Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Life Lessons on Wine Country Livin'

This whole moving-to-the-country thing has been chock-full of lessons from day one. And usually those lessons are learned the hard way—like Don't Do Any Gardening Without Wearing Bug Spray, Check the Tasting Room's Hours Before Driving to the Boonies to Try Some New Wine, If You're Going to a Vintner's Festival Get There Early Or There Won't Be Any Food Left, and my favorite, Always Check the Bottom of Your Shoes After Walking through the Chicken Run.

In the last couple weeks, we've been hit with a few more lessons...some more painful than others. Just in case any of you readers should decide to move to wine country and raise chickens, I want to share my discoveries with you in hopes that I can save you from the agony of learning them yourself. Here's a rundown:

1. If you go to a winemakers' dinner, eat a huge lunch and use the wine-dump pot.
We attended our first winemakers' dinner at Los Olivos Cafe last Thursday night and were so giddy at the idea of finally going to one of the events we dreamed of attending when we lived back in LA. The evening featured winemakers from Qupe, Bien Nacido, and Au Bon Climat, with a selection of 9 different wines and carefully paired dishes.

Knowing my 3-4 glass limit, I was well aware of the fact that I'd have to dump partial glasses throughout the night. I figured I could get away with at least a few sips of each and that the copious amounts of food would absorb most of the alcohol anyway. At the end of the night, I was tipsy but feeling pretty much fine. Mr. and I came home and watched some TV and the next morning I awoke with only a minor headache.

I got myself some water and toast, thinking I'd make a full recovery. And then I became very, very sleepy on the couch. It was only 9:00 a.m. but I needed a nap. Or twelve. And then at about 10:00, my first winemaker dinner came back to haunt me in a very projectilious way. SO not the way to start a day. I haven't gotten sick from drinking since my 28th birthday at the Beauty Bar in Hollywood (too many martinis with my manicure). I now know that if we attend another winemaker dinner, I will need to eat and hydrate well all day long in preparation—and probably take a few less sips with my dinner.

2. Chickens that lay eggs are significantly louder than chickens who don't.
Two of our baby girls (Charlotte and Carrie) have started laying, and we couldn't be more proud. Our fridge is currently stocked with the cutest little pullet eggs you've ever seen. Every day, it's a thrill to go egg-hunting in their coop. However, I didn't realize that their eggy labor pains would include raucous clucking. Sometimes they call out to each other while one is laying—like the non-layer is coaching the layer to push. And the crazy thing is that it often happens several times a day even though they're only laying once. El Pollo Loco got their name right because those chickens are crazy.

3. Hens are bitches.
This whole pecking order business? So not cool. Particularly because one of my favorite chickens (yes, I have favorites) is at the bottom. Poor little fuzzy-faced Samantha gets a forehead full of beak all the time. We're not sure whether the ring leader is Charlotte or Carrie, but Charlotte is by far the nastiest and peckiest. Every time she bops somebody on the head, I want to pick up one of the other girls and use her to peck Charlotte right back. Definitely not a fan of henhouse hierarchies...

I don't anticipate our lessons here to slow down anytime soon. Between the new terrain, being pet parents, and remodeling our house, we're continually being hit with new educational content. I just hope we both get graduate degrees at the end of it all...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chicks Gone Wild

This was a big week for our girls. For the first time, they got the chance to experience {somewhat} free range in the sideyard. Given that we frequently see hawks overhead, and my neighbor had a coyote run through her yard with a chicken in its mouth recently, Mr. W and I supervised the girls the entire time they were out of their pen. We're still new to this chicken parenting thing and would be totally devastated if anything happened to one of our flock.

At one point as I sat on my chicken stool (it's kind of like a milking stool except it was $6 at IKEA and I use it to sit in the yard and watch the girls scratch at the dirt), Carrie Birdshaw hopped up on my lap and began to pick at lint on my shirt. My phone was in my back pocket, so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to snap a little selfie with the golden retriever of chickens. I leaned my face down next to hers, extended my arm with camera in hand, and just as I was about to snap a shot, she pecked me square in the front teeth. Hard.

Mr. W immediately began cracking up and I didn't know what to do. Bird beak is not something I ever wanted in my mouth. Lord knows what she's touched with that thing. I'm hoping Listerine killed everything. And I will not be trying to take any selfies with her again in the future.  

A couple weeks before that, I also had a little incident with Charlotte. I was standing in the girls' run—pretty sure I wasn't the least bit hunched over—when Charlotte decided to fly up onto my lower back and claw her way up to my shoulder. I yelled at her and quickly tried to wrangle her off of me. My back was literally covered in chicken scratch. I had to Neosporin myself up for a few days.

When I told Mr. W what happened, he said, "She was probably just trying to show her dominance. She's establishing the pecking order."

With an adult human.

I got dominated by a chicken.

So there's that.

We're expecting to find an egg or two in the coop pretty much any time now. I'm hoping after the girls start laying they'll calm down a bit. They've gotten quite surly with all their prepubescent hormones swirling around in those feathered little chicken butts.

Monday, September 1, 2014

SYV Recommendations: The Hunt for Wonderful White Wines

Even before Mr. W and I officially moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, friends and family members who knew about our love of the area often came to us for advice on places to visit and things to do. Now that we live here, the requests have increased, so I wanted to start a series of blog posts that people can read for Maris tips and recommendations for making visits to the Santa Barbara wine country great.

Although we're locals now, we're still getting our arms around all the amazing places to eat and drink here. I'm not sure exactly how many wineries and tasting rooms there are in the valley, but as of today we've only been to 54 of them. Still lots we need to check out and many we need to revisit because it's been a long time since we've had their wines.

Last weekend, we noticed that our white wine fridge was looking severely understocked, so we went on a hunt for some good whites. We started at one of our favorite tasting rooms in Los Olivos: Epiphany. As wine club members, we get to taste for free anytime we want. Which, as you might expect, is awesome.

Epiphany was sold out of our favorite white—the 2011 "Inspiration"—but the Rhône blend of marsanne, grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier, has yet to disappoint us. Get some if you have the chance. We're also big fans of the grenache blanc, so we settled for a bottle of that to help restock the fridge.

Our second stop was right next door at Cimarone. We've really enjoyed their sauvignon blancs in the past, but this time it was their red 2012 Cilla's Blend under the 3CV label that we walked away with. Their white offering seemed a bit smaller than it was during our last visit a year or two ago.

Tre Anelli was our third stop, where I'm also a club member. Although I've long been a fan of Tre Anelli's albariño, their sister brand Conscilience's roussanne has been more to my liking of late. We picked up a bottle of the 2012—and also came home with my wine club shipment of Tre Anelli 2012 loh-Ray-roo and 2012 tempranillo.

After touring the three tasting rooms, we decided to make a run to the local market to grab a few more. We ended up with a Margerum sauvignon blanc, a Babcock chardonnay, and an Apothic white (Apothic red is one of our go-to red table wines—it's only about $9 at Trader Joe's). I'll have to write a follow-up post once we know how all these grocery store finds taste.

Although we didn't hit all of our favorite white spots, here is an additional {short} list of some of the other labels we like in the area: 
  1. Gainey—The semillion I had there in January of 2013 (not sure what vintage it was) knocked my socks off. And it's a beautiful winery. Really fun to visit.
  2. Lucas & Lewellen—Right in the heart of Solvang, this place usually always hits my white sweet spot. They always have a variety of chardonnay options and the chenin blanc they had earlier this year was so delicious. We've tried their sister tasting room, Toccata but both Mr. W and I felt that it didn't even come close to comparing to L&L. 
  3. Melville—The Verna's chardonnay has been one of my favorites over the last several years, however last time Mr. W visited, he was told they sold Verna's vineyard, so I don't know whether this yummy label will stay in production. As a sidenote, Melville has one of the most beautiful tasting rooms in town. AND, during one of our visits there, we saw Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. Yowzah. 
  4. Byron—Good chardonnays and good pinots here. Although last time we visited, we thought we might be able to find comparable faire for less moolah. 
  5. Lincourt—Super cute little winery with a big sprawling lawn for kids to play. I know I liked the chardonnay when we tasted here, but I can't remember the vintage. They also had killer pepper jelly that we bought and ate on crostinis with cambozola from Trader Joe's. Ridiculodelicious.  
  6. Presqu'ile—We just visited this winery for the first time and I was pretty much ready to pack my bags and move in. It's up in Santa Maria, so about 30 minutes from the valley, but seriously one of the most gorgeous tasting rooms I've ever been inside. We bought a bottle of their 2013 sauvignon blanc and I loved the chardonnay—which had a massive butterscotch finish—but Mr. W wasn't on board with it. This place is SO worth the trip.
I definitely want to keep adding to the white list, as good ones seem a bit harder to find than good reds. If any of you visit and have a white that rocks your socks, please let me know! Until then, I'll do my best to keep you posted on the goodies we find.