Monthly Archives: August 2020

A Day in the Life (#18,251)

On an impulse and understanding that the odds were slim, Karen called the Pine Inn to ask if the Ocean View King, Room 12, was available.  It was the room we wanted fifty years ago, but couldn’t afford.  Fortunately, under very unfortunate circumstances, it was.

With all its charm and natural beauty, Carmel, CA can be an eery place, especially during the summer months as the baked Central Valley air mixes with the cool ocean breezes to cast a seductive mist over the shops and cottages. During the intervening years since our honeymoon in August 1970, Karen and I have slept in the village to commemorate dates such as our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary or my sixty-fifth birthday.  The latter was less about romance and more about the noon tee time at the Pebble Beach Golf Links that she gifted me.

Today, as we celebrate a half century together, Carmel is eery in a difference way.  First of all, it was seventy degrees and sunny outside, resulting in a 20,000 step day. Actually, my iWatch defined it more accurately as a 21,204 step day.  By good fortune, it was warm enough for outdoor dining because that’s all that was permitted. 

Traffic was light, crowds were exceptionally thin for this or any time of the year and everyone’s faces were covered by N-95 masks or an array of designer fabrics befitting the elegant surroundings.  The dream of an sunny Carmel, bereft of tourists was fulfilled only because of the Covid-19

Masked marauders

pandemic that has kept the world’s population under house arrest for months.  I felt a degree of guilt in enjoying this unprecedented peacefulness, but fifty years is a long commitment and we’ve earned it, 18,250 days, one at a time.  I reflect on a lyric from singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.  “We’ve proven ourselves so many times, the magnetic strip is wearing thin.” Circumstances dictated that we celebrate this milestone alone together, exactly the way it should be. 

We looked in the window of the exclusive European men’s clothing boutique that has always existed somewhere on Ocean Avenue and Karen made the same observation she made fifty years earlier.

“That tweed sports coat would look great on you,” she said, “it’s that new European cut.”

At my age, a little ego stroking is always welcomed, but I am no longer a “39-long” and the permanent bump on my left side, the result of two kidney surgeries, makes me skeptical that it will look as good as it does on the faceless mannequin. 

“I don’t need anymore clothes,” I said.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to try it on.”

She has lived with me long enough to realize the danger in that statement.

Entering the doorway, we are greeted by the stereotypical Carmel European shop owner, tan, nice build, impeccably dressed, shaved head, face covered by a designer mask.

Karen greets him from a distance.  “I like your mask.”

“Thank you,” he said, “we sell all kinds.”

“How much are they?”

“They are forty dollars, but each one is hand made and reversible.”

Sales are down and even designer clothing shops are adapting to new customer needs. We have received many masks from friends who sew, but, quickly realized that, like pairs of underwear, you can’t have too many. 

Unable to touch or try on the masks, Karen shakes the basket like a gold prospector, looking for the nugget that conveys fashionable responsibility. 

Still pretending that this is my idea, she says, “My husband would like to look at that tweed sport coat in the window.”

The shop owner takes the same coat off the rack and begins to tie it into as many knots as he can.  Then, he immediately unties it.

“See, no wrinkles,” he said, “this fabric is ideal for traveling.”

Karen inserts optimism.  “It will be perfect when we travel again.”

I add a hint of pessimism.  “If we travel again.”

Without asking, the owner retreats to the back of the shop to find my perfect size. While he is away and Karen is exploring the masks, I lift the left sleeve of the coat and see the price of “$1,975.00” on the tag. He returns and I try it on.  It looks good, but not great.

Still seeing my twenty-two year-old body, Karen says, “Well, what do you think?”

“I think you can buy me a forty dollar hand-made, reversible mask.”

Ironically, the 1970 version of the coat sold for the outrageous price of $125.00, the same rent we were paying for a furnished, one-bedroom apartment near campus. 

On our honeymoon fifty years ago, during meals or on walks, I mostly just stared at Karen, sometimes making her uncomfortable.

“What?” she would ask. 

“Nothing,” I said, wearing the grin of a Cheshire cat.

Today, I look across the outdoor table at La Bicyclette and see the same faceunder a shield attached to new costume designer glasses that she found in the next shop.  She catches me starring, doesn’t ask why, just speaks.

Karen with new fashion statement

“This was a waste of money.” she said, “I Googled it and it can’t substitute for a mask.”

I tried to put her frugal mind at ease. “It cost less than twenty bucks and it looks cute. Wait until after the vaccine and you can set a new trend.”

“When would I wear it?”

“I think it could be a post pandemic fashion statement.”


“Nothing says NO like a face shield.”

“You’re a little nuts,” she said, “but I do like the new hair.”

The masked server interrupts our conversation with the moules frites and glass of riesling I ordered for lunch.  Day 18,251 was beginning on a good note.

Carmel Beach, August 2, 2020

Lucky Rock speaks to a new generation

Aaron and Jesse Inman are brothers, sharing a past with a unique paradigm. They are also partners in Lucky Rock Wine Co., all in to make the wine culture more accessible by promising high quality, affordable releases that are “made with intention, not pretension.” Aside from that, they are, in Jesse’s words, “yin and yang to the max.”

Aaron and Jesse Inman

Until they were 5 and 6 years old, Aaron and Jesse lived in a bus while their prospecting parents sought fortune at various California gold mines. They described their Vietnam veteran father as a hippie, libertarian type with a pony tail, a Harley and some mining equipment. In time, they moved to the town of Yreka in Siskiyou County where they lived until after graduating from high school.

Both brothers spent three years, beginning in 2003, working for their uncle and noted Calistoga winemaker August Briggs, intending to learn a lifetime craft. After an initial stint at the winery, Aaron left to pursue a master’s degree in business while Jesse remained as the assistant winemaker. In 2011, he became the lead winemaker at August Briggs, overseeing all grape sourcing and wine production.

Both Aaron and Jesse support a healthy range of artistic tattoos. At one point during our conversation, Aaron pulled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a new design that he got at a Fresno tattoo festival. He was there to sell and promote his wine.

The Inman brothers have a modern, relatable take on wine, something they describe as a food truck mentality. They are in the wine business because it is what they learned, what they know. They are also aware of the fringe and realize that wine lacks excitement for many millennials. As Jesse — or maybe it was Aaron — put it, “We don’t want to die on the vine of benign.” They have strong ideals but are both quick to point out that idealism doesn’t sell, good winemaking does.

They want to bridge the gap between high-end and affordable and see the niche in marketing to taprooms and casual outlets rather than upscale tasting rooms. They envision a future venue that has the look and feel of a taproom, complete with the food trucks.

Aaron and Jesse developed their winemaking chops with pinot noir, a difficult grape that has broken the hearts of many before them. They learned to make pinot noir when they had nothing to lose. Today, Lucky Rock is their career, their family’s livelihood, requiring them to always be at their best. Their current focus is on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, both popular, abundantly produced varietals. They see this as the time to use their experience and skills to inspire a new generation of wine lovers, built on an old premise that consistent quality is where it starts.

A few weeks ago, I selected the 2019 Lucky Rock County Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc ($17) for a blind sauvignon blanc tasting with friends that included five other releases from top California producers. Of course, the consensus was that they were all great, but the Lucky Rock held its own among the other higher priced wines.

The mouthfeel is a balance between crisp and round while the aromatics and the lingering flavors are fully present. The balance comes from combined aging in stainless steel (60%) and French oak barrels (40%) for six months. All of the fruit is sourced from one sustainably-farmed vineyard in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley.

Lucky Rock Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

In contrast to the sauvignon blanc, the grapes for the 2018 Lucky Rock County Cuvée Pinot Noir ($22) are sourced from four very different vineyards spread across Monterey, Sonoma and San Benito County, home of the popular Vista Verde Vineyard near the town of Tres Pinos.

They reference recording artist Lamar, an icon from their generation, remixing James Brown, one from mine, as they describe a passion for blending. Sourcing grapes from multiple selected vineyards and integrating distinct terroir is what defines their pinot noir.

The texture and balance is derived from 100% French barrel aging and attentive winemaking. A fruity nose precedes typical red fruit and spice flavors, but the mouthfeel is befitting of a pinot at twice the cost.

The Lucky Rock Wine Co. logo

My tattooed friend loves the Lucky Rock label, he says it speaks to him. It was designed with intention and reflects the story of the two brothers.

The backbone of their cutting-edge approach to the wine experience is that Aaron and Jesse Inman are seasoned winemakers and businessmen. Their “old school” genes understand that high quality and affordability will be the drivers of their success.

Sullivan Rutherford re-emerges as an elite Napa Valley wine estate

Steeped in Napa Valley history, Sullivan Rutherford Estate helped establish the area as one of the world’s premier wine regions. After years of relative obscurity, a new ownership group and winemaking team are determined to return the legendary estate to its standing as one of the valley’s iconic producers.

Founder James “Jim” O’Neil Sullivan was a successful graphic artist in Los Angeles who created, among other projects, album covers for Dick Clark

John O’Neill and JoAnna C. Sullivan

Productions. A passion for cabernet sauvignon led him to relocate the family to the Napa Valley after acquiring the original Rutherford site in 1972. Years later, in 1978, he purchased the prime 26-acre property that is the current estate.

In those early years, Sullivan consulted with friend and legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff to select the Bordeaux varietals and design the original vineyards. His early releases were lauded and began to focus attention on the Napa Valley prior to the 1976 Judgment of Paris that vaulted it to the world stage.

After Sullivan’s death in 2005, the family was less involved in the daily operations and hired long-term winemaker Scott McLeod to serve in an interim capacity. McLeod also led the search that resulted in the appointment in 2013 of Yountville native Jeff Cole as winemaker. The two worked together for a few years, but the 2015 vintage was Jeff’s from vine to bottle.

Following earning a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Winemaker Jeff Cole

and hands-on experience at some central coast wineries, Cole returned to the Napa Valley and, before coming to Sullivan Rutherford, worked at Schramsberg Vineyards making sparkling wines. Jeff’s skills caught the attention of technology entrepreneur Juan Pablo Torres-Padilla in 2016 when he was seeking to purchase an estate to fulfill his dream of producing wine in the Napa Valley.

Juan Pablo’s love of wine began as a young man when his grandfather introduced him to the great wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. His fervor for fine wine grew while living in Paris for many years and after visits to the area, he determined that the Rutherford appellation was where he wanted to be. Soon after purchasing Sullivan Rutherford, he added vineyard manager Mike Wolf, who initiated a vineyard restoration efforts designed to maximize the quality of the fruit.

With a solid team in place, Juan Pablo will oversee an aggressive plan to return Sullivan Rutherford to elite status.

Jeff Cole speaks passionately about the estate vineyards — mostly planted in cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and Malbec — and feels that the Rutherford appellation is the best place in the world to grow cabernet sauvignon. It is the terroir of great Napa Valley blends withvarietals that originated in Bordeaux, France.

He began a tasting of current vintages with an apology for omitting the sold-out Sullivan Rutherford Rose 2019 ($35). He then poured the Sullivan Rutherford Coeur de Vigne 2016 ($110), a cabernet sauvignon dominant blend ready to drink now and accessible to most palates. Drought conditions during 2016 resulted in smaller, more concentrated berries that led to a full-bodied wine with dark fruit and baked spice flavors. Described by Jeff as “red, bright and fresh,” its higher acidity and soft tannins provide the makings of a great food wine.

2015 Sullivan Family Vineyards Coeur de Vigne

Overcoming heat spikes and a late frost, the vintage 2017 Sullivan Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($110), Jeff said, is his best. A blend of cabernet (87%) and petit verdot (13%), aged in 50% new French oak, its blueberry flavors, hints of dark chocolate and sebaceous mouthfeel underscore a wine that, according to Cole, “has length and grip.”

Selected from only the top vineyard blocks, production of the 2016 Sullivan Rutherford James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon ($235), named after the founder, was limited to 500 cases. Aged 20 months in 80% new French oak with a bit of petit verdot added for acidity and structure, it is an expression of the finest fruit on the estate.

Earthy with complex aromas, it has a savory quality that adds to depth and richness on the palate. A vibrant acidity and earthiness drives Jeff’s desire to drink young wines, but, the “James O’Neil” will comfortably age for 15-20 years.

The intriguing abstract label titled “The Wedding” was created by James O’Neil Sullivan for a friend and deserves a closer look.

“James O’Neill label

Plans are underway for a new state-of-the-art production facility and hospitality center to enhance one of the valley’s most picturesque estates. Look for Sullivan Rutherford to resume its legacy as one of the Napa Valley’s iconic wine experiences.