre and petit sirah to provide complexity, the most high production 2013 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($36), with 1,900 cases, had a chalky, earth element, nice minerality and luscious mouthfeel, a good value.

From the original ancient plantings,the 2013 Limerick Lane “1910 Block” Zinfandel ($48) has a distinct

Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache

Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache

herbal nose with concentrated fruit flavors and a smooth, balanced finish.  Combining Rhone varietals, the 2103 Limerick Lane Syrah/Grenache ($36) offer healthy spice in the bouquet and does not disappoint mid-palate with berry pie, pepper flavors and evident tannins.

We finished the tasting with two very small production releases, one highly rated and another resulting from a unique process.

With 94-point ratings from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, the 2013 Limerick Lane “Head-pruned Block” Syrah ($48) is a full=bodied syrah with a fragrant bouquet and intricate white pepper, plum and blackberry on the palate with balanced tannins throughout.

Clearly the most unique wine of the day, the 2013 Limerick Lane “Hail Mary” Syrah ($48)uses carbonic maceration, where whole cluster grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide-rich setting, to create complex flavors and soft

Limerick Lane "Hail Mary" Syrah

Limerick Lane “Hail Mary” Syrah

mouthfeel.  Grapes, leaves and stems are placed in open top stainless steel tanks, layered with dry ice and gently walked on every few days.  With the exception of those on the bottom, the grapes are not crushed, oddly leaving the skins intact during fermentation.

Initially, the “Hail Mary,” with 94% syrah and 6% grenache, displays a beautiful deep ruby color, then earth and candied fruit on the nose followed by rich flavors and silky tannins.  This is the one I took home.

Producing quality juice for more than a Century, it took that 2012 vintage “old vine”zinfandel to uncover Limerick Lane’s wonderful wines and their story of handwork and commitment to the land.  All of the wines we tasted had high character and, although cost is relative to our personal budgets, all current releases are a value at their price.  This and the other small boutique wineries on Limerick Lane are definitely worth exploring on an afternoon.

As for these mature zinfandel and other varietals, look for the “ancient vine” or “old vine” designations on the labels of wines at all levels.  Your research will assure more expression of fruit and a softer texture in the glass.