Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fires rage towards four of my favorite Napa vineyards



Sunset over early Spring mustard flowers in Screaming Eagle Vineyard on Silverado Trail Road.
Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley wine country.
As I write this newsletter, with the fire situation in Napa and Sonoma counties changing by the hour, I’m not 100% sure that four of my favorite Napa vineyards will be spared from the devastating fires ripping through the wine country.


Early Spring valley fog begins creeping over Cain Five vineyard in the hills above Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley wine country.

At least four Napa vineyards are totally destroyed or significantly damaged. One Napa winery—Signorello Estate—has been completely destroyed. Nine other wineries reported damage to their winery, outbuildings or vineyards. 

All 5000 residents of Calistoga evacuated, and there are 1000s of homes already destroyed in the Napa- Sonoma area. This will be a vintage to remember.



Cain Five vineyard
Wednesday evening: I just received an email from Christopher Howell, winemaker at Cain Five Vineyard, that they are safe for right now.
Big oak tree in Cain Five vineyard in the hills above Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley wine country.
Early Spring valley fog begins creeping over Cain Five vineyard in the hills above Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley wine country.
The distinctive rock outcropping dominates the Cain Five vineyard in the hills above Napa Valley, California. Napa Valley wine country.


Screaming Eagle Vineyard
Spring mustard flowers in Screaming Eagle Vineyard on Silverado Trail Road. While the wine consistently receives rave reviews from critics, my problem is two-thousand dollars a bottle prevents me, a common photographer, from enjoying the wine. USA, California, Napa Valley. 
Sunset light colors the hills above the Spring mustard flowers in Screaming Eagle Vineyard on Silverado Trail Road. Napa Valley.




Oakville Ranch Summit Vineyard
Springtime view of Napa Valley looking towards Calistoga and Mt. Saint Helena from Oakville Ranch Summit Vineyard, Napa County, California,


Newton Vineyard
View of Newton Vineyard on Spring Mountain above St. Helena in Napa Valley, California.
Napa Valley wine country.
A hot air balloon and fog float in the Spring green Napa Valley below Newton Vineyard on Spring Mountain above St. Helena, California. Napa Valley wine country.

Looking at the lush view in these photographs, I can only imagine what the Napa hills and valley will look like after the fires rake through the area with their smudged black fingers.















Monday, September 11, 2017

Reflecting on America's 9/11: bees or missiles, which is better to twart an attack



On this anniversary of America's 9/11 attack, I can't help recall a story I heard from the tiny Bedik tribe tucked away in the remote southeast corner of Senegal.

My illustration of the Bedik story of bees killing attacking Muslims. Bedik tribe, Senegal, Africa.

On my first journey to the Bedik, the village "historian" told me the story of how Muslims once attacked the tribe because they refused to be converted to Islam.

It was terrible. Many Bedik were killed in the attack. Out of desperation, the tribe prayed to their spirits for help. The spirits then sent bees, many bees, which killed the Muslim attackers. The bees saved the tribe. And they still refuse to become Muslim.

On my second trip to the Bedik, not long after 9/11, I heard the story again, this time from the chief.  

Now, all these years later, I'm still trying to grasp similarities and differences between the Bedik story and 9/11.

Bedik village, Senegal, Africa.

Faith that their spirits would help by sending bees, saved the Bedik. 

America sent missiles. Will that be enough to save America?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cows power China to become one of world's largest wine producers



When I visited Dynasty, one of the largest wineries in China, I went out to one of their vineyards near Jixian village in Tianjin area. Here I found cow-power fully used.

Workers use traditional cow-powered transportation for their morning commute out to the vineyards and other crops. Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
Once in the vines, cow-power pulls the plow. China wine country, Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
This view shows the business end of cow-power plowing. Here workers till the soil around peanuts planted between rows of Cabernet sauvignon vines. No space is wasted in China. Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
You just can't beat practical cow-power: milk in the morning, engine for the morning commute to work, plenty of power to pull the plow and finally transportation power for the ride home at the end of the day. And if you had a lawn, the cow is your lawnmower.  Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
Obviously, one disadvantage of bovine power happens during work breaks when the free-roaming cow can sneak a snack from the vines.  Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
Break time in  the vineyard. Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.
Heading to the next vineyard block. And that's how Dynasty winery grows some of its wine grapes. Hebei province, Tianjin region, China, Asia.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Rotary Club visual presentation about acceptance in Sherwood Oregon


As part of their peace effort, the Rotary Club asked me to give a visual talk about acceptance. They saw the work I've done in Africa, where I went looking for the primal roots of my beliefs and religion in the Birthplace of Modern Humans and found much more.




Little village children taught me to look through my first eyes, my child's eyes of acceptance and exploration. 

In a remote corner of Ethiopia, when I asked Konso elders what advice they would give world leaders, one elder replied: "Tell them that we are all made by God. No matter what your tribe, no matter what your religion, we all bleed the same color blood." Then he raised his hand with fingers outstretched and concluded: "We all have five fingers." 

Come hear how the village children's acceptance of a stranger and the remote elders wise words inspired me. 

I've invited President Trump. 

Please come so we can all be inspired to move forward on September 6, 6:30PM at the Sherwood Library Community Room, in Sherwood, OR 97140.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ethiopia's remote Suri tribe: Fall of Man woman's fault



Originally humans had a direct connection to God. 

So say the elders, chiefs, shamans and storytellers of the remote Suri (Surma) tribe in Ethiopia's Omo River region. 

"Long long ago there was a rope from earth to God," explains Bolagedong, the eldest Suri chief. "So in ancient times people had a direct connection to God.

"Humans could climb that rope at any time to visit God," contines Bolagedong. "The only rule," the chief hesitates for drama, "humans could not bring anything with them up the rope."

This is my illustration of the Fall of Man story I heard from the Suri tribe. Omo River region, Ethiopia.
"One day the woman decided to bring her grinding stone. As she started to climb up for a visit to God, instantly the rope fell to the ground. 

"People lost their direct connection to God."

So today we don't have a direct connection to God.



Three things struck me about the Suri Fall of Man story:
1) I wondered which was older, the Suri story or the one in the Bible. 

2) For me, the Suri story is easier to understand. A rope makes sense. An apple, not so easy to bite.

3) And why is it always the woman's fault? 


Suri tribe. Omo region, Ethiopia, Africa.

Monday, May 29, 2017

One kid's chores in the Birthplace of Modern Humans



Hamar tribe, Omo region, Ethiopia, Africa.

Leading the family cattle to the watering hole is a daily chore in the Birthplace of Modern Humans, Africa.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mursi tribe elder confirms my photo-illustration perfectly depicts God.


"Is there a God?" I asked the Mursi tribe elder.


This is my illustration of God as described to me on my first trip to the Mursi tribe in 2001.  Mursi tribe, Omo River Valley, Ethiopia, Africa.
That was one of the questions I asked the elders, shamans, chiefs, storytellers and witch doctors of Africa's most remote tribes.

"Yes, there is a God," said the Mursi elder. "He is powerful. He has no legs and has a rainbow colored chest. And he flies through the air." Then the elder emphasized, "And he can kill a man instantly."

Mursi tribe elder explaining God. Mursi tribe, Omo River Valley, Ethiopia, Africa.

On my last trip to the Mursi in 2014, I showed elders at the distant village of Belle my illustration. Without hesitation, they said, "Yes, that is God." There was no doubt.


In 2014, a Mursi elder in Belle village confirms that my illustration perfectly depicts God. Mursi tribe, Omo River Valley, Ethiopia, Africa.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Could learning the "Secrets of Life" actually kill us?



In the remote cliffs of Senegal's SE corner, these 12 and 13-year old Bedik boys run in this traditional way all day for one month and then spend 5 months in the bush by themselves to learn the "Secrets of Life". Bedik tribe, Senegal, Africa.

Shaman tell us that, were meaning to come to us fully unveiled, it would turn us into it; that is, it would kill us.
Malidoma Patrice Somé

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

100 Vineyard Stories: He escaped from Zimbabwe to a New Zealand vineyard


To show rebirth and future promise, I was photographing a new-born Syrah leaf in a vineyard on Roy Hill above Trinity Hill Winery in Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand's North Island

Rain drop covered Syrah leaf. Hawke's Bay region, North Island, New Zealand.

And here comes Matthew Stobart, a friendly vineyard worker (I never actually met an unfriendly New Zealand vineyard worker) on a mower.

He turned off the engine and asked how I was doing.

I replied my usual: "When I count my blessings, excellent." 

He said likewise. It turns out we both are immigrants with amazingly parallel stories.

Matthew Stobart: "I escaped from Zimbabwe in 2001, with my parents, when the government took our farm. We got out with just two boxes of things. Everything in two boxes."

Mowing the vineyard grass. Trinity Hill winery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
Matthew: "And it's not like we stole the land. My parents paid the government for it. Then 10 years later the government took it away. Gave it to the president's relatives, cousins and relations. All for politics, for votes."

Janis: "The Communists arrested my father and tossed him in jail because we owned land. Landowners were criminals. Fortunately, friends broke my dad out of prison." 

Matthew: "We're lucky to get out in time. Many farmers didn't. Now they're stuck with no farm, no pension, nothing."

Janis: "After hiding in the forest for months, my father and mother packed a few things in an ox-drawn cart, buried some valuables in the forest and left our farm forever." 

Matthew: "Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa. Now they can't feed their own people."

Janis: "Latvia had the best standard of living of all the Soviet states, yet at the end of the Soviet Union, it was very difficult to even get a bottle of milk without connections."

Matthew: "Things are good here. The people are great. The government is stable. Now my wife and I own a house. We're doing all right now."


Working at Trinity Hill winery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.
Matthew: "There isn't a morning that I don't wake up and count my blessings."


Matthew Stobart
Vineyard Worker and Landscaper
Trinity Hill Winery
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Five Most Scenic Vineyards in New Zealand


Maude Winery vineyard
I discovered this amazing little vineyard by sheer luck. (But isn't that the way of great discoveries?) When my sister Zaiga found I was going to New Zealand, she suggested I contact Vanessa, co-winemaker at Maude Wines. After asking about their vineyards, Vanessa took me to petite Mt. Maude Vineyard.

Dawn and Dr. Terry Wilson planted this vineyard "because all doctors want to plant a vineyard." They named it Mt. Maude for the stark mountain Mt Maude, across the Maungawera Valley just outside of Wanaka, Central Otago. Mt. Maude Vineyard, Maude Wines, New Zealand, Central Otago, Wanaka region.

Netting to prevent birds from eating the ripe fruit, the vineyard is four hectares of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  Mt. Maude Vineyard. New Zealand, Central Otago wine region, Wanaka region.


Rippon Winery vineyard
This has to be the most photographed vineyard in all of New Zealand. I even had to sign a release form stating that I will let them know how the photographs are used.

Biodynamic Rippon Vineyard, New Zealand, Central Otago, Wanaka.
Ruby Island points to Rippon Vineyard on the shore of Lake Wanaka in this aerial view.  New Zealand, Central Otago, Wanaka.
View of vineyard and Ruby Island through an old spider-web-covered truck. Rippon Vineyard and Winery, New Zealand, Central Otago, Wanaka.


Man O'War Vineyard 
Wandering around the Man O'War property with vineyard manager Matt Allen, I was struck with the scale of the project. It is actually 150 acres of vines planted in 76 individual hillside blocks scattered over 4,500 acres. It's like a grand experiment with each vineyard having a distinct soil profile and microclimate.

Man O' War vineyard is on the "other" side of Waiheke island, requiring a scenic drive over an unpaved road. Barely visible are two hikers on the far left of the photograph. The boulders are the left overs of the ancient volcanic activity which created the island. Man O' War Vineyards, Waiheke island, New Zealand

Captain James Cook anchored along this coastline during his first voyage around the islands of New Zealand in 1769. When the good captain saw the ancient stands of magnificent Kauri trees ashore, he wrote in his journals that they would make great masts for the Man O' War battleships of the Royal Navy. Thus the name Man O’ War was given this unique part of Waiheke island. Man O' War Vineyards, Waiheke island, New Zealand

Located at the eastern end of Waiheke Island, Man O’ War vineyards are a combination of coastal hillsides with high cliffs, pristine hidden beaches, and a rugged coastline. Man O' War Vineyards, Waiheke island, New Zealand

Sheep, vines and crop trees co-exist on Man O'War Vineyard land.
Man O' War Vineyards, Waiheke island, New Zealand




Te Whau Vineyard
Te Whau was the first vineyard I saw from the Auckland to Waiheke Island ferry. So, actually, that makes it the first vineyard I saw in New Zealand.


Bird netting covers cabernet sauvignon vines of Te Whau vineyard. The view is of ferry and sailboats in Anzac and Putaki Bays.  New Zealand, Waiheke Island, Te Whau Vineyard


Te Whau cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay vineyards seen from the Auckland to Waiheke car ferry. New Zealand, Waiheke Island, Te Whau Vineyard

Auckland can be seen in the background from the Te Whau vineyard and restaurant. New Zealand, Waiheke Island, Te Whau Vineyard



Chard Farm Winery
This was the very first vineyard I saw in Central Otago, on New Zealand's south island.


The landscape seems to dwarf Chard Farm vineyard hanging on a lip above the Kawarau River.  (The vineyard is the patch of green in the distance. I wanted to show the river canyon in the photograph.)  Chard Farm vineyard, Gibbston wine region, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand.


This Chard Farm 11.6 hectare vineyard was planted by Rob Hay, wife Gerdi, Rob's brother Greg and their parent's checkbook.  Chard Farm vineyard, Gibbston wine region, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand.



Saturday, April 22, 2017

Trump's wine choices not on my World's Most Incredible Vineyards List


A couple of weeks ago Trump hosted China’s president, Xi Jinping, for talks in the US. I wonder how the decision was made to serve the two California wines at dinner?

Imagine Xi's diplomatic surprise if our President had chosen a world-class Chinese wine from a Yunnan Province vineyard. Two Yunnan vineyards are pictured below. Know and surprise your enemy? 


Trump could have chosen a world class wine from President Xi's own back yard. Chinese Shangrila Winery joint ventured with Moet Henessey to make wine from vineyards in the mountains of Yunnan Province.  Beng (some call it Bu) village on LanCang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River is one of my favorite incredible vineyards. This is in the Heng Duan (Hengduan) Mountain Range, Yunnan Province, China.

Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in front of historic Catholic Church, first built in 1867 and rebuilt in 1909, in Cizhong village on LanCang (also called Lantsang, Lansang and Mekong) River, Yunnan Province, China.

Trump could have chosen a French wine, such as a Romanée-Conti from the famous vineyard pictured below. To most Chinese, France is wine. Know and surprise your enemy.
 
Signature cross in front of world-famous Romanée-Conti vineyard above Vosne-Romanée village, Burgundy province, France.

Clouds create passing shadows over Romanée-Conti vineyard (to left of the paved road) in front of Vosne-Romanée village, Burgundy, France.

Neither of Trump's California selections are exceptionally good pairings with the hamburger he promised during the  presidential campaign to serve Xi . Apparently, the McDonalds-meal promise was not kept.

While Trump has repeatedly said that he is a teetotaler himself, he served his dinner guests a 2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast and a 2014 Girard Cabernet Sauvignon from Yountville in Napa Valley, according Decanter news.



Here are vineyards providing other choices Trump could have made from my World's Most Incredible Vineyards List.


Spring mustard flowers in highly-rated Screaming Eagle Vineyard on Silverado Trail Road. 
USA, California, Napa Valley.

Vineyard view from Artesa Winery on Henry Road, in the Carneros wine area of Napa Valley, California.

And don't forget Oregon. Check out my book Oregon The Taste of Wine to get insights into why Trump could have chosen a wine from Oregon wine country.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with bronze-colored leaf on knarly old vine in Valley View Winery and Vineyard in the Applegate Valley, Oregon.

My book China The New Wine Frontier offers a cellar door insight into President Xi and the Chinese culture, but it is only available in China. I'm now working on a version for the rest of the world.