February 2006 Archives

Or, we could also call this blog: Hair of the Wine Dog

By M.L. Hilton

(NAPA) -- It’s an old southern expression and one I have invoked on a number of fabulous Wine Country dinner occasions. After a magnificent meal, you skooch your chair back a hair from the table, place your hands on your now protruding belly and declare in your best drawl: I do believe I have a serious case of puppy belly going on.

Wine dinners aside, real puppy bellies – in the form of assorted varieties of canines -- can be found at almost every winery in the world. It is this symbiosis that Craig McGill has set out to document.

Craig produced in 2004 a pictorial on the dogs of Australasian wineries. This book became a best seller and spawned several new editions. He, and cohort Peter Herring, were in Napa Valley late February scouting wineries and locations for their next book – Wine Dogs USA, the dogs of North American Wineries. The book will focus on about 10 states, covering parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, New York, and Michigan.

As part of his research, Craig came with a full compliment of dog toys and dog treats to help entice his next book subjects. Arriving from Australia, McGill was stopped in customs when the drug beagles smelled the goodies and “alerted” their handlers to the contraband.

Craig and Peter wine tasted, made inquiries, and traveled the Valley for a week before moving on to Sonoma and heading south for additional California wine countries. I ran into the guys their second night “in country.” We were bar mates, enjoying dinner in downtown Napa at Tuscany. After hearing their story, I invited myself along (to invoke another southern phrase) to see if “that dog could hunt.” After all the garlic flatbread I ate, I am surprised they let me trot along. (No jokes here about dog breath.)

At Domain Chandon in Yountville the next morning, Craig and Peter were charmed by the squirrels which they don’t have in Australia. A humming bird was also sighted through the picture window behind the tasting bar, prompting them to remark that they have insects in Australia that are bigger than the delicate bird.

We also stopped at the newly re-named Rubicon Estate (previously Niebaum Coppola). We tasted our way through five wines, and made purchases in the elegant tasting room, after confirming that the lovely Sofia was a dog-owner.

Our day together ended at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars which is well know for cabernets, and historically significant in that their 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet bested French wine in a now famous blind tasting in Paris 30 years ago. We hoped to catch a glimpse of Warren Winiarski with his dogs in tow, but even though he still works almost every day, we missed a hookup. We had to make due tasting wine at the wine bar and making plans to come back.

Craig undertook the book as an amusing project that combined his love of wine and dogs. He and his wife currently live in Sydney with three huskies. When asked the main differences in Australian wines and what they were tasking in Napa, Peter said: “It is a completely different world of flavor. You have to forget what you know and start again.”

The book -- started for fun -- sold more than 20,000 copies in Australia. In addition to the USA book, they are planning on publishing books on France and South Africa.

Wine Dogs USA will be available for purchase online at www.winedogs.com in September 2006. McGill will be back in Northern California in April for the photography shoots.

A Napa Valley only winery dog book was recently published, and is also available online. Check out www.winerydogs.com. The local book has no affiliation with the McGill’s indie publishing company, Giant Dog.

By M.L. Hilton

(WINECOUNTRY) -- There are certain holidays that carry high expectations. Especially, if you pay any attention to the myriad of ads that run during these times with every gift portrayed as a happy ending in disguise. Christmas is that time for the Christians; Valentine’s for the lovelorn (or is that worn?).

Pressure on the perfect romance aside, an advantageous opportunity of Valentine’s commercial assault is the sale prices offered on Champagnes and sparkling wines. Sparkling wine is a necessity in my household. I grab any excuse I can to pretend a celebration in my week and open a bottle. And once the bottle is open, the celebration is no longer pretend.

This year, my local Safeway offered Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut (2000) for under $15 a bottle, a full 50 percent off its normal retail price. I bought three bottles. That’s at least one celebration a week for three weeks. Should get me through February just fine.

I love the look and smell of chocolate, though I only indulge minimally in a month. My opinion about chocolate is: why bother with lesser goods when they all put the same weight on your thighs? This is a product where it is definitely quality over quantity. If you are overindulging on chocolates, there is something else out of balance in your life and this won’t replace it (okay, we could say that about Champagne, but lalalala, I’m not listening).

If you are going for culinary decadence, go all the way and don’t wait for someone to buy it for you. A trip to Woodhouse Chocolates in St. Helena (CA) is a sensory experience – it’s a fun visual one too, if you get them to open the back door of the shop into the kitchen. Handmade, all natural, don’t wait to eat them – you may let your romance go stale, but never your chocolates.

I can't think of cholcolates without thinking about the Whitman Sampler summer. This is the salacious moniker we have given to a girlfriend’s season of exploration and adventure. Variety, that year, was the spice of her life (okay, and through titillating conversations it was ours that year also).

If you are reading romance novels for your titallation, sister give those up. My novels of choice for recreational reading are murder mysteries. You can come out of those and believe humanity has no where else to go but up. NO MAN, however, lives up to the beautiful, sensitive, rich, and recently reformed men of the saccharine fantasies. You are only setting yourself up for emotional failure – move on.

If you find yourself depressed, or looking too longingly after couples holding hands, you may want to try the original cure for sadness – engage yourself in helping others. You get love when you give love out, and you feel a lot better about your problems when you are helping other with theirs.