We left the cool, clear, snowy vistas of the eastern Sierras yesterday, and are now in the Eternal Sunshine of dry hot Socal again. 92 degrees Fahrenheit today…92! The constant sunny weather of Socal used to make me happy. Now it just scares the shit out of me.
In the east, April showers bring May flowers. Out here, April heat brings FIRE SEASON. I’ll take the flowers.
We had two of our big-name tastings a day apart – Joseph Phelps on Friday afternoon, and Quintessa on Saturday morning. They didn’t turn out as expected.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Phelps’ Insignia offering – it’s consistently a great wine. Pricey, but great. I didn’t know much about Phelps’ other varietals, but there are only a few.
And Quintessa was a complete unknown – I was aware of the brand, but that’s it. No real inkling of the history of the place or the wine.
We arrived at Phelps’ on Friday afternoon, tired and frazzled. Sometimes being goal-driven is not a good thing – I had spent seven hours on planes and automobiles with the sole purpose of getting to Phelps for a relaxing tasting to start the weekend. We were about 30 minutes late, so by the time we arrived I was not in a relaxed frame of mind.
The venue was beautiful and we sat perched on a hilltop overlooking vineyards (picture above). Check. But…something was off. Our in-laws were well into their second or third tastes, so we offered to catch up. Our vineyard host was a polite and well-intentioned young man, but he declined to start us at the beginning – it was made clear that the tasting would be over at a certain time, and we couldn’t exceed that time. He was also serving 3-4 other groups, so we would get a short bit of attention from him occasionally. That was just as well, because he couldn’t answer most questions about the vineyard or its operation.
Nonetheless, I did manage to relax and enjoy the truncated tasting. The Insignia was as good as remembered – rich, lush, lots of complexity and just the right amount of tannin. Great wine, but not such that I wanted to buy a case of it.
That evening we moved on to our previously-documented dinner with Chris Phelps (no relation), and then called it a night.
The next morning we arrived for a tasting at Quintessa at 10am – breakfast of champions. Another beautiful setting, but we were just getting started. And something was different. Our Quintessa host (Mike) met us at the door and stayed with us for the entire two hour event. Mike was personable, funny, and knowledgeable on everything we inquired about. Without being pretentious.
In their reception center he gave us an overview of the winery with some small talk. Then, we loaded up into a six-person ATV and got a tour of the entire 370 acre property. Lakes, cows, forest, vineyard blocks, barns and residences – everything. Then, he took us up a hill to our private, luxe tasting room, pictured below. We enjoyed a Quintessa white wine while he poured our generous portions of several vintages.
By now it was clear to me that Quintessa has an entirely different – and better – approach to tastings and how they treat members and guests. They make you feel that they are honored to have you there, as opposed to Phelps where we were pretty much just served. Both were expensive, private tastings, but…what a difference!
At the end of the Quintessa tasting I bought wine and joined their wine club. The wine was superb, as it should be for the premium price they charge. But it was the way they treat their guests that won me over. Product is necessary, but great service wins loyalty.
We left Quintessa saying that it was one of the 2-3 best wine tasting experiences ever, and that’s saying quite a bit – we’ve had private tastings all over the world. I can’t wait to get our first shipment.
Over the weekend we had the pleasure of meeting Chris Phelps, a St. Helena winemaker extraordinaire. He has quite a resume (Petrus! Dominus! Caymus!) and a great family story – his son Josh is following in his footsteps. The two of them have been featured in Forbes and Food and Wine.
At dinner two nights ago we had the pleasure of tasting two of Chris’ wines, his 2016 Ad Vivum Cabernet and a new label, a 2019 Coil Chenin Blanc. Both were excellent – I’m not really a white wine aficionado, but the Chenin Blanc was great and a little unique – it was crisp, with strong citrus notes and richness without being oaky (it was aged in stainless steel, not oak barrels). The cabernet was everything you’d want from a Napa Cab – rich fruit, enough tannins to notice and hints of licorice. Chris’ own tasting notes on the 2016 are a wine education in one page.
The wines are pictured above, in a poorly-framed shot that I can only blame on the wine itself. After two previous tastings and then Chris’ wines, life was good.
Talking with Chris was fun, and as always, every time I meet a winemaker I Iearn a few things. From Chris I learned that many (most?) Napa winewakers aren’t big estate or land owners, but true entrepreneurs who buy grapes and then handcraft their best product. Most only make few hundred cases, so we don’t hear about them the same way we hear about Caymus, Shafer, Silver Oak, etc.
Then, one night later we had the pleasure of trying a wine made by his son Josh in the Paso Robles area. Josh follows Chris’ formula, buying local grapes and fashioning his own labels and wines under the Grounded Wine brand. In this case we had an excellent 2017 Grenache/Syrah blend. A lighter red (the Grenache part), it was enjoyable with grilled chicken and veggies.
All in all, it was great to learn about two under the radar but very strong winemakers, and especially nice to have broken bread with the elder of the pair. Cheers!
We’re in the mountains west of Gardnerville, staying in our relatives’ palatial home. More than seven thousand square feet of handcrafted wood, glass and stone. Twenty foot tall windows providing incredible snow-capped mountain views. European appliances draped in walnut. Custom-designed furniture taken straight from pages of architectural magazines. And an attached garage-shop complex that’s larger than most single family homes. The whole place is a testament to an extreme version of the American dream, wherein two people bootstrap themselves through economic tiers, work hard and make good decisions, and end up living in a well-earned fantasy home. Good for them.
My point is not to question the lifestyle (I don’t; they earned it), but to wonder what happens to a house like this when the original owners are gone. Sure, the next buyer will benefit from their good choices in design, but what about the long term? What will happen to a house like this in 100 or 200 years? Will it become a second-tier version of the great estates like The Biltmore in NC (perhaps THE extreme example), The Broadmoor in CO, The Henry Clay Estate in KY, where it becomes an expensive resort destination? Or a museum of life in the past.
Many grand homes of the past succumbed to urbanization and were carved up or torn down as population density increased, but that’s not likely here on this remote mountainside. There are natural and legal barriers to overcrowding. Though a breakdown of civilization would render the legal barriers useless.
Perhaps there will always be a demand for a grand home with a grand view, private and only affordable by a few. Two hundred years from now we can only guess at the level of technology that will exist, technologies that could make living in a spot like this much simpler and more affordable (think micro-fusion power, or ubiquitous anti-gravity transportation). And if civilization and laws survive, this place could be a comfortable luxurious home 200+ years hence. The building materials should hold up just fine.
Or, in a darker vision of the future, this grand home could become a fortress, a place for groups to defend themselves against…whatever. Its position on the mountainside is perfect for defense, and plenty of running water for the scenario wherein utility services are gone. And plenty of wood for heat and low-efficiency power.
So I wish I could be around to see it happen. I wish that a lot lately – there are so many interesting, amazing things likely to happen in 50, 100, 200 years. That’s the tragedy of our short lifetimes.
We drove US Route 50 from Sacramento to Gardnerville, NV today, visiting family. The route through the high Sierra Nevadas along the American River was beautiful. Moving from flat and featureless Sacramento to this rugged Alpine forest in less than two hours was disconcerting. We hit snow at about 6500 feet elevation and stayed in a winter spring wonderland for miles.
I would normally have pictures of the trip on the blog by now, but I left my carefully-packed bag of connectors, chargers, cords and adapters at home. I’m out of practice packing and traveling – rookie move. So I’ll update later.
We didn’t spend long enough in Napa, but rainy weather forced our hand and moved us east a day early. Staying here in a mountainside estate will be slow and peaceful. Just what I need.
And the winner of the Best Tasting in a Pandemic category goes to…Quintessa! Our wine tasting at Quintessa was among the top 3-4 tastings ever, with or without pandemic. Superb wine, superb customer service, and a private Frank Lloyd Wright-style little tasting room at the top of a hill (in the Mayacamas) overlooking Quintessa’s 370 acres of heaven.
I’m busy. And tired. Not much time or inspiration lately to update the blog. Deadlines this week in real estate (trying to sell a property), quantum encryption project, a proposal deadline for a different project, deadlines for some work in my nonprofit…it’s all landed in this week.
On top of all that I had my first miserable sleep night in a while. I suppose there’s a connection – all these deadlines keep my mind working as I’m trying to sleep. But this morning I feel like death warmed over. Nothing that a good solid lunchtime nap can’t fix, though. That’s a huge benefit of working from home – if you feel bad, you go lie down, as opposed to those years at the office where you just soldiered through. A pandemic benefit.
I was distracted yesterday (lots of work), but a few thoughts about yesterday’s date are in order. I think of April 15th as Tax Day – at least in normal years; like much else it’s more complicated in 2021. But a historian like Heather Cox Richardson sees a bigger picture for April 15:
April 15 is a curiously fraught day in American history.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln breathed his last at 7:22 a.m., and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who adored the president, said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
In 1912, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic.
In 1920, two security guards in Braintree, Massachusetts, were murdered on this date; Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti would be accused of the crime, convicted, and, in 1927, executed.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color line in baseball.
And in 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others.
Yikes! “All” we had yesterday was yet-another-mass-shooting and the Director of National Intelligence’s report and revelation that yes, the 2016 Trump campaign had a direct and illegal connection to Russian intelligence (via the odious and pardoned Manafort), and Russian intelligence then turned around and helped Trump win with that inside information. Sorry, Hillary. Trump and his henchmen committed treason, pure and simple. They should be in jail, but…we live in 2021 America.
Here’s a fascinating article on Quantum Darwinism, a term coined to describe the hypothetical process for how the quantum (uncertain) world resolves into the physical world we all experience as “reality”. My work in quantum encryption has caused me to read a lot about quantum physics in general, and while I understand much more than before, it’s still a head scratcher. But I like the article’s explanation of decoherence, wherein quantum entangled particles “infect” each other, becoming an entangled swarm of possibilities until at some point any one of those particles is observed and the entire group decoheres into a definite state – the one we call reality. A dozen science fiction plots occur to me as I think about quantum states decohering into physical states…it’s a mind-blowing idea.
When you think about it, it’s a lot like the macro-process we all go through in our lives. At the beginning we have infinite choices – we can do pretty much anything with our lives. A cloud of possibility/uncertainty precedes us. Then, we make choices. Our path forward becomes more and more defined with each choice, each action, and our infinite possibilities become finite. Those choices we make early in life are our decoherence, from what could be to what is. Pretty heady stuff.
Another pandemic milestone passed this weekend: ~575K US COVID-related deaths. It’s now certain that we’re going to surpass 600K, an unimaginable number of deaths.
I remember spending a lot of online time a year ago arguing with Trumpers and conspiracy theorists who didn’t believe there was a pandemic at all and that this was some big government control program. And some of those nuts/deniers are still out there.
Here’s a screenshot of the US cities with populations around 600K, from Worldpopulationreview. Just imagine if one of those cities and everyone in it ceased to exist? That’s what COVID-19 has done, just spread out over 50 states.