Monday, May 7, 2018

Endorsements for the June 2018 election in San Francisco, California

Gavin Newsom at his other job. Courtesy SF Chronicle
We should talk more broadly about politics in this country. Instead, most of our "political" discussions have deteriorated into the kind of name-calling you see between fans of rival sports teams.

This is why I give endorsements for every election. I tell you who/what I'm going to vote for and why. I encourage all of you who have any online forum -- Twitter, Instagram, whatever -- to also tell us how you're voting on local issues, rather than parrot national outrage posts that may have been written in Moscow.

In making city endorsements, I triangulated between the centrist San Francisco Chronicle and the leftist San Francisco Bay Guardian (click on the publication names to read their endorsements directly.) I want to salute Tim Redmond, longtime Guardian editor, for continuing to put in the hard work of interviewing candidates and carefully investigating ballot measures even though the print publication has ceased to be.

For state races I also read the endorsements of the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee; both are generally centrist publications. And I read various candidates' Wikipedia pages (some linked below), news stories about ballot propositions, etc.

Your first stop outside this post should be Voter's Edge California, a nonpolitical site which will show you what is on your specific ballot and where to find your polling place. In the November election that site will have lots of useful information provided by the candidates themselves, but as of this writing it's still a little sparse. That's a shame because many of the races will be decided in June.

I didn't write these endorsements as click bait, but I might as well start with my most surprising pick.

Kevin DeLeon
US Senator: Kevin DeLeon

At age 84, Dianne Feinstein is the oldest member of the Senate. Her age isn't a competence issue, but her views haven't evolved as California's have, and she has become unrepresentative of what Democrats here want. Example: she was a strong opponent of legal cannabis her entire career until LAST MONTH when it occurred to her that it's an election issue. In 2016 she said that her time on the state parole board convinced her that cannabis was a gateway drug and she campaigned against its legalization.

That's just one example. I could list others, but just take a look at this chart. Feinstein supports Donald Trump's agenda much more than she should: she is second of every Democrat in the Senate in oversupporting Trump.

Do you want a California Democratic Senator to support Trump's agenda? I do not.

DeLeon is easily the best of the many candidates who probably won't get the votes to replace her. The Southern California native was president of the State Senate for four years, and he authored important bills on renewable energy. Look through his positions; he represents current California political views. Feinstein does not.

US House, District 12: Nancy Pelosi

I'm not a huge fan of Pelosi remaining in the house party leadership role. Not only is she a great political tool for Republicans running for office, she says impeachment is off the table. What? Before Mueller's even done? But she has no credible local opposition for her House seat. At least with her in office San Francisco's representative will be powerful.

(Endorsements continue after the jump)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wine grapes from the Biblical era resurface in a Palestinian fruit market

Table grapes from a vineyard near Hebron. I shot this from a car. Who knows what ancient varieties may be there?
If you are a fan of unusual grape varieties, the Israeli winery Recanati has a couple of wines for you. Their story is, literally, epic: centuries spent in hiding until Israeli-Palestinian cooperation brought them back. The ancient white wine has been available for four years; the ancient red is just coming on the market this year.

Marawi and Bittuni are ancient grapes that disappeared from wine production during the centuries that Israel was ruled by Muslims. Wine was important in the Biblical era, and there is plenty of archeological evidence of wine production in the Holy Land. But in the modern era, until Edmond Rothschild restarted wine production in the 1880s, the area was a viticultural desert.

Rothschild brought the best-regarded French grapes at the time, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the Jewish community made generally lousy wines with them for decades, before and after the founding of the state of Israel. Cab and Merlot aren't well-suited for the Mediterranean heat of the low-lying areas where they were planted.

Much of the best terroir is in the West Bank
Israeli wine has been on a resurgence for about two decades, led mainly by growers planting in higher-elevation, cooler areas. (Complicating things, many of these areas are in Palestinian territory.) Everyone understood that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are believed to have originated in the 1700s in France from natural crossings in vineyards, were not the grapes of the Bible. Most people just assumed that the grapes behind sage advice like "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23) were lost to time.

Dr. Shivi Drori at Ariel University thought he knew how to find them.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What is Jimmy Butler drinking to celebrate the Minnesota Timberwolves making the playoffs?

I love that he's specific. Not just "wine," or "good wine." Butler knew exactly the bottle he was going to open.

For those of you not following the NBA, Minnesota had not made the playoffs since 2004, the longest stretch of no-postseason play in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs. The Wolves faced Denver on Wednesday in the final game of the regular season, with the winner going to the playoffs and the loser staying home. The Wolves won in overtime. Congratulations Minnesota! You earned that fine bottle of wine.

If you want to enjoy the same wine as Butler, you can buy it here. It's not cheap, but neither are NBA playoff tickets.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The evolution of Napa Valley in a series of glasses at Charles Krug

Peter Mondavi Jr. last week
Few wineries in the United States can give you the taste of history, for better and worse, like Charles Krug.

It's all there: the world-class wine made in California before outsiders realized it was possible; the hardship wrought by a bitter lawsuit between brothers; the slow rebuilding of vineyard sources; the modern move toward ever-riper wines.

I attended a vertical tasting of Charles Krug's top wine, Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, last week at the winery. The experience was fascinating partly for the wines themselves -- some were so delicious that I lingered behind to finish my tasting portion -- and partly for the glimpse at Napa Valley history. The Mondavi family's history has been entwined with Napa Valley's since 1943, when Cesare and Rosa Mondavi assented to their son Robert's ambition and bought Charles Krug. So let's go through the wines in chronological order, the way we tasted them, for a history lesson.

(Note: Three of these wines will be available to the public in June. Charles Krug is planning to do a limited-release of a three-pack including the '74, '91 and '03. I don't know what the price will be, but I do know these wines will be worth having. Here's the winery's contact info.)

1964: Brothers Robert and Peter Mondavi were not getting along, and had not been for a while. Robert, the marketing wizard, was chafing to do greater things that would prove Napa Valley was a world-class wine region. Peter, the winemaker, just wanted to make decent wine and have his brother sell it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

"André -- The Voice of Wine" is a rare wine documentary of interest to novices and experts alike

André Tchelitscheff is arguably the most important man in modern California wine history, but that doesn't guarantee that a documentary about his life will be interesting.

Fortunately, his grand-nephew Mark Tchelistcheff, who spent 10 years working on the film "André -- The Voice of Wine," enlists eloquent wine people from around the world to tell the story of a man who went from fighting on the losing side in Russia's Communist revolution to teaching all of Napa Valley about the importance of hygiene.

"My point was to bring out the terroir of André, but not necessarily to focus on the dirt," Mark Tchelistcheff told me. "There were many stories that did not make the film. 70% of the winemakers I interviewed didn't make the film. I have over 300 hours of interviews that didn't make the film."

What he chose, with some advice from three-time Oscar-winning sound editor Walter Murch, are snippets that allow winemakers to tell not just the ups and downs of André Tchelistcheff's life, but also how he affected them.

"André -- The Voice of Wine," which has its Wine Country premiere on Apr. 7 during Festival Napa Valley's new Springboard Series, is a rare achievement: a wine documentary that isn't boring for either wine experts or novices.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Wine tasting in Napa Valley is like taking an international flight

I love visiting Napa Valley. It's beautiful, and the food in good restaurants may be even better on a world scale than the wine.

I love many of the wines. Napa Valley has such good terroir that it can always surprise you. I'm not a fan of high-alcohol overextracted Cabernets, which the valley is famous for, but there are so many other great (and usually cheaper) wines there that I could drink Napa Valley wine every night for a month and not get tired.

But there's a usually unstated reason I like Napa Valley and it's a little dishonest of writers not to 'fess up about it.

When I visit Napa Valley, I'm a minor VIP. I'm not in first class: I'm not LeBron James (this is my favorite wine sports story ever), I'm not Robert Parker, and I'm not a billionaire, so I don't know exactly how good it is in first class.

But I'm solidly in business class, and it's good. It's very good. I get appointments for just me. Winery owners buy me lunch and ask if I have written anything lately. People hand me bottles of wine to take home. Usually (not always) I stay for free and often I eat for free. Always, I drink for free. I love visiting Napa Valley. Who wouldn't, in business class?

So when one of my non-wine-geek friends asks for a recommendation on where to visit in Napa Valley, I always tell them, go somewhere else.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Private label wines: Like a seat on a no-frills airline, people may complain but they love them

Damien Wilson
I started something rare recently, an intelligent discussion on social media, by tweeting my disdain for a fawning article about another tech company that knows nothing about wine "disrupting" the business by putting bulk wine in its own bottles.

Soon I found myself the least intelligent person in the cyber-room, as Felicity Carter, editor-in-chief of Meininger's Wine Business International, and Damien Wilson, an Australian wine marketing professor who teaches at Sonoma State University, took opposite sides on whether or not private label wines are good for consumers.

I'm going to give you that intelligent wine conversation, and a conclusion.

But first, a primer. Private label wines are everywhere but don't announce their presence. There's an ocean of bulk wine made cheaply in California's San Joaquin Valley, Australia, Chile, and elsewhere. What a private label wine does is attempt to make it seem like this wine was handmade by a person from a single place. Lately some private-label companies promote the winemaker who "made" the wine when in fact the wine usually just came out of a tanker truck.

However, that doesn't mean it's bad wine. We are in a golden age of minimum wine quality, when most of the bacteriological flaws that existed in wine a generation ago have been eliminated. The biggest arguments against private-label wines are that they're inauthentic -- pretending to be something they're not -- or that the taste is one-dimensional and boring.

For many wine drinkers, these are not negatives.

It's easy to side with Felicity Carter in this discussion, but to understand Damien Wilson's point of view, you have to consider how powerful name brand wines are in the U.S. market. California has thousands of wineries, many of them small and artisanal, but just three companies produced about 60% of all California wine last year, according to Wine Business Monthly.

Is there any real difference between bulk wine sold in an established brand like Mark West or Black Box, owned by Constellation, or Glen Ellen or Cupcake, owned by The Wine Group, or bulk wine sold to a supermarket with a made-up name like Bubbling Brook Cellars? In some cases the Cabernet is pouring from the same spigot. This is not to say any of it is bad: it's just cheap and, to the enophile, not very interesting. But plenty of consumers like it: Cupcake and Black Box are among the hottest brands in America. So why wouldn't people like the same juice in a different container?

Here's how the discussion went:

Felicity Carter
Felicity Carter: Private label is (mostly) a race to the bottom, Damien. The distributor gets the brand equity and can just change suppliers at will. It becomes all about what price they can get from suppliers. (Blake's note: that means the label doesn't change even when the wine comes from somewhere else.)