Thursday, December 19, 2013

Three Decades Done

the Bistro girls, circa 2003
Six or seven more to go? It's an interesting thought. I feel like most of the first decade of my life is now a thin collection of blurry film-like memories that slick over the surface of childhood. I remember how much I hated it when I was turning six, and I tried to stay upstairs because if I didn't go down to celebrate then it wouldn't really be my birthday and I would still be five. I also remember how much I disliked everyone saying "ooOOooh!  Double digits!" when I was turning ten. I think I tried to ward off this irritating chorus by making something up about zero not properly being a digit.

at the Patty House, spring 2006

My second decade is a little clearer, though the anguish of being a teenager has faded, thankfully, into something curiously odd. It's as if I'm looking at a tiny goblin through the magnifying glass of time, trying to figure out what she's always so sore about. Teenagers are unbearable, even to teenagers. And now, dear friends, the third decade of my life is also coming to a close. Next Thursday marks the end.

me and my besties, August 2006, before
I left for Scotland.



My 20s are easy to remember at the moment, though I really have to reach back to remember where I was and what I worried about when I was turning 20 years old. It was the end of 2003. I would have been half-way through second year of undergrad, living with my roomie, Rachel, in a small but clean basement apartment. I took a course on existential philosophy and realized the world was an empty box that I could fill up with meaning as I chose to.  My 20s were wild and adventurous. I'm a seeker of experiences, and so I experienced. I partied, I learned; I moved to Europe, I came home; I did an MA, I fell in love, I moved to Europe again. Then I came home again, moved again, and finished out the decade in Toronto with my partner and my cat.

me and Ambie, just after I moved to Montreal, 2007
Some friends who have turned 30 this year seem to lament the passing of their 20s, and even feel a little nostalgic for "their youth." Seemingly in contrast, though I'm sure that my friends are really quite happy with who they are and how their lives are going, I'm happy to say goodbye to my 20s. It was a really good decade, but also full of crap. Just think of all the crap I waded through in my 20s: crap boyfriends, crap jobs, crap internships (unpaid!), crap wine (silly, ignorant me), crap apartments, crap decisions (see: boyfriends, jobs, apartments, wine.); it's crap all around. Of course, all this crap was tremendously useful to me in figuring out what is not crap. Sometimes it takes mistaking heaps and heaps of crap for not-crap to realize what the tell-tale signs of not-crap really are. That's what one's 20s are for. I definitely used mine wisely.

Katie and Amy and me (and Chris)
New Year's eve, 2007

Now, with a firm handle on how to discern not-crap people and things, I have a life full of Good Stuff: great partner, great friends, great apartment, great job, great plans for the future. That said, now is not the time to become lackadaisical. There are things to do in the coming fourth decade of my life.

I want to get a PhD - round out my academic portfolio with yet another degree, and use it to push my career forward. In academia or in governmental work, this will be useful to me. Even if it wasn't, it would still be worthwhile, because learning and undertaking an intense project like a dissertation are valuable. I'm also excited to take a break from 9-5 for a while - even with rewarding work, the routine can feel like drudgery.

Grad Students on Strike! McGill, 2008

I want to make a decision about getting my black belt. I suppose that I've been thinking about doing this for a while now, but in my 30's I'm challenging myself to make a decision about it. I will either decide that I really am driven to finish my training and get my belt, or I'll decide that it's actually not that important to me and I'll set the idea aside in a more serious way. I'm always dithering about getting it, and I dislike that. I will decide to be satisfied with a brown belt, or I will get the black.



I want to move somewhere new. I hope that Drew is on-board with this one, and I know that circumstance will have a lot to do with it, but I'd love for us to move to a new city. Nothing against Toronto, but I like discovering new cities, and though I've only been in Toronto for three years (and four months), I already feel the pull of a new place. Perhaps a smaller place. Maybe Halifax, or Fredericton, or Winnipeg, or Saskatoon. Maybe Thunder Bay, maybe Ottawa. Just some-place new, small, easy to exit and enter, with really serious winters and affordable rental properties that have little yards where I could plant a vegetable garden and maybe have backyard-chickens. Where Drew can be a physiotherapist and I can do academic and/or policy work. Some-place like that.

en route to a Dream Party,
with Lisa and Elaine, dressed
as David Bowie, 2008
I want to become an Eccentric Aunt. I do realize that this one isn't totally within my control, as it's highly dependent on my sister and my friends having children. However, as it's likely that all of them will have children in the next decade (because I think all of them have stated that children are a goal of theirs), I'm not overly worried about obtaining children whom I will Aunt. My role in fulfilling this objective is to become the zaniest, weirdest, out-going-est Aunt who is always wearing amazing and unusual outfits and brings strange gifts from other countries that the kids can keep in drawers and never quite know what to do with, and have really fun and adventurous sleep-overs. Imagination mandatory.

my 25th birthday (and
perfectly decorated cake)
2008
I want to travel lots more. This is an essential part of fulfilling Eccentric-Aunt-related goals, but is also a passion of mine, so I think it might happen even it if wasn't explicitly on my fourth-decade list. That said, there's no better way to ensure that something happens than to list it outright, so here it is. Some of my top places that I want to travel to (and with Drew, I hope) are Japan (specifically Shikoku, with Haruka), Hong Kong (with Melissa), New Zealand, Reykjavik, Scotland (specifically to drive the coast to the Highlands with Drew), Kenya (with Lisa), and Berlin. I'm so excited to start ticking these off! I also really want to take another trip with my sister, this time without a whole brigade of people with us.

I want to take more time for snuggles. I'm the type of person who will use all the time available to do things that require doing and which I don't want to do before doing something that I do want to do. I will put the laundry away or do dishes before I sit down to read my book for a few minutes, even though I could easily do these tasks some other time. Sometimes when Drew pulls me onto
walking a vineyard in
Beaujolais with Amanda and
Marianne, 2009
the couch my mind automatically flies through the list of the next few tasks I need to get done, until I quiet it by remembering that these moments are made of gold, and can't be wasted. I need to be reminded that taking five to sit on the couch is not only OK, but EXCELLENT. It seems like it's ever easier to forget to take a few minutes' break before leaping into some kind of action. I will remember to do this, and I won't lose sight of the importance of these small moments and gestures.

I want to wear Fun Things every day. It's too easy to be boring and lazy when it comes to getting dressed. I have deep respect for comfy jeans and a t-shirt, and I know many days on which this is the perfect outfit. I also know that getting dressed for work sucks, and that a professional dress code is death to creativity. I have a wardrobe full of really interesting clothes, and this decade, they're going to earn their keep. Shoes, this is your warning. Be ready.

Drew and me at the Paulaner brewery,
Starkbierfest, Munich, winter 2010

I want to love deeply, be grateful, and stay open-minded. Age and stress and responsibility can really take all the magic out of life, amirite? I'm staging a resistance. I've been staging it all my life, but I'm redoubling my efforts now. The main requirement for loving deeply, being grateful, and staying open is the same: letting myself and my ideas be vulnerable. I have to trust that I won't get hurt, but foster resilience in case I do. Resentment, disillusionment, cynicism, and discontentment are all sorts of markers of adulthood or maturity that we put up, as if you're not really a grown-up until you can look at the world with jaded eyes and say "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." I reject that. It's a crap attitude, and I'm leaving crap in my 20s. Hope, optimism, and trust are as delicate as snowflakes; all it takes to crush them is a negative thought or a careless word. I will work to cultivate positivity in myself and around me, and use it to love people, work for a better world, appreciate the universe around me, and never close myself off to wonderment and joy.

Get ready 30's, here I come.

Me and Drew, snowshoeing in Algonquin,
winter 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Santa is Gearing Up

One week until Christmas Eve! 
The countdown is on - 'tis the season for magic.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Darling Darkling

Two years ago, an amazing thing happened in Prince Edward County. St. Laurent, an aromatic red Austrian vinifera grape, ripened properly for the very first time at Chadsey's Cairns. Being Austrian (and a relative of Pinot Noir), St. Laurent is no stranger to cooler climates, however Ontario's short season and unpredictable frosts from the Great Lakes has made growing it here a challenge. Red grapes, as we know, are not Ontario's strong suit. It was thus a great occasion in 2011, when all the weather patterns came together serendipitously to make a ripe batch of St. Laurent for Richard and Vita. 


What does one do with a batch of St. Laurent? It's not exactly a common varietal. I have tried it only once, and that's not enough to really form an opinion about its virtues and characteristics. Chadsey's decided that with their hard-won picking they would make single varietal, traditional method sparkling wine. Why not?

The resulting wine, which was fermented in the bottle and rested on lees for 18 months, is the 2011 Darkling, and unlike anything I've tried before. It's a vibrant deep ruby, with a fine and persistent mousse. Darkling has a creamy yeastiness to it, but what takes centre stage are the flavours of red berries and the flash of acidity. This is a dry wine, but there is a suggestion of sweetness on the palate, like the sweetness of a tart raspberry - something you imagine but don't necessarily taste. The finish is long and tastes like just-picked strawberries. There's depth to the flavour and plenty of structure to carry it along. I think this wine is most like a blanc de noirs because of the distinct fruitiness on the palate, and I suppose that isn't too surprising given that it's related to Pinot. It's quite delicious, and I think it would pair well with hard cheeses, Peking duck, and Christmas turkey (with cranberry stuffing).





 
Wine: By Chadsey's Cairns 2011 Darkling
Food Pairing: Christmas turkey with all the fixin's
Chip Pairing:Ruffles Hot Wings
Verdict: We loved it!

Monday, November 11, 2013

November's Good Parts

November is a hard month.  In Canada, the days get shorter, our clocks change (unless you live in Saskatchewan), the sun is down before we even leave our offices.  The cold, wet weather drives us all indoors.  I've heard people say that November is the longest month for them - the one that seems to drag on forever.  I don't find that as much; I think March is worse, and there's so much to do in November if we can only bundle ourselves up, throw on our Wellies, and get out of the house (harder than it sounds).  Here are some reasons why November is actually pretty OK, if you can get over the dark storminess:

 1. Fall colours.  In most of this beautiful nation, the vibrant colours of autumn start in September and end sometime in October, but for the southerners among us, there's still lots of colour to see.  Even some kinds of trees take longer to change than others, and you can find splashes of colour on grey days even when most of the trees have lost their leaves (and I don't mean 10-Mile orange, though there's plenty of that around at this time of year, too).

< This is a view from my hotel room in the Hilton Bonaventure in Montreal last week (Nov. 7th).  Lots of yellow still!



2. Masquerade.  Summer is far too warm and humid to endure having a piece of costumery stuck to your face for hours.  But November!  November is perfect.  Swap our your Jack-Frost-thwarting balaclava for something fun and glittery, and also enjoy a little too much attention at the party you're attending.  Or, you can borrow a trick from my friend Amanda, who decided to throw a semi-formal masquerade party for her 30th birthday.  No boring folks allowed.

Pro-tip: While getting ready, blast 'Masquerade', from the Phantom of the Opera, which you have on vinyl, at your stereo's maximum volume, and make your cat prance along to the music.  Masqueraaaaade! Paper faces on parade!  Masqueraaade!  Hide your face so the world will never find you!


3. Remember.  It's always good to remember, but we set aside November 11th for this particular reason, and so I like to make sure I don't miss it.  War is so removed from the lives of most of us - even if we know someone in the Canadian Forces - that it's quite easy to let schedules and other mundane crap get in the way of taking a moment to think on something as profound as the total ravages and destruction of the wars of the last century.  It's been almost one hundred years since the beginning of World War 1, but I'm not sure that we've learned anything since that horrible time, except how to kill each other more efficiently.  Not good, humanity!  Not progress!  Take a moment to be glad that you're alive, and that we enjoy freedom and safety here in this country.  Many people do not have these things.

4. Bowie.  'David Bowie is...' is currently showing at the AGO in Toronto, and is visiting here from the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.  It's an amazing exhibition, and is only around for the rest of this month.  Whether you consider yourself a Bowie fan or not, once you see the exhibit, it will be clear that your experience of the world since the 1970s has somehow been shaped by him.  Art, music, fashion, and design have all changed under the weight of his creativity.  So whether you're a huge KISS fan and realize that Bowie was the first person to create an on-stage persona that paved the road for rockers in costume, or you're into history and find out that Bowie wrote three records in one year living in Berlin beside The Wall, you'll enjoy this show.

Drew and I went to the AGO First Thursday to see this exhibit, and also caught Zaki Ibrahim and her band for one of the highest energy shows I've seen lately, and that's saying a lot when it's in a museum.  Check out her songs and get your heart banging and blood pumping with some serious dance moves - you won't feel the cold at all.

 5.  Because November is the month before December, in which is the day of Yule, check out the Christmas windows around town.  I personally love to go and see the windows at The Bay on Queen St., because they're super old-fashioned, mechanised, and haven't changed since before I can remember going to see them the first time as a child.  I love those windows.  I also like to stare in wonderment at the glory that is the Christmas window displays at Holt Renfrew on Bloor St. Nothing matches their complete abandonment of everything reasonable and frugal in the spirit of Christmas shopping.  The windows glow with glittery, sparkly, luxurious objects and scenes of merriment - snowshoeing, trimming the tree, dancing, drinking egg nog - all in the absolute apex of fashionable outfits.  It's a fantastic, unrealistic, materialistic cornucopia of stuff.  Somehow, these windows manage to get me very excited for my own much more modest scenes of festivity and togetherness at the holidays, and for buying people presents (they are obviously effective).  Go, stare, and be warmed by the images of plenitude.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

No Buying Month is No More

Well, Amanda and I made it.  Over a post-yoga pint of beer (always good to mingle your virtuous habits with your vicious) we discussed how the month had gone: quickly, for both of us, smoothly, and with a feeling that we were less stressed and more financially comfortable.  We both have been waiting for October to buy new black pumps, those most boring of shoes and necessary for almost any office environment (and always a good thing to have at 7:30 a.m. when you're trying to put an outfit together and get out the door).

Other than said pumps, neither of us have kept a running list of things we want to buy.  Some things I thought I wanted have completely left my mind, other things, like a down vest that I've been considering purchasing for the colder weather that is now upon us, have become low-urgency and I really don't know if I want to spend my money on them anymore.  As I noticed earlier in No Buy month, I'm becoming a bit of a money hoarder.

I remember there was a time when I was working as a cashier at the IGA in my hometown, and minimum wage was something like $6.75, and I would squirrel away every pay-cheque in order to save up to go shopping.  There wasn't really anywhere close by to shop - you could get essential stuff in town or in a nearby village, but to really go shopping we had to drive to one of three cities.  The closest, about 45 minutes away, also had the poorest selection.  The furthest, about an hour and 15 minutes away, had the best.  My friends and my sister and I would save our money, and then go and blow big chunks of what we'd saved a few times a year.  In between shopping sprees, I remember a feeling of fierce protectiveness over my wad of dough.  I didn't want to spend it on anything and would feel a bit miffed when I had to.  I am sensing a return to that feeling, which I haven't felt in years.

The challenge now is to prevent a rebound of spending in October with the rediscovered 'freedom' of not having an imaginary crowd of people watching to see if I cave in when I'm supposed to be Not Buying.  I am going to foster the feelings of saving money, and Amanda and I are both going to make November a No Buy month part two.  The intention is to keep this going, every-other month, and see if we can sustain a long-term change in habit.  I hope to make a permanent move from participating in our overly-consumptive culture, to a reflective and thoughtful pattern of making purchases.  I'm excited to feel the calmness grow, maybe along with my savings, too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

No Buying Month - Almost the End


And lo, we see the end of No Buying Month appear on the horizon.  Three weeks down, and one more to go.  I feel like I'm on a long-distance run at this point; I've hit my stride and walk away from the temptation to buy things as naturally as I put one foot in front of the other.  It makes me reflect on why it's necessary to institute a No Buying challenge in the first place, and what that says about the hyper-consumerism that we see in our society.

Take, for example, the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.  I enjoy this flavoured coffee beverage, though sometimes it's too sweet.  But when I'm in the mood for both a sugar and caffeine kick, this is a delicious treat.  Apparently, this fall marks the 10th anniversary of the pumpkin spice latte's introduction to our palettes, and this occasion is being marked with an aggressive marketing campaign and entire new lines of mugs.  Even though a person doesn't need more than two travel mugs (one extra, in case you forget the first one at the office, in the car, or at your mum's house, in my experience), Starbucks makes a killing by redesigning travel mugs every season, and this season's is a wood-grain printed piece of paper with pumpkin spice latte-related words all over it.  We don't need it at all, but there it is for us to consume.  And this is all the time, not just with Starbucks, but with everyone, everywhere.

I was reading an article about Vivienne Westwood, one of my favourite designers, who is anti-capitalist even while running an ostensibly capitalist design house.  This is what she had to say on the topic of consuming: "Buy less, choose carefully, and make it last."  Amen, VW.

Since this is month one, I haven't seen any huge savings pile up in my chequing account.  What I have seen, though, is that my credit card has nothing on it but the pre-authorized debits - those are Netflix ($8) and an organic fruit and vegetable delivery service ($47 every two weeks, with farm fresh eggs) - and I paid a clump of money onto my student debt.  I would normally try to do these, but with limited success on a monthly basis.  The big difference I've noticed this time is that even with clearing my visa and paying some debt down, I have no feelings of stress as we reach the end of the month.  I'm not so irresponsible with my money that I screw myself by the 30th, but there are often months where I'm down to the wire and have to make a few bucks stretch through to pay day.  This month that is not the case.

Even though I keep expecting it to happen, I still haven't started to make a mental list of things to buy in October.  This is wonderful.  Instead I'm starting to plan in advance for expenses that I know are coming up, and I'm quite content to avoid buying lots of random stuff once No Buying month is over.  Only one more week, and I'm totally confident that I can make it through.  Not even a pumpkin spice latte can make me break my not buying.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

DIY: Cocktail Onions for the perfect Gibson

As I mentioned in the last post, on the weekend I harvested our onion crop.  Along with some good-sized onions perfect for cooking with, we got a bunch of teeny tiny little guys, and I had no idea what we would do with them.  Then, an idea struck me:  I was pickling some green beans for Caesars, so why not pickle the onions too and make my own cocktail onions?  After all, who doesn't love a Gibson?

Actually, probably there are many people who don't like a Gibson, but I'm not one of them.  A Gibson is basically a classic dry gin martini.  Just gin and dry vermouth.  The distinguishing trait of a Gibson is the onion (nowadays, at least).

Peeling the skins off

If you also like Gibsons, then you should try making cocktail onions in your own kitchen.  They are shockingly easy to do.  Here it is, laid out:

Boil your tiny onions for about 5 minutes.

Drain them and toss them into ice water, to stop the cooking (shock 'em!).

Depending on the size of the batch you make, use varying amounts of the following:  water, salt, bay leaf, juniper berries, whole clove, peppercorns, cardamom, and maple syrup.  I had a small jar, so I used 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove, 6 peppercorns, 1 cardamom pod, and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.  I had no juniper berries around.  Lemon peel optional as well.

Bring this mixture just to a boil and take it off the heat.
Pearly whites

Peel the outer skins off your tiny onions so that you're left with a shiny pearly mini-onion.

Put the onions in a jar and pour the mix over them.  You can leave it at that and put them in the fridge, or you can put the lid on the jar and process it like you would for jam (i.e. in a boiling water bath or in the oven).

Then you're done!  Yay!  In about 2 weeks you'll have cocktail onions for your martinis.  I've got a week and a half to wait, and I'm really excited to try them when they're ready. I'll be sure to report back.

Cocktail onions!


*********
Update, November 14:  the cocktail onions are delicious!  they're onion-y with the slightest hint of sweetness from the maple syrup.  We made Gibsons last night, and these little onions added a lovely hint of flavour to the gin.  Marvellous!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Finding Time in No Buying Month

the fruits of our labour! leeks and onions - ready for the soup pot
Onions and Leeks from our garden
Ten days down and going strong in No Buying Month.  While there are still a full three weeks to go in September, I’m feeling good and doing really well at Not Buying.  I haven’t caved in to any coffees at work, and the weekend was delightfully free of consumption. 

Amanda and I were talking on Saturday night about how we feel like the first week of Not Buying had gone, and both of us agreed that we feel inspired.  There’s something incredibly liberating about No Buying Month; that early feeling of freedom from impulse to buy that I described last week hasn’t faded.  In fact, it has kind of settled in and feels like a normal, valuable, easy way to be.  Amanda has actually decided that she will Not Buy every-other month.  I am thinking about instituting that myself.

Despite having no plans last weekend, the days were very full.  Drew and I are both on 9-5 schedules, now that he’s in physiotherapy school, so we spent most of Sunday cooking.  I harvested the onions and leeks we’d been growing on our roof, and pickled some green beans with jalapenos from our pepper plants.  I love spicy beans in Caesars.  I also made some cocktail onions (for Gibsons! Yum!) with the tiny onions that accompanied the big ones from our garden.  Last night I made creamy leek and mushroom soup with our harvest, and it’s delicious.  I find cooking to be relaxing and incredibly rewarding, and now that I have few plans during the week in an attempt to Not Buy, I’m finally going to have time to bake bread and make strawberry jam. 


As an added bonus to this experiment, even though Amanda and I said ‘entertainment spending’ was OK, I’m doing my best to keep my weeknights open to Not Buy and to get myself in the habit of not booking up crazy weeks all the time.  It’s easy for me to let my schedule get out of control by agreeing to meet up with people I like, to do things I like to do.  It’s not bad, but it’s tiring, and I don’t end up having any nights at home with nothing to do, when I could just read a novel, paint, or cook.  Any home-night is necessarily full of chores that I haven’t done at other times.  

Not Buying is helping me pull balance into my schedule, and I love that.  It's a return to my first months in Toronto, when I rarely had any plans at night.  But, instead of wishing that I had things to do, now I'm looking forward to the quiet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

No Buying Month


On a sunny day in August in the Distillery district of Toronto, my friend, Amanda, and I decided that we were going to do a little experiment.  We were discussing two books, one that she had read, and one which I had read and posted about last year, both of which are related to finances and spending habits.  We thought to ourselves, how can we do better with our money?  Do we consume too much, too often?  What would we be willing to forego?  This month, we’re going to find out the answer to these questions. 

You see, this month, Amanda and I aren’t going to buy anything that doesn’t need to be bought.  Food is something that needs to be bought, so we’ll buy that.  Coffee at cafés is an important part of Amanda’s professional life, since she has a morning meeting with her assistant every day in a neutral (non-office) environment, so that will be bought too.  I don’t have to buy coffee at cafés, so I won’t.  Certain kinds of entertainment can be purchased – I have a bachelorette party to attend, and had tickets to a Christian Louboutin exhibit and a First Thursdays night at the AGO to see Ai Weiwei, so beverages at these events will be purchased. 

However, what will not be bought includes the following: clothing, shoes, accessories of all kinds, books, movies, stationary (I love stationary), bottles of wine (whaaaaa??? Oh wait, I have a huge stockpile, whew!), home décor stuff, kitchenware, etc.  You get the idea. 

On Amanda’s recommendation, I downloaded an application for my phone called Mint Financial.  It’s an app that tracks your bank accounts and credit cards, and keeps a running total for you.  It also automatically categorizes purchases based on industry, so you can see exactly what you’ve spent and where.  My tallies for August were astounding; I had no large purchases, and yet I’d managed to spend a pile of money by nickel-and-diming my chequing account to death.  I know that small purchases add up, but to see them all tallied with the sum at the bottom was really impressive.

It’s currently day 3 of this experiment.  I spent day 1 in lower Manhattan, walking around with Drew and essentially browsing through shops, but with ‘no buying month’ in my head I really had no motivation to buy things.  I was thinking about the long list of expenditures on Mint, and thinking about how little I really need. 

Granted, it’s early days yet, and there are 27 more days in this month, but I feel really good about ‘no buying month.’  Similar to the example of the smoker on an aeroplane, the knowledge that I’ve given a commitment (to Amanda, at least) that I won’t buy anything (outside of food and certain entertainment-related things) seems to make the temptation to buy things evaporate.  Often at the beginning of the month I’ll line up expected expenses – I want a pair of jeans, I need new cushions for the patio – and do a sort of mini-budget that I rarely hold myself to.  This month, I know I can’t buy these things, so I’m not even thinking about what I might want to buy.  I wonder if this will get pushed into October, and I’ll go on some kind of tear buying all the things I thought about?  I hypothesize that I won’t; I think many desires of this kind fade away with time, because they’re not earnest desires or needs as much as passing fancies. 


In the interim, I feel like I have all kinds of money and nothing to do with it, and that’s a really good feeling.  This feeling is so rewarding in itself that it might just be enough motivation to keep this ‘no buying’ business going.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Blossom of Kindness in August


I've been lacking in inspiration lately. I need that hook, the spark, to get my creative brain running.  The dog days of August have made me lazy, and that's OK.  I'm busy floating in an inner tube on the gentle river of summer evenings and ice cream on weekends.  My quest for change goes on, but slower.  It lead me to this, a most interesting and wonderful graduation speech by George Saunders.

The entire speech is worth a long and thoughtful read, or two  maybe.  What really hit me, of all of his advice, was this: "Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. " Has there ever been a more valuable grain of wisdom?  I don't know, but I plan on heeding this advice wholeheartedly.  At the end of my life, I will be able to say "it was so wonderful."


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good Eats on PEI


In the past, I've posted about Prince Edward Island and how much I love spending time out there.  I realised on my most recent trip that although I've said a lot about beaches, of which there are many excellent choices, and goat soap, which I seriously loaded up on this time, I'd never remembered to take photos of the best restaurants to share.  Ergo, this post shall attempt to rectify this omission.  I hope you like seafood!

Lobster


Yes. Lobster.  Every. single. day.  There is definitely no lack of lobster on PEI, and there are really a lot of great places to eat it in all kinds of different ways, but I'm just going to say for the record that Water Prince has the best whole cooked lobster and best lobster roll you can find in Charlottetown.  This totally unassuming, cute, compact place is easily missed because it's not on the main street.  It's at the intersection of Water St. and Prince St. (see what they did there?) and looks like a corner store.  HOWEVER, do not be deceived.  This little spot serves up an amazing lobster roll with french fries, or really darn good potato salad if you like.  We go here every visit for whole lobster, and picked up a lobster roll as soon as we got to Charlottetown.  Priorities!  For the lover of fresh seafood, Water Prince will even cold-ship lobster and mussels to you, across the country.  No big deal.


Fish and Chips

 

The very best fish and chips is even easier to miss than the best lobster for the uninitiated traveller to PEI.  Rick's Fish'n'Chips, in the town of St. Peter's, is truly a hidden gem.  It's busy enough as it is, since there's only a small amount of seating in this very small restaurant, and patio seating is at a premium on nice days, so try not to tell anyone about this place.  To get there, take route 2 east from Charlottetown and keep on trucking.  You can't miss St. Peter's Bay, full of mussel stakes, with two white churches overlooking it.  Go there, order the two-piece fish and chips, and be prepared to be blown away by the crunchiest batter, juiciest fish, and fresh-out-of-the-frier fries.  I recommend a strawberry milkshake (served in the silver milkshake mixer) as the perfect pairing.

Beer

 

OK, I guess this is not really a food, but no list of places to eat on PEI would be complete without mentioning the Gahan House pub and brewery.  Responsible for producing such memorable pints as the Blueberry Wheat, Sir John A Honey Brown ale, and Beach Chair lager, Gahan House is worth making a stop and purchasing a tasting flight of the season's beers.  New beers are always popping up, making it a fun repeat-destination for the beer lover.  In fact, the blueberry wheat beer is new this year, and it's so good that I hope they decide to continue it.  Gahan House is more than just a brewery, though; a big old mansion with numerous rooms of comfortable seating and a multi-level patio at the back makes this place a great spot for a meal.  The food is great, and the menu changes from time to time for greater selection.  That said, if you really can't make it to the restaurant, Gahan beers are also available in PEI liquor stores.  Stock up!

Pizza 

 

One may not choose to travel to PEI for pizza, but should one wish to eat some pizza, or is suddenly struck by a mad craving for wood-oven creations, remember this:  Route 3 Eatery.  This has got to be the most difficult-to-find restaurant that I'll ever recommend, but you will find it.  Trust yourself, and your stomach, to lead you there.  Route 3 Eatery is a small shanty-like building, of grey wood, like an old west saloon, with a small porch on the front of it.  It's on route 3, so that's easy, between Charlottetown and Montague, near a village called Vernon River.  This pizza could stand up to the best of the gourmet pizzaiolo-style places in Toronto or Montreal.  There are other things on the menu as well, but the pizza is what we went for, and it's definitely what we'll go back for.

Fancy Shmancy

 

Date night!  When you really want to treat yo'self, since it is a vacation after all, there's one spot that's open year 'round and offers truly incredible culinary delights.  This place is called Lot 30 - named for its lot number on the original plan of 400 lots in the city of Charlottetown some many years ago.  I do believe that I ate the best scallops of my life at this restaurant.  They offer fresh PEI oysters, or oysters Rockefeller for the raw-averse person, and an ever-changing menu of fresh fish, mussels, lobster, and meats from around the island.  After feasting on oysters, I had the lobster bake on this trip, which was a combination of lobster and quahogs (giant clams) in a garlic cream sauce, served with spinach-ricotta cornbread and seasonal greens (baby white beets, scapes, kale, leeks, etc.).  HOLY GOD.  My mouth is watering just thinking of it.  Drew had the surf 'n' turf, which included braised lamb shoulder with cremini mushroom gravy, scallops fried in garlic butter, white navy beans, and seasonal greens.  YUM.  I had a peaches, ice cream, and scone dessert, while Drew had a molten chocolate cake.  So gluttonous.  So good.  Additional awesomeness: there's a tv screen over the bar that focuses on the plating area in the kitchen, so you can see your food being plated, and you can see that it doesn't sit there under warming lights for 10 minutes before you get to eat it.  Nice.  Ask for Kevin as your waiter, and tell him some folks in Ontario are thinking of him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sympathy for Dinosaurs


The fundamental question of philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide, said Camus.  Once this question is answered, everything else falls in; one either kills oneself, or one eats food, sleeps, works, loves, and moves through the days toward some other kind of death.  Some people never have to ask this question, and some people never wonder, but other people have to ask and answer more than once.  Camus thought that philosophers had to ask and answer, and that if Nietzsche was right and philosophers had to 'lead by example' insofar as they had to live the philosophy that they espoused, then philosophers had to examine the question of suicide and answer it through action.  Once there was action, the answer was clear.

Yesterday, I woke up wondering what the point of "it all" is. Camus would say that I was ambushed by the absurd:"at any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face. As it is, in its distressing nudity, in its light without effulgence, it is elusive," he says. Absurdity is hard to get a handle on, as the mind hesitates to look at it. Feeling the absurdity of existence can make a person despair. The ultimate pointlessness of life, if one takes the long view into the future of the planet, is overwhelming. So where can the mind go from there? Absurdity pushes us towards the fundamental question. If absurdity makes you say yes to suicide, then living is completely out of the question. If it makes you say no to suicide, then you have to find something about life to say yes to. A no to suicide is ultimately a resistance to absurdity's compelling evidence that nothing really matters, but in this world without gods, what does matter?

My answer in the face of absurdity is that all the little things matter, and that being alive matters, as a nice gift of existence that one might never have had and which will be taken away from one again at some point in time. There's no real, ultimate, deep meaning to life. It's nice to be here though, to love people and be loved back, to feel the sun on one's face and to help other things live. Trees never ask what the point of it all is, and maybe that's why I like them so much. In a way it's just a really stupid question. The answer, that there is no point, is obvious. The question of what you're going to do about it is the one that matters.

I recognize when absurdity slaps me in the face that about 60% of my feeling comes from sympathy for the dinosaurs. Their world ended while they were in the middle of doing things with their lives, and ours will too. There won't be much warning, or when there is warning it will come way too late for us to do anything about it. So I sympathize, and empathize, and fear, too, the end that they didn't fear. Another 30% of my feeling is a kind of distress that comes from my impression that what I'm doing right now with my life doesn't matter right now in the world, and that's hard. I'm someone who wants my existence to have a positive impact on the world around me, even if small, and to help people who don't know me. Sometimes my work gets me there, but sometimes not. I'm working on changing that, but it's slow-going. The final 10% is fear and doubt of various kinds, related to my own future - maybe I'll fail, maybe I'll never get where I want to go, maybe I'll never feel satisfied. When the world ends, I don't want to feel like I've wasted my whole life.

Ultimately, though, 100% of the absurdity gets overridden by the meaning that I make for myself in the world around me. My life has meaning because of the people I love and who I want to spend time with, and the things that I enjoy doing. Not thinking about an afterlife really frees one up to think about what's good now - eating food, drinking wine, riding my bike, talking to people, taking road trips, connecting to the world... Lots of things are worth doing and living for in this short time that we have. Work is an unfortunately large part of life, and it's easy to let it grind you down. But when absurdity pushes me to ask the fundamental question, my answer is always no.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Corison's Incredible Cabs

Red wine barrels at Corison

I had the wonderful good fortune to visit Corison winery in Napa Valley, and to taste there the most wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon.  Started by Cathy Corison and made from high-quality vineyards in and around Rutherford, including a small plot of 40 year old Cab vines, Corison is renowned for the elegant, juicy, deep red wines that pour out of its many barrels.

The winery itself, which looks like a really big old schoolhouse, sits in the middle of the Kronos vineyard.  Kronos is the acre of land (approximately) that is planted with 40 year old vines - some of the oldest in the region.  Cathy replaces vines one at a time when necessary, and only after they've stopped producing grapes for three years in a row.  You can see, in the photo to the right, how the old vines of Kronos are widely planted and can be clearly distinguished from the neighbouring vines (which are not part of Corison's property).  Kronos wines are hand-crafted, made from this vineyard only, and are completely remarkable for the intensity of colour and flavours.  We got to try some, and the glass was overflowing with cherries, field berries, and a hint of graphite.  The wine tasted as if the vines really knew what they were doing out there, and loved the place that they were in.

Corison's wines are 'typically Cabernet,' there's nothing strange or unexpected happening here.  It's straight-up, high quality, no-messing-around, real Cab Sauv.  In a place where I felt like I'd been mostly drinking someone's experiment every day, it was refreshing to taste seriously well-crafted Cab with no funny business.

 Corison knows her grapes, and knows her style.  We tasted some of her wines from different years, and while the growing season and the age gave the wines different characters, one could tell right away that they were sisters.  They came from the same place, with the same caring and knowledgeable hands helping them develop, and had the same structural backbone.  Beautifully balanced, angular but juicy, and full of ripe cherries, currants, plums, and some tobacco leaf, these Cabs left nothing to be desired.
Thanks to Elaine for bringing me here for a tasting. Fun!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Wisdom from 1919

Letter from Edith Stein to Fritz Kaufmann, October 3, 1919:
If this letter reaches you after you get to Freiburg, then you need not read any further. Otherwise, I would like you calmly to weigh the following concern with me. It had already occurred to me on former occasions, but more intensely in connection with your last letter.
I am worried at seeing how, for months, you have avoided doing purely philosophical work, and am gradually beginning to wonder whether your "profession" should not lie in a different direction. Please do not take this as a vote of "no confidence" or as doubting your ability. I only mean that one should not use force to make the centre of one's life anything that fails to give one the right kind of satisfaction.
If you are convinced you have not set out on a wrong path but this is only a depressive phase that temporarily makes any strenuous effort impossible, then do not let my question divert you but rather, wait patiently -- without violent exertion, which would only aggravate the situation -- until the mood to work returns. But should you have had reflections similar to those I have had, then probably it would be time to face them seriously.
-- Letter included in "Edith Stein, Self Portrait in Letters 1916-1942." V. 5 of her "Collected Works" published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies, and translated by Josephine Koeppel.  (With many thanks to my friend A.B.)
[Interesting side-note:  A.B. tells me that Kaufmann had reached Freiburg to be Husserl's assistant, and chose to stay in academia, so must have decided that the funk Stein noticed was only temporary and that he was on the right path.  Stein, on the other hand, eventually left academia to be a nun.  I think her wonderful observation that "one should not use force to make the centre of one's life anything that fails to give one the right kind of satisfaction" was prescient of her eventual departure from an academic life.  I appreciate that she had that life philosophy and seriously followed through on it when she realised that she couldn't force academic lecturing into the centre of her life, and that she had another calling.]

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thinking Volatility - Wine and Career Changes



One night in California, somewhere around St. Helena, I had dinner with Elaine, Jr., Hardy of Dirty and Rowdy wines, and his partner, Kate. Over delicious roast chicken, Hardy told me the story of Dirty and Rowdy and how he got started making wine.  Hardy espouses 'natural' winemaking, which means that the wine is made with little winemaker intervention or use of sulphur to stabilize it for bottling.  His label's name comes from the reputation natural wines have earned; some people say these techniques make the wine dirty and rowdy (which makes me think of a country dance, fun!) or, if a person is feeling less friendly, 'bready and volatile'.  Now, that's not a very nice thing to say.

The idea that natural wines are (or can be) bready and volatile made me start thinking about volatility.  In wine, the word is usually used to connote 'volatile acidity', which indicates what can be a serious flaw.  If there's a certain kind of bacteria present making enough acid in the bottled wine, then distinct aromas and flavours of vinegar will appear, and when it's left like that the wine totally turns to vinegar.  No good.

But in other cases too, volatile gets a bad rap - the word association game brings to mind explosions, volcanoes, and mood swings.  If volatility in wine is bad, volatility in the stock market is worse.  When the US financial market crashed in 2008, starting the most recent recession (which many say isn't over yet), Hardy was cut loose from a company he'd been working with for many years.  He said he saw it coming, as he had a position that included a big travel budget and expense account, which was considered gravy on the company potatoes.  While certainly no fun at the time, getting the axe from the company was a good thing for Hardy; he said it gave him the freedom, opportunity, and courage to make a radical change in his life.  He set out with Kate at his side, and headed into the wine industry the way he'd always wanted to.

Given my current fascination with huge life changes, particularly setting out on one's own with total uncertainty on all sides, this impressed me very much.  It's not all uncertainty for people in a situation like Hardy's; he also works at Corison winery, and Kate has a steady job.  Yet, the notion of picking up everything, moving it to a new place, and declaring "now, I shall make wine!" seems very ballsy and... pretty great.  In a situation like Hardy's with no vineyard land or a winery of one's own, buying grapes that are affordable (and that larger wineries didn't want, probably) and borrowing someone else's equipment (better have a winemaking friend!) are the only options for wine production.  If you can make something drinkable, all the power to you.

Listening to Hardy talk over the course of the evening highlighted an interesting theme among winemakers that I had started to notice through the week.  This is that for many of them, some kind of abrupt and discombobulating life change brought them to the wine industry from a very different path.  The life they were leading at the time that I met them was so radically different from the one they led before, that it's funny to try to fit the two parts together. 

Having weathered the storm of volatility in one area of life, Hardy didn't seem at all worried about the possibility of his wine being perceived that way.  Changing peoples views on natural wines, and demonstrating that the unexpected or unusual can be great, seems to drive his work as a winemaker.  Other people also had tales of monumental changes that lead to their wine careers - relationships ending, getting fed up with jobs, making cross-continent moves - all with a different spark to end their inertia, but ending up in similar places.  They were trying to find their sea legs in an industry that they had little or no experience in, and little or no guarantee of income or livelihood, but they were doing their darnedest to make it work.  And they were happy doing it.

***********

I didn't get to taste Dirty and Rowdy wines on this night, and I'm sad about that.  We drank some other strange and exciting wines instead, which I will now commence to tell you about.  I'm quite certain that none of these can be found at the LCBO, but if you discover otherwise, please let me know.

La Viarte Ribolla Gialla, 2011 - This wine hails from the Colli Orientali in Friuli, Italy, where Ribolla Gialla originates.  Hardly anyone outside of Friuli grows the Ribolla Gialla grape, so it's not easy to come by and I was really interested and excited to get to try it with Elaine and Hardy.  The wine has aromas and flavours of apple, salty almonds, and lemon zest and peel.  It's smooth and round in the mouth, with a zippy edginess to it.  It was unlike any other white I'd had in the past, having a medium to full body but not being overly aromatic.  I'll keep an eye out for it in the future, as I think this particular wine was yummy and the varietal is worth tasting again.

Scodovacca Verduzzo, 2003 - This is also a Friulano wine, and as interesting to taste.  This Verduzzo was made into an orange wine, meaning the must sat on grape skins for a little while after being pressed, giving the wine lots of extra body and some red-wine characteristics.  This wine actually had the colour of an Oloroso sherry - deep caramel in colour - and I'm wondering if that's due to the age of the wine, since I don't know how long an orange Verduzzo would typically last in the bottle.  The nose and palate were nutty, with cooked cherries, sour cherries, brown sugar, and some biscuity notes.  The wine was dry, with soft tannins and a juicy finish, and some heat from the alcohol at the back of my mouth.  Overall, I thought it was very unusual, and great with the roasted chicken we were eating (especially the crispy seasoned skin).

Karasi Areni Noir, 2011 - This wine was a real treat to drink, because it was good and also because it's not yet for sale in North America.  It's from Armenia, grown at 1400m above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Ararat - for those who know their Biblical lore, that's a big deal!  This wine had hints of yoghurt, brown sugar and spice on the nose behind aromas of radish and vegetation.  The palate was bright and driven, with flavours of red cherry, cranberry, tomato vine, and cracked pepper.  It was elegant and fresh.  Hardy said that this wine would go perfectly with his favourite Peking Duck dish from Mississauga.  He couldn't remember the restaurant name, but I understand that there are many good Peking Duck places there - recommendations are welcome!

Karasi is a very special wine, and I felt special drinking it.  The bottle is also really pretty to look at.  I hope that it makes its way into Canada at some point, but first it has to get its foothold in the U.S.  Let's cross our fingers for a northerly migration!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cutting My Teeth on Barrels at Donelan Winery


During my visit in California, Elaine and I trekked up to Santa Rosa to the Donelan winery, where we were given a tour by the winemaker there, Tyler Thomas.  He was really nice, interesting, and generous, and let us taste about a million Donelan wines.

Tyler Thomas' namesake Fluevog shoes
 - really. He was even wearing them
when we met.
Tyler and I had connected on Twitter over the topic of shoes - he, too, is a shoe-lover.  In fact, he has shoes named after him, which were specifically designed for the winemaker-on-the-go, who needs to troop around a vineyard and then host clients in a pouring room without time for a wardrobe change.  John Fluevog heard this need, and responded with some seriously classy leather boots.

One of the great things about Tyler Thomas is that he has a deep connection with his vineyards.  He is definitely a vine-guy.  Having studied plant biology, and almost getting a PhD in the field, he seems really passionate about the vines and what they're doing.  He spoke about visiting the vineyards frequently and seemed very grounded in the connection between plants and wine.  This was a contrast to many people who I met in Sonoma/Napa, who were winemakers only; there are many people who own land and grow grapes to sell to winemakers, and many winemakers who buy grapes once they're grown.  This winemaker/grower divide is true in a lot of places around the world, and it doesn't mean that the wine is any less excellent.  What I appreciated about Tyler Thomas, though, was the calm competence and down-to-earthness that he has as a person.  I often encounter this trait in farmers or builders of various kinds; there's a distinct lack of showiness or posturing and a genuine passion, drive, and connection to the raw materials that go into the end product. These traits became clear in listening to Tyler Thomas talk about the Donelan wines.

Barrels full of delicious, delicious wine
We started our visit by tasting from barrels.  This was my first barrel tasting experience, and I'm happy to have had the chance to do it for my personal edification, though I'm happy to not do it every day for my dental health.  Because the wines are still in-barrel and aren't ready to come out, you can imagine that tasting them is like biting into unripe fruit, or uncooked bread - it might be pretty yummy, but it's not really ready.  While still in the barrel, there are clear indicators of what the wine will be like when it is ready, and that's what makes it so cool to taste them and see what's different between batches even at that early stage.  That said, it's like electrocuting your teeth.

We first tasted through barrels of Chardonnays, some crisp and clean, some with rounder and smokier notes.  These will eventually be blended into the one Chardonnay that Donelan releases.  Then we tasted all manners of of Syrah, some which will be bottled singly, and some which will be used for blending, as well as a Grenache.  The reds were really outstanding, but really punch-in-the-mouth too.  Lots of everything - tannins, acid, flavours - all energetic and sparky.

I believe that's Obsidian in beaker A, right



After the barrels, we tasted bottled wines, and so many it's hard to keep track.  I really enjoyed many of them, but that's no surprise given that I've expressed my deep, fervent love for Syrah often on this blog.  Two that stand out, for different reasons, are the Cuvee Christine and the Obsidian.  Both of these are 100% Syrah, but very different in character.

Cuvee Christine is a blend of Syrah grapes from four vineyards throughout Sonoma.  Tyler Thomas said to me that he wanted to express the spirit of Sonoma through this wine, replicating the feeling of being there through producing a quintessential Sonoma Syrah.  I thought that he succeeded; the wine was easy to sit and hang out with.  It was like a summer afternoon on a verandah.  There was plenty of Syrah flavour, like black berries, herbs, and spices, along with a smooth, voluptuous body.  A real drinking wine, on its own or with food.

The Obsidian is not a summer afternoon, 'howdy neighbour' kind of wine.  It's deep and brooding instead.  Obsidian reminded me of a huge leather club chair in a book-lined wood-panelled study. Big, burly, dark, the whiff of a recently smoked pipe... Something to really settle down into and chew for a while.  I freakin' loved it.  I was thinking about it the next day. The Obsidian Syrah is a single-vineyard wine, from a vineyard of the same name.  This vineyard is in Knight's Valley, which is the warmest of Sonoma's AVAs, and Syrah loves warm weather.  It was really great to find that the alcohol on this wine was balanced and not too high - sometimes the wine from warm California areas ends up tasting hot, burning with high alcohol.   Obsidian isn't hot or wild; it has manners, it probably went to prep school or something.  It's Gertrude Stein.  It would be great with a massive peppercorn steak and an English bulldog sneaking scraps under the table.


You can read more about Donelan's wines at their website, here.  They've got many others that I didn't try and/or haven't written about, and plenty more detail about places, methods, and wine character.  Thanks so much to Tyler Thomas for spending time with us and letting us taste so many of his excellent wines.  I really hope that I get to drink them again sometime (soon)!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You Say Slicer, I Say Meat Shaver

One is bound to encounter new and different terms with which to describe familiar things when travelling the world.  Sometimes the terms are created on purpose to hide the familiar from view; other times, it’s a simple location-specific difference.  For example, while I would call a certain delicatessen apparatus a ‘meat shaver,’ on account of its role in shaving meat (specifically smoked meat), others would call this apparatus a ‘slicer,’ since I guess it can slice almost anything (though, to get a little Aristotelian for a minute, smoked meat is the most perfect purpose of such an apparatus). This is just a little case of location-specific difference. 

However, if I'm thinking of terms created on purpose to hide the familiar from view, I think about Riquewihr, Rhododactylos, and Centime, three intriguingly unfamiliar wines made from pretty familiar grapes.  (How’s that for a segue!)

Centime (2011), created by Two Shepherds from a vineyard in the Russian River Valley, is an orange wine.  Rather than going in-depth on orange wines, I’d like to direct you to WakaWaka Wine Reviews for a really great series that explains them thoroughly, if you’re interested.  All I’ll say here is that orange wines are essentially white wines fermented on skins, and look like a blanche beer.  You know that softly yellow, cloudy appearance that blanche beers have?  Orange wines share this, but with a wider range of possible colours, from lightly golden to vibrant coral, and a similar array of cloudiness, from almost-clear to opaque. 

Centime is pale gold and quite clear.  Looking at it all by itself, one would not likely spot it as an orange wine right away.  Made from a blend of Marsanne and Rousanne (Rhone varietals), this wine is perfumed and quite complex on the nose.  It smells of flowers, mandarin oranges, and dried apricots, with some implied sweetness.  The palate doesn't totally reflect the nose, with flavours of roasted radishes, citrus peel, spices, and a tang of bitterness.  It’s quite acidic, but fleshy in the mouth too, which comes from the time it spent on skins.  I think that this wine is great for people who are curious and want to experience new styles; it isn't something I would introduce to people who are just getting into wine, or who don’t have much interest in exploring wines.  It's delicious, but I wouldn’t describe it as easy-drinking; it’s for those times when you want an adventure, not for when you want to relax in your favourite chair. 

Riquewihr and Rhododactylos are both made by the Scholium Project, which you can read about here and here.  My understanding is that the goal of the Project is to take usual and unusual grapes from small vineyards in California and make something unexpected.  This seems to be achieved mostly by making wine in a very non-interfering way.  Non-interfering winemaking (or ‘natural’ winemaking) more or less holds that each adjustment that a winemaker makes in the process of growing grapes and making wine interferes with the end product of the grapes, and changes the wine that would be produced if the grapes were left to their own devices.  While this point is pretty obvious, folks in the natural wine camp view winemaker influence in a negative light and seek to get rid of it as much as possible.  This is interesting given that the end product of fermenting grapes is vinegar (delicious vinegar, of course), and that the creation of drinkable wine entails the role of winemaker to watch it and interfere with the ferment process before it gets gross.  While it’s unpleasant to ‘taste the winemaker’s hand’ – to taste lumber or added tartaric acid, for example – it’s equally unpleasant to taste wine that hasn't been controlled in the making, and becomes volatile and unbalanced.  Non-interfering may sound lazy or easy, but it's actually a fine balance and a big gamble.  The path of the non-interfering winemaker resembles a tight-rope rather than a boulevard.

The Scholium Project’s Riquewihr and Rhododactylos are good examples of non-interfering winemaking done right.  I’m not sure that I should go and spoil the surprise of what these wines are made from; the Scholium Project purposefully presents the terms of the wines in a way that hides the familiar from view, perhaps in order to challenge the taster’s ideas about what specific grapes taste like and are capable of making. The grape varieties aren’t even listed on the label.  Hmmm, what to do… Oh screw it, I’ll tell you.  

Riquewihr (2012) is an aromatic, perfumed, smoky-smelling Gewurztraminer, named for a gorgeous commune in Alsace known for its Riesling – tricky tricky!  The spice on the palate and smoke on the nose led me to guess this variety, but otherwise the wine isn’t what I would consider typical.  It’s got touches of fruit and a round body, with hints of juicy sweetness.  It’s complex, layered, and integrated.  The integration of its components, especially the alcohol, makes this wine very pleasant to drink. 


Rhododactylos (2012) is enchanting.  It’s a white-gold wine with the most delicate touch of pink that seems to float just beneath the surface.  Rhododactylos means ‘pink-fingered,’ and I’m not sure if it’s named after its amazing colour, or after the Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, or maybe both.  This wine was originally sold as a rosé, but the winemaker changed the label to read ‘white wine’ after being told it was too pale to be rosé.  It’s made from Cinsault, a large, black, thin-skinned grape that is also delicious to eat.  Despite delicately pressing the grapes, the tinge of pink comes into the wine from their skins. My overall impression is that Rhododactylos is soft, elegant, and delicate.  It has light, airy red fruit and tingly acid on the palate, with a refreshing radish and watermelon finish.  While it isn’t the most complex wine I’ve ever had, I found myself going back to it after tasting other wines.  I could envision myself on a very hot, humid summer day finding comfort in a chilled glass of Rhododactylos on the patio.

Marsanne, Rousanne, Gewurztraminer, and Cinsault could hardly be more familiar than they already are.  While it's not overly common to find Marsanne, Rousanne, or Cinsault all by themselves, they're master blenders, and appear in all kinds of wine from the Rhone and Languedoc-Roussillon, South Africa, Australia, and the U.S.A.  If you happen upon any of these Two Shepherds or Scholium wines in travel or restaurants, I recommend trying them out.  It's always good to have your ideas of the familiar shaken up a little.