Phoenix rising: The New Winehiker Witiculture Blog.

No doubt many of you recall the frustrations of the 2008-2010 economic downturn. Housing bubble, financial crises, stock market woes, massive unemployment hitting home for so many of us. The course of my life and career were certainly on a parallel: I found myself scrambling for a paycheck – almost any paycheck that I could earn with a keyboard. Furthermore, I had developed problems with my left hip that precluded any hikes longer than 4 or 5 miles.

And I crashed head-on with the realization that I could no longer operate my tour business, California Wine Hikes.

It was a grim time, and I felt its deep, bitter bite for weeks, even months. Feeling the heavy weight of failure, dwelling more than I should on how I’d wasted five good years, and desperately searching my soul for any kind of meaning as to where my life had gone and why, I realized I needed to close operations on my business, shut down my website, and springboard full tilt boogie for Jesus into the job search.

Those were dark, dreadful days. It was not easy to appear enthusiastic during job interviews, but somehow I managed to dig deep and shine. It took a long while, and it was damned hard to stay focused and positive. Thankfully, after many months, the phone finally rang and I came away with a technical writing job that pays the bills – a job that I still hold today, nearly 2½ years later.

I quickly discovered that landing that job was not the only silver lining to my recent dark storm cloud. While I had already possessed the chops to fulfill the role of technical writer, it had become very apparent to me that my company’s website needed work. A massive lot of work! It helped immensely that I had spent the better part of the previous 5 years managing a business and website, honing my HTML, SEO and content-creation skills, building an understanding of social networking, and even building the vocabulary, the jargon, of the web developer. Right then and there, two weeks into the job, I volunteered to own the company website.

Those 5 years of skill-building hadn’t been wasted after all.

I threw myself lock, stock and barrel into the job. I worked hard to heal my hip. For two years, I rarely came up for air. Though on salary, I worked nights. I worked weekends. Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, to me, were abstractions I could not afford. And, though I felt all the while a strong compulsion to drastically improve my company’s website and technical documentation, I felt equally strongly about resurrecting my own sense of self-worth, of contribution, of accomplishment. As I ticked off each painstaking milestone, both job-wise and hiking-wise, it began to occur to me that light was actually beginning to appear at the end of my own personal tunnel.

And I began to reach out again.

Many of you who are reading this post have certainly noticed an upturn in my social media activity, which I returned to in the Spring of last year. Some of you are even reading my online paper, Winehikers’ Daily, which I felt was a way to not only inform and perhaps enlighten my audience about the topics they find interest in, but also a way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of current topics – and reconnect with my social network. Though I had been away from social media for what seems an extended hibernation, this journey back has, in retrospect, been very much a sound mental health decision.

Let's hit the trail.

Let’s hit the trail.

I don’t regret that journey.

Today, despite the ritual and the process of these past few years, I realize that this journey has turned out to be a very redeeming one. I have emerged from the other end of my long, dark tunnel. I’m largely satisfied with my job accomplishments. And I am hiking again!

And, if you’ll permit me to be so bold: I have returned to blogging.

Behold the new winehiker witiculture!

I am deeply grateful to you, my readers, for your abiding warmth, understanding, and patience. I hope you’ll join me on the next leg of this journey.

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Folks, what do you think? Was my return to blogging a good idea? Or, is blogging dead?
Did I wait too gol-darn long to resurrect my blog?
Are these all just silly questions?

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The Hypocrisy of Natalie MacLean

In recent days, wine writer Natalie MacLean has been publicly called on the carpet by members of the wine writing community for content theft and other less-than-honorable deeds. It’s my opinion that these writers have reason to do so; there’s an undercurrent to the story that Ms. MacLean has not done well to resolve.

This post appears on Natalie MacLean’s website; it is her response to this outcry. While the post has garnered nearly 30 comments, all appear to support Ms. MacLean. In my response to this post, which is duplicated below, I call it like it is for me.

UPDATE 12/24/2012: Ms. MacLean removed my comment within minutes of my posting it.

Ms. MacLean, back in late 2005, I quoted a passage on my former blog, Winehiker Witiculture, from one of your articles. I gave you proper attribution and link love in that post, quoted you accurately, and yet received a quick comment on that post from you, demanding that I immediately remove the passage. I was perplexed by your viewpoint, to be sure; I recall having been struck by the notion that you had little idea how social media worked, much less how to foster reciprocal dialog with a potential fan.

People quote each other all the time; I don’t need to explain how or why – you know it to be true. A simple acknowledgment of my shout-out from you would have been sufficient affirmation of my reference to your article (given your own inclination to do so); such follow-up would have conformed to generally-accepted typicality.

Despite the puzzling nature of your request, I nevertheless gave you the benefit of the doubt and promptly removed the quote. You are the only person who has  ever asked me to do so.

However, my respect for you was needlessly tarnished; over time, your seemingly quid pro quo methods began to desensitize me to your approach. I simply began to view you with jaundiced eyes, and I didn’t waste any time looking elsewhere for wine-related information. I am not surprised, then, to learn that a number of your well-respected peers are also smelling the same fishiness I once did. My episode with you is now no longer an experience unique to me.

I cannot speak for Palate Press nor any other entity, and yet I cannot abide what, for me, smacks of hyprocrisy. I have summarily unsubscribed from your media across all platforms. It doesn’t matter whether you or a small Circle of Wine Writers think this matter is closed, because as long as the much wider, global circle of wine writers, winemakers, wine readers and wine lovers thinks you smell like bad fish, you will smell like bad fish.


Related posts:

Natalie MacLean: World’s Best Wine Writer or Content Thief?, by Palate Press
Natalie MacLean Tells A Lie, by W. Blake Gray
Controversy swirls over popular Ottawa wine writer’s alleged misuse of others’ work, from the Ottawa Citizen

Trees, I think…

Why did I write this post? I'm as stumped as you are. I must have been Madly influenced.

Why did I write this post? I’m as stumped as you are.
I must have been Madly influenced.

Being a former precocious preadolescent, I once used to voraciously read Mad magazine. It’s what you did as a boy back in the 1970s before your testicles descended, and hey — I was no different. For us 12-year-olds hanging out in our treehouses conveniently away from intruding parents, satire was the urban refuge of the budding cynic, and irreverence was a holy thing. While our across-the-gender-fence peers could have been a continent removed from us reading all the latest Tiger Beat gossip about Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, and Tony DeFranco, we were passing around well-thumbed copies of Mad, as well as Cracked and National Lampoon.

We were the Kings of All Boyhood.

True, we were hooked on the brazen impudence, the distorted symbolism, the racy chimera of these puerile rags. But as I continued along the winding trail through the rocky promontories of my postpubescence, I discovered real rock: the writings of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Wallace Stegner, John Wesley Powell, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey.

I had already become an avid hiker and backpacker, and was later to adopt a 200-mile-a-week bicycling habit. Not to mention a fondness for wine, if I could afford it, and a desire to taste and breathe all things natural and good. I had developed a deep longing to be out there where I could breathe that sweet and lucid, yet unspoiled, rarefied mountain breeze that continually sang to me with its siren call.

My idealism was wholly influenced by all I read, and I went on to pursue studies in biology, botany, physics, geology, land surveying, and, for a while, a degree in forest science. Later, despite my gravitation to a more technical career path yet still drawn by Abbey’s ornery, magnetic prose, I ventured to the stark red rock vastnesses of the Colorado Plateau to strengthen my connection to what Abbey described so vividly as Bedrock and Paradox.

I kept on reading.

If there’s one absolute Truth that I would learn through this timeline, it’s that one can’t be a writer without first being a reader. It was these readings and experiences that began to shape what my Self was to become. Yet for all that I would ever think, feel, do, and share with others, it became apparent to me that there was only one higher Absolute Truth:

Only rock is real.

Yet my attraction to all things bound to this Rock that we — all species — live our lives upon began, as I’ve intimated, with a love of trees, and a desire for their sound management and preservation.

During my angst-prone pimple-ridden wide-eyed youth, I penned the following poem, a Mad parody of Joyce Kilmer‘s oft-quoted World War I-era classic. Some might say that I stole this poem from Mad magazine. All I can tell you is that I was heavily influenced by what I was reading at age 17; I was writing a fair amount of “love and death” poetry at the time.

I’ll let you be the judge.


I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

I’d hoped, of course, that there would be
A tree still left for me to see.

Some lumber firm from out of town
Has chopped the whole damned forest down.

But I’ll show up those stupid chumps!
I’ll go and write a poem called “Stumps!”


From the demijohn to Sauntering John

A technical writer by trade, I am sometimes stifled in my ability – or inclination, perhaps – to write with creativity. It is most painful, of course, when I realize I haven’t blogged for well over a week.

I’m sorry about that.

And I’m not feeling particularly creative tonight, either – the magic that can come by and by with the sipping of the liquid red ambition thus far escapeth mine fickle writing sensibilities.

So, as in the past, I have once again taken refuge in John Muir’s “The Mountains Of California” for inspiration. And, after experiencing a longer-than-usual wet winter season, from which swollen rivers come, I want to share a passage with you from Muir’s chapter, “The River Floods.” It reminds me of a moment from last week when I sauntered across a bridge over Alameda Creek at Sunol Regional Park on a quite stellar – and long-awaited – Spring day. It also encapsulates what I feel, if not what I am able to say.

And so, I humbly yield unto the living prose of Mr. Muir:

The glad creek rose high above its banks and wandered from its channel out over many a briery sand-flat and meadow. Alders and willows waist-deep were bearing up against the current with nervous trembling gestures, as if afraid of being carried away, while supple branches, bending confidingly, dipped lightly and rose again, as if stroking the wild waters in play. Leaving the bridge and passing on through the storm-thrashed woods, all the ground seemed to be moving. Pine-tassels, flakes of bark, soil, leaves, and broken branches were being swept forward, and many a rock fragment, weathered from exposed ledges, was now receiving its first rounding and polishing in the wild streams of the storm. On they rushed through every gulch and hollow, leaping, gliding, working with a will, and rejoicing like living creatures.

Ah…. It sure puts boots on your feet, doesn’t it?


Cranial infarction

You may have arrived here at Winehiker Witiculture by clicking on a feed for which there is no longer a source post! Alas, yesterday I quoted a segment by a wine writer whose words I admire, only to have a request from the author to remove the post from my blog – a request I complied with.*

It was the idea behind the article that inspired me to want to share it with you. Sometime this week, I’ll filter that idea through my noggin and it’ll land here. Thanks for your patience, dear reader.


[*Editor’s note: There have been times in my life in which I’ve been willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think that it’s because I’m a caring individual and not simply a doormat. Nevertheless, sufficient time has elapsed since I wrote this post. What might that unnamed wine writer mentioned above be up to now? Well, the cranial infarction turned out to be hers, not mine.]

Record Northern California 2005 Grape Harvest

Though I often find myself embracing quality over quantity in my life, I suspect that the 2005 Napa and Sonoma grape harvest will find wine collectors, futures buyers, and consumers embracing both, and snapping up as much 2005 Napa Valley and Sonoma County Cabernets and Merlots as possible.

Imagine the best wines you could ever drink at a price you’d never expect to afford. Now imagine having so much of it available to you that you could die happy, a heartily-satiated wine lover. I think life for an admirer of wine just doesn’t get any better than that. As long as you’re still embracing life, of course.

Hey, you can’t drink wine when you’re dead, right?

Even as far back as a year ago, on a wildflower jaunt to Death Valley, I thought 2005 was going to be a banner year. Multiple storms had pounded Southern California, delivering record-breaking rainfall and spawning prolific 100-year wildflower shows in Death Valley and the Carrizo Plains. But these constant heavy rains had also soaked deep into the terroir of California’s myriad expanse of grape-growing regions. I had thought at the time that winegrowers around the state would benefit from a record quantity of grapes, therefore keeping prices low for consumers. But with the consummate knowledge that California grape growers and winemakers have applied in recent years, I felt that those of us who are ardent wine fans might just enjoy a great synergy of quality, as well as quantity, from the 2005 grape harvest.

Indeed, what I suspected has become wonderful news, as you’ll see in the following story reprinted from the Napa Register.    

Napa grapes brought in more than $500 million; harvest up, prices steady, and cabernet is still the king
By L. PIERCE CARSON, Register Staff Writer Saturday, February 11, 2006 1:10 AM PST

Weighing in at a record 180,813 tons, Napa Valley’s 2005 grape crop is the largest ever harvested.

As a result, the value of last fall’s grape crush — a cool $541 million — is the largest amount ever paid local growers for prized Napa Valley grapes. Tonnage registered half again as much as the previous year’s harvest, while the average price paid for a ton of Napa Valley grapes — $2,989, the highest price per ton in the entire state — crept up a modest 2 percent last year. Pricing and tonnage information about the most recent harvest is contained in the preliminary 2005 grape crush report released Friday by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The value of Napa’s 2005 crop is estimated at more than half a billion dollars, noted Sue Brewster, an associate with industry analyst George Schofield, of St. Helena. A 54 percent increase in income for growers when compared to 2004, it also eclipses the prior record of $390 million set in 2003, Brewster added.

In a year where prices remained relatively stable, the huge increase in crop value is tied directly to “a huge avalanche of grapes,” declared Schofield, attributed to newly planted vines coming into production. “The relative short production in the four years from 2001 through 2004 — a fairly narrow range of 120,000 tons to 130,000 tons — concealed the effect of the maturing of the significant planting of vines from 1997 to 2001,” he added. “Clearly, the 181,000 tons of Napa grapes for the year 2005 brought this impact into sharp focus.”

“With this volume (of grapes), prices remaining strongly stable and a lot of people looking at quality with high regard, we may have seen the triple crown of winegrape growing,” said Napa Valley Grapegrowers executive director Jennifer Kopp after poring over the 2005 grape crush report. Kopp noted the previous crop tonnage record was set in 1997, with this year’s total coming in 21 percent higher than that.

If one looks at the revenue derived from grapes in the North Coast counties of Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino, “it comes to well over $1 billion. I think that sends a message about the value of agriculture in the North Coast,” she said. One of the largest independent growers in the North Coast, Andy Beckstoffer said he was surprised at tonnage figures. “But more exciting is that prices held,” Beckstoffer noted. “With that kind of tonnage you’d expect prices to fall. So that’s a great credit to Napa County.  “When you combine record tonnage with stable prices and outstanding quality, you get what they call in hockey a hat trick.

Facts and figures

Cabernet sauvignon remains king of the grapes in the Napa Valley, with a record 69,178 tons harvested last year. That’s an increase of 19,478 tons, or 39 percent, above the 2004 crush. The second largest planting in Napa County is chardonnay, with 33,935 tons harvested last year. That’s an increase of 10,700 tons, or a hike of 46 percent.  Merlot tonnage in 2005 totaled 31,676 — up by 9,415 tons, or 42 percent. Pinot noir weighed in at 10,181 tons, an increase of 1,906 tons, or 23 percent. America’s grape, zinfandel, saw a 22 percent increase in tonnage last harvest — 5,357 tons, up from 4,222 in 2004.

“Indeed, the results for pinot noir point out that the large increase in grape production in 2005 reflects that the year 2004 was about as far below normal as 2005 was above normal — roughly 25 percent each way,” noted Schofield. As for prices of 2005 fruit, cabernet sauvignon remains at the top of the largest planted varietals — an average of $3,970 a ton, an increase of only $17 over 2004. Also registering very modest price increases (between $20 and $26 per ton) were merlot at $2,661 and pinot noir at $2,196.

The average price paid for a ton of chardonnay continued to decline slightly. The average price last year was $2,112 per ton, a drop of $17. The price paid per ton of sauvignon blanc was $1,711, an increase of 5 percent. Other reds gaining popularity here include syrah (4,218 tons, $2,712 per ton), cabernet franc (3,706 tons, $4,125 per ton) and petite sirah (2,229 tons, $3,149 per ton).

“Due to the offsetting effect of the large 2005 crop and the short 2004 — as well as the inherent pricing economics of premium wine grapes — inordinate concern ought not to be raised about a radical price reaction for Napa grapes in 2006,” advises Schofield. “Nevertheless, prudent growers should put some of the 54 percent gain in 2005 revenue in the bank in anticipation of the next down cycle in the industry, which is certain to occur.”

Around the state

The news was also good in neighboring Sonoma County, where total grape crop revenue registered $429 million, an increase of 38 percent over the previous harvest. Grape tonnage in Sonoma is higher than in Napa by nearly 50 tons — an increase of 39 percent from 2004 to 230,000 tons. The chardonnay crop in Sonoma County is more than double Napa’s, weighing 73,241 tons in 2005. But the average price paid for chardonnay in Sonoma is well below Napa’s — at $1,581 per ton. Cabernet sauvignon tonnage in Sonoma County registers 45,399, with the average per ton price of $2,322.

Sonoma County growers received the second-highest return statewide, of $1,868 per ton, virtually unchanged from 2004.  Statewide, the 2005 crush totaled a record 4,318,083 tons, up 19 percent from the 2004 crush of 3,615,278 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,220,096 tons, up 35 percent from 2004. The 2005 white wine variety crush totaled 1,524,404 tons, up 34 percent over the previous harvest.  The 2005 average price paid for all grape varieties was $531.65, up 10 percent from 2004. The average price paid for red grapes throughout the state last year was $634.40, an increase of 1 percent; for white grapes, $503.15, up 3 percent from 2004.