Thursday, August 28, 2008

Demon Sex, Mummies, Literary Alchemy and more...

Yes, I am experimenting with catchy titles, but I will cover all those topics in the headline I promise.

First off: Demon Sex.

Erika Mailman updated her blog with a post discussing the sexual demons known as Incubi and Succubi and includes passages from the Malleus Maleficarum.

Her book The Witch's Trinity will be out in paperback in October, so if you have not read it yet - be sure to pre-order a copy today while you are thinking about it. Her novel was a Bram Stoker Award finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Book of Note of 2007.

Tess Gerritsen has a forthcoming novel The Keepsake that deals with murder and mummies. I had the pleasure of talking with Tess at the San Francisco Writers Conference this past February along with my friend Cindy Pavlinac. We chatted about her fascination with Egypt and archaeology as well as the process of mummification.

Tess decided to commission a book trailer to be made for The Keepsake and it is fabulous. Check it out:

She discusses some hidden benefits of book trailers on a guest post at the blog Murderati as well as how she went about commissioning the trailer to be made. Tess mentions that as a consequence of this filming she now has shrunken heads and rubber corpses occupying space in her garage. Hey, she will be all set for Halloween this year.

Onto a forthcoming book from another big time author is Katherine Neville's long awaited sequel to her classic novel The Eight. If you have never read that book first published in 1988, then you are in for a treat.

As described on her website:

Katherine Neville’s groundbreaking novel, The Eight, dazzled audiences more than twenty years ago and set the literary stage for the epic thriller. A quest for a mystical chess service that once belonged to Charlemagne, it spans two centuries and three continents, and intertwines historic and modern plots, archaeological treasure hunts, esoteric riddles, and puzzles encrypted with clues from the ancient past. Now the electrifying global adventure continues, in Neville’s long anticipated sequel: The Fire.

It is more than that, The Eight is a novel about the complex game of chess and she weaves in the historical figures of Charlemagne, Talleyrand, Robespierre, David, Sarat, Napoleon, and Moammar Qaddafi. There are two parallel stories being told. One takes place in the 1970s in New York City and later in Algeria, the other timeline is during the French Revolution. In both time periods, there is a deadly game being played in order to secure the pieces of a chess set that once belonged to Charlemagne. The novel combines murder, chess, Charlemagne, the French Revolution, literary alchemy, and Fibonacci Numbers. I mean, what's not to like?

Katherine has updated her website and it looks all bright and shiny. I am excited to see the list of signings to promote her forthcoming novel The Fire due out in October because she will be coming to my area. I look forward to meeting her and getting a signed copy.

Now to go from the sublime to the absurd.

John Goodman has returned to filming the adaptation of the novel Pope Joan. It took a lawsuit to accomplish this feat. You see, he decided that a supporting role in the movie Speed Racer might be better for his career than playing Pope Sergius in an epic historical move.

Speed Racer.

He chose to be in Speed Racer. Over Pope Joan.


Of course hindsight is 20/20 and Speed Racer was a clunker, so I cannot help but think he made a boneheaded choice to back out of a signed contractual agreement to be involved in what turned out to be a lousy movie.

(I am grateful that my father-in-law sacrificed a few hours time to take my son to see Speed Racer because I did not want to suffer in the movie theater like I did a few years ago when I endured having to watch Home on the Range. Things you do for a child or a grandchild.)

Back to discussing Pope Joan the movie. I met Donna Woolfolk Cross, the author of Pope Joan, ten years ago when she was gracious enough to do a benefit book signing for an organization I headed at the time. She told me then that there were plans of a movie being made and she was given the opportunity to adapt her novel into a screenplay and she had just started working on the script. I gave a few suggestions of condensing early events into montages to get to the heart of the story, then I told her to be prepared that it might take longer than she expected. I had previously been interested in writing screenplays and so I had learned a lot about the movie industry and knew that it was a fickle business. I warned her that it could be a long drawn out process, and unfortunately for her, I was right.

I hope that the project is completed before long and that the film lives up to all her expectations.

Speaking of film delays...I am wondering about the status of the movie Love and Virtue. The production company's website has not been updated in a long time, and my Google Alert on the subject does not turn up much new information. I have seen some mention in regard to articles written about various actors associated with the production and it seems as if they had filmed the movie, however, I do not see any specific date as to when it will be released.

I did find an ominous posting on a message board for IMDb which does not seem all that hopeful to see the release of this movie anytime soon. That's a shame, because there are not many movies based on the legends of Charlemagne and even though in my humble opinion I think some of the actors are too old to play the part of specific characters...I still would like the movie be a success if only to spur interest in the epic poems of Orlando Furioso and Orlando Innamorato which inspired the storyline.

There are a few operas based on this luxurious source material and at least one play, but the legends of Charlemagne are woefully underserved in comparison to the legends of King Arthur.

For the record those operas are:

Alcina by Handel
Ariodante by Handel
Orlando Furioso by Vivaldi

and the play is Bradamante by Robert Garnier.

In other news, several of my friends have done interviews recently. Here are some links to those:

Agent Nathan Bransford was interviewed for a podcast by Bleak House as was as retired homicide detective Lee Lofland. Here is a link to Lee's interview.

Jeff Sypeck was interviewed by Julie K. Rose about songs he listened to which inspired his writing the book Becoming Charlemagne. The transcript of the interview is here and a podcast of Julie discussing the interview is here.

Then in somewhat old news, there is the controversy about Random House canceling the publication of the novel The Jewel of Medina. For those interested in reading a sample of the book for yourself, the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books contacted the author Sherry Jones and has posted the Prologue online.

For those interested in reading a Muslim's perspective on the controversy, here is a post by blogger Mike Ghouse entitled Self-Censoring Muslims in which he responds to an editorial published in the Washington Post on the subject.

And lastly for now...the blog War and Game posted a review of the book The Moral Treatment of Returning Warriors in Early Medieval and Modern Times. I had never heard of this book before, has anyone else read this book?

Go ahead and leave your thoughts about any of these disparate subjects. Hopefully you found something intriguing.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

St. Antonin and the Gorgeous Aveyron Gorges

When I last left off of my travelogue describing my trip to France I was in the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. I had mentioned its origins dating back to the time of the Romans and included the ruins of a monastery said to have been chartered by Pepin le Bref, better known as the father of Charlemagne. I had not finished covering all that I wanted about Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, but when Blogger started acting up again, I began worrying that I might have another eaten post so rather than risk losing everything and I promised to finish it on another day.

Today is that day.

First off, I'd like to go back to the village. Michelin Green Guide to Languedoc Rousillon Tarn Gorges there was a mention of two houses of note on Rue Droite due to their keystones.

The late - 15C Maison de l'Amour (House of Love) where a man and woman are depicted chastely touching lips, and the Maison du Repentir (House of Repentance) where, in contrast, two faces are shown turned away from one another.

Here are pictures of those keystones.

Here is a picture of one of the oldest houses with a plaque denoting it dates back to the 15th century.

I love seeing how old buildings have been retrofitted for different purposes. Here you can see how archways have been bricked up to create a wall.

The steeple of the main church can be seen before you even cross the bridge over the Aveyron River.

According to the literature from the Tourist Office, the church is "19th Century neo-gothic, begun in 1862 from the plans of Theodore Olivier and consecrated in 1872."

It has a beautiful façade with gargoyles.

Inside are lovely stained glass windows.

Here you can see the pointed neo-gothic arches dappled with colored light from the stained glass. Look closely you will see an Occitan cross.

Here it is close up. We did not realize the significance of this symbol until later in our trip. It had been the standard of the Counts of Toulouse and you see the Occitan Cross everywhere in the Midi-Pyrenees and in Provence as well.

What would a church in France be without a statue to Jeanne d'Arc?

The town was named Nobilis Valis during the time of the Romans due to the confluence of the Aveyron and Bonnette rivers. Here you can see the peaceful Bonnette that a woman is climbing down to test the waters.

Now come the Aveyron gorges that we saw on our way back to our rental cottage in Montclar-de-Query. Just note in the following pictures how the color in the stone changes from being stark white to gray to streaked with orange. Those colors will show up in the stones used for construction.

One of the roads we traveled was what I consider to be a one lane road. As you can see it has no lines denoting any lanes, and it had two way traffic. This would have been a "C" road that my husband and I began referring to as paved goat paths and we felt that the letter C rather than signifying that it was a county road was instead chosen for chevre or goat.

That Sunday after we attended the farmers market in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, we came home for a nice leisurely lunch utilizing the fine fresh produce we had acquired.

I am blessed with a husband who is an excellent cook and he spoiled me on this trip. Here was our luncheon table.

And a close up a plate of fruit, cheese, olives, and freshly made bruschetta.

We then relaxed, had a nice afternoon nap and began pouring over guide books to plan the adventures of the coming days.

For an appetizer we noshed on the local favorite Chasselas grapes as well as a plate of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and a reduction sauce of balsalmic vinegar.

Here I am ready to enjoy a fine dinner that will be accompanied by a bottle of champagne from Canard Duchêne.

Then for dinner he made roasted herb and garlic chicken.

Here is a quick recipe he gave me to share with you:

Mix olive oil, mashed garlic and herbs such as basil, rosemary and oregano, then pull up the skin and push the mixture under the skin.

Rub any remaining herb/garlic/oil mixture on the outside the the chicken. Grill with indirect heat.

(A note about how to do that:

You get the coals very hot, then push to the sides. There shouldn't be a large amount of red hot coals DIRECTLY under the chicken, hence indirect heat. The reason is the outside of the chicken will cook too fast yielding burned outside and under cooked middle.)

This is the outdoor cooker he used. The bag of charcoal was incredibly light because it is made with a different process than that in the United States.

Here is his roasted herb and garlic chicken accompanied by fingerling potatoes with garlic as well as haricots verts.

It was a wonderful end to our first full day in the Midi-Pyrenees.

Next up on my travelogue is the medieval walled city of Carcassonne.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Ethics of Sport

My friend John Forenti alerted me to the heartwarming story of a college softball game where players on a competing team carried an injured athlete around the bases to save her over the fence home run, "because she earned it."

I blogged about it and sent him a notice so that he could see my post. We then exchanged a couple emails on the subject and each time he expanded his thoughts further on the matter. It was then that I offered to let him be a guest blogger on a subject he is passionate about. The added benefit of this guest post it will serve as a first draft of a speech he will be delivering a in a few months.

First, here is the video from ESPN and YouTube to serve as a reminder of the story of Sara Tucholsky.

John Forenti:

I currently am a member of the Josephson Institute of Ethics National Faculty. It has been, and continues to be, a most rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. I work primarily with educators and members of the community. However, I also work extensively with athletes and coaches.

One of the great pleasures I've experienced as a result of my work as an ethics practitioner is that I've met so many successful and significant athletes. One the people who I now count as a friend is Olympic swimmer and 4 time gold medalist at the Montreal Games in 1976, John Naber. John has wonderful Olympic stories and hardly any of them has anything to do with winning gold medals. He's incredibly genuine and not in the least impressed with himself.

He tells me the meaning of competition comes from the Latin word competere meaning "to seek together" (also to "strive together toward a common goal"). It would seem dreadfully shortsighted to think what competitive athletes are seeking, is simply to find who won. It would also do a terrible injustice to those who have sought valiantly and lost.

To add color to the above, it was the great sportswriter and novelist Grantland Rice who wrote:

"When the great scorekeeper in the sky comes to mark upon your name, he won't mark whether you won or lost...but how you played the game."

When working with coaches, who are often under what I consider unreasonable pressure to produce exemplary won/lost records, I remind them of the anecdote I heard the legendary basketball John Wooden cite. He was discussing what it meant to be a teacher/coach and to "teach" a game.

He recounted that Amos Alonzo Stagg, the great football coach at the University of Chicago, was once asked by a reporter after a particularly successful season from the won/loss perspective, "Coach, was this your most successful team?"

His reply for the ages was: "Well, I won't know that for another 20 or 30 years."

Not surprisingly, Coach Wooden always refers to his final game as "the last game I ever taught." I find that particularly insightful from a 97 year old man who won 10 NCAA Basketball Championships. By the way, John Wooden wasn't always a basketball coach. He started out as an English teacher. That's not surprising either.

The notion of the teacher/coach came only recently to me. I wish I would have had that notion 35 years ago when I first started coaching. All is not lost, however. I have a 9 year old grandson with whom I can "seek together." I also can "teach" him a game. That means a great deal to me, because......

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."

--John W. Whitehead


And thank you, John Forenti, for sharing your thoughts.

- Linda

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Medievalism, Writing, Triumph, Love and Loss

I have some miscellaneous items about medievalism and writing that I wanted to share today.

I picked up a copy of Time Magazine this week and laughed when I saw this quote:

"Even the patience of the brothers was being tested by our slow Internet."

-- Father Daniel Van Santvoort, Cistercian monk, on his Welsh monastery's decision to get broadband access.
The image of monks in my mind's eye is one of balding men wearing robes and diligently copying sacred texts with quills and parchment in candlelight or possibly tending gardens and making wine, all the while being subjected to periodic or extended vows of silence.

I did not imagine them surfing the net, sending email or complaining about the slowness of dial-up internet connections. I guess even the habits of monks evolve over time.

Gabriele Campbell has shared pictures of the Regenstein castle in Germany that shows a castle different from traditional stone fortresses because it is partially sculpted from the mountainside. She has two posts on that subject. Post one and Post two.

Her pictures of Regenstein castle remind me of the ruined fortress at Les Baux-de-Provence. I have to continue with my travelogue posts, and my day at Les Baux will be the subject for a future post, but in the meantime here are a few pictures of that site to illustrate my point.

You can see smooth portions of the mountain as well as bricks that are attached in order to achieve the shape of the fortress. Well, what is left of the fortress for it now stands in ruins.

Below we can see why this location was chosen besides having the natural resources of rock. Namely it has a strategic vantage point.

For those who are a part of the medieval blogosphere, you have probably already read Jeff Sypeck's analysis of the military conflict going on in Ossetia between the nations of Georgia and Russia. If you are one of my readers who is not a medievalist, I recommend you take a few minutes to read his post for it puts the current conflict into an historical perspective that spans more than a few centuries and actually goes back to the time of the Romans.

On other news, I discovered the other day that my friend Erika Mailman's book The Witch's Trinity is due to be released in paperback on October 7th, just in time for Halloween.

It is an historical novel that deals with the hysteria surrounding witch trials in Europe and uses the Malleus Maleficarum as inspiration of the various "tests" used to determine guilt or innocence of accused witches.

Erika's blog includes several different posts including woodcuts from that era along with passages from texts as "extras." Here are two that I think are well worth examining:

Precursor to the broom where shapeshifters are in animal forms on a stick while flying through the air and trampling the cross where witchcraft is seen as a reversal of Christian traditions.

And for some unknown reason, the reviews for her hardcover version no longer appear on

Here is what I had posted before as my review which has somehow been "disappeared" by Amazonmort:

Human nature can be strange. The mentality of a mob for example, shows how brutal people can become when surrounded by others who are filled with passionate anger.

Erika Mailman shows us through the eyes of an elderly woman what it would have been like to live in the Middle Ages when witchcraft was thought to be the cause of any misfortune.

The famine described in this small village of Tierkinddorf, Germany is haunting. It made me feel strange reading the novel while having my lunch. I began to feel guilty knowing that the characters were willing to accuse others of witchcraft just to get a bite to eat.

A scapegoat was needed to place all the blame of the village's misfortune. It was thought that then, all things would revert back to days of plenty. That the famine would end.

The paranoia, the suspicion, the opportunity to point the finger of blame at someone whom you bear a grudge.

An accusation of milk spoiling was enough to damn someone to being burned to death, and you didn't even have to bring forth the spoiled milk as evidence. Your word was enough, if coupled with other such scurrilous complaints, to condemn someone to death.

Given today's sensibilities the thought of public execution is abhorrent. However, it is a gruesome part of our history that drawing and quarterings, beheadings, hangings, and burning at the stake were all done in the village square to serve as a lesson to all.

Beware or it may happen to you.

The Witch's Trinity is a potent tale whose ending surprised me.

I highly recommend it.

You can pre-order a copy here.

Speaking of friends and books...Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers, alerted me to an interview this past week where he was a guest on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation. The subject was about ethics in police interrogations and its genesis was due to the accusation that the intense and/or obsessive scrutiny by the F.B.I. in regards to the Anthrax murders led to the suicide of Dr. Bruce Ivins.

Gus Van Zandt was also on that show and you can listen to that interview here.

Closer to my home, Gil Mansergh reviews the movie Bottle Shock which is a Hollywoodized version of the events in Paris in 1976 when a California wine shocked the wine world when it beat the French wines in a competition. Gil then created a list of movies which includes mentions of wine. He even included the Muppet Movie's mention of a fine Idaho wine.

Another item of local (and national) interest is Sonoma County's own Levi Leipheimer winning a bronze medal in the Summer Olympics in the Men's Cycling Time Trials.

I was unhappy with the organizers of the Tour de France disqualifying the Astana team from participating in this year's tour. They were punishing Astana for the actions of former riders who were caught doping, but by not allowing that team to compete it penalized Levi and Alberto Contador who had just signed with the team and had never been linked to cheating.

Sonoma County will be looking forward to having another grand celebration to welcome Levi home as we did in 2007 when he place third in the Tour de France.

Santa Rosa loves cycling and it shows. We have been a part of the Amgen Tour of California since it started three years ago, and have had the largest crowds of any city in the tour. So we will once again be included in that race and will root for our Favorite Son Levi to win the stage and stand at the winner's podium.

Life in the cosmic sense delivers good news and bad news sometimes close together. So while I am celebrating on behalf of Levi's success in life, I am also honoring the life of someone who passed away recently.

Joan Price is a writer in my community who was a guest speaker for my writers club and brought along her husband Robert to the meeting. He did not say much, but it was evident there was a strong love between them. Joan recently posted notice on her blog of Robert's death from cancer.

They had seven years together as a couple.

It was a love that she waited years for. She had other relationships, but none like the one she had with Robert. In her time of mourning, people are telling her that they envy her for having had such a powerful love relationship because they have never experienced such a thing.

Her reply? It is never too late for love.

She also posted in her comment trail how the gift of poetry can help in such a time of profound loss.

For example, a man I barely knew recited from memory a 12th century poem about love and loss that starts:

Tis a fearful thing
To love
What death can touch.
To love, to hope, to dream,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
But a holy thing,
To love what death can touch.

I wish everyone the ability to love with their full heart and have that joy unconditionally returned by another. Even if the time with your beloved does not last for your entire life, the love will.

Be well,


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pot pourri of Blogs, Astrolabes, and Chivalry

Tess Gerritsen has returned to writing her blog.

I had become a fan of hers via her blog, and enjoyed reading her perspectives on writing, publishing as well as realities full time authors face. A few months ago, Tess quit blogging due to flak generated by some trolls who were not followers of her blog and were alerted to one of her posts. They did not understand her humor and they hounded her.

I unsubscribed from the offending blog community which was one that I read casually, but was disgusted at how they treated her. I do not wish to have anything further to do with them.

Anyway, I am glad Tess is back and I look forward to reading her posts once again as well as her future novels. By the way, her book The Bone Garden is now out in paperback and is ranked #11 on the New York Times Bestseller list. If you have not read any of Tess Gerritsen's work before, that is a wonderful place to start as it is a stand alone book.

It deals with the gruesome medical history of "resurrectionists" who trafficked in human cadavers for medical school students and the contributions of Oliver Wendell Holmes in treating the epidemic of puerperal fever. The book is a murder mystery/thriller/historical novel and I highly recommend it.

For some reason, Googlemort did not alert me right away when she began posting again. Instead my Google Reader for some reason kept those posts in a cache and then eleven unread posts appeared all at once making me think she went on a blogging spree.

For the medievalists who follow my blog, here is a link to a picture of Tess at Hadrian's wall.

Speaking of medievalists...I did not realize that medieval astrolabes were all that rare until I saw an article posted by the News for Medievalists blog which said in part:

A "calculator" used in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer and described as one of the most sophisticated such tools before the computer is to remain in London.

The Canterbury Astrolabe Quadrant is one of only eight instruments of this type known to have survived from the Middle Ages, the British Museum said. The museum tried to buy the object last year but was outbid at auction.

But it has now been able to acquire it for £350,000 due to a £125,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £50,000 from The Art Fund and £175,000 from British Museum Friends and other sources. It will go on display in the museum early next month.

Had I realized astrolabes were so important, I would have posted a picture of one in my write up about the Institut du Monde Arabe last year.

So here is a picture of a Carolingian era astrolabe in that beautiful museum.

And here is its label showing that it is of the Carolingian era, even though its origins are from Spain.

The term chivalry has come to mean many different things over the years, but to me it is a sense of fairness rather than the pervasive "win at all costs" mentality. This pre-occupation with winning has caused many to bemoan if there is any sense of sportmanship anymore and whether or not we would recognize it if we saw it.

A friend of mine, who is an ethics practitioner, is planning a speech entitled "The Ethics of Sport....Does Anybody Still Play Fair?" and offered a link to an amazing story of a college softball conference championship where fairness ruled the day over the attitude of wishing injuries to your opponents if that might lead to your side winning.

These women did the right thing, and the story warms my heart. It is truly the lesson of not whether or not you win or lose, but how you play the game that is important.

(Blogger created new gadgets, so I am experimenting to see if this is a better use than the embedded video. Please let me know if this is something you prefer. Also your thoughts on the chivalrous act done on behalf of an opposing player.)


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Crush time in the vineyards

I have wine on the brain.

Not a bad thing to have either, but only if it is good wine and in moderation.

Since my last post about wine in a box and worse - champagne in a can - the harvest season for wine grapes began in my county on August 1st.

That is unusual. Normally the beginning of the harvest is about mid-August with the majority of wine grapes maturing during September and the last straggling vineyards being culled of their luscious fruit in October.

I am beginning to wonder if this is another symptom of climate change. Another wine related article in my local paper said that some vineyards in Mendocino County have become cooler over the years which is now allowing Pinot Noir grapes to be grown there. Previously it was thought that Mendocino's climate was too hot for that temperamental varietal.

"(St. Helena winemaker George) Vierra said he unexpectedly found acidic levels of the Hopland grapes (in Mendocino County) comparable to those grown in the famously cool Carneros region at the southern tip of Napa and Sonoma counties. That's important because grape acidity falls significantly slower in cool regions, a process that can be sensed in the taste of a finished wine.

To better understand why, Vierra sought the opinion of nationally known climatologist Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University. Jones the year before had compiled, analyzed and published findings from a study of 50 years of Wine Country temperature data.

Jones' findings substantiated a warming trend in Sonoma and Napa counties, which he said is already altering grape-growing conditions. Jones said a pattern of warmer overnight temperatures appears to be stewing some cool-loving varietals.

Jones, and now Vierra, are convinced the climate shifts occurring in inland Mendocino County to the north deviate sharply from Sonoma and Napa."

I find the changes in my local climate to be troubling, but comparatively it is not as bad as global climate changes reflected in the polar ice caps.

Anyway, let us get back to discussing wine.

For those unaware, the timing for picking grapes is determined by the sugar content. Winemakers will measure and monitor the sugar level in their various vineyards and will give the order for the crews to start picking as soon as the optimal level has been reached.

That means a swarm of pickers descend upon the field and pick the crop as quickly as possible, because grapes in neighboring fields will soon be at their optimal sugar level and need to be harvested. It becomes a race that resembles a hybrid of a sprint and a marathon.

Oh and yes, the grapes are also crushed.

Hence the name "Crush" due to the crush of workers and the crush of grapes.

One thing to note is that different grapes mature at different rates due to the microclimates in the county, appellation, as well as individual vineyards. You can have hills and valleys in a small plot of land and it can influence the maturation rate due to the amount of sun the different areas receive.

Also there is a difference between sparkling wines and still wines as to their optimal sugar levels. Because sparkling wines have a secondary fermentation, it is important that those grapes are harvested early with a lower sugar level. Otherwise the alcohol level would be incredibly high and change the taste of the wine itself to being "hot."

Just to clarify, the sweetness in wines is determined by the level of residual sugar and not by the alcohol content. You can have bone dry wines with no residual sugar and it may have the same level of alcohol as syrupy sweet ones.

Another reason for me to blog about wine is that last weekend our favorite winery held their annual barrel tasting for the previous year's Zinfandel harvest. It is used to generate sales for "futures." That means we give them money in advance to help finance the making of wine that we will pick up next April, but then again we get the end product at a discount.

We have been supporting Scherrer Winery since 1994, and have never been disappointed by Fred Scherrer's wines. This is one "futures" market that I do not have any qualms about investing my money. Especially when you get such a tasty return on the investment.

Barrel tasting is just like it sounds. You taste wine directly from the barrel. They use what is called a "wine thief" but to me it is nothing more than a giant pipet. Tasting wine at the barrel stage gives you a good idea as to what to expect from the finished product. It has not fully aged in the barrel, nor has it been blended, but if it doesn't taste good from the barrel, it will not taste good in a bottle.

Here is Ed Scherrer, the winemaker's father, pouring Zinfandel.

The first time we ever did a barrel tasting was with Fred's wines, and we stumbled upon it by accident when we had friends in from out of town and visited Dehlinger Winery.
Fred used to be their winemaker and was allowed to have tastings and sell futures in wine he made from grapes his grandfather planted.

I remember tasting the Old and Mature Vines Zinfandel for the first time and thinking the wine tasted like raspberry jam.

This year, his Shale Terrace Zinfandel had the intense flavor of black cherries. I know that it is going to be fabulous.

Here's my husband talking with Fred Scherrer.

Good wine should always be paired with good food. Here are some of the nibbles that were set out to better enjoy the fruits of the vine. In case you cannot read the print on the placard it reads: morels with bacon and shallots.

This next platter has braised lamb shoulder with chick peas and peppers.

The Scherrer Winery is a family business. Fred's wife Judi helps with the day-to-day office work and shipping of wine to consumers. Here is a picture of Fred's mother and wife handling the finances of the day.

The Scherrers have their priorities straight and they don't waste money on adorning their facility with aesthetically pleasing, but nonfunctional decorations. Nope, the winery is designed for the creation and storage of wine. Period.

The metallic insulation you can see on the walls and ceiling is to maintain a constant cool temperature.

If you look closely at the wine boxes you will see that they are stored upside down. That is to keep the corks wet, so that they do not rot.

And because it is a family winery, during their open houses there are kids running around playing hide and seek. You will also see the family dogs. Both pooches have signs on their collars saying "no food" trying to avoid people from succumbing to the power of begging eyes.

There is even a display of Evelyn Scherrer's artwork for sale for you to consider buying while you are sipping and swirling the wine.

Scott was so inspired by the appetizers of morel mushrooms, bacon and shallots that once we returned home he did his best to replicate it for our dinner guests that evening.

Here is the result.

The rest of the spread includes smoked trout, sour dough baguette slices, green table grapes, and a Sonoma County Chardonnay.

I shall stop here in my subtle or not so subtle attempt in trying to make people envious of where I am fortunate enough to live. However, I would like to point out a story on the front page of my local paper today was about tourism in Sonoma County. Specifically foreign tourists who are taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar and enjoying themselves while they are here.

So for any European readers of this blog who are planning a trip to California, you should consider visiting Sonoma County as well as San Francisco. Sonoma County is home to over one hundred vineyards, redwood forests, the glorious Sonoma Coastline, the northernmost mission of the California Mission system, the site of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Jack London's infamous Wolf House ruins.

For those wondering if anyone stomps on grapes anymore during the harvest...that's really only done as a competition in the annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair.