Rant Poetry Wine


Sitting in my usual.  Corner seat before barrels tasting day 2.  Only have twenty minutes to collect so I put myself in the poet’s chair, in the student’s seat.  Using every breath and thought optimally before seeing more of the wavy verses, people who’ve been to too many spots.  But before addressing that, I explore the why.  Didn’t find a definite answer or understanding yesterday, with the first day.  Tasting from the Roth barrels and me behind the bar, seeing people only want more wine, but what I did see was the appreciation of occasion.  No, they didn’t take tasting wine from barrel with as much astuteness or attention as I would, or as I hoped they might.  But the why entails a love for the moment.  A direction to the wined direction.  I love wine just for this just for what I saw yesterday, even the over-sippers, and there were a few— more than I anticipated there’d be, truthfully.  The why professes in the tasting room, at the barrel, in wine’s magnetism to bring people somewhere.  How much they sip and how seriously they take it is irrelevant, frankly.  Wine tells people to go somewhere, and the people go to be around other characters similar.  That’s poetic, that’s musical, theatrical and animated.  The why in wine, in barrel tasting, is in the walk up that walkway, the first barrel from which you taste.  No matter your age, college kid obnoxious or older collector serious, you’re all there concurrently.  To taste, yes.  But more so to experience.  To live, to spend that part of your life right there at that time, taste wine and do what you will with it.

Today I measure will be even more traffic-trounced than yesterday.  And yesterday was quite manageable.  Some complain about how crazy it gets and about the drunk people, the college kids and whomever else isn’t working and enjoying their day.  Not me.  As a writer, I take it all in and inventory and deconstruct the stage.  People all around me at one point, and person working bar with me left to do something, I think clean up broken glass in women’s salle de bains.  I stood.  I poured.  I talked to everyone, this one kid in particular that wanted to get something sweet for his girlfriend.  I told him we didn’t have any sweet wine. He then posed what I thought was the sweetest tasting.  Said the Pinot Gris.  He agreed.  He bought and thanked me for my time, and for being so patient with him when it was him moving in patient perambulation with me.  I could tell he was affected by the juice, but I didn’t act any differently or ask if he was okay, or offer him water which I probably should have, back-looking.

Before Day 2 launches, and I’m here and there and everywhere with a bottle in my hand, surveying the people on counter’s opposing terrain, I look out the window at my right, see rain, and breathe.  Today will test me, all of us.  But I take it in differently being the wine journalist, writer, diarist.  I’m in the wine industry, for my thirteenth year, and still see Newness from how people drink to how they talk before and after having too much, to what I say to myself while talking to them.  Having the dualistic dialogue.  All around wine.  The wine is the why.  Wine is its own poetic aesthetic, but as well its own psychoanalytic momentum.  College English, Literature Instructor in wine’s rooms, noting everything.  That’s my why, blended with wine’s.


Creative Positivism, 14 — Vino Freedom

A vineyard walk often solves everything.  Shows you everything.  Gives you everything.

Easy to understand, as the vineyard IS everything.

At least today.

So I’m going out there.

To walk the blocks.

Smile with leaves and grape clusters,

saunter in colorful soil texture.

Wine speaks to me, as a consumer and just lover of the stories and the juice.  While walking the Petite Sirah block, looking at the morphing complexion of the bunches.  Last night’s Chardonnay still on mind, would love a sip, or taste, glass?  Need to chase, chase the bottles and their stories— in a mood to only research, become not just a more fervent consumer but a hunter of stories.  All creative, wanting to create something for their img_5010families and people with whom they can share that story, what’s in the bottle— more than sipping, or feeling of effects.  But an envelopment in wine’s sensory atmosphere and phenolic music.  I roll my eyes sometimes when I hear people conveniently using the Robert Louis Stevens quote, and I think I finally know why.  As much poetry as I read and write, teach to English students, wine spans disciplines, is more than verse and establishes its own discipline in our worlds, becoming inter-dimensional and intergalactic, defying natural laws and going to spaces in our existences that indubitably teach us more about our existences.  Like my vineyard stroll earlier and anything connected to wine and its development and elemental assembly, where I am now at my desk, staring out at the Sauv’ Blanc block, gifts me innumerable lessons.

The vineyard is definitely everything in this world.  Yes, there’s the wine and anything connected to consider afterward, but only afterward.  I had to walk where it starts, the ‘before’.  Going to the tasting room for a second, to taste something, taste a vineyard, a story, an effort, a project, an expression.  Just a taste, no glass…  And when back at this desk, I feel more for wine.  I can only grin— I’m here, in this world, seeing people come from so far away to where I work, live and leisure, where I create, everyday.  It’s humbling, more than anything.  Educational.  Enriching.  Spiritual.

I’ll educate myself more, more, the wine will help.  Wine, the professor.  Vineyard, a dean.  Me, waiting for the next assignment.

This, is Liberatory Pedagogy.



Laces then Bell


Photo on 2-8-16 at 9.48 AMFor years, I’ve stressed to students that there’s no such thing as ‘writer’s block’.  Yeah?  Okay… then what the hell is with me tonight?  It’s quite easy to blame the kids, my role as a father and my responsibilities therein and of, the fact that it’s my wife’s birthday—  I could just blame whatever I want.d  And whomever.  But no.  It’s me.  IT’s all on me.  “The onus is on me,” as I too stress to them, the first day of every semester.  Tonight’s rain does have me motivated but not enough.  Why not enough?  Why don’t I just write?

Poured myself another glass of the Sangiovese I bought from Whole Foods earlier, just before five, going to get my wife some flowers and a birthday card (which was really quite funny, for once), a burrito for us both.  Only $14.99 for the bottle.  Couldn’t believe it.  And where am I going with this?  Shit, I don’t know.  It’s one of those nights for the writer.  And no I’m not blocked, I’m just ….. at a wall, or overthinking.  Something.

Watching some boxing match on HBO.  I need to approach this, these pages, all of them, more competitively, with more visually pugilistic movements.  Take on other writers, affirm that I am the best.  But am I?  There’s that doubt again.  A mess, this writer tonight, but I’m writing through it, or trying.  When students come to me with woes like this, what do I say?…..  Seriously, what do I tell them.  Can’t remember right now.  OH, “Stay in the chair.” And, “If you don’t write, then nothing’s written, no story’s told.” But, I’m not a student, meaning I’m losing my youth.  I’m aging.  24 days, 2 months till 37.  How much longer will I be able to begin my pieces with “For years, I’ve…”?  Shouldn’t think like that.  This is just a mood, and it’ll pass I hope.

Need another sip of that Sangio’.  Should write more about wine.  And, as crazy as I’m able to muster and mold.  Be a Hunter S. of wine journalism.  Oh my god…  these wine people wouldn’t be able to handle it. I can hear it now…  “You shouldn’t say things like that… it’s a small industry.” Yeah?  And I give a shit.  Now I’m starting to feel like these guys on the screen, how the victor talks after the fight, confidently but not tied in defamation.  Or maybe a little.  No fear.  I just hop into the ring ready to swing.

No rain now.  Quiet.  And I feel uncomfortable.  I’m writing, though.  I am.  Me, only, refusing to look at a blank page and just do nothing.  That’s the fight…  That’s the rumble of writer’s block.  Fear.  The anxiety and apprehension accompanying the writer’s reality when confronted with the void.  He has to make it into a page, something worth reading.  Students often blame that blank page, citing how menacing it appears, makes them feel diminished, lowered, paralyzed.  But if you do that in the ring, just freeze and in place remain, you’re with lowered lids.  On the mat.

So easy to blame.  It becomes addicting, if you begin down that terrible tributary.  Waking up after not getting much sleep from kids, both, being either sick or just in the mood to do whatever they can for attention.  Complaining and then citing what they did and how my creative inaction is a result of something they did is simply writer-death.  Worse than overthinking.  What I’ve learned, just write.  Just keep moving.  Something will come out, some idea will beam from somewhere in my character and the fight is on then to finish it.  Every finished piece is a win, warrant for satisfaction with what I’ve done, maybe a bit of boasting.  I’m still so much a student, the further I get into my writing days and how I tackle any attempt, be it a story or essay, even one of those poems I challenge myself to write in less than a minute.  A revealing, enriching gem is there.  Wait for me, I believe.

An even more incredible bargain than the bottle of Sangiovese.  This is Time, experiences made mine, costing nothing, I just have to be open.  Accepting of the impetus’ current and that I react to it advantageously..  I keep writing, that is a choice.  I mean, I guess I could just stop, give up and say “It’s not going to happen, Mike, do something else, find another ‘passion’.” ONE, surrender or throwing in some towel is not even removedly an option.  Writing is not what I do, it’s who I am.  Even when I try forcing myself not to write for a while, I malfunction and scribble something.  TWO, something happening isn’t much of a concern, or even at all.  Something happening, like with travel for example, I’m assured is in my story.  When someone says something like that, that’s from their world and from their failures, simple textbook projection.  And, “passion”: this is much more than simple passion.  Passion is a world people in the wine world overuse, or people having to tell you they’re passionate about something.  Again, projection.  It’s obvious this is a passion, but one universally elevated.  You don’t just ‘find another’.

I will say, though, I implore myself to be that undefeated writer.  Finishing everything, knowing where every piece is; keeping better records and knowing acutely its geography in this house.  This is all on me, the journalistic onus, the creative curse of finishing books and essays or anything I initiate.

The next morning, Jackie and I wake together, after a long night of wakings and his battling the ripples of a “low-grade flu” as the doctor yesterday categorized.  He’s in his world, and I in mine.  He tells me to stop writing and sit with him on the couch, “In a minute, buddy,”  I say.  Then I notice a character flaw, losing time with him and, or, his sister from the need to finish a piece, or just simply write, be a writer

That I don’t understand, yet.




The Clown

Photo on 1-20-16 at 10.41 PMIt’s not funny.  Especially if this is your livelihood, how you make ends, hopefully they’re meeting with the low wages, the seasonal traffic, and how some wineries just shed workforce members when numbers aren’t met.  But more on that later.  Or.. no, let’s start there.  Why don’t they want to pay?  And I mean, PAY.  Not something astronomical, just a livable currency set.  I worked for a Dry Creek winery from late ’10 to early ’11, and I left or was rather dismissed after raising an issue about the pay.  “Well,” the then-tasting room manager dingbat said, “we did a survey of what other tasting rooms around us were paying and that’s what we used to determine what was fair.” $12 per hour.  That’s fair.  Well, there is truly the nucleus of the humor behind and within and all around wine’s illustrious and inarguable industry:  They all think it’s okay not to pay.  So, I should have said, “because everyone’s doing it, that makes it right?  OR, ethical?”

Wine’s industry is starved, a quadriplegic of desperation, unquantifiably frenzied and madcapped to be respected, taken seriously.  And for many, it is.  People taking their love of wine seriously, I applaud.  But, the crux of my qualm comes with and is directed toward industry behavior.  When the season is fiery and heaping with sales and guests and wine club signups, there is no problem, management is aglow and effusive toward everyone around them.  Then, with the season slow, look for any reason you can to cut something from “the budget”.  Budget budget budget…  What’s budgeted, what’s in the budget.  Am I in the budget?  Will you please let me eat this week?  I know so many tasting room and other winery dimension workers that have thought this, told me, told their higher-ups, and who knows what happened next.

It’s not just management, it’s the language, and the tinges in the wording that’s used, that everyone uses.  Much of which is deceptive, a sales pitch, leading to successful self-deception about workers (which management adores, ‘cause that means you’ve subscribed to their ideology, you’ve bought it, you’re one of their sales serpents, or just ‘workers’).  “Wine Education” is the first such language I’ll entertain.  And it is entertaining, how it’s so often on “literature” from the wineries, how they let you know you’re in the presence of a “Wine Educator” when you visit, and if you’re working in the tasting room or anywhere else on the estate involving selling wine (which is always the purpose, no matter to what degree they may seem to like you or enjoy your role, presence), you’ve been given the title of Wine “Educator” and you better bloody sell.  I always have to ask, what am I being truly taught?  Is this not information I can gather on the website, and if not then what do I do with this ‘wine knowledge’?  Will it make the wine taste better?  Will it make me a better taster of wine, of your wines?  Whenever I see the word Education, Educator, or Educate,  I expect all.  As well, I anticipate being educated by an actual, somewhat credentialed educator.  Not someone who was recently hired and read some employee handbook or heard one of the owners and/or winemaker speak for a couple hours, and let loose pouring, to sell.  My character, though, I concede, is of compromised place being an Adjunct English Instructor of over ten years.  So I acknowledge that.

Moving on, though, from the education obverse, I think of the reality of ‘wine club’.  And, the precipitation of the “members” ideas.  Some are members, then others are not.  And when working at a winery, your worth very much involves how many people you sign up.  But, what management never respects is the tangible nature of a wine club; it’s a commitment.  Yes, it’s dependable income, for the winery, and yes you are compensated (sometimes munificently), but to connect your worth as an employee to how many you ‘bring into the fold’ is laughable.  Unethical, actually.

Wine is something to be loved, and not used.  Its industry has become less about the wine and more of just a systematic industry, like every other corporate step-on-you and claw-to-the-top behemoth.  There’s nothing assuring and certainly not re-assuring about that, when the mood changes so quickly, when things manipulate shape right in front of you and you have to meet sales goals which Mother Nature may not let you tackle.  Even if you’re a “luxury brand”, which many of these small estates and producers call themselves (which is vulgarly vain), there’s only so much you can move.  Only so many bottles can move out a door in a given day.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with friendly competition and selling wine, challenging yourself to meet a certain marker, outdo yourself or whatever.  But when management/ownership bullies you with what needs to be done (translation: how much money THEY need to make), there’s obvious cultural ailment.

I’ll be frank, there’s nothing entertainment or comical about this.  I know to many dependent on a winery’s functionality and everything transpiring with sales and in the tasting room.  The industry is clownish, but it’s that horrifying clown, with jaws; proving itself carnivorous, heartless, just out for spreadsheet cell content, numbers, what more can be done; what you’re doing needs to be improved, so let’s institute another policy, and when they fail to work let’s make up a new policy—  Now that is funny, how string-pullers just change their mind, whenever, and whyever.  “And what are you paying me?” you should ask.  No, don’t, don’t endanger your job, but just think about it.  Who is this serving?  How much are you doing for you?  And if you are in a happy place, at a winery that treats you well, and beamingly proves itself the exception, then ignore every paragraph you’ve read.  But hold this sentence closer than close:  That heavenly exception proves the industry’s devilish rule.

Don’t let it rule you.



MOCK SOMM: quick sips

Ridge Winery, 2000, California, Montebello

img_1080Fading a bit, but no slip of color or engagement.  Diminished grip, slightly, as well with the fruit, but the general palate placement and musical nature of the wine is there, with violets and chocolate, rich raspberry and plum, a little blueberry.  Again, impeccable dark depth on visual and interactive texture; soft, euphonious, a piano riff with a light symbol tap.  Flirtatious echo as the sip finishes.  Still with life and its intentions, but if you have this in your cellar I wouldn’t wait much longer.  The bottle wants to be touched.  The wine demands the sipper’s senses, this year.

Needed Wine Thesis

img_0946Last night’s Sanglier Grenache is still in my head, how it tasted different and disclosed a contrasted song and trot this time.  Not better, not worse, still very much my favorite in Glenn’s portfolio, but how I can’t articulate the reasoning of my own thoughts, what it was, acutely, that the wine varied from those other, all those other, impressions, I’m in my lost seat.  Trying to type.  Trying to categorize.  But here I go, again, overthinking wine, taking away its jazz and palate paradiddles, the versified consistencies of what I sip.  So why—  Is this the English Professor ME telling the wined ME to look deeper?  What does it want me to do, type a reaction, 500 words?  This would be it, professor.  But my reaction predicates and prides itself on the euphoria of being lost in what I sip, ’12 Grenache from that Rincon Valley vineyard at the base of the Mayacamas; the rugged yet feminine duality sipped and perceived, shapeshifting and postmodern— the writer haunted.

Professor Me:  So what’s your thesis?  What exactly are you arguing about this Grenache?

Writer/Wine Me:  It reminder me that a wander should accompany the wonder of what’s in my glass and how it speaks to me.

Professor:  What does that mean?

Writer/Wine:  That to be replete with mechanical notes and to be drowned in analysis erodes wine’s spell and romance.  It should be a conversation, when you sip a wine.  A flirtation, a dance, a successful spell.

The speculative transaction halts and I imagine again, what I tasted, how it looked in the glass, what did the wine say to me?  Certainly more Strawberry syncopation with the stroll of slight saccharine about the herbal ebb; more activity, more electricity, more a bounce to its presence and placement to palate.  There was more intrigue, more instruction, more literature.  Definitely a professor’s wine, so the fictive stichomythia above shouldn’t even be taking place.  The wine is its own argument, rhetoric.  It’s an inviting wine, tranquil and leaning with Zen; The wine doesn’t want us to think, it wants us, wanted me last night and even this morning in this coffee-curbed meditation, to amorously summon its character; think about how it tasted, how it paired with that light pasta, the spinach leaves and red vinaigrette.  Such symphonic synergy.  Music.  That’s the truth, that’s the revelation.  Or, “thesis”, if you will…..

I’ll be in the tasting room today, and I’m sure I’ll taste the Grenache a couple times, well as the other projects, but I’m promising myself that no over-analysis will be executed.  Just a conversation with everything, from the Chardonnay to the Rhône blend, the Cab and Syrah.  Just a breviloquent intersection.  And that’s it.  Then I think, remember it, but no analysis.  Wine is teaching me more composure as a character, which translates to my pervading temperament as a character; wine’s shown me in its, now, ten-year lecture, that the characters change, the wines change, THIS WRITER will change.  And it shouldn’t be resisted, nor scrutinized or rejected, but wholly embraced

(new thesis:  Wine’s pedagogy is taste-based, no right or wrong, just sipped sincerity.)




Occidental Respite

img_0931On a  day off, I wanted to taste.  And I knew where I was headed.  I just wasn’t anticipating this magnanimous impression.  Right when I parked, down a scenically stretched driveway from Occidental Road, I parked just outside the Balletto tasting room.  Relaxed and removed Xanadu sense enveloping me from the first step on that gravel, following me into the cozy room which reminded me of the living room of a friend’s Central Oregon cabin.  Met by Ms. Charlotte, warmly and genuine invite to the bar, she pressured me with nothing, only setting a glass before me and pouring me some of the exceptionally rounded and balanced sparkling.  The to a Pinot Gris and Sexton Hill Chardonnay which had me equally struck.

I had the vision that I was over at a friend’s house, simply tasting wine and talking about the Russian River dimension, the styles of Pinots and Chards you find around the tasting room versus other growing zones in the state, or even the county.img_0924

She as well put some of the ’14 Rosé of Pinot  before me which struck me in how assertive it was with its flavor; not in any way passive or quick, or one of those safe Rosés that someone would say, “Yeah, it’s great for just sipping on a hot day.” No.  This Rosé of Pinot translation delivered an acute dactylic dance; the luminary stylistic effulgence you hope to taste from Rosé bottle, but don’t, ever.  Here you will.  Balletto shows there doesn’t have to be the humdrum pattern of Rosé production.  There can be narrative, there can be liveliness, and persuasive qualities in what you let prance on palate.

Two Pinots, the ‘RRV’ and ‘Burnside Road’, respectively.  Both were fiery in the catapulting of fruit and terroir-sewn inference, but still with that gentle, feminine, savory tryst that Pinot denotatively ensures.  I didn’t favor one of the other, they both roared when with me, and showed me more of the stratospheric intensity to which Balletto cares for their wines; how they’re produced and how they reflect site in addition to varietal interpretation and oenological intent.

Then, the ’12 Zin, which I have to say is one of the most distinct and playful wines (regardless of varietal, region, or vintage) that I’ve tasted since, well, anciently.  Nothing excessively jammy or serrated about the texture or olfactory setting; all harmonized and communicative, depth and amorous with what it does; black, red, and a bit of blue fruit insinuation in all measures of the song.  Again, fun.  And if I ever do drink Zin, I hope to enjoy, not be deafened by high alcohol and scattered fruit intentions.

Coming home with me after my visit with Ms. Charlotte at Balletto’s base, were the Sexton Hill, Russian River Pinot, and the Zin.  So I ask myself as a wine chaser and writer and professor, ‘what I learned’.  Or as I ask my students, “What am I walking away with?” Hard to say, as I walked back to my car across that gravel thinking so much.  But for one, certainly a new affinity for artfully arranged wine.  Nothing self-anointing about this label, just humble, precise, prowess-stricken oenology.  Anyone reading this needs to visit if you not only want to taste wines, notably Pinots and Chardonnay—and that sparkling!—but be taught something about wine.  By the wines themselves.  Not some pseudo-sagacious host only wanting to hear themselves speak.  Balletto’s keepers, most keenly Charlotte, offer conversation, avidity, and kindness.

I’ve been taught.


Project A

Alice out running an errand, giving me a bit of time to collect while my little Emma-saur’ upstairs sleeps. Smooth drop-off for little Kerouac, bag packed for workday, easily over a thousand words.. should start drafting writing schedule, just one BIG thing a day if I can.
Balanced all my budgets, and I’m probably in the best place financially that I’ve ever been, that I can remember recently. But I need to bridge these payday gaps with selling a physical piece of writing.. my ‘Wild Wine Journalism’, self-publish and distribute however I can and don’t let it, EVER, be reduced to some piece of merchandise on a shelf in some store or in a tasting room somewhere (like at the last winery, those books, one of them I think called ‘vit lit’ or something, just there on the merch table, doing nothing, not being read, making me sad, saying to myself “that’ll never be me nor my work). They have to pay, provide currency. So the newsletter idea I had yesterday, that I would pay for to set up and not generate any funds from, now deadened. At least for a minute…
Two minutes past ten. Going to check on Emma..
Wishing I could sleep like her.
I go back up to snap a quick pic with my phone. Want to capture as much I can of this time, her being a baby before she’s a walking, talking, arguing child like Jack. And with him, my little beat prince, the time literally transported me into the future, four years next month. How. So unfair but I know it’s part of the equation, what we sign up for being Human Beings.
Am I ready for work. No.. shower, more coffee, put this laptop in bag. And pens. Do I have any pens?

I go on ‘wine jobs’, the website, for comedy’s relief, and the descriptions of the jobs and how lazily they’re written, demonstrating no proficiency or ability to communicate in written form which many require of candidates, does just that; provide comedy. A blizzard of it.

Cette Voix

Instead repeating descriptors that someone somewhere has already said or written, I talk about the wine’s personality.  Its voice.  What it says or sings to me.  How it sits in the glass and eventually synergizing with my senses.  Wine is alive, so many say, but they talk about it like it’s a script, or some object, a piece of merchandise, a one-dimensional automaton, utterly undermining all that went into the composition of the wine.  I speak of wine as it’s a character in its own story, in my story, and I’m immeasurably eased in the association.

Now, this Chard I sip, like that sexy jazz vocalist in a Parian lobby.


MOCK SOMM:  Littorai 2014 Les Larmes, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

IMG_0732Terrestrial narrative with more woo and sway than I’m used to from such a young Burgundy.  More jazz than I’ve been greeted with in certain sips in Sonoma County; I become a follower with the first fragrant forward, rich soil and wild herbs, strawberry, cinnamon and some type of clove I can’t identify.  The enigma and puzzle further provoke my wandering prose— life glass akin, to try some solidified and sentenced understanding and I fail.  This bottle’s beyond me, instructing me, the pleasure of palate pedagogy, what I hoped for and kissed manifold in her galactic manuscript maelstrom.  A love that’s solar systems past regular love, familial and a walk to perception and pause— Zen in my glass, student and sage; blended and colorfully caged, me.  And I know the mainstream wine critics and ‘authorities’ will survey these lines with angled mask.  Not in anyway my predicament if their scope is limited, and they can’t allow a wine this wondrous to broaden their sipped optics.  I’m an acolyte, I guess now, of this producer.  And I’ll hunt down the other Pinots, the other chapters so I’m not left in the perceptive plain alone.