Monthly Archives: July 2016

Mr. Jones Revisited

Mentors are like artists or writers, sometimes their impact is not fully appreciated for decades.  Then, at times, it is passed on and lives for generations.  This could be the story of Mr. Ron Jones, a very normal looking young high school English teacher in 1965, with a fresh credential, trying to enlighten a class of 4th-year English Seniors, some looking for inspiration and others waiting for it all to end.  Though I found him an interesting teacher, it took years to fully understand the profound effect our time together had in developing some of my lifelong passions and, in many ways, guiding the way I look at things.

Mr. Jones had a typical mid-1960s high school teacher image, short hair, gray slacks with cuffs, a button-down dress shirt and tie and tweed jacket.  His look was preppy, but intellectual, one that would drastically change for teachers in the next few years. Jones had chosen, as one of his extracurricular requirements, to help with the football team and I would often see him at practice.  He was athletic and knowledgeable about the game, but his classroom persona revealed much more than just a jock teaching English.  The fall of 1965 was at the cusp of massive cultural and social changes in this country and, I believe, as a young man, he sensed and embraced them early.

During a week-long segment on poetry, Mr. Jones veered from the classics to discuss some new contemporary poets.  “Ya’know, he said, “many of the writers and poets today are singers and songwriters.”  Then, poetically, he recited lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, prose of a new day.  Half the class continued to be bored with both the new and the old, but Mr.Jones had my full attention.  In this moment, a teacher was about to inspire a student.  Months earlier, with no expectations, I had gone with a friend to a Bob Dylan concert.  The profound effect of his music had led me to other songwriters of the emerging folk rock movement and Mr. Jones just legitimized them all.

For the next few weeks, students were allowed to bring in music on Fridays.  We listened seriously to songwriters, discussing and interpreting their poetry the best we could.  Some students never understood or cared about it at all, foreshadowing future oblivion or a difficult adjustment through the next decade. At times, I thought Mr. Jones and I were having a conversation and others in the class were just listening. A typical classroom discussion was best summed up by one of my Friday submittals, Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from his new album, “Highway 61 Revisited”:

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says

“It’s his”

And you say, “What’s mine?”

And somebody else says, “Where what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God

Am I here all alone.”

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Passion for music of all kinds has continuously enveloped my adult life, always leaving time to explore the lyrics of great contemporary song writers like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and others who have chronicled our time so eloquently.  Amid many musical influences, Mr. Jones steered me in their direction and gave me permission to be open and accepting of something new.

Weeks later, this engaging teacher offered an intriguing extra-credit opportunity, one that got the attention of my friend Steve and I.  “There is a film playing at the Towne Theater, it’s called, ‘The Pawnbroker,’” Mr. Jones announced, “it’s not required but if any students are able to watch it and write a brief description of your impressions, I’ll give you fifty extra credit points toward your grade.”  With SAT scores lower than expected, we were both focused on our GPA’s and justifying a week-night movie as the road to an A was appealing.  “If you wanna do it, I can pick you up at 6:30,” Steve said as I nodded affirmatively.  Steve’s dad had recently given him a brand new, burgundy-colored 1966 Pontiac GTO as an early graduation present, vastly increasing my transportation opportunities.  The car was a beast that delivered less than eight miles to the gallon and even with fuel priced at twenty-nine cents per gallon, lack of gas money often restricted our travel.  Luckily, tonight was about extra credit and Steve’s mom pitched in a few dollars.

I loved the movies, especially when Paul Newman overcame adversity and prevailed over the latest antagonist or Jerry Lewis would portray a character among his breadth of idiots.  I loved movies, but had no concept of film as an art form until that rainy January night, my first time inside the Towne Theater, at the time San Jose’s only art and foreign film venue. The featured film was director Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker,” a dark portrait of a soulless man, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camp where his wife and children were killed.  The main character, Sol Nazerman, played by young actor Rod Steiger, operated a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem that also fronted for a pimp.  His experiences had left him totally detached from others or the world around him. I was expecting a more dramatic Hollywood ending where we watch significant changes to Sol’s life unfold into happily ever after. In this film, real change came slowly or not at all, with a small glimmer of hope left to the interpretation of the viewer. The “Pawnbroker” was stark reality, but, at seventeen, the most poignant film I had ever seen, a film that heightened my understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.

Eager to write a brief review of the film to secure the extra credit, I described the use of visual flashbacks to horrifically reveal Nazerman’s past, they helped me to better understand his behavior.  Unlike today, information and reviews were not available to the masses.  Viewers had to rely on their own perceptions. In a later discussion, Mr. Jones, admittedly a fan of Sidney Lumet, described how the director used various techniques to create a more powerful message.  It was the first time I understood the role or appreciated the contribution of the film director.

Remaining somewhat interested over the ensuing years, my curiosity re-emerged after I met my wife, Karen, an undergraduate student who also had an interest in film.  Hers was influenced by her parents, who would go to the Towne Theater to watch art films and mine from Mr. Jones.  Karen and I have remained avid film buffs for 47 years, beginning in 1969 with watching art films on campus or at the old Saratoga Theater, a metal quonset hut nestled against the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the village of the same name.

I never communicated with Mr. Jones after graduation but like to remember thanking him and telling him how much I enjoyed his class. Moving on with my life, I remained unaware that he had touched and opened a side of me that could have remained dormant forever.  Questions will always remain of what became of Mr. Jones.  Did he continue teaching in the public school system or drop out and live in a commune for the next ten years?  He may have written the screenplay of a film that I enjoyed, not that credits for someone named Ron Jones would raise a red flag.

Whatever became of him, Mr. Jones will always be remembered as a wonderfully effective teacher, one that opened a young mind to appreciate artistic expression of all kinds.

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Zinfandel Keeps Good Company

 

Zinfandel is America’s wine grape. Sure, there is primitivo, a distant cousin from Italy, but zinfandel is the only grape that truly has roots here.  When friends from San Francisco had to make a “zinfandel run” to northern Sonoma County and suggested we accompany them for some tastings and lunch, we freed our calendars and made it happen.  It had been some time since we did this and our companion’s quarterly allocations were

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

building up at two separate wineries, each producing very diverse styles of zinfandel.  Anticipating that the tastings would be very distinctive, I was also interested in releases of other varietals.

The Dry Creek Valley, located fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, has the warmest climate in the area, sandwiched between the Russian River and Alexander Valleys.  The terroir in this region is more conducive to zinfandel than pinot noir or chardonnay, typical in most of the county.  Today’s stops, Mazzocco Sonoma, part of the Wilson Family Wines empire, and historical Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, both construct highly acclaimed zinfandel with completely divergent views on how the varietal should be expressed.

Worth mentioning, Wilson Family Wines own eight different wineries in Sonoma County, as far south as St. Anne’s Crossing in Kenwood to Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, CA to the north.  Four

Mazzocco Winery

Mazzocco Winery

wineries focus on zinfandel, two on cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, one daring soul pursues pinot noir and the matriarch Wilson Winery produces a variety including petite sirah and syrah.  Many of their wines were awarded gold medals in Sonoma Harvest Fest and the San Francisco Chronicle Wjine Competition.

Edoardo Seghesio first planted his Home Ranch Vineyard, north of Geyserville, in 1895, following his instincts that it was the right terroir for zinfandel, petite sirah and many Italian varietals.  “Today, Seghesio owns over 300 acres of estate vineyards and farms nearly one hundred acres of outside vineyards making them one of the largest producers in the region. History and a commitment to the land has been rewarded with an ideal platform for producing consistent quality wines.  We didn’t know what Spring releases they were pouring, but foresaw that some special single vineyard and reserves would be included.

In the land of zinfandel, the first three wines we tasted were Italian varietals, including the dry, herbal 2015 Seghesio Vermentino ($22), a rare white varietal, dry with nice expressions of fruit and a minerality that defined its character.  Excepting those from Burgundy, European white varietals are unfairly overlooked and many consumers are missing opportunities to add diversity to their taste buds.  Also dry, but fruity, the 2013 Seghesio Sangiovese ($30) is soft, with a nice creamy structure carried through the finish.  There are many very fine releases of sangiovese, used to produce chianti from Tuscany.  This is another good one.

With roots in the Barolo wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, barbera typically shows deep colors and earthy flavors.  When I unexpectedly encounter a good California barbera, I often take a bottle home including the 2013 Seghesio Barbera ($30).  Deep, ruby hues and soft,

Seghesio Barbera

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

102017b_11Barbera_F

Seghesio Family Vineyard Barbera Alexander Valley

accessible flavors are enhanced by a balanced structure and deep color that seemed to glow when held up to the light.  This one will pair perfectly with pasta or mushroom risotto. Seghesio also produces other Italian varietals, arneis, pinot grigio and fiano, in estate-owned vineyards, both in the Russian River and Alexander valleys.

“The Cortina Vineyard, named after the loamy soil that exists on the site, has been farmed by Seghesio since 1957. Known for its subtle, elegant flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Vineyard ($40) was awarded 94-points by Wine Spectator magazine. In addition to the soft flavors, I found great bouquet and texture to this exceptional wine.

Using old zinfandel vines and a small amount of petite sirah grapes from their flagship Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard and gnarly vines from the Saini Beach Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, the 2013 Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($40) is a dry, austerely luscious wine with balanced structure and a nice spice character to the flavor. Enjoy the wine by itself or try BBQ meats that would enhance the spice.

Using a blend of old and young zinfandel vines and a small touch of petite sirah for color and softer flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Vineyard (58) expresses an earthy bouquet that transcends into the flavors.  The “Home Ranch” had the softest creamy texture of all the wines tasted, leaving me no choice but to take a bottle home to my cellar.

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Sonoma Valley’s Pagani Vineyard has been literally deeply rooted in the soil and the fabric of the regional zinfandel community since 1887.  It is dry-farmed, creating deep-rooted vines and fruit that produce rich, potent flavors, yet express a lighter structure than the other zinfandels we tasted. This defines the 2012 Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani Vineyard ($48). It is fascinating when the special, unchanged characteristics of an old vineyard can produce uniquely identifiable wines, vintage to vintage.

Seghesio produces many wines at different levels, many are available at local outlets.  The single vineyard releases, at a higher price, are available online, from the winery and wine shops, offering the truest picture of their finest efforts. After lunch, we would drive north a few miles to the heart of the Dry Creek Valley where Mazzocco Sonoma specializes in a different style of zinfandel.

Mozzacco is a very welcoming place, located on Lytton Springs Road, north of Healdsburg.  It does produce cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals but its focus is on high alcohol, lively and fruity zinfandel, mostly from designated vineyards.  To prepare our palates, the tasting opened with a 100% sauvignon blanc, a white wine sourced from the Alexander Valley.

ZIN_RES_SMITH

Mazzocco Reserve Zinfandel Smith Orchard

The crisp and fragrant 2015 Mazzocco Sauvignon Blanc ($28) created in a New Zealand style, was a very nice beginning that expressed stone fruit aromas with vibrant grapefruit flavors and mineral elements on the finish.  As one who usually prefers a softer, creamy style, I liked the grapefruit accents and would recommend this refreshing wine for hot, summer afternoons.  This was a good beginning, but it was time to enjoy four single vineyard zinfandel releases, all highly acclaimed.

Awarded gold medals over the past three years by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Briar Vineyard ($29), estate-owned with seven percent petite sirah, was intense from bouquet to palate with wild berry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish.  Another highly acclaimed zinfandel in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Wine Competitions, the 2013 Mazzocco

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Zinfandel Reserve, Warms Springs Ranch ($52) conveys a myriad of aromas and flavors ranging from floral hints to roasted nuts and spice from mid-palate through finish, jammy, but at the same time, elegant.  The “Warm Springs” was the best illustration of their signature fruit-forward Mazzocco wines.

From the heart of the Dry Creek appellation, with deep volcanic soils, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve West Dry Creek Vineyard ($52) delivers concentrated, balanced fruit and berry flavors with accents of cocoa and pepper throughout the finish. This wine is meant to be enjoyed outdoors with some nice gorgonzola cheese.

They saved one of their best reserve zinfandels for our last wine. From their highest elevation vineyard at 2,400-foot, with iron-rich soils that allow the fruit to mature slowly, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve Smith Orchard Vineyard ($52) expressed rich, diverse flavors ranging from currant jam and anise to chocolate and creme brûlée.  This is truly a luscious zinfandel that caught the attention of Robert Parker/Wine Advocate who awarded it 91-points, citing a combination of intensity and balance.

Wine Spectator, National Geographic Traveler and Sunset magazines have recently published articles recommending travel to Sonoma County for its rich food, wine, culture and open space.  While the world-famous pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay are the stars of this region, travelers should not miss an opportunity to experience the zinfandel and other varietals in the north end.  Along with Paso Robles, Lodi and Calaveras County, the Dry Creek Valley is at the table with California’s best and these two wineries afford a fine   opportunity to enjoy different styles, each excellent in their own way.

 


The Wines of Kelowna

Photos by Ron Siddle 

An interest in wine and golf led us to southern British Columbia to explore the delights of Kelowna and

Kelowna skyline

Kelowna skyline

surrounding areas that boast of their numerous wineries and challenging golf courses, an abundance of lakes and a nearby ski resort.  While nine rounds of golf in six days topped our itinerary, we found time to explore one of Kelowna’s wine trails, tasting some very nice releases and discovering several new varietals.

With nearly 180,000 permanent residents, Kelowna is the warmest and driest part of British Columbia, making it a great destination for summer water sports on Okanagan Lake, voted “#2 Best Beaches in Canada” by the 2011 Trip Advisor Readers Choice Awards. There are eighteen championship golf courses in Kelowna and many more majestic mountain lakes north in Vernon.  In the winter months, Big White Ski Resort, less than an hour from town, is known for great powder and available rentals.

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia, looking towards Lake Okanagan. RON SIDDLE/Valley Press

The view from Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna British Columbia.

In addition to vineyards, Kelowna also produces wonderful organic fruits in acres of orchards and is Canada’s’ major producer of goat cheese.  Locally, around the lake, there are five distinct wine trails and over thirty wineries. We began our exploration along the western shore of Okanagan Lake, among hillside vineyards, beautiful vistas and beaches, at one of the pioneer wine producers of the region.

Established in 1987 and twice recognized as Canada’s Winery of the Year, Cedar Creek Winery is a magnificent property with nineteen current releases on their menu. Most of them were

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser

available for tasting including an 100% ehrenfelser that, outside of Germany, is produced primarily in Kelowna and sparsely in Washington State.  A grape with lineage to riesling and silvander, the 2014 Cedar Creek Ehrenfelser ($17) is a fresh white wine that expresses stone fruits on the nose and multi-layered ripe fruit flavors on the palate.  Others preferred the 2014 Cedar Creek Pinot Gris ($18) that is slightly more acidic with less residual sugar.  Aged in French oak for 35 days, the pinot gris, common to the Pacific Northwest, revealed ”floral fruit” and melon flavors. A Gold Medal Winner at he 2015 All Canadian Wine Championships, the sweeter 2014 Cedar Creek Gewürztraminer ($16) added aromas of ginger and anise to the mid-palate flavors.

Fermented three separate ways, in stainless steel, large foudre casks and traditional oak barrels, the Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Cedar Creek Platinum M

Estate Chardonnay ($17), the first of a flight, conveyed soft tropical fruit flavors with a buttery nut finish.  The second wine, the 2014 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 5 Chardonnay ($28) expressed strong hints of green apple on the nose and palate with a nice minerality on the finish. The last wine of the flight, the 2010 Cedar Creek Platinum M ($53) is clearly a sweet dessert wine with over 70% residual sugar.  Fortified with spirits, small amounts of chardonnay are placed in miniature casks and baked in the sun for five years resulting in rich, concentrated fruit flavors.

Onward to the red wines, beginning with two pinot noir releases.

Surprisingly, pinot noir grows well in Cedar Creek’s estate vineyards, mostly those near the water.  To achieve rich, fuller flavors, the vines are thinned during the growing season, eliminating all but the best clusters.  As a result, the small production 2013 Cedar Creek Estate Pinot Noir($23) has classic mushroom and cherry aromas with more hints of strawberry on the palate.  From the vineyards best spot, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir ($56) is more muscular with aromas and flavors of spice and mocha throughout.

Cedar Creek has eleven acres of vineyards in nearby Osoyoos with rocky, well draining soil that force the vines to struggle during the growing period.  There is something about these “tough love” soils that push the vines to greatness.  This is the case with the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot ($37) that

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

Cedar Creek Desert Ridge Meritage

expresses spicy aromas, rich dark berry flavors with nuances of coffee on the finish.  For my palate, this is an extraordinary merlot that would stand up nicely to blue cheese. From the same Osoyoos vineyard, the 2013 Cedar Creek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage ($40) is a Bordeaux blend of 58% cabernet sauvignon, 22% cabernet franc, 14% merlot and 6% malbec that is fruit driven with all the structure necessary for a good wine.  It will pair well with a big, juicy steak.

Cedar Creek Winery is an impressive property suitable for fancy picnicking, sortable events and further exploration through vineyard tours.  We were very excited about tasting their wines and recommend it as a “must stop” when in Kelowna.

The view from St. Hubertus

The view from St. Hubertus

Historical, with first vine plantings in 1928, a stable 30-year ownership and sustainable farming practices all describe the St. Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery, our next stop along the wine trail. The grounds of St. Hubertus are more rustic than Cedar Creek, but quaint and charming, suitable for picnics and gatherings.  The wines are low production and estate grown with attention to detail at every step of the process.

To begin, I enjoyed my first taste of the popular Swiss grape, chasselas.  The 2014 St. Hubertus Chasselas ($20) is light and crisp with very accessible flavors and a nice lemon zest finish.  A perfectSt-Hubertus-Riesling pair with Swiss raclette cheese or sushi.  Aside from the floral aromas, the major characteristic of the 2013 St. Hubertus Riesling ($17) is the nicely balanced green apple flavors, not overpowering, but forever present.

Still surprised to see the pinot noir varietal in British Columbia, we had to taste the 2012 Oak Bay Pinot Noir ($20).  It’s hard to compare it with the opulent pinot noir from Sonoma County or Oregon, but I found this wine to be a nice well-structured, medium-bodied pinot with classic vanilla and cherry aromas and flavors.  Continuing to experience varietals rare to the United States, the 2012 Oak Bay Marechal Foch ($22), with dark ruby color, was the biggest and boldest wine of the day.  Marechal Foch is a varietal mostly grown in the Loire Valley of France, with some plantings in Oregon’s

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Oak Bay Marechal Foch

Willamette Valley. This vintage was rich and jammy with dark fruit, plum, spice and hints of tobacco everywhere.  The winery suggests pairing marechal foch with Coffee and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs, a sign of its power.  A small amount of chamboucin, a readily available French-American hybrid grape, is blended to enhance the characteristics of marechal foch.

Our last stop was the relatively new Ancient Hill Winery, a rural property located near the Kelowna Airport. There were vineyards on the property in the 1950s and 1960s that were converted to orchards.  The current

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

The vineyards at Ancient Hill Winery

owners migrated to this region from the Netherlands in 2005 and re-planted vines on the property.  Today, they produce many varietals uncommon to California and the Pacific Northwest, not the case with our first tasting.

Fine pinot gris releases are common, especially in Oregon and we found that wineries in Kelowna produce very good ones at sensible prices.  The 2014 Ancient Hill Pinot Gris ($16) had a rich mouthfeel and spice flavors that followed fragrant floral aromas with hints of peaches and papaya, a good value at $16.

Having avoided rose’ thus far, I found the 2014 Ancient Hill Rose’ ($15)  too intriguing to pass up. Comprised of nearly 75% zweigelt with added gewürztraminer, baco noir and pinot noir, this rose’ has a vibrant color with complex spice and berry flavors, fruity, but not overly sweet.

A rare blend of two popular Austrian grapes, Zweigelt and Lemberger, the 2011 Ancient Hill “Lazerus” ($15)

 Ancient Hill Winery

Ancient Hill Winery

is a light red wine, aged entirely in stainless steel, that reveals the dark cherry and spice flavors of each varietal.  The blend changes each vintage, but the 2011 can be enjoyed by itself or with a light cheese.  Producing only 220 cases,  the 2012 Ancient Hill Pinot Noir ($17) is a lighter wine with some tannins that delivers nice spice and dark berry flavors mid-palate.

Abandoned by the French, the muscular baco noir varietal can now be mostly found in Canada and Washington State.  The bold 2012 Ancient Hill Baco Noir ($22) has become their flagship red delivering rich flavors of black cherry and plum with spice and hints of chocolate on the finish.  Aged in oak, this moderately price wine would stand up to any lamb and beef dish.

The Okanagan Valley wine region has much to offer any wine tourist, an abundance of wineries, great venues, different micro-climates that produces unique varietals at reasonable prices.  We barely scratched the surface of viticultural opportunities in the region.  My recommendation is to take advantage of the many wine tour options with pre-determined stops along the five wine trails, all with a designed driver.  Wine lovers must include British Columbia in a future vacation, especially if they enjoy, gorgeous mountains, lakes, food and all the recreational opportunities one can imagine.