Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vintage 2013 with Vasse Felix Winery

I'm excited to finally be locked in for vintage 2013 in Australia's Margaret River wine region. I've spent the last couple months applying for my visa and booking tickets so I can join Vasse Felix for vintage beginning in February. I am set to arrive in late January and have yet to sort out my accommodations or transportation, so if anyone in the area can help, please contact me and let me know!

Vasse Felix is one of Australia's premier wineries. Its long list of accolades includes admission to Wine & Spirits Magazine 'Top 100' list of international wineries (one of only six Australian wineries to make the list) and Winery of the Year in the Western Australia Wine Guide 2013. Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock was also recently honored as Winemaker of the Year 2012 by Gourmet Traveler WINE Magazine.

Vasse Felix's storied history began in 1967 when Doctor Tom Cullity planted Margaret River's first vineyard. When its 1972 Riesling was awarded a Gold medal in the Perth Royal Show, attention from around the world turned on Vasse Felix and the potential of Margaret River as a premium wine region. Today, Vasse Felix utilizes a state-of-the-art winemaking facility to produce wines from its three estate vineyards: Wilyabrup (the original vineyard site with additional blocks), Karridale, and Carbunup. Their focus on the region's best varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, has allowed them to create their highly-acclaimed Heytesbury wines; these flagship wines showcase the best of the Margaret River and are backed by Vasse Felix's Estate and Classic wines, produced from several varietals including Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Shiraz.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in the Philippines

I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays as much as I am! I feel like I've been here in the Philippines for quite some time, but it's only been a week. I'm so grateful to my girlfriend Kristin and her family for graciously welcoming me to join them during the Christmas season this year.
Christmas in the Philippines is a big deal. The country is touted as having the longest Christmas season in the world; it's not uncommon  to hear Christmas music from September through to January. 90% of the country's population is Christian, with a total of 80% belonging to the Catholic Church. The prevalence of Catholicism stems from Spanish colonization in the 16th century; though the modern-day Philippines enjoys a secular government, Catholicism was the state religion under Spanish rule until 1898 when the United States took control.
The true Christmas season here begins on the 16th of December. This is when Simbang Gabi (night mass) begins, with a nightly service until Christmas Eve. After the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass (which is really around 10 PM), families gather to enjoy the traditional Noche Buena feast. This is probably the biggest Christmas celebration, when traditional foods are enjoyed and presents are distributed. I really enjoyed Noche Buena with Kristin's family; I don't think we made it home until 5 on Christmas day! Despite the Catholic Church's mandate that Christmas celebrations end just after Epiphany Day  (Three Kings' Day), many Filipinos continue to celebrate well into January with the Feast of the Black Nazarene and the Feast of the Santo Nino. They don't have a white Christmas here, but they sure have a long Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Short Stay in Bali

My short stay in Bali is coming to an end today. I'm catching a flight out this evening and will arrive in the Philippines tomorrow to spend the holiday season with my girlfriend Kristin and her family. I've never traveled to the Philippines, so I'm excited to explore a new country that I've heard so many wonderful things about!

It's been great catching up with my friends here in Bali and enjoying some really fun surf. Besides a couple flat days earlier this week, my stay here was graced with lots of good, uncrowded waves! Thanks to John, Dewi, and their daughter Jelita for welcoming me into their home for my stay here; they treated me like family, it was like being at home!

After my two weeks of adventures in the Philippines, I'll be returning to Bali with Kristin for some more holidaying before it's time to head off for my next vintage contract.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Surf Wanderer Interview & Summer Recap Finalist

Read Surfwanderer Interview: Mike Horton.

Also, make sure to check out my Summer Recap page; I'm one of 12 finalists!

I was pretty excited when Shawn Tract from Surf Wanderer Online Surf Magazine wanted to interview me! Surf Wanderer is a relatively new publication that has great content about all things surf: surf tips, board design talk, travel stories, surfer interviews, and more. Shawn is not only the founder and editor of Surf Wanderer, he works as a columnist for DEEP Surf Magazine, a contributor for numerous other surf publications, and a full-time teacher. Not to mention he's a ripping surfer and family man. Shawn, it was great talking with you and hopefully we can catch up for a surf next time I'm in California!
Me at Padang Padang. Photo: Everton Luis
Shawn found me through my entry into the Summer Recap contest. Summer Recap is an online venue for surfers and skaters to showcases themselves; users can create their own page in minutes and attract attention of sponsors and journalists through their writing, photos, and videos. Make sure and check out my page, and wish me luck!

Friday, December 14, 2012

EVA Air LIES - Traveling with Surfboards

Over the years, I've become rather accustomed to the hassles of airline traveling. Between traveling to work, traveling to surf, and traveling just to travel, I spend a lot of time in airports and on planes. I easily take over a dozen domestic and international flights every year. I've gotten lost walking through Singapore's massive Changi Airport, frustrated waiting at the security check at Los Angeles International Airport, and amazed by a freshly crashed plane resting off the runway at Sumbawa's Brangbiji Airport. In fact, I composed this halfway through a 12-hour layover in Taipei's ShongShan Airport. 

I don't mind aimlessly wandering through terminals. I don't mind waiting in lines. I don't mind cramming myself into a middle seat for a fifteen hour flight. I don't even mind seeing a crashed plane at the end of the runway during landing (little disconcerting, but at least it's not mine).

I do mind being lied to, being called a liar, being mistreated, and being extorted by airlines. 

Any surfer that travels with boards has at least one horror story about airline travel. Expensive baggage fees are the norm, and broken boards are commonplace. It seems unfair when surfboards are not included as normal baggage (some carriers allow this, but many do not and charge hefty fees). I understand that surfboards are fragile and should require some extra care in handling. But it seems a bit overreaching for an airline to charge high baggage fees for surfboards AND require surfers to sign a waiver that the airline is not liable for any damage to these boards?

I always research airlines before booking my flight, so I will happily pay the excess baggage fee for my surfboards. I weigh the cost of the ticket, cost of extra baggage fees, travel time, etc. to determine what's best for me. I review the website and even call the customer service to confirm the baggage fees once I have my confirmation number. I've had problems with airlines over board baggage fees in the past but nothing compared to what my girlfriend and I experienced with EVA Air

I dropped my girlfriend Kristin off for a flight with EVA Air in November. She was flying from Los Angeles to the Philippines via Taipei. She had called the ticketing office the month before and informed them she would have one surfboard (she disclosed accurate dimensions) for her flight, and they advised it would cost $55; they agent even booked it into the computer. When she arrived at the airport to check-in, the clerk told her the fee for the board would be $150. After she told them the ticketing office quoted a price of $55, a lengthy discussion ensued involving multiple airline staff quoting prices of $55, $75, $100, $150, and $300! Eventually, it came down to $75 or the board doesn't go on the plane; she gave in and agreed to pay. 

Fast forward to the 10th of December. I've just dropped off my rental car and made my way to the Los Angeles Airport. I'm heading back to Bali via Taipei with EVA Air. I called the ticketing office the week before my flight and was quoted a price of $75 for my surfboard (I disclosed dimensions over the size of my bag); again, the agent tells me she's booked it into the computer. I arrive at the check-in counter all smiles, excited for some sun and surf. I travel light, so I have my carry-on backpack (6 kg) and my surfboard bag (18 kg). The friendly agent informs me I need to pay $300 for my board to travel. I laughed in shock before telling her I called in advance and was told it would cost $75. She responded saying that EVA Air "NEVER charges that little for a surfboard" (see above price quote). After she's looked through the computer and talked with the ticketing office, she "can't confirm that I was told this price" and that I will have to pay the $300 if I want to take my surfboard bag on the plane. I told her that she needed to have the conversation recordings pulled up to prove I was not lying (like most companies today, EVA Air records calls to ensure 'customer satisfaction'). She told me that this was "impossible".

An hour after our discussion had begun, the clerk informed me my board bag was small enough to qualify for a $100 fee. I told her this was unacceptable but she responded that I had two options: pay $100 or leave the surfboard behind at the airport. Good options. I'm at LAX, two and a half hours from home. Do I just abandon my board here? Call a friend to come and pick it up and store it for 8 months until I get back to California? They knew I was trapped and had to pay.

Is EVA Air doing this intentionally? Twice in the span of a few weeks, they quoted a low price for baggage fees when the passenger inquired, then increased it when they arrive at the airport. Then, EVA clerks bargained down the price until the passenger finally gave in. If this is how they operate, this is unethical business practice to say the least. Needless to say, it was certainly one of the worst ways I have ever started a trip. Thanks EVA Air!

Please feel free to share any stories involving baggage fees for surfboards or other 'over-sized baggage' in the comments below. I would love to make some suggestions on how to protect yourself from this type of experience, but I already tried myself! Maybe record your phone call with the airline?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is iconic. It is one of the most recognized architectural structures in the United States, and arguably the world. The bridge spans the mouth of San Francisco Bay, linking the city of San Francisco to Marin County and northern California. Prior to its construction, many believed it was impossible to build a bridge: the water was too deep for suspension towers, high winds were dangerous, and thick fog posed a significant threat to the heavy shipping traffic. After many years of debate and designs, architects managed to surpass the obstacles and the bridge was constructed in the 1930's. When it was completed in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and it remains in the top ten to this day.
I imagine most San Francisco area residents take the Golden Gate Bridge for granted. I'm sure it loses its novelty when you see it everyday, but it's a major tourist attraction for visitors. Despite how much time I've spent in San Francisco over the past several years, I couldn't help but stopping to take a few photographs when I crossed over from San Francisco on my way north to Sonoma County recently.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Torbreck 2004 'The Factor'

Torbreck has an interesting background. Founder Dave Powell fermented the first 3-tons of Shiraz (Syrah) in 1994 from an ancient vineyard he had nurtured back to health over the previous three years. This became the first Torbreck wine. Powell used share cropping agreements to take the reins managing vineyard sites throughout Barossa Valley and built Torbreck into an internationally acclaimed brand over the past sixteen years. Torbreck now works with over two dozen vineyards, producing Rhone-style wines using the varietals of Grenache, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Shiraz, and Viognier.

'The Factor' is "a homage to the great old Shiraz vines of the Barossa Valley and the growers who painstakingly tend and nurture them each year". The 2004 was aged for 24 months in 100% French oak (30% new).

Winery - Torbreck Wines
Location- Barossa Valley, Australia
Wine - Torbreck 2004 Barossa Valley 'The Factor'
Varietals - Shiraz (Syrah)
Appellation - Barossa Valley
Alcohol - 14.5% v/v
Price - $120 AUD ($125 USD)

Nose/Aroma - Rich dark berries and dusty oak with a slight floral note.
Palate/Flavors - Beautifully structured wine, velvety mouthfeel balanced with good acid. Flavors of Black cherries and blueberries, pipe tobacco, and a certain meatiness. Long finish of dried currant and mocha.
Food Pairing - Seared quail with red wine reduction sauce and sauteed chanterelle mushrooms.
Comments - This is a wonderful wine, very elegant yet powerful. Interesting experience drinking this without any background knowledge (I knew that it was a Barossa Shiraz, probably of decent quality due to the packaging but that was pretty much it; I had it buried in my collection, with no idea where it came from). I shared this with my dad and we were both pleasantly surprised by its quality, and not surprised when we found out it had a hefty price tag and some good reviews.

Other Australian wine reviews - Langmeil 2004 Three Gardens

Thursday, December 6, 2012

San Francisco

I had several meetings scheduled in the San Francisco Bay area last week. They all went very well and I'm excited for the new opportunities that I'm working on.
I drove up from San Luis Obispo early last Sunday through some wet weather before I found the sun and my good friend Miles at his Ocean Beach home mid-morning. We headed down to the beach and enjoyed some really fun overhead surf. It was great catching up with Miles, who is always so positive and stoke on life! I like the surf up in this area; conditions can be fickle, but there always seems to be decent size around in autumn. I had a couple fun surfs during the week too, smaller waves but fewer people.

I was able to book my usual accommodations for the duration of my stay. Andy, Hayes, Jay, and Mike let me stay at their home on the other side of the city. These are some of my best friends from college days, who have probably become rather accustomed to me crashing at their house over the years.

As always, I was glad my brother was able to squeeze me into his hectic schedule. We met up for a nice dinner and a few beers at Pyramid Brewing Company in Berkeley.

Thanks to everyone for the hospitality, and hopefully I'll be back in the area around vintage time next year!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tap the Keg!

What does this phrase bring to mind? For many, it probably makes you think about parties during college days. Think about how many kegs you were involved in drinking during those days, or even the number of beers you buy a week from a bar tap.
 
The brewing industry relies heavily on kegs. They allow brewers to sell beer in quantity while saving the expense of bottling. This decrease in production costs is extended to consumers (to some degree), meaning that you can buy a 58.6-liter (15.5-gallon) keg for significantly less than the equivalent in bottles (nearly 14, 12-packs of 12-ounce bottles). Quality is another argument behind drinking beer off tap. Bottled beer has significantly higher levels of oxygen when compared to kegs (headspace in bottles, none in kegs); oxidation causes beer to become stale, ruining its taste. Using carbon dioxide or nitrogen when pumping kegs keeps them pressurized with inert gas, allowing them to be used over an extended period of time and stay fresh.

So, kegs are good for beer. What about wine? The short answer is yes. Oxidation is generally considered a negative, though low levels of oxygen (VERY low) prove beneficial for particular wines during aging. Restaurants and bars that serve wine by the glass suffer significant losses due to partially used bottles. This loss is avoided via the use of kegs with a proper gassing system, and can easily be setup using the same equipment as beer kegs. While some consumers will associate wine in kegs with lower quality, I think that informed consumers will quickly understand the added benefits.

Using kegs for wine distribution is still relatively new to the industry. Forward-thinking Niven Family Wine Estates began filling and distributing kegs for retail sales over a year ago and have received excellent feedback. They started off using traditional stainless steel kegs, but have since switched to PET kegs. PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, is a type of plastic used for food and beverage containers, and synthetic fibers (commonly referred to as polyester in fabric applications). These single-use kegs are fully recyclable, and eliminate the headaches of getting kegs returned and cleaned before re-filling. The photograph above shows a basic kegging system in use.