Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wine on a Food Stamp Budget - But No Caviar

Gwyneth Paltrow made headlines by trying to live off food stamps for a week. This is what happens when a washed-up actor tries to get publicity. She got it all wrong. First she claimed that a 'family' was expected to live off $29 a week. Wrongo Buckwheat! The allocation for food stamps is $45.27 per week for a single person. Families get more based on the number of members. You are expected to contribute 30% of your income to make up the $45.27, so the person she emulated was expected to contribute $16.27 from his/her own income - something she failed to take into account.

Second, Ms. Paltrow knew little about shopping and cooking. For example, one does not shop at Whole Paycheck Market on food stamps. Furthermore your grocery basket does not include limes and cilantro. What was she thinking? Scratch that, she wasn't.

I think that food stamps, when wisely spent, can be sufficient. I'm not going shopping, but instead talking in generalities about buying and preparing food. (A head of lettuce, for example, might last well over a week. How do you figure the cost of the one leaf used in a sandwich.)

 What would you eat for $6.47 per day? Well, first there goes your morning latte at Starbucks. Buying in larger quantities and freezing the rest for the future saves money as does checking the 'marked down for quick sale' bins. Most people think hamburger when they think cheap meat, but it turns out the chicken and pork are a less expensive choice. I can get both for under $1.00 per pound. Follow the old rule: "shop around the perimeter of the market."

Here are some ideas for a daily menu:

Breakfast: $1.00
Dry cereal - $.12
1 egg - $.13
Milk $.25
Toast with butter and jam -$.10
Coffee $.15
Juice or fresh fruit  $.25

Lunch: $1.00
Tuna or chicken sandwich  $.45
Bread $.20
Small bag chips $.35 (this is a splurge. You get more mileage from a large bag divvied  up in baggies.)

Dinner: $2.00
Gourmet Salad $.65
Pork or Chicken (6 oz serving) $.40
Rice or Potatoes $.20
Vegetable (broccoli, corn, etc) $.40
Bread $.10
Fruit $.25

Okay, so I have spent $4.00 for food. Remember, $2.32 of our budget of $6.46 was from our own pocket, so it can be spent anyway we like - and we have $2.46 left.

First things first. There are staples that have to be bought like sugar, salt, butter, mayonnaise, flour, catsup, spices, lettuce for that tuna sandwich, etc. Let's allocate $.96 per day for those things. That ought to be more than sufficient.

That leaves $1.50 unspent - and it's my money, not food stamp money. I can find a decent Washington wine for $7.50 on special. There are five, 5- ounce servings in a bottle of wine or $1.50 per serving. I think I'll have a glass of wine with my food stamp meal!  Bon appetite.

Note: Prices have been gathered from multiple sources including Safeway, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Costco, Fiesta Foods,  and Harvest Foods. Serving sizes are based on recommended sizes or greater.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust or Playing Winery Just Ain't Fun Anymore

The wine business is one tough bitch and she is hard to let go (think the Stones and 'Honky Tonk Women'). Ramseyer Vineyards was the dream for a family of West Siders or Wet Siders as they are locally known. Being thus, you might say it was a wet dream to spend weekends in a nice cottage tending the vines and drinking the fruits of your labors. You will be a celebrity in wet-side circles and respected by the Wine Expectorator with rave revues. I can relate to that - well, not really. I have never been there. I'm just the grumpy winemaker trying to make a living selling good wine at reasonable prices. No story here.

We will plant a Walla Walla-style vineyard, they declared, not the typical one in the Rattlesnake Hills where they start irrigating when the water comes on and do so until it goes off. We talked to people in Walla and they don't irrigate until August - if at all. We will show those Zill Billies (as the locals are called in the Rattlesnake Hills.) how to grow ultra-premium, award-winning wine grapes.

As May and June passed, as well as those big clouds that rolled by and lodged against the Blue Mountains giving Walla 20 inches annual average rainfall, the vineyard started dying for lack of water. You see, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA only gets 6 inches of rain - mostly in the winter months. You can grow Walla-style grapes here, but not by copying their viticultural practices.

Walla is more of a 'school of winemaking' than a region that can grow distinctively better grapes than the rest of eastern Washington. In fact most Walla labels are Columbia Valley because Walla grapes are expensive and hard to come by. The grapes can be sourced from any of several warm AVAs in the state (including the Rattlesnake Hills) as long as you restrict tonnage and go for high sugars and overripe grapes. (Remember that Walla restaurant '26 Brix'? Well, probably not. Things come and go fast in the Washington wine industry.). Think lack of varietal character, high alcohol, some RS, soft tannins, and boatloads of French oak. The Wine Expectorator goes ape shit and Parker is in heaven - if you put it in a five-pound bottle. -and Ramseyer did it all right!

Pat Rawn of Two Mountain Winery to the rescue! He replanted and revised the vineyard property and made it a winner! Ramseyer Vintage Five 2009 - 93 points in the Wine Spectator! (Yeah Rattlesnake Hills - which grows the best Yakima Valley grapes.)  Compass Wines "2012 Washington wine of the year". Ramseyer Vineyard Vintage Six 2010, - Wine Spectator 91 Points. This vineyard is headed for stardom! (I love it because my vineyard is less than a half mile away! I can see it from my house!)

A sad day at Ramseyer Vineyard. Grape vines are stacked in front of the cottage for burning.
This vineyard shares some pretty impressive neighbors. To the southeast is Dineen Family Vineyard which supplies most of the Woodinville industrial park wineries. To the northeast is Two Blondes Vineyard, one of Andrew Will's properties, and nearby Sheridan Vineyards. Not far away are Cultura and Agate Field vineyards.  Antolin shares the opposing slope of the little canyon. This is one primo site!

Fast forward to 2015. The family is tired of playing winery, (you can read the obituary here) as are Eaton Hill, Wineglass Cellars and Yakima River Winery. RIP. The Ramseyer property is sold to Washington Fruit which promptly removed the vineyard, making way for apples.

So what happened. Here is a highly successful vineyard with a 'to die for view' of the valley, Cascade Range, and Mt. Adams that in the Napa Valley would bring over $100K per acre and it is sold to a fruit company for scrap. It's the dirty little secret the Wine Commission doesn't talk about. They are out to promote Washington wine (meaning big brands like Ste Mickey's and 70 fingers - aka 14 middle fingers to the rest of the industry), but not Washington as a wine country and a place to invest in the future of wine. As of now it appears that the future of Washington wine is in the under $15 bottles that taste like a $50 bottle. (I dare you to publish an article that says I'm wrong - et tu Andie?) (Read my rule of 100 and that translates into $750 per ton for grapes or a gross of $1500 per acre at 2 tons per acre - nothing near the $30K apples bring in.)There just aren't enough Microsoft millionaires to support an industry based on $50 cabs. Oh for the good old days when Steve Burns said, "There is no limit to the amount of wine you can sell if you just charge enough."

I miss you Steve.