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Line of the Day

July 31, 2012 1 comment

Stonehenge jump


[Tom Jenkins for The Guardian]

Guardian columnist Marina Hyde had a hilarious piece yesterday from the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich. Mind you, I understood only about half of it, between obscure references best understood by residents of the UK and obscure references best understood by the horse set. At least I know that wellies are Wellingtons, the famed rubber boot of British country life, and that Hunter has made them for decades. That got me started in the passage below. You’ll find my chosen line of the day in the third paragraph, but it’s all well done. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford.)

To Greenwich Park, home of the prime meridian line, where it was officially Country O’Clock for the equestrianism on Monday. To give you a handle on the crowd, no one was wearing the wrong shoes. During Sunday’s rains at the Olympic Park, all manner of error-strewn urban footwear planning was on show, with punters slipping and slopping around in sandals and flip flops.

At Greenwich, despite the sunny skies, there were innumerable pairs of Hunter wellies, for the simple reason that you never know how it’s going to turn out. Empty seats scandal in the morning, shepherd’s warning.

Even more clearly in evidence were the hundreds wearing riding boots – a bit like those spectators who wear golf shoes to championships, giving them the air of people who imagine they might be called on to the greens at any time and asked to replace Tiger Woods if he goes to pieces.

Then again, Greenwich feels like a more-than-usually expert crowd. “Those surface changes made a big difference to the arena at the weekend,” one man was observing to his neighbour as they watched the cross country, which saw horses clearing jumps shaped like tractors, in a park from which you can see the City of London.

Where many 2012 venues give the impression of a mixed crowd of sport-watching novices, dedicated tourists, and diehard fans, much of Monday’s Greenwich bunch seemed like they knew each other instinctively – and possibly socially.

And speaking of the equestrian events, the hurdles for the jumping competition are a wonderful bit of whimsy. Be sure to see the Guardian’s slide show here.

[Andrew Boyers/Action Images]

Categories: Culture, Humor, Sports

Put Up or Shut Up

July 31, 2012 Leave a comment

[AP]

It’s one of those rare moments in life when I can quit complaining and take control.

Every four years, with Summer Olympics coverage in the US focused on track and field, swimming, and gymastics, I bemoan the absence of rowing. You might not guess, with all the attention given to cycling on Ron’s View, but rowing was once my sport. Come the Olympics, I want to see the races, preferably live, at least the men’s and women’s eight finals. What one gets instead is the odd race broadcast at some obscure time, provided the US medals. Four years ago, with the US women’s eight taking gold, I never did figure out when a replay was shown.

This year, though, everything is available online as it happens. If I care so much, I can see all the rowing I want. And so, put up or shut up time arrives in six and a half hours. The men’s eight final will begin at 2:30 AM Seattle time.

How serious am I? I’ll let you know.

By the way, for some background, here’s an excerpt from Gary D’Amato’s article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The U.S. men’s eight, which had to qualify for the Olympic Games in a last-chance regatta, scored a minor upset by easily winning its heat Saturday and advancing directly to the rowing final.

Can the eight, a crew put together just a few months ago, pull off a much bigger surprise and win a medal on the 2,000-meter course at Eton Dorney on Wednesday?

“Absolutely,” said Chris Clark, who coached U.S. team members Grant and Ross James at the University of Wisconsin. “Whether or not they’ve got enough to win a gold medal, I don’t know.”

Germany, favored to win gold, won its heat with a time of 5 minutes 25.52 seconds, more than 5 seconds faster than the 5:30.72 posted by the U.S. boat.

The heat winners advanced to the final. Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia also advanced through the repechage.

Clark said the Americans’ best chance to medal would be to get off to a fast start.

“In the eight, it’s so much about confidence,” Clark said. “You have the advantage because you can see the boat behind you. If the slightest doubt creeps in, a (trailing) boat can fall apart.

Categories: Life, Sports

Walla Walla, 3

July 30, 2012 3 comments

Pepper Bridge Winery

[Last week, we drove to Walla Walla in eastern Washington to tour wineries. I wrote about the drive over here and about the first day of winery touring here. This is a continuation of the second post, which introduced the dramatis personæ. Recall that among them was the wine expert who accompanied us: Philippe, owner of Oak Tradition, purveyor of barrels, corks, and much more.]

Tuesday began with our daily Hampton Inn breakfast. It was much like Monday’s, except that the sausage patties and potatoes were replaced by biscuits and gravy and the cheese omelet turned into a meat omelet. Selection was plentiful, but of modest quality. Little League families were everywhere.

At 9:45, we met up again with Philippe, and with Jay of Imbibe Wine Tours, for the drive south to our day’s first winery. The Walla Walla Valley crosses over the state line into Oregon, and our first stop was just north of the line. A failed attempt to navigate the eponymous State Line road, which turns to gravel and dies just where we wanted it to continue to the winery, led to a temporary excursion into Oregon. This is one of those places where the only way you know you’re in a new state is that the cars suddenly have different license plates. By the way, given the integration of the wine community across the state line, there is an agreement between the two states under which Oregon residents who cross over to buy wine at the local Washington wineries have sales tax waived. It took me a while to catch on to this, and to why we were asked at each winery if we were Washington residents. Once I understood, I restrained myself from saying no, Oregon, but it was tempting. Of course, if called on it, I would not be able to produce suitable ID.

We did eventually arrive at

5. Rasa Vineyards. It is run by two brothers, Pinto and Billo Naravane. Both left the computer industry to start up the winery, Pinto on the business side and Billo as winemaker. As at the wineries the day before, we were the beneficiaries of extraordinary generosity, as Billo spent over an hour with us, telling us stories about the winery, his career path, and the individual wines as we tasted them. He had studied applied math at MIT, then moved on to Stanford for a Master’s in electrical engineering and to Texas for a Ph.D. But he left the PhD program partway through to begin work in the computer industry. When the time came to leave it all behind for wine, he headed to Davis for another Master’s, in their famous wine program. Now he heads the wine program at Walla Walla Community College.

The mathematical backgrounds of Billo and Pinto are reflected in the names of some of their wines. My friend Paul makes it a point, whenever he encounters a wine with a name that — by intention or chance — has a name with a mathematical connotation, to photograph it and post to Facebook. This is how I first met two Rasa wines, QED and Principia. On first arriving at Rasa, I was delighted to see them. As Billo explains, Rasa is the rare winery that doesn’t display their own name prominently on the label. The conceptual wine name takes pride of place. This is a risky marketing strategy, as illustrated by my lack of awareness of who exactly produces QED and Principia. But Rasa sells what it produces, and is happy to proceed this way. You can see more of their beautiful labels here.

The brothers make more than just attractive labels. The wines were excellent. We bought more of theirs than anyone else’s, including two bottles of the 2008 Creative Impulse (pictured in the middle), a cab/merlot blend that was our most expensive purchase of the trip. They will need to lie down a while before we open them.

We had the place to ourselves until the arrival of a mysterious visitor, who at first was content to hang back and listen. Eventually it emerged that he’s a professor of philosophy and religion at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who is doing research on wine culture. He was there to interview Billo, though soon he joined our group and chatted with us.

Wines purchased and behind schedule, we headed on down the road to

6. Northstar Winery. I wish I could offer some enthusiastic comments about our time there. Something may have gone awry with the scheduling. In contrast to the other seven places we visited, no one was available to provide any inside glimpse. Rather, we came into the wine tasting space, stood at the enormous bar, and received the standard wine tasting offerings. Northstar is owned by Ste. Michelle, the giant of Washington State winemakers. The vineyards and building were beautiful, but the wine tasting space was larger and more commercial than the others on our itinerary, with a large retail space offering t-shirts, hats, etc. Which is to say, it’s all pretty standard, what lots of big wineries offer visitors, just not what we were receiving elsewhere.

We must have tasted eight wines. The pourer told us the year and constituents of each as she poured for us and other visitors too, the bar becoming sufficiently crowded that a second pourer joined in. Pretty early on, we got absorbed in our own private conversations, paying only minimal attention to the wine. Philippe showed us one of the retail offerings, a bottle opener that pumps gas in to push the cork out. He coaxed our pourer into demonstrating, then he bought one himself. I figured if one of the valley’s leading wine experts thinks it’s worth buying, we should get one too, and we did. Our lone Northstar purchase, at the lone winery where we bought no wine.

Lovely grounds. A great place for a private party. But we drove off indifferent to the wines.

7. Garrison Creek Cellars. What a gorgeous place! We seemed to be on the eastern edge of the valley’s plantings, though I may not have gotten the geography right. The vineyards went up to the foothills of the Blue Mountains. And these are among the largest vineyards in the valley. But the building. Wow!

We were met by Laura, a young woman who introduced herself as the assistant winemaker. She brought us into the enormous barn-like structure that houses the winery, where they had set tables and chairs up for our lunch. When she proposed that we could move out to a small patio in the distance instead, looking out on vineyards and mountains, we readily agreed. Lunch was a repeat of the day before, courtesy again of Olive Catering. The same mix — and it’s a good one — of sandwiches, with chips and dessert. Once again, Philippe took advantage of our time all together to share his wine knowledge, as we studied samples of oak with varying grains and learned about barrels and corks.

Laura came out near the end and told us a bit about the winery’s history. It revolves around three men who grew up together in Walla Walla and went their separate ways. One, the football star, was looked at by some of the Pac 10 schools, but went instead to Harvard, and eventually to Wall Street, where he made the money that made the winery possible. He re-united with his buddies, then spent 7 years fighting zoning ordinances before being given permission to build his dream building on the existing site. It is a copy of a historic barn nearby in Oregon, and once we went in for our tour, we could see this was the ultimate no-expense-spared design and construction. Oh, that’s right, maybe one of the high school buddies was in construction and handled that. I forget the details. But no matter. It’s quite a place.

Garrison Creek Cellars

Laura took us into the wide open space of the barn, where a wine tasting bar sits in one corner, and then downstairs to the barrels. They make 1000 barrels a year. Talk about a boutique operation. Garrison Creek doesn’t exist to make money. We had become accustomed to stacks of barrels four or five high. Not a stack is to be seen here. Just one level. And, as Laura assured us, no barrel gets used twice. Why? Why not? They can afford it. One use and it’s sold off.

I should back up and explain that the immense acreage surrounding the winery is a separate operation, co-owned by the Harvard alum and some other partners. It is a major provider to the region, selling about 98-99% of its grapes and saving the rest for its premium wines. If the grapes don’t meet Garrison Creek’s specifications one year, they just don’t make wine that year. Maybe it doesn’t quite come to that, but I’m pretty sure Laura said so.

Down in the cellar, we tasted wine from two barrels. And what a beautiful cellar it was, a concrete bunker with barrel ceiling. Then we went back up, only for someone to remind Laura that we missed the Library, so back down we went to see it. The Library holds cases of every wine they’ve ever made, and it gave us some ideas for what we might do with the old wood storage area of our own basement.

Upstairs again, we tasted the wines at last. You know, I don’t have strong memories right now of what we thought. The labels are masterpieces of simplicity and elegance, with a texture that photos don’t reveal. We bought a couple of bottles. We’ll open them in a few years and I’ll let you know.

Due to a shuffling of the schedule, our last stop was back across the valley, immediately adjacent to Northstar, so we headed back that way to

8. Pepper Bridge Winery. To the left is a small building housing the tasting room. To the right is the larger winery building. They must actually connect, but appear at first to be separate. We entered the tasting room, where a young man was hosting a couple. After a short wait, an older gentleman showed up, Norm. He would spend the next hour-and-three-quarters with us. What a fascinating guy! And, again, a most generous one.

Norm, as we learned, is one of the pioneers in the wine business. He was in construction for many years, running the giant company that built the Kingdome and State Route 520, to mention two Seattle landmarks. Then he left it behind for the wine business in the Yakima Valley. He worked with Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Canoe Ridge in Walla Walla. Big ones. And when I say work with, I gather that this means running them. I think I heard him say he was on the board of one, chair of the board of another. But he tired of big-time wineries and left them behind for small, higher-quality wines. He is co-owner with that Harvard guy of the vineyards that surround Garrison Creek. He owns or co-owns, I’m not sure which, other vineyards as well, such as the one surrounding Pepper Bridge, and maybe Seven Hills across the line in Oregon. (I’m looking it up now. I see that Seven Hills is jointly owned by Pepper Bridge, Leonetti, and L’Ecole No 41, or at least it was.) Norm may have some other agricultural holdings as well. Plus, he makes wines, or his Swiss winemaker Jean-François Pellet does.

Norm met us, then took us from the tasting room to the winery, down to the level where they have the initial storage tanks, then down another level to the cellar with the barrels. This is a bigger operation than Garrison Creek, maybe 5000 barrels a year, and they are stacked. We spent quite a bit of time down there, then out towards the back to an open work area where we talked about the machinery and the operation and met Jean-François. Upstairs to the higher work level, more information, then up to the top and over to the tasting room, where we took seats around a coffee table. Norm had some business to attend to temporarily, so the young man at the bar came around and got our tasting started. Then Norm came in, we all talked some more, and tasted some superb wines.

Norm’s grandson was in the midst of a tight Little League game, going into the last inning all tied, and Norm shared the reports with us as calls came in to his cell phone. We also had a lovely view south over the vineyards and into Oregon. At some point, one of Norm’s partners in a nearby winery, Amavi Cellars, came by, as did Jean-François, who serves as their winemaker too. When we bought some wine, Norm and Jean-François signed the bottles.

For the second day, we ended our winery touring on a high note. The visit was great fun. But it was time to head back to the Hampton Inn. Once there, we said goodbye to Philippe and Jay, then to our special travel companions Julie and Stan, who had to get back to Seattle that night. The five of us were on our own.

We had a few ideas for dinner, but one place couldn’t take us until 8:00, and so we settled on T. Maccarone’s, part of the trio that also includes Olive Catering, which made our lunches, and Olive Marketplace and Café. No sooner had we sat down and studied the menu than Philippe showed up with a colleague. Our farewell had been premature. After a quick exchange of hellos, they headed to the bar.

To start, I had the spring salad with vegetables (fava beans for one), farm egg, and grain mustard vinaigrette. Gail had the T Mac and cheese. I thought both were excellent, but the T Mac and cheese was a bit much for an appetizer, which is why Gail shared it around. And it was way rich, all the more thanks to the truffle oil. Then I had the bolognese, with house made pappardelle. Great on flavor, but also a bit much, and almost lasagna like, as the pappardelle stuck together in thick layers. Gail’s main dish was halibut, served on coconut rice, in a bowl with green beans and greens. I tried a taste. Excellent once more, but the presentation made getting to all the constituents a bit difficult.

For dessert, we left T Mac’s, turned the corner, and went down Main street to Bright’s Candies, a delightful traditional candy and ice cream parlor. So many temptations! But the pasta and salad left me more than full, so I passed it all up. After ordering, we sat outside in the enclosed sidewalk area, where yet again we encountered Philippe, heading our way after leaving T Mac’s.

By the time we were ready to leave, Bright’s was long closed, and we were in the way of their final cleanup. Back to the Hampton Inn to conclude a special day.

Categories: Travel, Wine

Walla Walla, 2

July 29, 2012 1 comment

Walla Walla Vintners

[This past week, we drove to Walla Walla in eastern Washington on Sunday, spent Monday and Tuesday touring wineries, and drove home on Wednesday. This is the second in a sequence of posts on the trip. You can find a post about our drive over to Walla Walla and first evening here.]

Monday, our first winery day, began with Hampton Inn breakfast in the dining room off the lobby. It’s part of the deal when you stay at a Hampton Inn that breakfast is included. And we weren’t alone in partaking. Joining us were Little League baseball teams from Seattle suburbs Woodinville and Mill Creek that had come to Walla Walla for a state-wide tournament. They were pleasant kids, around 10-12 years old. And breakfast, well, what’s to complain about? It’s free. And the selection is excellent: egg and cheese omelet, sausage patties, potatoes in one station, with oatmeal nearby; toast your own bagels and English muffins and toast in another station, with pastries and make-your-own waffles; cold cereals, milk, juice, hard-boiled eggs, citrus and pineapple fruit mix at a third site. But the quality doesn’t exactly equal the selection.

At 9:30, our nine wine tour participants gathered for the first time. Recall from my earlier post that we had bought this tour at an auction, with everything included. Joining us were friends Russ, Tobae, and Cynthia. As part of the deal, we got to have the company of Julie and Stan, an archaeologist/geologist couple who, happily, happen to be friends as well. (She’s the director of the museum whose dinner-auction we attended; buy the auction item and you get the director too!) Jay of Imbibe Wine Tours would be driving us around. And Philippe, owner of Oak Tradition — purveyor to the trade of barrels, corks, and much more — would be our wine expert. Given that we all couldn’t fit in the Imbibe Tours vehicle, two at a time would take turns riding with Philippe.

1. Walla Walla Vintners. This was our first stop. And like all but one of the eight winery stops we made, it was special. No simple walking into the tasting room, sampling the standard suite of wines, and heading out. We got behind-the-scenes insights at each place. Here, Judah took us out to the vineyard to look at the vines themselves. We spent about 45 minutes learning about the different grapes, soils, micro-climates; the dry farming they choose to do, in a location that receives sufficient rain most years to allow this, though most valley wineries irrigate at some point in the season; the pruning of the vines; the crew that does it; and so on. The setting was beautiful, with the Blue Mountains in the near distance, and famed Leonetti vineyards starting just a couple of hundred yards away at the edge of the Walla Walla Vintners plantings.

What’s the story with terroir? This framed much of our discussion, with Stan giving us his own wisdom, based on a lifetime in geology and some reading on the issue. His own view: the minerals aren’t really going to make a difference in themselves. What counts is the water, how much is absorbed, where the vine sits with respect to the slope, how much water drains off, when the frost comes, what the microclimate is. Stan also gave us a lesson on the geology of the region, most notably the Missoula Floods, as touched on in my previous post.

Then it was time to go into the tasting room and try the wines. Oh, actually, Judah started us there with a Sangiovese that we brought out with us to the vineyard to sample while we talked. That’s not a typical wine of the valley. The principal grapes are those of Bordeaux: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, etc.

2. Buty Winery. Next we drove back toward town and on north to the airport, adjacent to which are old Army buildings from World War II, some of which house Buty. One small building is home to the tasting room, where David gave us detailed explanations of the current releases in their Buty line and their more experimental BEAST line. (Buty is a family name of the owners; BEAST, well, they couldn’t resist.) We tried several reds and a couple of whites. I thought we had quite a thorough tasting experience, and expected us next to head to the next winery for lunch, so I was surprised when David closed up the tasting room in order to walk us two blocks over to the building where they make and store their wines. We tasted a wine still months away from bottling, looked over the barrels of wine, and learned more about what the winery does.

3. Waters Winery. On to Waters, a ways out of town, and again in a lovely setting. And time for lunch, before learning anything about the winery. We sat outside in a small patio area, where we were served a most delightful lunch provided by Olive Catering, with Waters’ wine as accompaniment. Olive Catering is an extension of Olive Marketplace and Café, in the heart of Walla Walla. They provided us with sandwiches (prosciutto, salami, chicken, turkey, vegetable), chips, water, and a dessert tray (brownies, lemon bars, a pistachio tart concoction). As we sat outside on a glorious day, in the heart of the Walla Walla Valley, mountains in the distance, Philippe filled us in on the history, tradition, and economics of the wine barrel business.

Shortly after we began our lunch, in what had been the most peaceful of settings, things got real noisy. But our seeming bad luck was good luck as well, for it was bottling day. Waters, like all the wineries we visited, is a small operation. A winery we would go to the next day produces 1000 cases a year. More typical of the wineries we visited is a production of 3000-5000 cases a year. Waters was somewhere in that range, maybe 3000. At that level, it doesn’t pay to have your own bottling equipment. Instead, you pay one of several mobile bottlers in the northwest to come by with a bottling truck, an entirely self-contained operation, provided you supply the wine and the labels. Maybe the corks too.

More on bottling soon. But first, some arithmetic. As Philippe explained, there are two traditional barrel sizes, 225 liters and 228 liters. Let’s go with 225. At 750 ml/bottle, that’s enough wine for 300 bottles. And at 12 bottles/case, that’s 25 cases. So 40 barrels yield 1000 cases. A 3000-case operation requires 120 barrels of wine each year.

Waters Winery

After lunch, we bypassed the Waters tasting room and went straight to the larger nearby building where all those barrels sit. Our guide, the assistant winemaker, took us to the two principal barrel storage areas to taste wines out of the barrel from 2011 grapes. Then, the bottling racket proving irresistible, he led us out the open door to the truck and got the bottlers’ permission for us to poke around.

That was great. A hose ran from the building to the truck, where bottles were automatically filled, then corked. We were able to climb a small stairway to the side of the truck, where we could see the bottles make their way from the corking area to our left to the labeling area to our right. In-between, two men put on those wine bottle top things whose name I can’t remember and a machine sealed them tight. Once the label was put on, the bottles made their way to the rear of the truck, where men put them in boxes, which a tape machine sealed shut. From there, a conveyor belt brought the boxes to a ramp, which they slid down to a level area, where more men lifted the cases off and stacked them on pallets. At about 80 cases per pallet, or almost 1000 bottles per pallet, each of those pallets represented a lot of money.

Waters hadn’t planned a tasting for us in the tasting room itself, but we stopped by briefly on the way out to sample and buy some. (We’d been buying at every winery.) Then we loaded up and moved out.

4. Forgeron Cellars. We drove straight into town, where an old forgery building serves as the home of Forgeron Cellars. Once again, as we entered the tasting room and were met by Anne, I expected no more than a standard winery tasting. Anne kept mentioning that Marie-Eve was supposed to join us, and would once she got off the phone. But rather than wait, she started us off with a tasting of some of the wines and a history of the winery. After ten or fifteen minutes, Marie-Eve did join us. She’s the winemaker, and co-owner. As the webpage about their wine making explains:

After earning her masters degree in enology and viticulture at the University of Dijon, Marie-Eve Gilla received practical training at local Burgundian wineries and vineyards. In 1991, she came to the United States to further her winemaking experience. Intending to stay for just a few months, she realized the incredible opportunities available in the wine industry. Now after more than ten years of making premium wines in the Northwest, she has come to appreciate the incredible growing conditions we enjoy in Eastern Washington.

Marie-Eve

Marie-Eve took us back to see all phases of their wine-making operation, from the area outdoors where the grapes arrive and are crushed to the initial storage tanks and the barrels. She had quite a lot to say, as did Philippe. At the end of our walk, she and Anne had wine and cheese waiting for us, along with still more wines to try. They were so generous with their time and knowledge. It was a great visit.

We had a short ride back to our hotel, then took a break before heading into town for dinner. Gail had decided days earlier that we should try Whitehouse-Crawford, which by all accounts was one of Walla Walla’s top restaurants. It’s closed on Tuesdays, whereas many other restaurants close on Mondays, making Monday the obvious night to go there, and so we did.

The restaurant is housed in an old lumber planing mill and furniture factory (see here for the history), rebuilt in 1904 after a fire. Almost torn down in 1988 for parking, it was rescued and restored to house the current restaurant, as well as a winery. Sharing the space is Seven Hills Winery, which is run, if I got the story right, by the sister and brother-in-law of our driver Jay. From within the restaurant, there are interior windows looking into the winery, which adds to the character of an already character-filled restaurant. It’s really a wonderful space, with high wood ceilings and historic photos on the walls.

Walla Walla Valley is home, of course, to more than fine wines. There are, for instance, the famed sweet onions. We didn’t have to work hard to reach the decision that we should share a basket of crispy fried sweet onions to start. In addition, I had the warm spinach salad with smoked trout, bacon, grilled onions and mustard vinaigrette. For my main dish, I went with the Oregon beef tenderloin steak with red wine sauce, mushrooms, and shallot-thyme mashed potatoes. (The grilled pork shoulder with harissa, cilantro, carrot puree, and spring vegetables sounded good, and there was Copper River salmon too.) Gail had a wild mushroom pasta dish that I don’t see on the online menu. Everything was superb.

I decided to skip dessert, but everyone else ordered. By that point, a once-packed restaurant had mostly emptied out, yet we waited nearly half an hour after ordering for dessert to show up. I don’t know what the problem was. Gail had a peach dessert that again isn’t on the online menu. I took a small taste and would happily have eaten more. Except for the delay, it was a perfect evening. A perfect day too, for that matter.

Lunch and dinner had spoiled us. Hampton Inn breakfast just wasn’t in the same league, and we were sure to be disappointed come morning.

Categories: Travel, Wine

Walla Walla, 1

July 29, 2012 1 comment

Wallula Gap, Columbia River, Washington State

In my final post on the Tour de France last Monday night, I mentioned that watching the closing stage of the race delayed our departure for Walla Walla, where we would be touring wineries in the Walla Walla Valley of southeastern Washington. We did get there, in time for dinner last Sunday, and returned to Seattle Wednesday late afternoon. Between the trip and subsequent catching up on other things, Ron’s View has been quiet. Time to crank it up again.

I’ve long wanted to go to Walla Walla, as much to see that part of the state and visit the Whitman Mission National Historic Site as to taste the wines. But I’m not a big fan of driving, so we never got around to heading over there. When a fully-arranged trip was offered as an auction item three months ago, I realized that this was our chance. By buying it, we could be sure at last to make the trip. And so we did.

Sunday was driving day. Monday we visited four wineries. Tuesday we visited four more. Wednesday we took a quick walk around Walla Walla’s Whitman College, drove west a few miles to the Whitman Mission, then headed home. I’ll say more about each, in separate posts. This post is about Sunday.

Our Sunday drive got off to a slow start, thanks to our need to watch the cycling and then the conclusion of the men’s Open Championship golf from northwest England. We were hardly 20 miles into our 278-mile drive when we pulled off in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah for lunch. And a fine lunch it was, at an absolutely mobbed Panera. Who knew that that’s where everyone in the neighborhood goes on a Sunday afternoon? It was discouraging, getting back in the car an hour into our trip, to realize we had made such little progress.

As we continued east on I-90, I was stunned to realize that I couldn’t for the life of me remember the last time we crossed Snoqualmie Pass, the major pass through the Cascades. Once over it, we left the clouds behind for good. One of the wonders of driving across the state — which I have done so rarely — is the dramatic change one encounters in geology and climate. As we continued east to Ellensburg, the landscape got drier and drier. This I had seen before, but at Ellensburg we left I-90 for I-82, which initially dips southward to Yakima, and almost everything in the remaining 170 miles was new territory.

The 35-mile stretch down to Yakima is spectacular. It is almost entirely undeveloped, courtesy of the US Army and the firing range that runs from I-82 east all the way to the Columbia River, and from I-90 south to Yakima. The road travels up and down and up and down and up and down, over the Manastash and Umtanum Ridges, making one final descent into Selah and Yakima.

We pulled off in Yakima for gas, and to see the city, the first time for me and the first time since early adulthood for Gail. Various cousins of Gail’s have lived or grown up there. We didn’t see a whole lot, but did drive the length of downtown, and got to visit an am/pm convenience store. Then it was back to the freeway and on through the farming towns I have stared at so often on the map, and had taught students from, but had never seen: Wapato, Toppenish, Sunnyside, Grandview, Prosser. This is wine country now, home to a long list of wineries, but country we will have to wait to spend time in.

Once out of Prosser, the road climbs again, as it continues east 30 miles to the Tri-Cities: Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco. We crossed the Yakima River one last time as we dropped into the Columbia River Valley, the Yakima’s final destination. This was a familiar stretch for me. Seven summers ago, I flew over to Pasco one morning for a four-hour meeting at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the huge US Department of Energy research lab associated to the Hanford nuclear site (where plutonium for atomic bombs was made for decades, starting during World War II). From the airport that day, I drove over to Richland, had some time to kill, parked at some small park I found by the Columbia, walked along the river for a while, grabbed an early lunch at a Subway that seemed to fill with PNNL staff shortly after I got there, then headed up to PNNL for the meeting, after which I headed straight back to the airport and flew home.

Thanks to that visit, as we drove down into the valley, through Richland, and over the Columbia River, none of this was ne to me. But Gail hadn’t been past Yakima before, so she was seeing the Tri-Cities for the first time. Parched though the region is, it looks like it has its attractions, starting with the Columbia itself. As the Columbia flows south, it separates Richland to the west from Pasco to the east. But then the Columbia makes a sudden turn eastward, becoming the line between Pasco to the north and Kennewick to the south. On the east side of Pasco, the Snake River flows southward, joining the Columbia at the edge of town. This is a historic confluence, the point where Lewis and Clark arrived at the Columbia two centuries ago, and we could see it plainly off to the right as we drove east on US-12 over the Snake. We will surely want to explore it next time we get over there.

For the next 20 miles, we followed the Columbia downstream as it curved from an eastward heading to southeast to southward, until we could see in the distance as dramatic a geological formulation as the Columbia offers: the Wallula Gap. We would not pass through it. US-12 veers east just before entering it, with Walla Walla 30 miles away. We stared at it in awe, learning only the next day how important it is to the geology of southeast Washington. For the gap plugged up the immense flow of water from the Missoula Floods 15,000 years ago, a flow perhaps as large as that of all today’s rivers in the world combined, one that removed the loess covering eastern Washington and produced today’s landscape.

It’s quite a story, but I’m not the one to tell it. Fortunately, joining us on our trip as of the next morning was our geologist friend Stan, gifted teacher and author of a best-selling standard text. As we stood in a vineyard looking out at the Blue Mountains, he recounted the dramatic days of that long ago flood. But this lay ahead. On Sunday, we drove away from the gap in ignorance, knowing only that it sure looked dramatic.

From the Columbia Valley, we made one final climb. Soon we saw our first Walla Walla wineries, Woodward Canyon and l’Ecole No 41. And then, ahead to the left, there was Walla Walla’s state penitentiary. That was our cue to get off US-12. A couple of miles on local roads and we pulled into the Walla Walla Hampton Inn, five hours after leaving home.

What next? We still had dinner to eat. And there in the parking lot, emptying their car were our tripmates Russ and Tobae. Once we were all settled, we agreed to eat in town at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. Russ looked at the menu as we talked, but I didn’t ask him about it. I just imagined the place was a standard middle-eastern restaurant, which sounded good to me. We arrived to learn that it was fully booked, but we could sit at one of the tables in the small enclosed outdoor section on the sidewalk, which we agreed to do. Only on looking at the menu there did I realize that it’s an upscale place, and only the next day did I learn that it’s considered one of Walla Walla’s two top restaurants.

For good reason. It’s excellent. Three of us went with the evening’s soup special, an intriguing blackberry gazpacho. Gail had a fingerling potato appetizer that she raved about. Then three of us had the leg of lamb, described on the online menu as having spiced basmati rice, pistachios, yoghurt, cilantro, and raspberry harissa. I can’t remember if that’s quite right. I do remember that it was delicious.

Pretty good day.

Categories: Travel, Wine

Tour Farewell

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish

[From the Daily Mail]

On Friday, I wrote in Manx Missile Miracle about Mark Cavendish’s stunning sprint victory in the Tour’s ante-penultimate stage, on the ride into Brive-la-Gaillarde. What a sight, with overall leader and teammate Bradley Wiggins leading the way, then handing leadout duties to fellow teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. Cavendish finally took over with a few hundred meters to go, catching up to and then passing Luis-León Sánchez and Nicolas Roche, then holding off Matty Goss and Peter Sagan.

Three days later, the Tour is over for 38 hours and I’ve said no more. What happened? Well, in the three hours after the Tour ended, when I could have been preparing a final post, I was instead watching golf’s Open Championship, which was so depressing that I will say no more. Then, hours later than we should have, we headed out the door and drove to Walla Walla, in southeastern Washington, where we spent the day today visiting Walla Walla Valley wineries. All of this has gotten in the way of Tour blogging. Let me take a moment to wrap up this year’s Tour.

Saturday was the closing time trial, the last opportunity for anyone to move up or slide down the overall standings. It was exciting, as all time trials are, but with little consequence. The two dominant riders of the Tour, Wiggins and fellow Sky rider Chris Froome, already placed first and second overall, and already having placed first and second in the first time trial, repeated those positions, far ahead of the rest of the field. Of special note was Wiggins’ performance in picking up 1’16” on Froome, thereby quieting many of us who have wondered if Froome were in fact the stronger rider. Perhaps in the mountains, but probably not enough so to have beaten Wiggins if allowed to ride for himself rather than in support of Wiggins. In any case, as I wrote the other day, we’ll never know, so it doesn’t matter. They were far and away ahead of the rest of the field, and that will have to do.

Young US rider Tejay Van Garderen looked to be riding an outstanding time trial himself, but lost time to the leaders in the later stages, finishing 7th on the day and closing the gap in the overall standings on Jurgen Van Den Broeck, but VDB remained over a minute ahead of Tejay, holding onto 4th overall, with Tejay 5th. The one big surprise was that Cadel Evans, an outstanding time trialist (he won last year’s Tour in the closing time trial, wiping out the overall lead of Andy Schleck) showed that he is way off form, evidently from illness, finishing several minutes back of the leaders on the day and slipping overall from 6th to 7th behind Haimar Zubeldia.

And that was that, the final sorting out of the overall positions, leaving just yesterday’s ride into Paris, ceremonial as far as the overall standings were concerned but presenting one last chance for the sprinters to strut their stuff.

It’s always a thrill to see the peloton ride down the Seine into the city. Once they hit the Louvre, duck under, come back around the Rue de Rivoli, into the Place de la Concorde, and onto the Champs-Élysées, they pass the eventual finish line, which they will cross eight more times as they run off that many 6km laps. That’s when the stage gets serious, as riders break away for possible stage victories and the sprinters’ teams try to reel in the breakaways in order to set up their sprinting stars for final day glory.

But until then, they coast into town. As they did so yesterday, the camera took in views of the Eiffel Tower ahead, then began to circle around the neighborhood, and I suddenly realized I was going to see my sister’s building. There it was! That was cool. And then she called to ask if I saw it. I sure did. My niece is back in Paris for a few days. I asked my sister what she was doing and learned that she and her boyfriend had gone out to see the race for themselves, which transported me back 27 years to our honeymoon, when we were at my sister’s old apartment, in the same neighborhood, watching the Tour enter the city.

Why watch on TV? Gail and I dashed out, then my sister called from the window above to say that my then-just-two-year-old niece wanted to join us, so we waited for her. Then, off we went to the Champs-Élysées. Except my niece wasn’t moving fast. Gail brought her up slowly while I ran ahead. And there they were, riding up and down the Champs-Élysées. Bernard Hinault. Greg LeMond. Teammates in first and second, Hinault coasting home for his fifth Tour victory. Rudy Matthijs of Belgium would win the stage, but we could see none of that from our vantage point.

Returning to yesterday, the expected breakaway occurred. Then the reeling in of the breakaway, but scarily late, on the final lap. Then, as the peloton came out from the Louvre tunnel onto Rue de Rivoli one last time, just like two days ago, Wiggins himself, in the yellow jersey, moved to the front, Boasson Hagen, behind him, Cavendish in third. Wiggins dropped off, Boasson Hagen continued the leadout as they entered Place de la Concorde. On the final turn into the Champs-Élysées, Boasson Hagen swung wide, and Cavendish began yet another electrifying sprint. Matty Goss tried to close the gap, only to be passed by Peter Sagan. Neither could catch Cavendish, who won his fourth consecutive closing Tour stage.

In 48 hours, Cavendish had demonstrated that he is still the best sprinter alive. And Wiggins scored points too, having led out the sprint on Friday, won the time trial by a huge margin Saturday, and led out the sprint again Sunday.

The leading riders in all the usual categories were then sequentially honored, standing on the stage in ones, twos, threes, or as a team, with the usual backdrop of the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. At the end, Wiggins, Froome, and Vincenzo Nibali stood to be honored as the top three in the race, a British soprano singing God Save the Queen while wearing a wild, flowing Union Jack skirt. And then, bringing the festivities to a close, Wiggins addressed the crowd, assuring them that the raffle numbers would be drawn now, and asking them not to get too drunk. A final infusion of British character to bring a fine Tour to its close.

What do I do now? Forty-nine weeks to go.

Categories: Cycling

The Draft

July 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Late last month, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, proposed bringing back the draft.

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population. I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.

We’ve never done that in the United State before; we’ve never fought an extended war with an all- volunteer military. So what it means is you’ve got a very small population that you’re going to and you’re going to it over and over again. Because it’s less than one percent of the population… people are very supportive but they don’t have the same connection to it.”

A few days ago, at the New York Review of Books blog, William Pfaff offered his reaction in a post I highly recommend. I hesitate to quote from it, as no short excerpt can accurately represent the range of Pfaff’s thoughts. Here’s just one bit, on a powerful contribution of the draft.

The army, in my opinion, did more to desegregate the United States than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1948 on, nearly every able-bodied young man in the United States served and lived side by side with Americans of all colors, all in strict alphabetical order, in old-fashioned unpartitioned barracks, sleeping bunk to bunk, sharing shelter-halves on bivouac, in what amounted to brotherly endurance of the cold, heat, discomfort, and misery of military training—and following that, of service. The kids I trained with—and they were kids—were nearly all of them scheduled to become infantry replacements in what was commonly called Frozen Chosin [during the Korean War].

When their war was over, the survivors, white and black, didn’t go home to Georgia and hang out together on Saturday nights. They hardly saw one another again. But those two years changed them. It certainly changed many of the younger generation of white southerners who served and who a decade and a half later were ready to accept desegregation, even though they disliked it. A man-to-man respect existed for their black contemporaries.

Pfaff goes on to discuss how Vietnam altered the nature of the draft, concluding, “What fundamentally was destroyed in Vietnam was the democratic army. The all-volunteer professional army enables undemocratic wars, ideological in nature and inspiration, and, it would seem, without real end.”

Speaking of which, it never hurts to recall Dick Cheney’s famous line, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.”

Categories: Politics, Society, War