Friday, July 31, 2015

Visiting Wine Country - A Wine Buyer's Manifesto

Take a shot glass. Put half an ounce of water in it. Pour it in a wine glass. That tiny bit of liquid is what you usually get when you get a taste of wine in a tasting room. 
No problem…wineries aren’t bars and they don’t want their patrons getting drunk and driving around on the rural roads that usually appear in wine country (by the way, you’re not supposed to swallow’re supposed to taste it and spit it out into the bucket provided so the alcohol doesn’t erode your sense of taste).
We love wine here at The World on Wheels. We love that, in our biased opinion, we live in the greatest wine producing area in the world.
Many of our trips involve wine tasting and drinking. Some are even taken just to taste the wine and we usually come home with at least two cases of wine in our trunk.
Winery owners…take note of that last sentence above…at least two cases, a lot of the time, even more.  Now, let me tell you how you’re killing the golden goose…wine buyers like me.
Here are the reasons that I’m really starting to sour on going to wineries for tasting and wine buying…

Exorbitant tasting fees.  Wine tasting used to be free. This perk is fast diminishing.  Then it became a token fee, to dissuade from getting plastered and driving down those narrow country lanes.
Let’s face it, a $5 fee isn’t going to break the bank and, if you let me apply that price to my purchase, not a problem.  The problem comes when I go to a winery, they charge $12 to $20, or more,for 5 small sips (the minimum going rate in many wine destinations these days) and then tell me I can’t apply that amount to my purchase.  First, I’ll probably look you in the eye, say “are you serious?”, and turn around and walk out when I find you are. Second, I won't be back and I won't be buying your wine.
I usually visit 5 or more wineries a day. I’m not going to pay $24 or more (for at least my wife and myself) at each stop for the “privilege” of sampling wine (see the first paragraph for how much of a taste you get) at each one, especially if I can’t use that amount for my purchase.
High Wine Prices.  I realize that some wines are so good, so lovingly had crafted with great care by the winemaker that they justify quite a premium. However, I just paid for the gas to drive my butt up to your vineyard, to (probably) pay for the “experience” of tasting your wine. I just saved you plenty in shipping costs alone. I don’t want to pay $25 a bottle for your wine, then drive down the hill and see it on the shelf of Albertson’s for $6.99.  If they can sell it to me for that price, you sure can too.

Wine Clubs. The latest lame excuse to extract more money from winery customers to get them to buy more.  I don’t know of any winery that doesn’t have a wine club these days.  The come on is “join our wine club and you’ll get free perks” like free tasting, discounts on wine, and other special promotions. The catch is that you’ll have to buy at least a couple of bottles of wine that they select for club members that are not cheap, and pay for shipping if you don’t live nearby, several times a year. On average, with shipping, this will cost you at least $60 for each two bottle shipment.
At many wineries, this is the only way you’ll get a discount and that is usually measley…something on the order of 10% per case. Hell, my local Ralph’s offers me a 30% discount on 6 bottles now, how is this supposed to entice me – especially if you just have a few selections of wine that I’ll get over and over?  And am I expected to join every winery’s club?  All 3,300+ in California?
Give me a meaningful case discount without having to join an expensive club. Give me a club where I don’t have to pay (Sobon Estate, for example, only asks for your e-mail address to join the club and get a 20% case discount).

Or if you absolutely must have a club, why don’t you join forces with other wineries in your area and have a regional wine club? Can you imagine what a wine club featuring selections from all the Sonoma wineries would be like?
(NOTE: There are several independent wine clubs that get wine from all over the world and not charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege – one I’m a member of and highly recommend is The Wine of the Month Club in Monrovia, California.)
Nightclub Atmosphere. Recently, on a wine tasting adventure, we stepped into a winery tasting room. It was like entering a disco. Loud live band, crowded, dancing, complete with bartender wiping down a spot saying “twelve dollars each, what’ll you have?” Turned around and walked out. If you’re going to foster that kind of atmosphere, just stop calling yourself a winery and say you’re a bar or nightclub.

Okay, now that I’ve listed my biggest pet peeves, know that I still find some outstanding examples of wineries that mostly do it right. Props go to the wineries of Amador County – home of some of the best red wines on earth – for scoffing at the idea of charging for tasting, at least for now (though a couple of pretentious newcomers are trying to change that); Galleano for hanging on by a thread, charging a modest fee ($5) that can be applied to their very inexpensive and delicious selections (they’ll even give you a coupon to have a glass of their wine at a local Basque restaurant); and the increasingly hard to find, honest winemakers of California that prefer to let their wine to the talking before you open your wallet.
For the rest of you, please take some of this commentary to heart. I’d like to enjoy trips to the wine country again.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 27, 2015


I've been blessed with a lot of cherry tomatoes so I'm going to use them. I picked sixteen off of the plant today.

I'm going to make a cherry tomato/bacon pizza pie with them.

First, I slice each one in half.

Then marinated in olive oil for a day.

With a can of San Marzano tomatoes, some salt, garlic, and oregano (also from the garden), I boiled it for 20 minutes, then simmered for 2 hours.  Near the end, we added a teaspoon of sugar.

I was going to buy a premade pizza dough from our local Italian deli but my wife insisted on making a homemade dough.  Also, my son insisted on pepperoni on top, so what started as a tomato pie ended up being a pizza with a really delicious, fresh tasting sauce.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Harvest is Almost Among Us

I picked 16 cherry tomatoes this morning that I'll use for a pizza. This regular hybrid tomato is showing its colors. Harvesting will be commencing very soon for these beauties.

The dragon fruit is about to bloom with this flower...

...this one...

and this one.  Hopefully, that's just the beginning.

The tomatoes and oranges were starting to block the walkway so I cut them back to make a path.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Living In a Disaster Movie

Southern California may be seen as a blessed-by-nature, sunny paradise but there's a darker side to that coin. We are also cursed with a range of natural disasters.

It's summer. Hot, dry, and ready to burn. With little rain in the last four years, we have millions of acres filled with dry brush, dead trees, and even shrubs that will spontaneously combust.

Walking outside and smell smoke? Well, it could be one of my neighbors having a barbecue but I glance up to the mountains behind our house to make sure I don't see any plumes of smoke.

There are plenty of natural or accidental causes to fires but the worst are the people who go up into the wilderness to either start them on purpose or do things that they should know better not to, like the three brain dead cretins who went up to have a campfire and smoke pot. They ended up starting the Colby Fire last year that burned thousands of acres and more than a few homes.

You don't want to look up and see this yellow plane flying low over your house. It's a super scooper, a plane that flys low to scoop up water from a nearby lake then dump it on a fire. This one was snapped from our driveway during one of last year's fires.

While we've been lucky so far, we did have the van loaded up and ready to go for the evacuation order that was coming until our firefighters finally stopped the advance of the Colby fire.

Fire news on our local stations also come in two flavors.  In dry years..."the vegetation is super dry so we need to be very careful not to set in on fire," or in the wet years..."the rain has made everything grow so fast so we have to be very careful not to set it on fire now that it's dry."

Basically, any way you look at it, we're screwed with fire. 

Speaking of wet years, after a big burn, you can bet the next big rain storm will be washing all of that burned off soil into people's homes.  Mudslides are another big disaster we need to deal with on a regular basis.

In the desert, they have to be on the lookout for flash floods. In fact, just a couple of days ago, a flood took out a bridge on the main L.A. to Phoenix freeway.

While we don't usually deal with hurricanes, we do have wind storms.  Every couple of years, there seems to be a major one taking down trees and cutting power in our neighborhoods. We get more damage from this in our area than anything else. In fact, my mother lost the roof to her garage several years ago to a small tornado.

And last, but certainly not least, earthquakes are our claim to disaster fame.  We tend to shake 'em off...slight pun intended...because, what else are you going to do?  They only last a minute or so and for the most part, people aren't really hurt by them. There are a few in concentrated areas that can make it scary if you dwell on it but it's kind of like flying. You know people crash and die but the odds are extremely long that it will happen to you.

So, living here, you need to know that you can easily get shaken, burned, blown away, or flooded but you'll get over it.

At least we don't have hurricanes.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

What You Gonna Do With Those Shoes?

Every gardener needs a good pair of shoes. Not only for protection against any thorns you might drop in trimming but also working around rocks and power tools.

I'm the Cheapskate, so I'm not going to buy a pair strictly for gardening. I just use my oldest pair of tennis shoes. They go to the bottom of the totem pole and become my gardening shoes.

My shoe totem pole is like this: a pair of dress shoes for work, a good pair of brown tennis shoes for traveling (which can be acceptable in most dress situations on the road and also be comfortable), another pair just for casual use, and my gardening shoes.

As the top rung of the shoes get replaced by new pairs, all the others move down a rung.

I've been in need of replacing my work dress shoes and the brown tennis shoes but, again, I'm the Cheapskate so I wait for Famous Footwear to have one of their Buy On Get One 50% off sale.

Finally, they started the sale this week so I'm replacing the top two pairs of shoes. That means everybody else moves down a rung on the ladder.

Time for one more trip around the yard for my trusty New Balance 659s. I've probably had these 15 years.  I need them especially when I'm mowing the lawn with my mower.

Well, that's it. Thank you for your service.

To the bottom of the barrel you go.

Welcome to the next pair of gardening shoes. I hope you give me as good as service as the pair you replaced.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 17, 2015

TRIP REPORT: Southern California - Inland Empire Wines

Continuing with our Inland Empire (IE) theme, did you know that it's the home to one of the state's oldest wine producing regions? Granted AVA status in 1995, the Cucamonga Valley is home to acres of zinfandel, mission, grenache, and Carignane...all red wine grapes that do well in the areas very hot summers and sandy soil.  They've been at it here since 1838.
Massive ongoing construction has uprooted many farms and ranches here.

It's also one of the state's most endangered wine countries.  The IE has long played the role of relief valve to the exploding population of the region.  What was mostly empty stretches of vineyards, citrus groves, farms, and ranches 40 years ago is now full of homes, freeways, factories, and warehouses.  Most of the area's grape plantings have been ripped up, paved over, and built upon.

Two major wine producers plus a couple of smaller wineries still make a go of it in the area, however. J. Filippi and Galleano are the majors.  Rancho de Philo and Hofer are the smaller producers.

You can visit Filippi and Galleano wineries almost daily.  Fillipi is in Rancho Cucamonga, Galleano is in Mira Loma near the junction of Interstate 15 and the 60 freeways.

The Galleano farm is a step back in time.  Exiting off of the Etiwanda exit of the 60 freeway, you might think you've taken a wrong turn.  You're immediately in the heart of factories and warehouses...not a grape in sight.  Follow the signs and you'll soon find this slice of old California tucked in between.

The old farm buildings house the tasting room, the winery itself, and the residences of the Galleano family and their workers.  A nice lawn is on your left.  Beyond that, many farm animals in a small zoo.  It's peaceful, pretty, and looks just like the whole area did when I used to visit my grandmother here back in the 1970's.

Past the old motor bays and the antique gas pumps, a banging, wooden screen door guards the entrance to the small tasting room.  The staff will be happy to pour you several complimentary tastes.  If Don Galleano is there, odds are that he'll try to sell you a membership in their wine club.  He's a great talker...odds are that you'll join and receive two of their wines every few months.

Get a little cheese, buy a bottle (hint, the same good wines come in large jug sizes with different names at a huge discount), and have a little picnic on the lawn.  Especially good are the local zinfandels...a highly endangered and rare grape...and their fortified ports and sherries.

I don't know how to describe it, but the terroir here imparts a strong, unique taste to the wines.  If you taste 
a Cucamonga Valley wine and taste it again years later, you'll recognize it.

Another hint for Galleano.  A great, local Basque restaurant...Centro Basco in nearby Chino...proudly pours Galleano as their house wine.  Pick up a coupon here at the winery and have a free glass with dinner at this historic and great restaurant.  If you want more, the Galleano Claret is only $8 a bottle at the restaurant.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Making Every Drop Count

Notice the three orchids on the top row starting at the second from the left. See how dry they are?

That's why I do sprinkler pattern checks now and again. You'll notice that the spray is not hitting the top row. Resetting it into first pot and re-aiming it fixes that problem.

Chores done, what else is happening this week? To start off, our first dragon fruit bud has come up.

The recently transplanted zucchini is putting out some spectacular flowers.

Anaheim chiles are looking great...

...and the cherry tomato hanging basket is about ready for first harvest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Our traffic is legendary here in Los Angeles and the surrounding metro area. I've seen worse around the world but it is pretty stifling here. Depending on who's calculating, there are 17 to 18 million people here.

That's 44% of the entire state of California's population.

It sometimes seems like every one of those 17 million souls are on your freeway sometimes.  As residents, we create strategies to minimize our time on those roads.

For example, we won't travel west of Interstate 110 more than a couple of times a year. I haven't seen the beach in Santa Monica in over a decade.  Malibu? Might as well be in another state.  It takes less time for me to drive to Bakersfield than Marina del Rey most of the time.

The biggest curse is to have to navigate that traffic every day. The biggest blessing is to be 'going against' traffic on your commute.  Even driving to our church on a Saturday evening is a car-filled slog across the San Gabriel Valley.

One big disadvantage we have in the valley is it is bisected from north to south by a river. That the 'river' is nothing but dry dirt 90% of the time is of no consequence.  There are still only nine bridges in the 12 miles from the bottom of the valley to the mountains. Three of those are freeway.  Block one, and the rest are hopelessly gridlocked.

I've heard of people begging off of family wedding invitations because the 15 miles they'd have to drive would take a maddening 90 minutes or more.

Our beach drive is usually to Seal Beach because it's not only among the closest beaches to our house but there's also a carpool lane on the 605, giving us a slight advantage in travel time.  

I commute to my job in downtown Los Angeles by driving not into L.A., but over to El Monte to catch an express bus that goes in it's own reserved lane on the middle of the freeway. Soon, when the next light rail expansion is finished, I can dispense with that and take a trolley from a station five blocks from my house.

When we're not cooking dinner and my wife wants me to go and get takeout, our dinner choice is limited to what is in the local area that I don't have to sit in traffic to get to. 

Even our narrow, two lane street get's clogged at rush hour because it has a dubious distinction of running east to west from one end of our city to the other.

Of course, the real culprits are drivers who value a few seconds shaved over the safety of others on the road, get into accidents, and clog everything up. Even the president can get traffic snarled here, woe to those who get stuck in Obamajams.

True, we do get to live in a good climate but I admit, I get tired of the headaches we have to deal with to live here at times and this is one of the biggest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Plant that Grows Where You Don't Want It... a weed.  Well, above, they're herbs but when they block the sidewalk, they have to be treated like weeds and ripped out back to their planter.

Speaking of weeds, that's this week's chore.

This spurge in our front yard rose garden is so big, it's hard to tell there the weed ends and the lawn begins.

Spurge is pretty easy to pull, a trowel helps me find the root stem.

Once I do that, it's not a big deal to bunch it up in my hand and uproot it.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Caught in the Act!

Here are some of the deer that have been coming down from the nearby mountains to feed on my front yard rose garden. This one is helping itself to my nextdoor neighbor's holly topiary.

The drought is serious, folks.  These animals, and many more like them, are really feeling the brunt of it. They can have my roses until the rain returns.

Luckily, the bulk of my garden is behind a tall wall in the backyard, let's see how it's faring this week.

Tomatoes! I'm loving my tomato plants this year. Here, the hanging cherry tomatoes are reddening up. My son and I sampled but they're a bit tart at a redder color than this so we'll let them ripening for quite some time before harvesting. There are a ton of them on the basket.

That's in contrast to last year where I could count my entire tomato harvest on one hand. This hybrid is giving the cherry tomatoes a run in the numbers game and the big ones are the size of a baseball.

I was sweating a little over the heirloom plant but it's getting some nice fruit on it too, now.

In our citrus grove, we've got Myer lemons on the branches...

...more fruit on our Cara Cara orange...

...and a few late blooming Cara Cara flowers, too.

I had a micro-sprinkler clog and I think it affected our corn adversely. I replaced it but I don't know how this will do. In this drought-affected garden, however, it's sink or swim. We'll see if we can get anything edible out of it.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved