Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fisherman's Wharf - Dungeness Crabs, Alcatraz and Shopping Bags

Fisherman's Wharf is a historic landmark in San Francisco. It is the original home of San Francisco's fishing fleet dating to the days of the Gold Rush (mid-19th century). Though there is still a very active fishing fleet here, the area has also developed into one of the city's largest tourist destinations. I was able to re-visit the area for the first time in years during my recent holiday visit.
Fisherman's Wharf is fun for the whole family, and an easy place to spend an entire day. Its attractions include Pier 39 (shopping and sea lions), Ghirardelli Square (chocolate and specialty shops), street performers (singing and juggling), and the San Francisco Maritime National Park (museum and historic vessels). One can take a boat over to Alcatraz for a day's tour, or just have a leisurely bay cruise. If you don't have good sea legs, just amble along the boardwalk; it has great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Fisherman's Wharf has become a foodies delight over the years. One can find a myriad of seafood delicacies, and the curbside stalls' and restaurants' steaming crab cauldrons fill the air with a delicious aroma. There's so many options to choose from here, whether its one of the dozens of sidewalk stands or more famous establishments such as Boudin (legendary sourdough bread bowls with clam chowder), Ghirardelli Chocolate (probably the best chocolate, ever), Buena Vista (famous Irish coffees), Fisherman's Grotto (Crab Lious and Cioppino), Alioto's (pan-fried calamari and seafood cannelloni).
Dungeness crab is a San Franciscan favorite. They are indigenous to North America's west coast, and are harvested from the northern reaches of the Aleutian Sea off Alaska and as far south as Point Conception in California (just north of Santa Barbara). They were once plentiful throughout the San Francisco Bay, but high demand has seen their numbers dwindle; today, crabbers must venture outside the bay's mouth to the Farallon Islands to find these tasty critters. Dungeness Crab meat is renowned for its perfectly tender texture, and its mild, sweet, and slightly nutty taste. It's popular for salads, bisques, and just plain old eating.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Holiday Festivities - California Cruise II

After Santa Barbara, we continued north to San Francisco. With only a few days remaining on our holiday, we opted to skip spending a night in San Luis Obispo (though we did stop for a quick look around, and some lovely Clam Chowder at one of my favorite places in the area, Splash Cafe). After a lazy drive through Monterey and San Jose, we arrived in San Francisco just on nightfall.
My good friends Andy, Hayes, Jay, and Mike were kind enough to put us up at their house for stay. It was really good to catch up with them, and nice to see San Francisco again; during my 2010 stay in Napa Valley, I was nearly their fifth flatmate as I spent most weekends staying at their house, touring the city, and surfing at Ocean Beach. We had a mellow first night in preparation for the New Year's Eve the following day, so we visited a couple local bars on Polk Street.
The following day, Kristin and I set out to meet two of her friends, Cargel and Pia, at Fisherman's Wharf. Of course, we had to take the cable car through the city. We fortuned upon beautiful, warm weather; our friends said the city had been plagued with cold, rainy conditions for weeks before. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and visiting with our friends before getting ready for the big night out.
Our friends had helped organize a private New Year's party at a North Beach bar. It was a fun night with good music, good drinks, and good friends. Thanks again to everyone for the hospitality and good times.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Holiday Festivities - California Cruise

After enjoying few days of snow in the White Mountains, we made the long drive back to San Diego, passing through the Tonto National Forest and the Salt River Canyon (pictured below), Phoenix, Yuma, and the Laguna Mountains.
After another night's stay in San Diego, we once again loaded up the car and headed north. We made our way through Los Angeles, opting to take the Pacific Coast Highway north through Malibu due to the beautiful clear day and bright blue skies. It dropped us back onto the 101 just south of Ventura, and we continued north to Santa Barbara to meet up with my good friend Nick.
We spent two nights beachfront at Nick's house in Isla Vista. Fortunately, it was holidays for the University of California at Santa Barbara so the normally boisterous community was peacefully quiet and allowed us to enjoy the beautiful sunsets, warm days, and great company. Nick even convinced me to have my one and only surf session during my trip, which was small and cold but fun.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Wine Should I Drink?

This is often the first question asked when I meet someone new and they find out I am a winemaker. It seems like a ridiculous question to ask. Would you ask a chef, "what food should I eat?" Well, maybe if it was in context.

Just as with food, wine selection is a personal choice. Wine has been produced for thousands of years, but the modern industry has become almost overwhelming diverse, especially for less-educated drinkers; differences in varietals, styles, production techniques, and places of origin only begin to describe the segmentation of the wide world of wine. Historically, wine selection was highly dependent on where one lived (if you lived in Burgundy, chances are you were drinking Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir), but the ever-developing free-trade market gives most consumers the ability to get wine from all over the world.

So, let's try to help our new acquaintance in the quest for the right wine. My friendly and helpful self responds to this question with a series of my own, which may include "what kind of wine do you normally drink?", "red or white?", "do you like cask wine (box wine)?", "how much do you usually spend on a bottle?", "how much are you willing to spend on a bottle?", and "how many wines are you looking to buy?".

I always tell people that if you enjoy drinking cask wine, or any lower price-point wine, keep doing it. There is plenty of good quality, cheaper wine available (I've made a lot over the years actually), particularly during large over-supply situations like many wine regions are seeing in the current market. Why spend more money?

Unfortunately, wine drinkers fall victim to society's pressure to showcase status via expense. There is no need to spend $50 on a bottle of wine, and not everyone can afford to do so. Wineries are subject to the simple economic principle of supply and demand just like any business; the increasing number of wine labels and supply of wine in today's market means that prices must go down to attract consumers. Savvy wine drinkers can find plenty of quality wines priced in the $11-15 range (if not even cheaper) depending on where you live and where you shop. 

Drink wine that you enjoy. This is the most important thing I can tell a wine consumer. Even if you have the means to spend $100 on a bottle of wine every night, drink $10 bottles if you like them more. Everyone has a different palate; the key is to keep an open mind and continue to try different wines. Eventually, you will find what suits you best.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Solid Swell in Bali

It's been pretty wet here since I returned to Bali at the beginning of the month, but there has still been plenty of opportunities to surf. The wind and weather have been more of an issue rather than lack of swell; it's not very fun driving a motorbike through torrential rain only to arrive at the beach to find blown-out conditions. The key is staying on top of weather conditions and knowing where to go (or spending the time to explore). Plus, rainy days often provide good surf with less crowds.
Nevertheless, I had a couple magical days last week. Solid swell and nice weather graced the island, providing great waves that I would venture to say were the best thus far this wet season. I surfed the spot above with two others one morning. The spot below I stumbled across that afternoon; I didn't get out to the lineup but I would guess it's solid 12-foot plus.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Language of Wine

My brother recently forwarded me this article, Tip of the Tongue (California Magazine, link here). The author W. Blake Gray is a wine writer who authors a blog, along with writing about wine for several publications. Gray makes some great points about how language and culture affect wine perception; it's a very interesting read.

Gray makes a good point about linguistic relativity; "the structure and syntax of a language affect the way its speakers experience the world". Gender plays a major role in wine language; wine is masculine in Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian) and though it's not as obvious in English, gender preferences are heavily prevalent in American wine culture as documented in various consumer opinion polls. Many wine companies aim marketing towards specific genders in advertising, whether its word choice in description or labeling (think of R Winery's Bitch label).
I am constantly asked my opinion on wines, and always try to think about who is asking the question. Is this person knowledgeable about wine? Does this person even drink wine? I do take into account a person's cultural background, but I must admit that I don't always think about my word choice. For instance, Gray talks about the connotation of the term "acidity" when referring to wine. As he mentions, American consumers often think of this as a negative while European consumers may take this as a positive; as a winemaker, I regard this as one of the most important aspects of a wine.

The importance of the wine aroma wheel is something he touches on as well. I have always suggested this to people who ask, "why do people use the term _________ to describe a wine? That sounds weird." I don't think people necessarily need to use these terms to discuss wines, but I think they help people identify what they are tasting more easily; as Gray says, it helps people "zero in on more exact sensations...". I also think it's important to understand these terms if one is reading a lot of reviews about wine or taking tasting classes.
The author also makes a reference to wine scoring and its importance to consumers. This is a hot topic in the wine industry at the moment as some think numbers are the "end all, be all" of wine reviews (you can see Tom Wark's recent take on it here, or some of Steve Heimoff's comments here). While I think numerical scores have their place, this is a topic for another day.

Wine drinking is such a different experience for different people. Whether it's experienced tasters comparing wine quality or inexperienced tasters trying to pair a wine with their dinner, cultural and linguistic differences are a major part of these experiences. At the end of the day, everyone wants to identify wines they will enjoy and need to use their own background to discuss this with others. This doesn't mean that finding the right words is easy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Holiday Festivities - White Mountains, White Christmas

After crossing the Hoover Dam, we made our way nearly all the way across Arizona. Desert plains gave way to snow-capped mountains as we entered Flagstaff. The sun was dropping quickly, and we soon found ourselves traversing nearly empty highways in the dark. We arrived in Lakeside around 8 PM, joining some family and friends at a small Christmas Eve party; unfortunately, we were a bit late but we were still able to help eat some of my Aunt's delicious cooking.
We awoke the following morning to beautiful blue skies and frost-covered windows. We bundled up and headed to morning church; tree branches bent under the weight of snow and everything was glistening white. When we arrived back home, Kristin and I walked down by the lake; it's been a long time since either of us saw snow, and we (especially me) reverted to childhood as we played in the snow and threw snowballs at each other.
The White Mountains is a beautiful area that most non-Arizonans know about. The words Arizona and snow are thought of by most Americans as antonyms, but indeed there is quite a bit here (I have been snowboarding here). In fact, the White Mountains had more snow over the holiday season than most of the famed snow areas in places like California (Tahoe, Mammoth) and Colorado (Vail, Breckenridge).
Though we only spent a few days here, the tranquility of the lake and its surroundings always bring me joy. This holds particularly true because I am always surrounded by family and friends during my visits here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Holiday Festivities - Hoover Dam

After our night in Las Vegas, Kristin and I continued east towards Arizona. I surprised her when I pulled the car off the road just a half hour outside of Las Vegas; I pretended to have missed an exit as we made a u-turn back and re-entered Nevada. She soon found out that we were joining the masses visiting the Hoover Dam. With one million people visiting the dam every year, it's interesting to think that literally driving over top the dam was the main passageway from Nevada to Arizona; the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge now bears the brunt of travel since completion in October 2010; it sits just 1.5 kilometers south of the dam itself and another 175 feet above the Colorado River (the dam is 725 feet tall, the bridge is 900). The picture below was taken from the backside of the dam, and shows the new bridge in the background.
The Hoover Dam was constructed during the early 1930's, during the heart of the Great Depression. It was the largest of its kind when it was built, and remains the largest in the Western Hemisphere to date. This massive hydroelectric power source powers seventeen generators to produce four billion kilowatts of electricity per year.
Behind the dam lies Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States. At capacity, the Lake can hold the equivalent of two years of the Colorado River's annual flow, 9.2 trillion gallons of water. Lake Mead is an even largest tourist attraction than the Hoover Dam, and welcomes over 9 million visitors per year.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cal Poly 2008 "Signature" Pinot Noir

I was fortunate enough to work as Cal Poly's student winemaker, in conjunction with mentor Christian Roguenant, to make the 2008 vintage of Cal Poly Wines. Along with the three "Signature" wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah), we also produced 2 blends (Mustang Red and Mustang White) and a red dessert wine (Poly Royal). Each of these wines has won several medals in major wine competitions throughout California. You can read my production notes for these wines by following the link to a previous issue of Cal Poly's wine and viticulture magazine, The Cluster (pg. 5). I copied the production notes for the Pinot Noir below:


Just a few months after the 2008 harvest, the majority of Cal Poly's Pinot Noir (Block 2) was pulled up and replanted to decrease the vineyard's variable ripening conditions. When planning harvest, I decided to split the pick between two days to maximize fruit ripeness. The first half of Block II arrived on September 12th at 25.5 Brix, 3.61 pH, and 6.40 g/L TA. The remaining portion of Block II and Block IV arrived on September 26th at 26.3 Brix, 3.69 pH, and 6.43 g/L TA. My goal was to create a Pinot Noir that was more closely related to a Burgundian style: fruit forward with less oak and phenolic structure. I decided the best way to achieve this was via native yeast fermentation, so a majority of the fruit was allowed to undergo whole-berry fermentation on its own in a small, open-top fermentor. To increase complexity, a small portion was fermented in half-ton picking bins with RC-212. Once fermentation was complete, the must was gently pressed into barrels for eight months maturation. A combination of 30% new French and Hungarian oak, 20% one- and two-year old French oak, and 50% neutral barrels were used to create the last Pinot Noir from these vines. 

As discussed here in my previous post, this wine (along with the 2008 "Signature" Chardonnay) is currently available for sale only through the Gold Medal Wine Club, which bought out Cal Poly's stock to offer to its members and customers.
Winery - Cal Poly Wines
Location- San Luis Obispo, California
Wine - Cal Poly 2008 "Signature" Pinot Noir
Varietals - Pinot Noir
Appellation - San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol - 14.3% v/v 
Price - $30 USD (buy here for $19.50)

Nose/Aroma - Cherry and slightly floral.
Palate/Flavors - Black cherries and raspberries, cola, slight vanilla. Well balanced, medium acid structure without too much phenolics. Complex flavor profile that has good fruit and secondary characteristics.
Style - Burgundian more than Californian Pinot.
Food Pairing - This is a food-friendly wine; try with some nice seared ahi tuna.
Comments - Of course, this can't be considered an unbiased review. Nevertheless, this is a really nice wine. Wild fermentation combined with choice Hungarian and French oak helped provide a great combination of flavors and texture.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Holiday Festivities - Bright Lights, But Not For Christmas

After spending nearly a week in San Diego, Kristin and I began are seemingly endless road trip. We started out heading east through the desert; The drive was refreshingly uneventful, and we arrived in Las Vegas just after dark. Being my first trip to Las Vegas, the lights were a bit overwhelming and led us on a slight detour en route to our hotel. Nevertheless, we found the Imperial Palace pretty quickly and settled in to our room with a nice view over the strip.
The night air was chilly, which made the warmth inside the casinos extra welcoming. With just one night and neither of us being much of gamblers (we both tried are hand briefly to no avail), we mainly just cruised the strip, enjoyed a few shows (my only barrel of my US trip pictured below, courtesy of the Bellagio), and had a few drinks.
I was thoroughly impressed with the scale and grandeur that is Las Vegas. I know that gambling generates a lot of revenue, but it's hard to believe that it's enough to keep all of these massive casinos happily, and lucratively, operating (it must be expensive to create an indoor version of daytime Venice). It's also amazing to see so much infrastructure in the middle of the desert, surrounded by emptiness, where people pilgrimage to for holiday debauchery.
I guess that's why they call it Sin City; at the end of the day, whatever makes people happy is fine with me. It's a nice place to visit, but I couldn't see myself spending too much time there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Holiday Festivities - Too Cold in San Diego

Leaving behind Bali for winter in California sounded a little bit daunting, but I was assuming the  mild year-round weather San Diego is known for would be bearable. Unfortunately, Kristin and I arrived to find it was freezing! It had been nearly a year since I was last in San Diego. It was so great getting to see my family. The biggest surprise was how much my nieces have grown; I even got to meet the youngest for the first time!
With little surf to be found and my desire to avoid the cold water, I wasn't really planning on surfing. Instead, we did some touring around: ice skating at the outdoor rink at Horton Plaza, walking along Garnet Avenue and Crystal Pier, hiking the cliffs over Black's Beach, and visiting the Children's Pool in La Jolla.
I used to visit Children's Pool and the surrounding area relatively often. The small sandy beach is right in the heart of La Jolla and there are numerous surf spots nearby that I frequented. Funded by Ellen Browning Scripps in 1931 (think Scripps Pier and Scripps Research Institute), Children's Pool was created when Casa Beach was partially enclosed by a seawall to create a zone safe from crashing waves. There had always been a small seal population present at the beach (aptly named Seal Rock lies just 100 meters north of the sandy enclave), but it wasn't until the 1980's that a rapidly increasing seal population along the California coast lead to the invasion of the beach itself by seals and sea lions. Though it is a popular tourist attraction, there is no swimming in the Children's Pool due to seal pollution; since I can remember, there has been an ongoing debate between residents that like the seals and those that want them removed.
Another favorite pastime of mine was visiting Old Town. My family and I used to visit there for dinner and a tour through the shops at the Bazaar del Mundo, which unfortunately are all but gone. The few shops now bearing this name are located in a different location off Taylor Street.
Of course, we had to finish at least one evening at my favorite sunset spot. I have so many memories of this particular viewpoint area; it's just such a serene and beautiful place.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Back in Bali: Trading Cold for Wet

After over 24 hours of continuous traveling, we arrived back in Bali at 2 AM Saturday morning. Rain fell consistently as we boarded our taxi for the short ride out to the Bukit. It dropped me at my home, which was looking rather dilapidated after a few weeks vacancy.

Tropical weather, particularly during the rainy season, requires constant upkeep of homes. The floors and bathrooms were a mess, littered with gecko droppings and dirt; all manner of items were covered in mold, from the bed sheets to clothes to cabinets. The biggest issue was the lack of water; I searched the front yard bushes for quite a while to discover the water valve had been capped.

I discovered the following morning that an unpaid water bill (never delivered) was to blame. Despite the constant rain since arriving two days ago, I find myself praying for water!

Hopefully, the water will be turned back on today and I can start getting the house back in order. For now, I'm heading off to search for some surf. As I get settled, there will be plenty more coming here, including my holiday adventures in America and plenty of wine talk.