Today is my first day off since I last posted here.

Two Sundays ago, I wrote about being hired to be the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator for McFadden Vineyards, and after short deliberation, weighing the ethical considerations and potential conflicts of interest in working for one winery while writing about wines from other wineries, announced that I would continue to write about wine.

I have been so busy learning, working, tasting, living my new job – I put in nearly 60 hours of work last week; and spent considerable additional hours thinking about, obsessing about, even dreaming about my new job – that I don’t have much to write about wine this week that isn’t directly related to McFadden Vineyard.

That said, I have gone from feeling cast into the deep end of a very large pool to having a comfortable confidence, and am genuinely enjoying my job.

I have two great staff (Gary and Eugene) who have valuable insight, and experienced neighbors to ask questions of, in the nuts and bolts operation of the tasting room; I have another potential staffer training this week, and have interviewed two more. I put together an introductory newsletter, complete with a recipe featuring a made in Heaven McFadden Vineyard wine and food pairing, and e-mailed it to all of our wine club members. Our wine is easy to enjoy, delicious and approachable, very drinkable, very friendly; everybody who tastes it likes it. I have begun planning for upcoming events.

Speaking of events, the Hopland tasting room scene is very cooperative, and each month on the second Saturday we all stay open a little longer, have special one day one sales, and make food treats available to pair with our wines. I invite my readers and friends to a wine adventure; visit the tasting rooms of Hopland this Saturday, April 9, 2011, stop in to the McFadden Vineyard tasting room, say “hi” to me, taste our wines, including our stainless steel fermented 2009 Chardonnay made from grapes organically grown on our Potter Valley farm which will be available on a one day sale at just $10.40 a bottle if you buy a case, have a snack, and enjoy the beauty of Mendocino County.

I promise that not all of my future entries will lead with, or even include McFadden Vineyards, but I write about what I know and experience, and this is what I experienced last week.

__________

The folks at V. Sattui Winery in Napa County sent some wines for me to taste and comment on, and I look forward to having my work schedule calm down soon so I can return to cooking dinners and tasting wines at home, then writing about my own food and wine adventures. I’ll get around to tasting these wines, and others previously sent by other kind wineries, plus undoubtedly some from around Hopland; my notes to follow. Thanks for being understanding about my life intruding, for the short future, on my wine tasting schedule.

__________

One of my favorite television programs, Top Gear, features three men talking about cars with videography so slick as to make someone like me who doesn’t know or care about cars much actually covet unapproachably exotic cars, the three men along with a tame racing driver blend sophomoric humor and genuine passion delivering something akin to car porn, and it is one of the BBC’s highest rated series. All of which has absolutely nothing to do with wine.

Except that one of the Top Gear presenters, James May, has teamed up with Oz Clarke, a highly respected and knowledgeable (unlike me) wine writer and together they have turned out two great seasons of wine and travel programs. The first season featured the two tasting the wines of France; but the second season features episodes covering some of California’s grape growing wine regions. For me, the enjoyability of these shows comes from seeing the familiar through different eyes, from two wholly different perspectives; it is at once both educational and enormously entertaining. Wonderfully, just as Top Gear does not require particular car knowledge, so too is Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure fun to watch for anyone regardless of your wine knowledge or passion.

As always, thanks for reading, and cheers!

This month, Napa County vintners began spraying their vineyards with pesticides in an attempt to fight infestation of European grapevine moths.

The half inch insect lays eggs in April, and the larvae starts feeding at bud break on grape flowers, then later generations on young grapes, and a third generation on mature grapes.

Since September 2009, after destroying a nine acre Napa Valley vineyard’s crop, when the culprit moth was identified, nearly 30,000 moths have been trapped in the county, and plans are being made to quarantine over 300 square miles of Napa County.

Although the moth is not a long distance flier, it does seem able to ride on equipment from vineyard to vineyard, vineyard to winery, and winery to winery. Neighboring Sonoma County is gearing up to institute quarantine protocols to help control moth movement.

Mendocino County, known for environmentally friendly farming practices, sustainable and fish friendly agriculture, organic and biodynamic grape growers and wineries, is facing a quarantine of nearly 6,000 vineyard acres after first one moth was found just south of Ukiah on a back yard grape vine, then more recently another 30 have been found north of Ukiah.

Tony Linegar, Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner, suspected the moths were transported from Napa when fruit was moved from Napa County to a winery near Dunnewood’s now infested Chardonnay vineyard. Roughly 650 traps are being set in Mendocino County. Linegar believes this may be the second year the moths have been in Mendocino County, and the worst may be yet to come.

Mendocino County wineries use pomace, the residue of pressed grapes, for natural fertilizer. Alarmingly, the European grapevine moth larvae, left inside the grapes, can sometimes survive pressing and end up in pomace. Several Mendocino County wineries regularly import Napa and Sonoma County winery pomace. The problem could very well have been laid right at the feet of the vines already.

Linegar is asking all vineyards within a kilometer of Dunnewood’s infested vineyard to spray with a larvicide.

Purportedly organic insecticides do exist, and are hoped to be effective.

Only 3 of 18 Insecticides for Lobesia botrana (European Grape Vine Moth) on grape are approved for use in organic vineyards. I found no information on approved insecticide use in biodynamic vineyards.

Bruce Phillips, a Napa Valley grape grower, worries about “the long term sustainability of organic and biodynamic practices,” in the face of forced spraying to combat the spread of, or damage from, the moth.

Mendocino County bills itself as “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” and the threat posed by the European grapevine moth is not just to the grape crops but to an entire way of growing grapes.

The County of Napa Agricultual Commissioner’s website states, “Studies of the European grapevine moth internationally show that larvae feed primarily on the flowers and fruit of the grape, and that they can also feed on number of other hosts, including olives, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, persimmons and pomegranates. “

There is further concern that after grape harvest, moths may spend the winter cacooned in olive trees on vineyard properties.

Jim Allen, the Solano County Agricultural Commissioner, describes the threat posed by the moth as having “a potential for complete crop loss.”

A Final Report of  an International Technical Working Group brought together to fight the European Grape Vine Moth in California’s north coast, dated February 10, 2010, recommends that suppression measures include ovicides, larvicides, mating disruption, and mechanical control measures. Three generations of the pest impact vineyards; the first from bud break to fruit set, the second from pea sized grapes to ripening, and the third from ripening to harvest. Whether there are any beneficial organisms that might prey on, or control, the moth is unknown at this point.

The second and third generations cause the most damage not just by direct feeding on mature grapes but by predisposing the crop to grey mold, fungus, and rot through webbing and leaving of excrement inside the grapes.

Since their discovery in Napa County; in addition to Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the moth has been found in Merced, Fresno, and Solano Counties.

I have a friend named Rob who isn’t really a wine guy. Rob isn’t alone, many people aren’t into wine.

The wine industry has allowed a perception that wine is more special than beer to permeate society. Working guys drink beer. Fancy pant elites drink wine.

I don’t know of any other industry that would purposely allow barriers to purchase to exist like this.

With wine, we’re not talking about unattainably expensive status symbol luxury items like Rolex watches, but there are many people who would more willingly buy a Rolex watch than a bottle of wine. With the Rolex, you know what you bought, an expensive, investment grade, time piece.

People just don’t know about wine, and not knowing are afraid to order it.

By allowing wine to be perceived as complex, a beverage for learned experts, the industry has fostered a fear in consumers. “I’m not James Bond, I don’t know a good vintage, or even a wine type; I’ll just have a beer, or a shot of tequila, or a Mojito, or a coke, or iced tea…anything but wine. I don’t want to look stupid in front of my friends or the waiter or the shop keeper.”

At the same time that Bacardi was marketing their rum through aggressive Mojito promotion, and selling more rum than ever, the wine industry was allowing fear to continue to be a wall most people won’t climb to try their product.

I could scream.

I read the blogs of many wine writers, pick up the wine magazines, keep up on marketing trends. 100 point wine ratings, 5 star ratings, indecipherable wine speak, Frasier Crane-esque reverence paid to a handful of producers of wines not available to the general public or too expensive to justify buying. Open a door or window and let’s get some air in here; most of what you’ll read about wine is from writers who have bought into the failed marketing of the industry – of absolutely no interest to anyone outside of the community of wine cognoscenti. Yawn.

Wine is so much better with most meals than beer, or iced tea, or coke, or just about any other beverage, but the industry is not getting that message across; it also hurts that restaurant wines cost triple what they would in a store and wine service is generally poor.

The next time you are in a nice restaurant, you will see many if not most people drinking beer or iced tea instead of wine. I can assure you that given a wine recommendation that would suit their meal better, and offered a glass of that wine at a reasonable price, most everyone would be drinking and enjoying both their wine and their meal more. I blame the wine industry for poor marketing.

Rather than be one of thousands of other wine writers bleating about the same unattainable cult wines, effectively bragging to my fellow wine writers about the wines I am drinking, I want to write about wine for the guy that would rather have wine with his meal but doesn’t want to feel like an ass.

Although wine knowledge is never ending, wine is simple. Let me say that again; Wine Is Simple.

Take the wine I drank my Christmas meal with, a 2008 Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux winery in Napa County’s St. Helena; while the wine goes for $12 a bottle, I just found the same wine on sale at Lucky’s supermarket for $8.99, so price needn’t be an obstacle to having good wine with food.

I appreciate that there are a wealth of wines in supermarkets that run from $8 – $20 per bottle, and some are good and some aren’t. I’ll try to taste a number of them and give you my recommendations.

Menage a Trois is a playful way of saying that the wine is a blend of three grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of reds, big, structured, dense, with black berry and currant notes, Merlot, Cab’s softer sister red, rounder, fleshier, with cherry notes, and Zinfandel, a brash, in your face red, with raspberry notes.

You have heard, “red wine with meat.” With three red wines in one bottle, this wine is a great wine for pairing with a host of meat dishes from hamburgers and hotdogs to pork shoulder and flank steak. Pasta in an Italian red sauce, Caesar salad; heck, I could drink this wine with just about anything and be happy.

Wine shouldn’t be about inviolable rules, but I will share a few “wouldn’t be a bad idea”s with you along the way.

The “wouldn’t be a bad idea” for today is not overfilling your wine glass just because you have the room to do so. My wine glasses are large, either 16 or 20 ounces, and I pour no more than 4 ounces in my glass. I get to swirl the wine, let it breathe, let the bowl of the wine glass collect wonderful scents, bury my nose in the glass, and inhale all the aroma and bouquet the wine has to give. A sniff and a sip, can change a bite of already good food into something almost transcendent. Doesn’t always, but, oh is it nice when it does!

I can get about six glasses of wine from a bottle at 4 ounces per glass. That means my $8.99 sale bottle of 2008 Menage a Trois is costing me about a buck and a half per glass.

The wine industry should be telling you that you can get a great wine to pair with food at home for about a buck and a half a glass.

That’s a lot more valuable information to most consumers than knowing about another garage winery whose entire release is sold out but just got a 10 page write up in a major wine publication after scoring a perfect 100 points in a possibly not blind tasting.

I’ll be visiting Fetzer and Bonterra in Mendocino County, doing some wine tasting close to home this week, hopefully I will be able to make some more recommendations. I also want to taste some of Topel Winery’s wines, they are also from nearby, but their tasting room is in Healdsburg, so tasting for me will have to wait a bit. I also should be seeing some wine accessory samples arrive this week that a distributer said they would send; I’ll try those out and let you know what I think. I’m also going to try cooking polenta a different way, and I’m going to make another batch of involtini this week. Lots of things to write about, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

_____

If you do have the time, and are near Healdsburg, CA stop into the Topel Winery tasting room and taste some wines before year’s end. They have a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Grace at $130/case ($1.80/glass) , 2004 Hidden Vineyard Cabernet at $190/case ($2.64/glass), and 2005 Cuvee Donnis Syrah at $150/case ($2.08/glass). These prices are discounted 43 – 51% per case, promo codes are “Grace”, “Hidden”, and “Donnis”, and the sale only runs through the end of December.

_____

Edited to add: A friend, and reader of my blog, Shannon let me know that the 2008 Menage a Trois was $6.99 at Costco. Seriously, at $1.16 a glass, this wine costs less per ounce than the bottled water I bought at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA at the beginning of this month. Buy it, pair it with meat. Thank me later.

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

Last weekend, I worked in Pomona. When news of a Tatiana Nicole show at the Whisky a Go Go broke on an online forum I am a part of, and the date was just two days earlier than I needed to come to southern California anyway, a plan for another mini vacation began to take shape.

A month before the trip, I booked my flight into LAX for the morning of Tuesday, December 1, booked a mini van I would need for load out after my weekend’s work, booked two nights in Hollywood and three nights in Ontario, near Pomona, arranged for my co-worker to fly into LAX Thursday where I would pick him up and for him to fly home with me late Sunday night after our work. I booked a park and fly stall near SFO.

With travel logistics taken care of, I let my forum friends know that I was coming to Hollywood for the Tuesday night Tatiana Nicole show at the Whisky. Two of our L.A. area forum members, Scotty and Sean, were going to meet me and see the show with me.

With Wednesday being an off day for me, I contacted my good friend from high school, Ron Pipes. Ron does make up for television and movies. Ron works a lot, has a great reputation, an Emmy award, and is Hell to pin down for a get together. I have traveled as much or more than anyone I know and my work brings me to southern California fairly often. If we could get together, it would be after three years of trying.

On the day before my trip, I traveled to my business partner’s house to pull together the last few items for my last work weekend of the year. Half way to the airport, I didn’t want to return home, and stayed at my son Charlie’s grandparent’s home for the night. I have a good relationship with my ex-wife’s parents, and was grateful for the opportunity to spend the night.

Tuesday morning, up early, I drove to San Francisco, gave up my car, caught a shuttle to my terminal, checked one bag, breezed through security, and boarded my flight at the front of the queue.

After arriving in L.A. and collecting my bag, I walked out to the curb just as my rental car shuttle arrived. I was quickly whisked to the rental car corral where I was given a nice Toyota Siena. The great news was that both the front and rear bumpers showed signs of having been used often, so I wouldn’t have to worry about incidental contact.

My phone is an iPhone, and it quickly provided GPS directions to my hotel. I followed them and found my hotel with no difficulty.

Okay, I have to confess, when I booked the room in Hollywood, I got a great deal, but I thought the room would be horrible. I was willing to save a little money, I was by myself, this wasn’t for work, no one would judge me based on where I would stay. I was prepared to suffer a bit, I was expecting a terrible place.

Oh, was I happily surprised! My room at the Travelodge, Hollywood on Vermont was really nice, the entire property was clean, cheerful, and nice. I was so lucky, just thrilled.

I went for a little walk, and within a couple of blocks, I found myself standing at the corner of Vermont and Hollywood, the Hollywood sign visible on the hill, and the delicious aroma of food coming from a Fatburger franchise on the corner. I ate a delicious King with egg and cheese in the warm sun and read a book. I was pretty happy.

After posting messages of my happy arrival on facebook and twitter, I contacted Ron about our meet up the next day. We agreed to a late breakfast, planning to talk again at 10 AM Wednesday.

My forum mates, Scott and Sean, connected with me through facebook, twitter, and finally phone calls. We would meet at the Rainbow on Sunset, just up the block from the Whisky, at 7 PM for drinks and food.

I got a call from Scotty saying that he was running late, and asking if I could be sure to get to the Rainbow on time and look for Tatiana; she would be joining us and Scotty was running late because of a flat tire.

My iPhone told me I could cover the 6 1/2 miles from my hotel at Vermont and Sunset to the Rainbow on Sunset in just 12 minutes; maybe you can at 4 in the morning. I am thrilled I built in “idiot factor” to the trip and left at 6:15 PM. It took all 45 minutes to get to the Rainbow and park. I walked into the Rainbow at 7 PM exactly, did a quick tour, didn’t see Tatiana, Sean, or Scotty, so I went to the bar to order a drink.

I am old enough to know what I like, but I am terrible at bars. When it comes to mixed drinks, out of the millions of possible combinations, I don’t really like that many. I really would be quite happy with a tropical drink with an umbrella, but it isn’t very manly outside of an island resort bar. I like gin. Gin and tonic, or…Martini! “Excuse me, I’ve decided, may I please have a Tanqueray martini?”

Nice big up glass, two olives, lots of crisp, delicious gin. Yum.

I went outside, to the outside bar, and saw Sean as he was coming in. After a brief introduction, we got down to business. I got Sean a Martini – they cost an extra dollar at the outside bar, hmmpf – and Sean handed over his pack of cigarettes. This would be the third night I would smoke this year. The first long drag hit me like a train. More yum.

The Rainbow cooks a good steak for about $30, but puts the same steak on a piece of bread, calls it a sandwich, and sells that for about half. An order for two steak sandwiches, medium rare, both with salad, one Italian, one blue later, and Sean and I fell into easy conversation.

A mutual friend of ours from Australia has been trying to get Sean and I together since April this year, I don’t know how you can just know two people would get along great. Outside of our shared forum interest, we don’t really have much in common, but our friend was right. I like Sean tremendously, and am incredibly comfortable in his presence.

Scotty showed up next. Scotty has the feel of New York about him. Faster, tougher, maybe a little dangerous. Kind of like a mobbed up, wisely, goodfella. Now Scotty isn’t bent nose. Look at my last name, and you would be right to guess I was raised in an Italian home. I’ve seen Italian, and I’ve seen mob. Scotty is a good guy, but he has that flavor – maybe it is the east coast thing, I don’t know.

Scotty ordered a pie. Pizza pie.

We talked and talked, we ate, we talked, we drank, one more round please, we talked. Interestingly, Sean and Scotty are both from the same part of New York, out on Long Island. While I would never question where Scotty came from, I was surprised to find that Sean wasn’t a native Californian.

Scotty said that Tatiana was running late, was heading directly to the Whisky, and we would meet her after the show.

I just came down to see her. Meeting her was unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to meet her, but I really came to hear her rock the house.

Most of you, at this point, do not know who Tatiana Nicole is, unless you have googled her. Tatiana is better known by her full name, Tatiana Nicole del Toro, and rose to some level of fame when auditioning for American Idol last season.

Tatiana Nicole was the best singer on the show last season, and was used over and over, throughout the auditioning rounds of season’s beginning, through to the awarding of dubious distinction awards at the finale at season’s end. Tatiana was the girl with that laugh. She was the one that cried. She was the one seemingly self-possessed to the exclusion of anyone or anything else.

I saw her completely differently. I heard her sing. She had the best pipes of the season. Girl could sing. Big. Amazing pitch. Great control. Whitney? No problem.

The clothing? Chosen to stand out in a crowd and get her noticed by the producers. The seeming over-emotional personality? A combination of reality, giving the producers what they ask for, and editing.

Sean and Scotty and I are members of a forum that saw through American Idol’s manipulations, and saw Tatiana Nicole as the best, most entertaining, contestant of last season.

The week before the Whisky gig, I listened to a pod cast of an interview Tatiana did with another forum member, Aaron, for his internet radio show. Tatiana was lucid, articulate, funny, endearing, a competent self-promoter. Tatiana also revealed that her Whisky gig set list would include lots of AC/DC.

I thought she was kidding.

We walked down to the Whisky, passing Scotty’s vintage Cadillac, took care of the door, went in and got some beers. On stage was the opening band, Controlling All Dilemmas, a quartet of teens, technically competent but needing seasoning and lacking a captivating or engaging quality. Nice, even good, but not great. They’re young, there’s time for them.

After CAD finished, and during a short break, Tatiana Nicole’s band began to set up. During the break, we noticed that Kristen McNamara was in the house to support Tatiana.

Kristen McNamara is from my neck of the woods, in neighboring Napa county, and played Konocti in Lake County. Kristen is practically a hometown girl. I introduced myself, and shared where I was from. Kristen graciously came and met Sean and Scotty, and promised to talk with us more after the show.

Kristen McNamara was on both Nashville Star and American Idol, and is as cute as a bug.

Tatiana Nicole played with a bass player, guitar player, and drummer; and the AC/DC promise became a reality, as Tatiana ran through a set that relied heavily on classic AC/DC and a couple of songs from Led Zeppelin, Black Dog and Whole Lotta Love.

Dressed in painted on black sequined pants, a black and gold sequined sleeveless top, black and gold fingerless gloves, and black high heel boots; hair and face looking beautiful, a perfect combination of features, Tatiana Nicole was a gorgeous rock Goddess, a life size porcelain doll come to life, sexy as hell, strong.

Did I mention earlier that the girl has pipes? Tatiana went through a blistering set with plenty of high notes, some low sexy growling, and an endless array of perfectly delivered notes.

Fun and driving, Tatiana Nicole and her band delivered.

At one point, Kristen was at the front of the stage, and I snapped a pic. Cute black dress, gold pumps, glittery bracelet. Tons of blond hair, gorgeous legs. Nice backside. Hey, I’m a straight guy, and you would have to be blind to not see Kristen is a cutie.

After the show, Tatiana sweetly joined me out on Sunset in front of the Whisky for a picture, and then another picture in our booth along with Kristen.

Kristen, by the way, wants to be known as KMAC. KMAC sounds sort of like a gang member handle; amusingly, she is flashing her gang sign in her picture with Tatiana and me.

KMAC asked me to fly back down for a January 29 SIR showcase, and also said she is sharing a place with both Tatiana and Normund Gentle from American Idol 8. Reality show, Three’s Company style, anyone?

I had more fun than I could have imagined. Thanks to Scotty, Sean, Tatiana, her band, and KMAC. I hope to see you all again.

Wednesday morning at 10 AM. Uggh. I have not had a night with two large martinis and several beers in many years. Although awake, showered, and dressed on time, I was thrilled when Ron suggested we meet later, between 2:30 and 3 PM. I went in search of breakfast. I drove down Sunset to Echo Park, found the Bright Spot, went in and had a breakfast of bagel and lox, with cream cheese, capers, tomato, cucumber and onion slices, and sprouts, along with coffee.

I didn’t feel great when I walked in, but the perfect breakfast made with deliciously fresh ingredients fixed me right up. I felt great walking out.

Ron picked me up in the afternoon and we drove to the original Farmer’s Market in L.A. on Fairfax for a late lunch at Du-par’s. I ate an okay only Patty Melt, honestly nothing special, although the fries were good, and the coffee was alright. Mostly, Ron and I just caught up on classmates who either came, or didn’t come, to our 30 year high school reunion two months earlier.

Ron took me on a tour of the Farmer’s Market. Oh My God! So much incredible produce, and an incredible variety of proteins. Specialty items, foie gras, truffles, uni, caviar. Sur La Table, an incredible kitchen store. I want to live here. Dayum, I love the Farmer’s Market.

After out Farmer’s Market tour, Ron took me on a tour of an adjacent outdoor mall, and we visited some of Ron’s favorite shops including Crate and Barrel and Nordstrom.

Our visit together was only a few hours, but it was perfect. It was really nice seeing my good old friend.

Wednesday night, I was back at Fatburger for some dinner burgers. Some television, some reading. Second great day in Hollywood.

Thursday morning, upon waking, I showered, dressed, and packed to leave. After check out, I went back to the Bright Spot for a leisurely breakfast, eaten while reading.

In time, I drove to LAX to pic Art up. After collecting Art, we drove to the Fairplex in Pomona and set up my last booth of the year for the Pomona Harvest Festival Original Art and Craft Festival.

Work is work, nothing super exciting, or dramatically different than previous weeks, although this is a very good show, and was less affected by the economic downturn. We drew big crowds, and they bought big multiples for year end holiday gifting.

On Saturday, Art had some show food, a Philly Cheesesteak. Saturday night, Art spent the entire night hurling his cheesesteak and another stomach contents into our Ontario hotel room toilet. Art poisoned himself with show food, got no sleep, and was looking really bad Sunday morning.

Sunday, our plan was to work through to show’s end, pack up for shipping, borrow a hand truck to load out to our mini van, drive to a 24 hour Fed Ex Kinko’s on the way to the airport, ship everything home, drop off the van, get a shuttle to the airport, check two bags, and catch an earlier than last flight out standby flight back to San Francisco. Once back in San Francisco, we would collect our bags, collect my van, drive north to Santa Rosa, drop Art off at home, then I would drive to our business partner’s home, spend the night, take care of accounting, write myself a check, and drive home to Ukiah, and spend some well earned time off with my son, Charlie.

We were able to execute the plan flawlessly, Sunday went perfectly, except for Art feeling sick, weak, and hurt, and it was nice to see Art smile as I dropped him at home.

I had another great week.

Thanks for reading.

John


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,723 other followers