Paradigm Shift - Off Season 2019 Education and Provisioning
When last I left you, we had arrived back into Sunset Bay Marina, Stuart, Florida on December 14. We’ve been at the same marina since with a brief, post-Xmas trip to Palm Beach for a couple of days on the hook at Old Port Cove, in Lake Worth. While in Lake Worth we dropped the dinghy and took Julia’s sister, Marguerite and husband Brian to lunch. When asked by the cute, young server for our drink order, I asked if they have mudslides. Her answer was a bit odd - “No, not in at least 50 years”. I ordered a beer instead and didn’t think much of it. Julia was giggling. A couple minutes later the server came back with our drinks and asked why I had inquired about mudslides in Florida. I explained that I was asking about a frozen drink with vodka, Kahlua, and Baileys. Julia & Marguerite were both laughing now and it dawned on me that the server thought I was asking about mudslide events in Florida instead of the frozen drink... I proceeded to school her on how to make a mudslide and soon I had what I wanted in front of me without the actual rain, flooding and eventual mudslide and all that goes with it. It left me to wonder about our server’s future...
I told Julia several times this cruising season that if we sit in Stuart doing projects for five months again like we did last year that I am selling the boat because the ratio of fun time to work time is out of balance. The plan is to be underway again by late February or early March and head to the Sarasota area, Long Boat Key, to spend the month of March and take in a few Orioles spring training games. Then we will plan to proceed to the Dry Tortugas, the Keys, the Bahamas and finally up to the Chesapeake Bay for August - October. Of course this is a cruising plan so it will likely change, perhaps sooner rather than later. The trip to Longboat Key is already iffy at best. It may or may not come to pass depending on the weather and reports that I expect to receive from others who will make the trek to the west coast of Florida. I had hoped we would be able to cross the state via the little known Okeechobee Waterway. This route starts in Stuart and goes more or less straight across the state of Florida and ends in Ft. Myers. The benefit of taking this route is that we would save quite a bit of time as compared to going around. The drawback is that the depth in the lake varies with the amount of rainfall. Since it is dry season in Florida the lake level has been dropping and we don’t expect there to be a high enough level to go across the lake. That means we have to go south, past Miami, to Marathon Key and then back north to Long Boat Key. This would be about a five day run which is no big deal, but it is crab season in Florida. I’ve been told that the crab pots are thick, even in the marked channels. Having described the perils of navigating in Maine during lobster season previously I will spare you the rehash. Suffice it to say, I’m not spending four or five days steering the boat through crab pots. It is far too nerve racking for a retired guy! If it turns out that we decide to skip the trip to Long Boat, then we will simply leave for the Bahamas earlier than expected - like mid-March.
In the meantime, we are busy working on the wintertime punch list of upgrades and repairs. The list is far shorter than last year and includes lots of little projects instead of lots of big projects. I dream of the day that the list includes only a small number of small projects... As I’m writing this edition, we are on our way back from our west coast swing. We were in Seattle last week for a three day diesel course put on by Northern Lights/Lugger that is taught by Lugger Bob (Senter). Lugger Bob is an icon in the world of Nordhavn boats because he knows all there is to know about Northern Lights generators and Lugger marine engines. If you have an issue with either one, the first point of call is Lugger Bob. He usually can sort you with a minimum of information. Day one of the course was all about our generator and days two and three were more focused on main engines with more generator work mixed in. The idea was to gain a better understanding of our equipment which is all Northern Lights and Lugger and to hopefully understand how to better maintain our equipment and trouble shoot when necessary. Julia was a full participant in the course and Tortilla made her presence known during the breaks when she got treats and lots of luvin’. We learned quite a bit and I certainly think the class is very successful at de-mystifying much about diesel engines and the electrical system of the generator in particular. I think this will help our confidence in addressing future problems when they occur and may result in us traveling a bit more far and wide than we already have.
From Seattle, we flew to the wine country in California, mainly to taste and buy wine but also because the folks from ABT Trac are located in Sonoma County in Rohnert Park. ABT makes hydraulic systems that control our bow and stern thrusters, anchor windlass, wash down and bilge pump and most importantly, our stabilizers. Their course is not synced up with the timing of the Northern Lights course, but they offered to do a couple of hours with us to go over the system. So we decided since they were in wine country we might as well take advantage of the situation and “start” the wine provisioning process. I say start, but I’ve already had frequent deliveries at the condo from our favorite vineyards in Napa - Chanticleer and Saddleback. The idea was to branch out and find some other great wines for the boat for the upcoming season. We’ve been to Napa Valley twice before so we decided to start our trip farther north in Healdsburg. This area is known for Pinot Noir, Zinfandel (no, not that kind of Zinfandel!) and Chardonnay. We stayed at a small Inn on Healdsburg Square which was conveniently located within walking distance of everything in town - like store front wine tasting. We arrived in time for lunch at the Healdsburg Bar and Grill which was tasty and a nice Chardonnay had its intended effect of inducing a nap after our very early start to the airport in Seattle. Dinner at the Dry Creek Kitchen was much more interesting. We were seated next to two women who were imbibing liberally. One more so than the other. We thought nothing of it since it was Saturday night in Healdsburg and the wine should be flowing. Tortilla was minding her own business and napping on the bench seat next to Julia as was customary on this trip. Julia and I were having a conversation about our growing interest to bring VAMOS to the west coast via the Panama Canal and maybe bringing her up the Napa River for an extended wine tasting stay. One of the women had gotten up to use the restroom and the other engaged us in brief conversation. She seemingly couldn’t believe that two married people could have a conversation at dinner and made that somewhat known. No big deal really. Later, the chef was making the rounds and she must have said more to the chef about the strange married couple having a conversation. We have no idea what was said but the chef decided he was offended by the comments on our behalf. He went to the Maître d’ and warned him of the “obviously” brewing trouble with the drunk lady and the weird, married couple with the dog. Soon the Maître d’ was at our table apologizing profusely for the drunk lady’s comments. We were a bit confused because we hadn’t heard any comments but being the astute restaurant people we are we didn’t let on to that because we smelled free stuff! We appeared to be appropriately offended by her hurtful comments but assured the Maître d’ it was OK. He of course wanted to make recompense so he offered wine. Before he left the table he poured more of the wine we had ordered and realized that we still had quite a bit of wine left so he switched his offer to dessert. We took the dessert offer and enjoyed the peanut butter fudge brownie and some sort of tasty pastry while discussing what the lady said that we may have found offensive. Apparently, whatever it was, the Maître d’ was not convinced that we had been appropriately compensated, so he returned with two glasses of port wine and his card with his cell number so we could come back the next night to give them “another chance”. We drank the port and finished the desert and continued guessing how offended we should have been at the comments we didn’t hear. This was a strange experience because I’m quite certain that I have played the part of the over-served patron who says something that I may not otherwise say if I had not been over-served, but I’ve never been the offended party before. I kinda liked it! Especially since we didn’t have to suffer through the actual offensive comments and we still got the free stuff! All-in-all, a good experience.
On Sunday, we visited two vineyards that were located a bit outside of town – Passalacqua Winery and Unti Vineyard. Passalacqua was recommended by our contact at Saddleback. When we come to Napa we come to buy wine, not just to do tastings and go to dinner. Passalacqua makes very good juice and has a wide variety to choose from. Jennifer, our host, had us taste about eight different wines ranging from Chardonnay to Rosé to Zin and Pinot Noir and eventually Cab. We left with a purchase of 2 and 1/2 cases. Not a bad start to the provisioning trip! Jennifer sent us on to Unti which was close by and she recommended eating lunch at the Dry Creek Grocery where we could get sandwiches. Apparently, eating at the Dry Creek Grocery is a thing. It was great and now we can put it on the list and check it off at the same time :). Unti was also good but not quite as good as Passalacqua because we only brought one case of wine. We decided we better get the car back to a parking spot and continue tasting in town where we can walk. We ended the day at Siduri, who was a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh. She was known as “the woman of the vine, the maker of the wine.” We enjoyed a couple of good Pinot Noirs and finished the day with another half case order. Off to a good start. Four cases for day one and three good tastings!
Next we were off to the ABT session in Rohnert Park. We met with Ernie Romeo of ABT for about two hours. We toured the facility and were suitably impressed by the electronics, custom, precision tooling of parts and the construction of the actual stabilizing fins. Really amazing that this is all going on in a totally nondescript couple of buildings in a corporate park in Sonoma County. The session was right on target and we learned more about this critical system on VAMOS. Losing hydraulics on our boat would be crippling and uncomfortable so we are hopeful that we are now in a better position to address future problems and we have a better appreciation of how the whole system is constructed.
With the “business” part of the trip behind us, we made our way to Yountville, in the Napa Valley. We decided to take the back roads and were shocked to see some of the damage from the 2017 fires that surrounded Napa. For east coasters, the fires are terrible to see, but they are a TV event. When you drive through the affected areas it becomes real. We passed right through several areas that were totally devastated and other areas very close by where the damage was barely noticeable. Later, listening to stories from people that worked in Yountville, it was clear that the physiological impact is deep and still fresh for many who observed the fires and lived through the event. It reminded us of the mental impact hurricane Ivan made on those that lived through the storm in Cayman in 2004. When we arrived in Cayman in 2006, and still to this day, people recount their Ivan stories as if it were yesterday. Julia and I are lucky to have missed both events.
Yountville is great because it has so many great restaurants located within walking distance of three or four hotels. Perhaps the most well-known restaurant is the French Laundry. It is a Thomas Keller restaurant with three Michelin Stars. We’ve dined at the French Laundry previously but it is an event, not dinner, and it is an investment, not a nominal expense. A single six or eight course meal takes about 4 hours and, with wine, will easily set you back a thousand dollars for two people. On the plus side, it was great and we did leave full. Many have said that they didn’t even feel like they had eaten dinner when they finished. There are plenty of other restaurants in Yountville so you don’t have to make the investment in the French Laundry, but you can if you like. From Yountville, the town of Napa is about 20 miles south and Calistoga is about 10 miles north. These are the two ends of the Napa Valley. In between are St. Helena, Rutherford, Yountville and Oakville. With all of the tastings, I would always recommend having a driver. We use Beau Wine Tours. They have always been great and this trip was no exception. Our driver, Mike, was punctual, professional and a wealth of knowledge. For this trip, I wanted to find the next Saddleback - an up and coming vineyard that makes great wine but is not widely recognized yet. Hopefully this translates to great wine for a good price. We started with a 10:30 a.m. tasting at Eleven Eleven Wines. A fairly new winery with an odd location in Napa, next to a car wash and across the street from a CVS Pharmacy, but once inside, you would never know it. It was described by the driver as a “millennial” type of winery which put me on high alert right away. Millennials are not looking for great wine at a good price because they don’t know the difference between good wine and great wine. As far as I can tell, millennials are just looking for a wine with a cool label that doesn’t cost too much, unless of course they just sold their App for $250 million to Apple or someone like that, then they just want expensive wine. Eleven Eleven also describes itself as a Sauvignon Blanc maker. Not good since Julia doesn’t generally like Sauvignon Blanc because it is too citrusy for her. I didn’t expect to be at this tasting for long. It turned out to be quite the opposite. Unbeknownst to us, the wine maker at Eleven Eleven, Kirk Venge, is the son of Nils Venge, the wine maker at Saddleback. Nils is credited with making the first 100 point wine from Napa Valley. He is a veteran wine maker with his hands in many vats. Apparently he taught his son very well because the wines at Eleven Eleven were great and the prices were fairly good. We left with an order of two cases - this is going to get repetitive so just assume we bought wine everywhere we tasted. After Eleven Eleven we headed to lunch at Saddleback. We had organized the lunch with Michelle who is responsible for the Posse, the Saddleback wine club. She warned us that they would be bottling today. This turned out to be a real plus. We got to see a mobile bottling truck in action. By the time we arrived at 12:30 p.m. they had already bottled some 1,300 cases of wine. The goal was 2,300 cases for the day. The process is very cool to watch. It is people intensive and very repetitive. One lady’s job is to close the lid on the now full case of wine and slide the box along to the next lady who puts a sticker on the side of the box and slides it on to the guy that tapes it shut and slides it on to one of several guys that stack the cases on pallets.
Lunch was a hot buffet which we enjoyed with our driver, Mike, Michelle and the wine maker from Saddleback, Lars (Nils is still involved but Lars is now the man at Saddleback) while at picnic tables right next to the bottling truck and the vines. It was pretty cool. Of course we were treated to wine with lunch as was the crew. We enjoyed a new, Provence style Rose that had been bottled that day as well as our standby Chardonnay and several Cabernet’s. All-in-all a great experience.
Next we were off to Aonair Winery. Aonair is located in St. Helena just a bit north of Yountville. Our host Chad was new to this fairly new vineyard, but he has been helping his friend that started the vineyard since it got off the ground. The view from the terrace of the Welcome building was great. We sat around a fire pit enjoying a Chardonnay and learned a bit more about Aonair - which apparently is a reference to the beginnings of the winery when it was a one-man-show. We took a tour of the vineyard in a four wheeler while stopping to drink a Grenache blend, and two cab blends. We finished the tour with some rare bourbons. Uh oh! This isn’t going to turn out well.
Next was Inglenook. A property developed by Francis Ford Coppola who makes some decent wines in large quantities. Inglenook is the limited production, high-end wine not seen in many places. We had a nice, if brief visit and bought a bottle of wine to take to dinner at, of all places, Restoration Hardware, a new restaurant and lodge in Yountville conveniently located about a block from our hotel. When we returned to the hotel we decided to have another glass of wine before dinner which led to one of us falling asleep in front of the fire place with Tortilla in her lap. I decided this a good time to cancel the reservation and order a pizza ($22) from Redwood which would pair well with our 2013 Inglenook Rubicon ($210). I’m not sure this was the best “use” of an expensive bottle of wine but the day was excellent and we had purchased four more cases of wine.
Day two began again with a 10:30 a.m. wine tasting at Joseph Cellars in Calistoga. Joseph Cellars is not to be confused with Joseph Phelps which is a very well established maker of high-end cab blends like Insignia. Joseph Cellars started in 2013 and is now making 3,000 cases of wine - this is a very small production. Our host Keegan was a cool dude who grew up in the Valley and knew his stuff. We started with a Sav Blanc which we both enjoyed and ended up adding to our order, and then we went into the 12,000 square foot wine cave where we enjoyed a great selection of red wines including a couple of library wines (not current release wines) like the 2011 Cab blend that I really liked. We talked vintages at many of our stops and we did again with Keegan.
Here is my summary:
2011 - a very under-appreciated vintage. As this vintage achieves drinking age, it is one of my favorites. There is more terroir (dirt) flavor in this vintage than any of the following years. Terroir is a good thing if you like smooth, well rounded cabs.
2012 - this was the first of three drought years in a row. Many would credit 2012 as being the best of the three years because it is thought to have produced the most complex fruit of the three years. Drought conditions are generally not thought of as a good thing for farmers, but drought conditions are great for producing wine because the grapes are stressed from the lack of water, they are smaller and the fruit is more concentrated. I like 2012 but I prefer 2013.
2013 - year two of the drought. 2013 has produced the most fruity wine. It is big and bold and in your face, so to speak. 2013 is what many people think of when they think of Napa Valley Cabernet wines - including me. The problem is that it was drinkable right from the time of release, so many people drank it. Now it is becoming harder to source and more expensive.
2014 - last year of the drought. Excellent wine but less bold and a bit more acidic finish, which may go away as this wine ages even a year or two.
2015 - had the potential for an awesome vintage but almost didn’t make it because of a late frost that impacted the early buds on the vines. 2015 is excellent and will age even better, but because of the frost there was a smaller yield than the previous three years.
2016 - 2018 are in vats and barrels aging. However, we had a chance to taste a couple of 2016 wines from the barrel and they are fantastic! These will be released in the spring for some wineries.
Last but not least was lunch at B Cellars. I like this winery because they make mostly blends. Blending grapes allows you to make a wine with the characteristics that you like. Many vineyards make blends of red wines. The typical Bordeaux blend consists of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. If there is more Cab than Merlot in the blend than this is a left bank wine and if there is more Merlot than Cab then it is a right bank wine. The left and right references being to the styles of wine produced in Bordeaux on their respective banks of the Garonne which flows through Bordeaux.
B Cellars also makes a white blend which is uncommon. It is called Blend 23 and if you were aboard VAMOS early this past season you probably tried some because I had it on-board in Bermuda and early in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately it disappeared quickly and when I went to order more it was already sold out. The blend is mostly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc but there is also some Viognier. Most wineries don’t make white wine blends because they don’t view it as worth their time. White wines are meant to be drunk, not stored and aged. Those consuming the wine are less likely to appreciate a blended white so why bother. I’m glad B Cellars continues to buck this trend. I’ve got my name on the list for two cases of Blend 23 when it is released in the spring. Our lunch was heavenly and we were literally the only people in the place. This was not uncommon this time of year. We were frequently the only people at a vineyard for tastings and it was easy to get reservations for any restaurant that we wanted. I would really recommend visiting Napa this time of year. The weather can be iffy, but we lucked out and saw the sun by noon each day after the fog burned off. I also highly recommend lunch at B Cellars. It is expensive but it is worth it for sure. We drank plenty of good wines and enjoyed a tour of the wine cave which is beautiful. Thanks Ryan and his friends at B Cellars.
In total, we bought 12 cases of wine in a wide variety of “flavors”. VAMOS is really going to be stocked this coming cruising season! My advice is to visit us in the Bahamas while the inventory is full!
Next week is a big week for VAMOS and hopefully the conclusion of many projects. Starting Tuesday, Feb 5, we are getting two new autopilot pumps installed. On Wednesday my buddy Craig Hogan is coming aboard to help me install a couple more toys for the electronics packages that we put in last year. On Thursday, Advantage Marine and Bart are installing new yolks and locking pins on the stabilizer system to correct an ongoing error that we have been receiving. While all of this is going on the hull will be getting buffed and waxed and the fire system checked for annual inspection. The following week Alex and BJ are aboard for some annual maintenance in the engine room. After that, we will be ready to take off! Let’s see how it all goes. Surely it won’t go off without a few surprises...I’ll come back with an update before we depart Stuart!