Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wineaux: Savoring the solstice with nectar of the gods


From page A9 | December 15, 2011 |

I become a pagan in December. The waning light triggers some ancestral fear that darkness will this time prevail, arriving earlier, remaining later, until it envelopes the earth entirely.

Maybe the winter I spent in Scandinavia exacerbates the foreboding — aggravated further by a Ray Bradbury story in which a group of children on a dark planet lock one of their cohorts in a closet so that she misses the few moments of sun that will appear in her lifetime.

I count down the days to Dec. 21 (actually, the solstice occurs on Dec. 22 this year). I wouldn’t mind a frenzied ritual or two, along with a little blood sacrifice to hurry it along.

At this time of year, all those biodynamic rituals that people love to mock — ground quartz buried in a cow horn in the soil, planting by the moon — make perfect sense. If I heard that smearing goat blood on my gate or scattering chicken feathers in my garden would appease the goddess of the moon, I’d happily comply.

Of course, such appeasement may be — in debased form — what the season’s harried shopping and incessant eating is all about.

My own food cravings in the weeks before daylight reasserts itself are simple: pasta of any sort with red sauce and good red wine.

OK, and chocolate.

This evening I prepare son Jakob’s birthday dinner (one of many actually — it’s a big year). I go through the wines in my closet to choose the perfect accompaniment to the pumpkin-mushroom (porcini and cremini) lasagna. The wine has to be something Jakob hasn’t tasted. And I want a bottle with a story — we’re a narrative-loving crew.

I eventually choose the Fitzpatrick Pinot Noir. Over the past few months I’ve come to know and appreciate Brian and Diana Fitzpatrick. I admire their commitment to treating the earth well, evidenced in their beyond-organic vineyards, their hand-crafted lodge, and their near-exclusive reliance on solar energy. Their gradual building of the winery and the business make a good story — about a really good wine. Even picky-about-Pinot Jakob is impressed.

I realize, too, that in this season of heavy foods and tempting desserts everywhere I go, I want my wine to taste of fruit and spice and clean earth — which this wine does.

“You know,” said daughter Julian a couple of days ago, “you haven’t written about organic wine for a while.” I haven’t? It seems to me I write about it all the time. I’m certainly drinking it more and more.

“Natural” wines (I put the term in quotes because the definition is so contested) seem to me to be alive in the same way that organic vineyards are — the earth itself pulsing with the worms and soil bacteria that aerate and nourish; various soil-enriching crops pushing up among the vines; birds and bees humming and singing overhead. Am I only imagining that I can taste all this in that glass of Pinot Noir?

Fortunately, wines made with organic and/or biodynamic grapes abound. Pioneers like Bonterra and Benziger still produce, but more and more growers and winemakers are catching the bug, so to speak. Some might think the “trendy” factor motivates them, but wineries like Grgich Hills have learned the hard way that carefully tended soil, pesticide-free air, and, yes, ritual planting improve the health of the vines — and of those who work them. And the resulting wine? Sublime (in the right hands).

For many producers, especially in Napa and Sonoma and the Central Valley, the process of going organic can be arduous. It takes several years just to get toxins out of the soil. But many vineyards in European countries, especially the smaller ones, proudly worked by generations, have flourished for centuries without ever experiencing a pesticide or herbicide application.

When I long for a French or Italian wine (which, I admit, I often do, even though I’m quite passionate about local wines), I look for importers who have established relationships with such family producers and who themselves believe that the best wine comes from lovingly tended fruit that’s allowed to do its thing.

Most wines from Rosenthal (try the Italy-in-a-bottle Dolcetto or the France-in-a-bottle Counoise next time you have dinner at Monticello) and from Kermit Lynch (a few available at Valley Wine Company), for example, have no added anythings, are fermented by naturally occurring (wild) yeast, are unfiltered, unrefined, et cetera.

Berkeley-based Kermit Lynch has been in the forefront of ferreting out these treasures and carefully bringing them to us. These wines might not be labeled “organic” — not important for these small producers with their local reputations — but you can trust the importers.

I love to visit Kermit Lynch’s small, unpretentious, warehouse-like store (an easy walk from the Berkeley Amtrak station) filled with beautiful bottles and enthusiastic staff, who’ve tasted every one and are as happy to find you the perfect $10 bottle as the perfect $100 one. That $10 bottle is just as strictly vetted as the $100 one, too.

As one Yelper said, “I don’t believe that Kermit Lynch would allow a mediocre wine to pass through its doors.”

I actually read the KL newsletter that appears periodically in my in-box because I can’t resist Kermit Lynch’s passionate prose. Like this from the latest edition: “The Clape family in Cornas vinifies in large, old, wooden casks and makes majestically dark and brooding Cornas, layered with aromas of herbs and mint. Allemand (another winemaker) uses whole-cluster vinifications, gentle extraction and pressing, and minimal sulfur to make the purest expression of Cornas, and arguably the purest expression of Syrah the world over.”

I may not be able to afford one of those $80 bottles, but I know I can get something almost  as poetic in my price range.

I think I’ve just talked myself into a solstice treat: playing hooky for the day by hopping on Train 533 (leaves Davis at 9:25 a.m., arrives in Berkeley at 10:52 a.m.) and having tea and scones on the Café Fanny (a Chez Panisee offshoot) patio, while I wait for next-door KL to open.

As soon as it does, I’ll browse and consult and agonize over which bottle to take home for dinner. Dinner will include Acme Bakery (on the other side of Café Fanny) Edible School Yard bread (a 100 percent organic whole grain loaf) and a Café Fanny sweet for dessert.

If the weather’s fine, I might walk to The Cheese Board on Shattuck to pick up a chunk of something sheepish to add to the table — and a slice or two of Cheese Board pizza to fuel my walk back to the train station.

Not quite a Bacchanalia, but close enough. My inner pagan feels better just thinking about it. Happy Solstice!

— Reach Susan Leonardi at



Susan Leonardi



Community gardens stretch food dollars, study finds

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Zombies by rail: It’s not just a show, it’s a trip

By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Fatal Covell Boulevard crash recalled in court

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

Humphrey Fellows will host Global Forum

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Wildfire spurs evacuation of 700 homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

State can’t say if it’s meeting drought goal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Rairdan joins race for Davis school board

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Israel extends Gaza truce through Sunday

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

New ordinance aims to prevent nut thefts from orchards

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Biggest book sale to date opens Friday at Davis library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Luna family matriarch turns 100

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

Discussion of oil by rail EIR planned Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Mace Innovation Center is focus of meeting

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Freeway crash injures two drivers

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

Museum wants your old Davis High School yearbooks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Affordable housing forum planned in Davis

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

Protesters gather at Primate Center

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A8

State awards $40,000 for historic property survey

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A8

Free blood pressure screenings offered

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Vanguard hosts economic development director

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Get a sneak peek at documentary trailer

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Davis Chamber Choir sings short summer program

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9

Tasting event benefits Yolo Land Trust

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A9

At the Pond: From Davis, it’s easy to get back to nature

By Jean Jackman | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Tickets on sale now for DHS Hall of Fame dinner

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11



Feels like a million miles away

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A7

Here’s what you need for a perfect wedding

By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

Check doctors’ vitals before they check yours

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Husband’s let himself go

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A14

Questions on water rights

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

Campus turns on the tap

By Our View | From Page: A16

So, what’s in a week’s worth of waste?

By Michelle Millet | From Page: A16

Pat Oliphant cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A16

Golf tourney was a big success

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16

We can do more to help

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

New playground is wonderful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

Just Us in Davis: Little Rock Nine hero to celebrate with Davis youths

By Jann L. Murray-Garcia | From Page: A17 | Gallery



Sutherland presents 1st clinic; golf column on its way

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

New Korematsu teacher is an American Ninja Warrior

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Furyk opens 3-shot lead in Canadian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Gray wins 6th straight, A’s 4 HRs beat Texas 5-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Kershaw throws 2-hitter as Dodgers beat Giants 5-0

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Nibali set to cruise to Tour victory

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Area sports briefs: River Cats take Game 1 of doubleheader

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4







Companies will collaborate on crop insect control

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

Developer’s commitments: affordable and green

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery

Go back to school with Great Clips

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

Lagerstrom represents Davis at Mary Kay seminar

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

UC Davis Health System earns ‘Most Wired’ award

By Charles Casey | From Page: A15

Bartholomew hires new associate

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

Yolo County real estate sales

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A15



Carlton Hope Meister

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Jonathan Eric Hollander

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



Comics: Sunday, July 27, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A6