With the creative design of my partner Jose, this blog has a new look. Jose wanted my life to be easier for inputting of info, so he created a whole new Web design. (Thanks)

Also connected to this new blog design is my new best friend, Noel Yates, of Korbel Champagne Cellars. I have to thank Noel, because it was she who gave the pun to me that I’d been searching for, for the last year, “Juicy Tales.” When Noel E-mailed me, thanking me for my “Juicy Tales,” she hit a chord and I asked permission to use her great pun as a name for what I’m doing.

New friends are great, and so are old ones. This new blog begins with my new one, Noel; and it ends with Martine Nicolas, an old one…. You’ll have to weed through this blog to get to what I’m writing about my former Robert Mondavi Winery colleague. Martine’s still there; still? anchoring me to that wonderful world.

So, off we went. A week on the road… Juicy tales et al…

Tuesday, July 11, 2006: Last Tuesday began by attending the monthly Suisun Valley Grape Growers Association board of directors’ meeting. Without being there once a month, there’s no way to keep up with this fast paced group. Currently, SVGGA has financial support from local government agencies. That will come to a close in a few years, and at that time they’ll have to be self sustaining. So, while they’re dealing with the squeeze of consolidation within big wine companies, who are seemingly buying up every single wine brand they can get their hands on, smaller growers (like the ones in Suisun Valley) are needing to find creative ways to get good prices for their grapes from artisan wineries. While this is going on, they also have to be looking toward the future. They’re acutely aware that the strength in their numbers is what will help them to succeed as passionate, grape-growing farmers.

At the end of that meeting, notes in hand, Jose and I drove to Mendocino’s Pacific Star Winery. Proprietor, winemaker, marketing and sales manager Sally Ottoson greeted us with her three cats, three dogs, two sheep, and the great grey heron flying overhead, who’s become a constant. Sally is a one-woman show. She does it all, with the wheels in her head churning constantly, as she dreams up yet more ways to march into the future. The kind of creative intelligence that she demonstrates is unfathomable. Sally and I are now going to be working more closely, moving beyond our PS I Love You relationship (Sally’s one of the original start-up members). She has amazing stories to tell.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006: The night had been picture perfect. This day, we awakened to the sounds of the Pacific’s powerful waves crashing onto the rocks that lay below Pacific Star’s cliffs. As we gathered our belongings, and emerged from Sally’s guest “Bung-a-low,” I walked up to her home, noticing the deer track indentations in her driveway. Commenting on them, Sally told me, “If you move a flash light around at night, the night glows back with a million eyes. (Note to self: the next time we’re up there, sit motionless on the porch at night and observe.)

Leaving Pacific Star, we were originally going to be driving back inland to head north, but Trentadue Winery’s Ned Carton, national sales manager and a seasoned traveler, told us to drive up the coast, because it was a beautiful drive that would blow our minds. So, we altered our route, and… along with Sally’s endorsement… we headed north toward Highway 101 and Crescent City, California.

Once there, we found an isolated hotel right on the water’s edge. The beach was littered with driftwood, piled high from earlier storms. As someone who is currently making driftwood and sea shell mobiles (in my infinite spare time), I thought I had died and gone to driftwood heaven. Gathering pieces of extreme unusual shape, I pondered whether I should leave the window open during the night, since this is historically a tsunami town. We did, and the sounds of the sea were a welcome change from the drone of Highway 101 that never sleeps as part of our lives in Windsor.

Thursday, July 12, 2006: Jose drove us from Crescent City to Eugene, Oregon. We stopped and had lunch in the National Redwood Forest before leaving California. This was an awe-inspiring experience, just as Sally said it would be. Trees of immense proportion make one feel totally insignificant against their massive backdrop.

Thursday was a big day, and was the original reason for going “on the road.” Through the PS I Love You group and the Society of Wine Educators (SWE), I had organized a Petite Sirah panel for their annual conference. The involvement from the group set a new standard for excellence, I’m betting. Below is the list of those who participated. Also, at a later date, we’ll post a recording of that seminar, because even panel member John Monnich of Silkwood stated, “I’m learning a lot about making Petite Sirah from this panel.”

Alphabetically by company:

  • Patty Bogle; proprietor, Bogle Vineyards & Winery
  • Robert Brittan; winemaker, viticulturist, Brittan Family Vineyards
  • Adam Richardson; winemaker, Concannon Vineyards
  • Bill Regan; winemaker, Foppiano Vineyards
  • Jo Diaz; executive director, PS I Love You, Inc.
  • Al Perry; winemaker and viticulturist, Robert Biale Vineyards & Winery
  • Dave Pramuk, proprietor and marketing director, Robert Biale Vineyards & Winery
  • Kent and Kathy Rosenblum; proprietor and winemaker, Rosenblum Cellars
  • John Monnich; proprietor and winemaker, Silkwood Wines
  • Miro Tcholakov; winemaker, Trentadue Winery
  • Ken Wilson; proprietor and viticulturist, Wilson Vineyards

Other members of PS I Love You, who could not attend, but still sent their wine for review, were the following:

  1. EOS Estate Vineyards & Winery
  2. Langtry Estate & Vineyards
  3. Marr Cellars
  4. Parducci Wine Cellars
  5. Pedroncelli Winery
  6. Victor Hugo Winery

I dare say this was one of the most powerful gatherings for public educational disbursement of information on Petite Sirah, ever. On August 8, 2006, Foppiano Vineyards will host its Fifth Annual Petite Sirah Noble Symposium. All of the above people and brands gather to continue discussions of how to make even better Petite Sirah in the coming years. There are many more vintners who attend the symposium, and the list is too long to include here. This event is not open to educators or to the public. It’s an event that is comprised of viticulturists, winemakers, and proprietors who gather for their insider discussions. The SWE event was similar, but the information that was shared on this day was for 146 wine educators in the audience, who will now be educating those wanting to know more about Petite Sirah.

PS I Love You provided a “who’s who,” to a crowd that far exceeded the original 100 that were supposed to be have slots in this “session option.” A very well attended event, this day demonstrated the focus of the membership of PS I Love You. Just as the name suggests, it’s about “the few, the proud, and the passionate.”

Friday, July 13, 2006: We drove to Mount Shasta City, California. We stopped here because Jose had heard that this is a really spiritual town, and our curiosity was piqued. We checked into a motel on the southern outskirts of town, and then drove back into the heart of this city with its snow-capped Mount Shasta as a back drop. As I was filling our bottles with Mount Shasta’s spring water from a street’s fountain, I heard Native American drumming. Like a moth to a flame, I crossed the street and I asked permission to stand closely by to listen.

I wanted to intimately listen rather than to hear it from afar. We were handed drums. Before we knew what had happened, we were in the inner circle drumming away, and I was flashing back on my readings of “Seven Arrows,” written by Hyemeyohsts Storm. We sang about our give-aways, and we sang about what we were thankful for. We drummed, we sang, we laughed, until we had all had enough for the day. This is a “Friday Night” event that’s been going on for years. Before we left Jose promised to return in 10 years.

Saturday, July 14, 2006: We drove the final leg of our journey back to Sonoma County, 1,200+ miles later. Dr. Ernest Bates of Black Coyote Chateau was having his annual party at his lovely Napa home. We were invited, and had we not been two hours early by the time we got to Napa, we would have stopped by. Regrettably, we had to keep moving toward our home base, thinking that “being off the road” would be a good thing for at least a day or two. (I leave on Thursday this week for a trip to North Carolina to visit my daughter Katie and her family, and will be squeezing in a trip to the Biltmore Estate.) So, we thought our journey was about to come an end, and we’d have time to unpack and catch our breath.

As Jose played the messages on the home phone, there was a message left on Wednesday from Martine Nicolas (remember above?). We heard, in her stately voice say, “Hi Jose and Jo, this is a voice from the past… I’m calling to see if you’ve been invited to the Robert Mondavi Winery 40th celebration at the winery this Sunday. If not, I’ll get you in, and I’d love to see you, again. Just let me know.”

The beat goes on… It’s Sunday morning, and I’m posting…