Monday, January 23, 2017

Eat (and look): Manhattan

    This is the Francophile version of the enduringly popular Eataly but even further downtown. Next door to the new 9/11 museum, it has a view of the Hudson River and a "concept" identical to that of Eataly, just with different handles for national comestible celebrations, i.e. rotisserie, fromage, patisserie, Bar de Vin, etc. I started with New Brunswick raw oysters, a glass of Stella Artois (okay, it's Belgian), and duck leg rillette. Then an amble among various stalls, petite cup of dense black coffee in hand.                                                                              
     Uptown by subway to the Metropolitan Museum and five hours of looking at literally any representative art you fancy, from ancient Greece to Native American masterpieces to women's fashion. I was struck most by the Ojibwa bags from there shores of Lake Superior.
 and a dress of slats inspired by Cubism that instantly called to mind Marcel Duchamp's 1912 Nude Descending a Staircase.
    Dinner was Italian - at Grazie in East 84th, just blocks from the Met: octopus, striped bass, Dolcetto. Basta.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Napa Valley vintners take the low road. Go figure.

   This does not bode well for the future.
         Says Dan Mufson, head of Napa Vision 2050:  "The vintners have come out of the grass (vines?) and are showing their true colors—bullying and dismissive. It’s remarkable that an industry that sells sophistication has taken to such maffioso tactics...2017 is shaping up to be a most interesting year."
    One possible outcome's a boycott of both the Vintners' members and the restaurant that allows itself to be intimidated.

To order my book about the loss of American place go to:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Napa struggle wins best short documentary in L.A. festival

The initiative to save trees and water, torpedoed by the county, rises again:                                                               

Saturday, January 7, 2017

From sea to shining sea

The Washington Post references Vanishing America.

The Chesapeake watershed’s countryside is being replaced by ‘mallside’

Sprawl in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, despite efforts at “smart growth,” continues at an unprecedented rate. Growth occurs principally along transportation corridors; the main culprit is the federal highway system, which has been the silent ally of real estate development and urban sprawl. 
Interstate 81 in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania has seen the growth of exurban developments, often with populations far larger than the town or village with which they share a Zip code. Increasingly, “countryside” is being replaced by “mallside,” with homogenized stores from coast to coast. 
In Virginia and West Virginia, sheep and cattle farms have given way to burgeoning neighborhoods of commuters who clog country roads and drive two hours each way to their workplaces. 
The orchard belt of the Chesapeake that once included hundreds of peach and apple farms in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia is being swallowed by development, noticeably on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Land is worth far more than the fruit it produces. As the suburbs spread outward in all directions from Washington and Baltimore, farmland is increasingly in demand for development. 
But our countryside is not alone in being transformed out of existence. The U.S. Geological Survey says our rivers and seascapes are being changed by pollution and deforestation. The connectivity of wetlands, forest and wildlife habitat is being ruined through loss of vegetation and open space. Small wonder that suburbanites are surprised at finding hungry black bears foraging in their garbage and deer eating their flowers.
The once-sleepy docks lined with oyster-packing houses in Crisfield, Md., give way to fancy, expensive high-rise condominiums owned by people who neither care about nor understand the local maritime culture and what is being lost.
Throughout the Chesapeake watershed, collectors are scooping up the remnants of Maryland’s oyster industry: packing cans, dredges, photographs, shucking tools. What was once a vibrant industry on the Chesapeake has succumbed to disease, pollution, overharvesting and development. Hundreds of packing houses from Kent Island, Md., to Oyster, Va., have disappeared. Oysters, which sold for $1.50 a gallon in 1974, now sell for more than that each in D.C. restaurants. Soon, people will have difficulty trying to understand why a town in Maryland was named Bivalve.
In the middle of the Shenandoah Valley or up the Susquehanna River, one can get into traffic jams that resemble urban gridlock.
It is neither change nor technology that threatens our lifestyle. It is political power, the force of domination. When a Chesapeake waterman finds his crabs or oysters overwhelmed by toxins and effluents unleashed by corporations, he feels the rough hand of lobbyists who have worked behind the scenes to rewrite the sanitation laws. When orchard owners discover that their aquifer is being hijacked by new zoning regulations and developments so that they can’t irrigate their trees in summer during drought, they feel the blunt instrument of real estate interests that want to grow money rather than crops.
John Wennersten is author of “The Chesapeake: An Environmental Biography” and emeritus professor of history at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore.
To order my book about the loss of American place go to:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

From the man who also brought us "boobgeoisie"

    H.L. Mencken, to wit. And way back in 1920 he had this to say: 
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

U.S. attorney fingers Napa man

The Niagara Gazette published the story below about criminal charges brought against Louis Ciminelli in New York. He's also involved in a controversial timber removal plan in the mountains above Napa Valley:

TOP 10: Local developer faces charges in Buffalo Billion probe (No. 5)

Dec. 27 from staff reports:

In news that shocked the region on Sept. 22, a high-profile developer and political power player was brought to U.S. District Court in Buffalo to face charges of wire fraud and bribery.
Louis P. Ciminelli, along with two other LPCiminelli development company executives, has been accused of paying an Albany lobbyist $100,000 to rig the bidding process for the $750 million Solar City complex construction project, a part of the Buffalo Billion program.
Charged along with Ciminelli, were prominent Pendleton resident Kevin Schuler, a senior vice president with the company, and Michael Laipple, LPCiminelli’s Infrastructure Division president.
Also charged in the indictment on Sept. 22 were Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Joseph Percoco, the former executive deputy secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Syracuse energy company executive Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr., and Syracuse developers Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi.
The indictments followed a year-long investigation by agents in the FBI’s Buffalo Field Office, along with investigators from the office of Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“(The) complaint sheds a light on the sordid ‘Show me the money’ culture in Albany,” Bharara said. “(It was) hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for hundreds of millions of dollars in business.”
Bharara acknowledged the role of the media in the investigation, highlighting the work of Investigative Post, a partner organization to the Niagara Gazette that is led by longtime investigative journalist Jim Heaney and a small staff of dedicated reporters.
“That case got started because journalists in Buffalo and elsewhere started to write that there were shenanigans they believe that were going on with the bidding of contracts in Buffalo,” Bharara said. “And you know what we did? We started to investigate.”
All eight men pleaded not guilty to a 14-count indictment in federal court on Nov. 22.
Percoco was Cuomo’s executive deputy secretary and one of his most loyal advisers.
The Democratic governor is not accused of wrongdoing.
Cuomo, who has denied any knowledge of the alleged corruption, has said, “… this is a profoundly sad situation for me personally. Now the justice system must take its course, and any of those found guilty of abusing the public’s trust should and will be punished.”
The government says evidence including about 2 million pages of documents will be ready for defense review in early 2017.
Percoco’s attorney says it’s unclear how long it will take to prepare for trial.
Ciminelli’s defense attorney, Daniel Oliverio, said his client did nothing wrong.
“These allegations are a complete mischaracterization of the facts,” he said. “These men are innocent. There is no plea. We are going to trial and we’re going to be acquitted. We have employees and a company we want to vindicate.”
LPCiminelli’s local projects include the Niagara Falls Police headquarters and Niagara Falls City Court, the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, the new Maid of the Mist winter docks and a half dozen Niagara Falls School District projects.
To order Napa:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top local coverage goes to developers vs. the environment

From the Napa Register:

No. 1 story of 2016: Wine industry under fire

Napa County in 2016 saw heated growth wars involving not ever-expanding subdivisions threatening to pave over the landscape, but multiplying wineries and vineyards.
These are growth wars, Napa-style. They focus on the world-famous wine industry that is the county’s economic life blood and source of immense local pride, even among many who fear Napa is getting too much of a good thing.
With vacant space on the Napa Valley floor hard to come by, vineyard projects are increasingly targeted for the adjacent mountains. Some citizens see this as an attack on the region’s oak forests and the watersheds that drain into reservoirs for local cities.
The result was two land-use battles royal – Walt Ranch and the proposed watershed protection ballot initiative.
Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Wine in St. Helena are the driving force behind the Walt Ranch project. They have tried since 2008 to win county approval to create a few hundred acres of vineyards on the 2,300-acre property in the mountains between Napa and Lake Berryessa.
But a power couple who have entertained Bill and Hillary Clinton struggled to sell the project to opponents. The Napa Sierra Club said creating the vineyards means cutting down thousands of trees and hurting wildlife habitat. The neighboring, rural Circle Oaks community said irrigating vineyards could sap the community’s wells.
A massive environmental impact report done for the county concluding that Walt Ranch, with mitigation steps, would have no significant impacts failed to convince skeptics.
Opponents took their message to the street. There was weekend picketing at HALL Wine. About 100 protesters on Nov. 18 showed up for a peaceful rally in front of the downtown Napa County Administration Building, holding signs with such messages as “no chainsaw wines.”
Protester Jim Wilson said the opponents are citizens “who are standing up to hillside degradation, deforestation and water degradation.”
Craig Hall expressed surprise by the opposition he’s encountered over the past few years.
“At its basic, Walt vineyard is a vineyard in an agriculturally zoned area,” he said.
County staff in August granted Walt Ranch an erosion control plan, though it shrunk the vineyard block acreage to 209 acres. Opponents appealed to the Board of Supervisors, which after three days and 11 hours of hearings tentatively ruled in favor of Walt Ranch on Dec. 6.
“I think the applicant has met what we set out as the ground rules and I think in a lot of cases has gone beyond,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.
Another flash point came when local environmentalists tried to qualify a ballot measure they said would protect oak woodlands and watersheds. The measure called for limiting how many oaks can be removed from properties and increasing stream setbacks.

“We’re trying to enhance the protections that are already in the General Plan,” ballot measure proponent Mike Hackett said. “Nothing radical here.”
Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Wine Growers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers—the combined muscular might of the wine and agricultural sectors – saw things differently. They released a joint letter criticizing the proposed ballot measure.
Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners called the measure “backward-looking” and “anti-farming.”
Proponents gathered more than 6,200 signatures at shopping centers, far more than the 3,700 needed to qualify the initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot. An Election Day showdown loomed.

Then Registrar of Voters John Tuteur in early June disqualified the measure on a technicality a few days before the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to place it on the ballot.

That led to a battle in Napa County Superior Court as opponents tried to overturn the decision. Judge Diane Price sided with the county and the initiative remained off the ballot.
“Watersheds are essential for clean and abundant water for farming, people and wildlife,” Hackett said in the wake of the decision. “People should have the opportunity to vote on matters affecting their health. This is one of those times.”
Those wanting to change Napa County’s environmental policies also had a different type of electoral opportunity in 2016. Two candidates with strong environmental bents ran against incumbent Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza in June for the 4th District seat.
Pedroza raised $200,000 in campaign funds, with big contributions coming from the wine industry, though Pedroza said the only connection he has to the wine industry is his father was a farm worker and that he remains independent. Pedroza, who didn’t call for big changes in county environmental policies, won with 56 percent of the vote.
Another vineyard battle involved the already approved Bremer Family Winery vineyards in Deer Park Road in the mountains east of St. Helena. The Bremers are trucking in soil from such places as the Napa Valley floor along the Napa River to create vineyards in an area with rocky ground.
But the county since 2015 has disputed whether the Bremers have followed all of their permit requirements involving stream setbacks and other issues. This summer, the county halted work on this soil importation operation and worked with the Bremers to try to resolve the situation.
Not all wine country expansion proposals caused controversy. The type of new winery most likely to win quick county Planning Commission approval tended to be a small, family-owned operation that asked for no exceptions to county rules.
Napa County’s environmental battles went beyond wineries and vineyards. County supervisors held more than 11 hours of hearings over the controversial Syar quarry expansion near southeast Napa before granting approval. Opponents are suing the county.
           (Coming: Reaction by some of the principals)
To order my book about the loss of American place go to:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Two coasts, same inspiration, utterly different wines

                                           THE COMMON GRAIL                                                                       
                                Photo by  Francois Peschon

              (Note: Next year I will visit a number of wineries
               and vineyards of real environmental distinction
               whose wines attest to the value of such an
    Several years ago I tasted two young cabernets from opposite sides of the North American continent - Napa Valley, and northern Virginia near the hamlet of Delaplane. I was reminded that most any American winemaker outside sunny, temperate California has trouble matching the marvelous fruit that's a gift there, but also of the fact that the stretch of Virginia piedmont from Middleburg to Charlottesville and beyond now produces a few really fine wines that have more in common with the Medoc than with Napa.
    The wineries were Volker Eisele Family Estate in Chiles Valley east of the Napa River and tributary to it, still one of the best deals around for medium-priced, top-notch, classically structured wines in the Bordeaux style. The other wine was from RdV - for Rutger de Vink, the founder - in Virginia's Fauquier County. The Eisele ’07 was lighter in color, brighter on the palate, and more inviting at the outset. The RdV '08, too, had good structure, remarkable body, and an appealing black cherry quality.
       But the longer both wines stayed in the glass the better they got, showing more in common with the wines of Bordeaux than the “cult” wines of NoCal. Both had the power and grace, the Eisele subtle and the RdV soft almost to a fault but with a very long finish. Both wines were impressive, and neither really characteristic of their home state.
         Recently I returned to the wines of these two, hoping they had maintained their individuality and exemplary quality. This is what I found, starting with the Eisele:

    I first met Volker Eisele back in the late '80s, when I was working on Napa, the first volume of what has become a trilogy about the place and its all-American aspirations and vulnerabilities. In those days information wasn't as easily obtained as it is today, and I called him by mistake, thinking he owned the Eisele vineyard down on the valley floor that belonged to another Eisele who later sold to Bart Arauo. One of the many ironies of this story is that the Eisele vineyard up in Chiles Valley (Volker's) produces a better structured wine than the one down on the valley floor (Arauo's, before he sold out), and costs about a sixth as much.
    So I said, "Sorry, I must have the wrong Eisele." And Volker said, "No, you have the right Eisele," which was of course true. He invited me up to talk and have a glass of wine, and from that chance encounter I learned much about the valley that I would not have garnered otherwise.
     Sadly, Volker died in 2015, but his son, Alexander, carries on in his stead, with the able assistance of winemaker Molly Lyman. Their wines still embody the balance and finesse of old. The 2012 cabernet sauvignon is denser in color and, as would be expected, more expensive ($52) than the wine I wrote about a few years ago, and has more body. Made with 87 percent cabernet picked during five separate passes through the vineyard in early October, with an additional 13 percent merlot, it was  aged for two years in 50 percent new French oak.
          I like to think I recognize the mineral quality of the former wine in this one, both made from the same plot organically farmed by the family for forty years. other Eisele red is Terzetto ($75), named for Mozart's operas and the achievement of three perfectly harmonious voices. Made from equal parts of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot, it more closely resembles a Bordeaux in the sense that the cuvee is not recognizable by any of these varietals. An artful synthesis, dark and sumptuous, redolent of dark stone fruit and roasted coffee, with a long, lively finish, it is drinkable now and should be for years to come.
    Volker's environmental legacy is huge. It's nice to think his wine, too, lives on in the place he spent so much time trying to save from development.                                                                          

       "Neither Bordeaux nor Napa, but  uniquely our own."
     So claims the mailer in which the wine arrives: a bottle each of Rendezvous, the second son of RdV in the foothills of the Blue Ridge just west of Middleburg, Virginia, and Lost Mountain, the more substantial offering from the progeny of a Dutch pharmaceutical family, former United States Marine, and devotee of the wines of the Medoc.                                                                           
    Rutger de Vink studied viticulture under the tutelage of Jim Law at nearby Linden Vineyards and while there conducted an extraordinary search for good vineyard land the length of the Virginia piedmont. For the full story of how Rutger put together RdV - and managed to get the critic, Jancis Robinson, to taste and comment on it - see my piece from Garden & Gun (
     His decision to spend years - and money - searching for a truly exceptional vineyard site paid off and serves as a good example for other hopeful artisanal projects in Virginia. Much of the piedmont's soil is underlain with clay, which doesn't drain well, but Rutger and his consultants found a hill near Delaplane made essentially of crushed granite that absorbs water beautifully. Visitors (by appointment only) to RdV's striking stealth winery - it looks from a distance more like a dairy operation, with converging faux barns and a white "silo" that glows at night -  can see this vineyard foundation through a glass panel at the rear of the tasting room.
    RdV makes only two wines, a more typical Bordelais blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petite verdot, called Rendezvous. Slightly less expensive ($75 ) and readily drinkable, the 2013 is bright and complex, with the signature RdV softness and lengthening finish.
    The other wine, the 2013 Lost Mountain, is half cabernet sauvignon augmented with cabernet franc (27%) and merlot (20%). More substantial than the Rendezvous, it commands an attention-getting (in Virginia) price of $125 and offers the characteristic, alluring RdV softness that shouldn't be confused with lack of complexity. The 2013 has an even longer finish than the '08 and, with that velvety quality that has become the enduring RdV signature. Yes, it's demonstrably different from both Napa's cult wines made from often over-ripe fruit, and harder-edged Bordeauxs.