I should’ve been a plumber

A plumber came over this morning and gave me a quote for an outdoor valve job that I didn’t want to tackle. It was delicate and had a combo of brass and PVC parts, plus was something we just couldn’t screw up (pool fill valve). Not a big job, but I wanted it done right. I expected him to charge between $100-200, and his quote was $850! I was shocked and politely sent him away, after paying the mandatory $49 service fee.

Two hours later (and one of those hours was going to the hardware store), I have the damn thing fixed. Parts were $40. Their profit on my job, had I not been able to do it myself, would have been at least $750 – less than $40 for the parts and probably 30 minutes for a “professional” to do the work I took an hour to do.

750% profit on a 30-60 minute small job, all in. How do they stay in business with prices like that?

My least favorite Senator

Mitch McConnell is on record recently saying something I’m having a hard time with. During an interview this week he said, “One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” Really? That’s your priority, your big idea? In that case I have a few questions for you.

Senator McConnell, the new administration has rolled out the COVID vaccine with remarkable efficiency. The United States is now #1 in getting its citizens immunized. Do you intend to try and stop that?

Senator, the US economy is now on a growth trend that would see 15-16% GDP growth in 2021, largely thanks to the Fed’s management of money supply and the injection of stimulus cash into the economy. Why would you want to stop that growth?

Er, Senator, approximately 2% of the Biden administration’s COVID relief package will go into KY citizen’s pockets, based on population. That’s $40 billion dollars benefiting KY. Are you intent on stopping that? And what will Kentuckians think when they don’t receive the relief they were counting on?

And finally Senator, the Biden administration is getting our soldiers out of Afghanistan after twenty years of heartbreaking, useless fighting. The last four Presidents have tried, but Biden is doing it. Would you like to keep our soldiers in Afghanistan? Why?

I could go on, but you get the idea. I surely hated Trump, but McConnell was and is a close second. We have a radical conservative Supreme Court because McConnell broke all norms and twisted the law to take power that wasn’t rightfully his. Reforming the Senate with term limits is my #1 wish for fixing the US government – McConnell’s power is an aberration that we should not let happen again.

Update: Just one day after I wrote this, Digby says pretty much the same thing about The Gravedigger.

Recovering workaholic re-retires

I hit two or three milestones yesterday that are worth celebrating:

  • I moved from “part time” (2-3 days/week) on my quantum computing project to “very part time” (2-3 hours per week). While I really like the project, I also like being mostly retired.
  • I finished work on a big proposal for my other company. Even more time back in the retired column.
  • I forced myself to get out of the house in order to start a series of Monday golf lessons. It felt great.

All along I planned that the unretirement, begun in January, would be temporary. And now it’s here. Time for a nap.

Run for the roses

Watching yesterday’s Kentucky Derby was cathartic. For the first time in what seems like a decade, it was a beautiful sunny day for The Derby in Louisville – no rain, no mud. And after Derby Day was scratched in 2020 (a dim, no-spectators version of The Derby was run in the fall, but it just wasn’t the same), yesterday’s return to sartorial and horsey glory was needed.

I watched most of the races, aided by fast-forward through repetitive backstories. Cousin Donnie and his wife Kristen were there as guests of Mandaloun’s owner, sending the occasional text and pictures from the inner circles of Churchill (must be nice). They had an exciting final race, as Mandaloun came in second by only a half-length. Exciting but crushing – placing second is the worst for a true competitor.

I got plenty done yesterday, but it was relaxing to tune in during the day and watch Louisville have a good day for a change. Kentucky culture showed pretty well, IMHO.

(Beautiful photo above by Jamie Squire/Getty Images).


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.

Wine tales part two – A Tale of Two Tastings

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.

Wine tales part one

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!

Musing about the future

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.

Eastward ho

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.

Wine Academy Award

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.

Pictures later.

Wine dogs on the prowl

We have a trip to Napa coming up soon and I’m very happy to go. The weather may not be perfect, but we can safely have some great wine and food indoors or out. Our stops will include:

  • Joseph Phelps (their Insignia is an all-time favorite)
  • Quintessa
  • Auberge du Soleil
  • Reguschi (maybe)
  • Plumpjack (maybe)
  • Mumm
  • Silverado
  • The Rutherford Grill

And who knows what else. I need a break, and this will be a good one.