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Diluting the brand

11.12.19 Posted in Food by

California Olive Ranch is big. They have at least 13,000 acres of olives in Northern California and have been aggressively marketing their bottles as reasonably priced local olive oil. It seems to have been successful, visit markets of a certain ilk and you’ll see their bottles. But this weekend I noticed that they’re no longer Californian. Despite the company name which receives the major presentation on the label.

Max Garrone | Max Garrone

“California” is oh so prominent…

They’re now blending oil from other countries like Argentina, Chile, and Portugal. Apart from the bit of flattery at being on the same pedestal as three countries, the contrast between brand name and identity, and the actual content of the bottle is pretty dramatic. I had no idea, everyone at dinner had no idea, we’re just lambs to the slaughter in this marketing hustle.

Max Garrone | Max Garrone

One state, three countries.

A bit of research reveals that this has been going on for at least a year and that the company is trying to bake it into their branding without exactly trumpeting the difference. Aside from the marketing issues here – clearly most people aren’t reading the fine print and believe that they’re getting something purely Californian and possibly paying a premium for that impression – the change points up bigger issues like climate change.


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No, not that Willie Brown

10.23.19 Posted in Obituaries, Sports, Uncategorized by

Obit du jour from football’s golden age.


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No respect for your elders

10.18.19 Posted in Food, San Francisco by

Riffing off yesterday’s post about the new restaurant critics and catching up in general, Soleil Ho’s take down of Le Colonial is a such a picture of generation shift. There’s no respect for one of Willie Brown’s favorite restaurants because it’s an amusement park confection of colonialism. Brown’s SF used to be something to aspire to but that vision has been losing ground for a while. His ex lover and understudy burnt all bridges with him, now this, the new wave continues to surge forward and bury one of his favored institutions. Times change but this is a huge attitudinal shift.


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The culinary conversation’s next generation

10.17.19 Posted in Food by

Just when you thought that the culinary conversation had congealed into listicles along come the new voices to guide the conversation. The new culinary critics bring fresh perspectives that are the fruits of their youth and identities, many are female and come from a variety of backgrounds. And, it feels like they’re all pressing one another onwards not in competition but in conversation about our culinary universe. It’s really fascinating to watch and rewarding to engage with.

The change here in California is really stunning. It used to be that we’d all read the dear, departed, Jonathan Gold’s LA Weekly articles as guides but also as a shared fantasy of LA that wrapped the immigrant experience, culinary culture, and the city of strip malls into one massive confection. The idea that you could find an amazing meal that was the fruit of a unique cultural identity created by people keeping it alive at a reasonable price far outside of the cores of money and urban culture was captivating. Meanwhile the big voices at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle and, when they deigned to pay attention, voices from the New York Times and Bon Appetit’s of the world were all focused on the big targets of the restaurant world – fancy openings, white table cloth places, self appointed trends – which is to say not anything you’d try for a casual lunch.

That all changed when Gold was appointed as critic for the LA Times in 2012. He brought his voice onto that stage instead being transformed by it. And the rest of the world followed suit. In just the past few years the New York Times appointed Tejal Rao as their California restaurant critic. The fact that they needed a critic here and that it was Tejal speaks volumes on where we are. She picked up right where Gold left off by bringing attention to Punjabi food served from a truck in Bakersfield or the possibility of running out of kosher salt.

Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer retired after 32 years on the job and was replaced by Soleil Ho who seems to have grown up everywhere. She came out of the gate swinging against Chez Panisse while really focusing on the smaller or less mainstream restaurants and major issues that used to be completely invisible in food sections. And, she was joining a team that already featured Esther Mobley and a variety of other writers and editors which put San Francisco’s paper on the side of generational change.

Rao and Ho address everything in the culinary world, the food, the ethics, the issues that pour over from everywhere else in our culture and have been joined by many others. The pivot in our conversation about food has been going on for quite some time in other fora, but now it’s moved into the mainstream. These are the debates that used to occur in Chowhound or on the pages of alt-weeklies, now they’re in the paper of record and its siblings in the media firmament. The good news, you can still get a start in an alt weekly. The bad news, alt weeklies may not be around for much longer. As Ho recently lamented, culinary criticism is under threat. At least we have strong voices pushing forward.

 


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Italian market life

10.09.19 Posted in Italy, Music by

Life in Torino’s Porta Palazzo Market scored by MCDM aka Max Casacci e Daniele Mana.


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Your next SF mayor

10.09.19 Posted in Uncategorized by

According to the SF Chronicle’s Voter Guide

 


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Brittany Howard

10.08.19 Posted in Music by

Boy, she’s the real deal.


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American history in a wine glass

10.08.19 Posted in History, Wine by

I’m way behind on the excellent I’ll Drink to That podcast but recently caught up with a doozy, an interview with David Hirsch which ends up being an incredible voyage through America from the 60’s to the present. There’s a bit of everything, the wide open West, the hippy life here and internationally, and all sorts of asides that you’d never find in a history book.


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A cork encounter

10.07.19 Posted in Food by

My latest shipment of Birichino arrived with the usual cast of bottles from California’s hidden vineyards. It’s truly a remarkable project that consistently surprises with experiments and winemaking that finds unique expression. But the thing that really caught my eye was the quarterly missive which included the following coda:

A FEW WORDS ON CLOSURE

Lastly, a few words are in order regarding our evolving philosophy on closures. We have begun to employ Diamanté’s 10 corks for many wines previously sealed with Stelvin Saran Tin screwcaps. We continue to believe in the virtues of screwcaps. They are convenient. They are consistent. The(y) leave no room for uncertainty as to whether a wine suffers from cork taint. And yet, much as we would like to believe that they have been fully embraced by the wine purchasing public, we have become increasingly aware that this is not the case. And it must be said that aesthetically, screwcap finished wines cannot hold an all-natural, clean-burning beeswax candle to a cork finished wine. We simply do not believe people take our wines – especially given the relatively modest prices – as seriously as they would were hey sealed with a more conventional closure. We are profoundly saddened to observe this phenomenon, though they many hours spent with customers in our Tasting Room, pouring wines – some sealed with corks, some sealed with screwcaps – lead us to this ineluctable conclusion. So while we are willing to be evangelists for screwcaps, we will not be martyrs for them.

We have made the difficult and expensive decision to bottle most of our wines with Diam 10 corks. The closures for Vin Gris and Malvasia will not change, as we do not see them suffering in the marketplace by virtue of their closure…..

Perhaps when Birichino really catches fire and our wines command outrageously higher prices, we will switch back to Stelvins. Until that glorious day…

My initial impression – crazy wine snobs out there just won’t pay the price for the great wines that Birichino makes because they don’t have corks. Which is ridiculous. Right?

Before I ran off in a wild digital rage about how the impression of high class is ruining my wine I had to ask Birichino’s owners Alex Krause and John Locke whether it was really that people weren’t valuing their wines properly or whether there were other factors at play. Alex’s answers were much more nuanced and educated me on the nature and economics of contemporary wine making.

Quality

First there’s the quality issue: DIAM corks are made from natural cork treated with beeswax and vegetable oils so it’s a sustainable process which, they claim eliminates cork taint. As Alex noted “if we can address the twin evils of natural cork with a purified, tested, engineered solution that uses natural cork, and, a not insignificant point, looks really nice, why should we persist?”

Value judgements

Then there’s the price and value question. As it turns out this is more of an intangible: I asked whether anyone had refused to buy a wine from them because it didn’t have a traditional cork, here’s what Alex had to say about that:

I cannot say that anyone ever walked into our tasting room and said to us- “I love the wine, but I wont buy it because it’s in stelvin. ”  But I can tell you that, guaranteed, north of $40 retail, for the majority of the populace, one inevitably increases the resistance/reluctance to purchase a bottle, or bring it as a gift if it’s closed in Stelvin.

Plus they are starting to work with a really intriguing Cabernet vineyard which “no way that we were going to put that in a Stelvin closure, and sell it for the premium price it requires somewhere north of $70/bottle.”

Existential questions

I won’t let the perfect get in the way of the good, especially when the whole idea of the perfect isn’t pristine but the idea that really strikes a chord with me is the environmental one. I’d been aware of cork as a sustainable crop but I had’t really considered the environmental impact of Stelvin enclosures. Alex emailed that:

“I think also in the little niche in which we operate as being a winery passionate about old vineyards, and farming practices that don’t harm the earth, native ferments, minimal or even zero So2 bottlings (stay tuned), that there is quite an aesthetic disconnect between a mined aluminium closure (with a larger carbon footprint) and a natural cork with a really nice, high quality tin capsule or wax seal. I know which one photographs better, is evocative of the romance of winegrowing and the mythos of wine culture. I know which one Prince Charles advocates. I think, also , that a certain very important set of gatekeepers in the industry at both the retail and restaurant level whether consciously or not, take a little less seriously a wine closed in Stelvin, and/or fear that selling it to their less-educated clientele will present a bit of a challenge.”

Like most things, there’s nuance and a combination of factors, but the flavor factor hangs over all of this. Traditional cork does have a failure rate, I experience one the other evening with a French wine, that’s part of the deal. I’ve liked Stelvin enclosures so much because they don’t have that failure, they’re easy to open while, say picnicking, and it seemed like they weren’t very wasteful but the environment review above combined with the DIAM neutrality is a compelling argument in favor of that closure, especially for wines are minimally treated as Birichino’s list. If you like natural wines read on:

“Our winemaking, being quite simple and relying on minimal racking and often employing larger vessels puncheons, concrete tanks, also can end up a little bit on the more naturally reductive side of things. That’s where we like it- keep the wines fresh, lock in the more fragile, volatile aromatics so that they can slowly come out of hibernation over years in bottle. But when one combines our approach with Stelvin, for certain varieties in particular and on particularly powerful, rocky soils, it seemed that the dumb period post-bottling was more exaggerated with the Stelvin Sarantin, . We will continue to monitor our experience and have bottled some wines in both closures, but for so many reasons, it seemed the right move to make. “


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Raging Tempest

09.27.19 Posted in Music by

Kate Tempest is the lyrical genius that Eminem aspired to be – he gave up on lyrical content in favor of formalism early on while she’s not doing much with the form but expanding the content of the genre.