Friday, April 10, 2015

Blessing of the Vines

Our very good friend Phil happens to be the pastor of our church so we asked him if he and his family would come to dinner this week in the vineyard and do the blessing of the vines for us. Now we are not Roman Catholic or superstitious or even real wine growers for that matter so this may sound kind of hokey and you're probably wondering what is this all about.  Well, we have designed our backyard to be a beautiful and inviting place for fellowship and ministry.  This is the area we use for gathering over food, books, wine, cigars, discussion and whatever else God may give us to gather over in the future.  So Phil did pray a blessing on the vineyard but mostly for the fruit of all that goes on in this special place. It was actually one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard Phil pray and it filled my heart with great joy.   And then we had a very nice meal together of garlic flat bread, prime rib, baked potatoes and asparagus, all made in the brick oven. We also shared our very favorite wine (Souverain Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007) with the Kruis family since it was such a special occasion with special friends.  May God continue to bless the vineyard and our lives!

Evolution of the Backyard

The past few months Matt has been working on the backyard.  He took out our three raised garden beds and reshaped the area to put in a small vineyard (we did keep one raised bed that we placed below next to the grave of the Sharptooth).  He dug 8 holes and laid drip for the 8 vitus vinifera vines he ordered us from California.  We know the climate here is too  hot for wine grapes but we thought we would grow some anyway for fun, for their beauty and maybe one day try our hand at some wine.  We decided to choose the grape varietals we like best regardless of our climate and made sure to get the appropriate rootstock.  We have planted Cabernet Franc, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Zinfadel, Touriga Nacional, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Merlot. 


Desert Museum

Matt's Class


Matt is teaching his first adult education class at church right now on one of the greatest classics of all time, Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.  The class is 13 weeks long. He has spent hours and hours preparing for the class and is doing such an amazing job teaching it.  It is clear to see that God has gifted him in this area.  I am very proud of him.  Sandi and Arianna have been coming every week.  I wish I was able to record the classes and share them with my family in Minnesota.

Visiting Janks and Kino Bay

At the end of February we headed down to Mexico again to see the Janks.  Of course we had our normal tradtions of eating tacos, having our steak dinner, wine shopping and playing spades and we also  went to the beach for the afternoon.  The four of us plus their 2 dogs crammed into Ryan's Jeep Wrangler and drove about an hour or so west to Kino Bay where we laid on the beach, played in the waves, and had a friendly tournament of bocce ball.   It was really windy that day but still lovely to be at the sea.  Kino Bay is not really for tourists so we shared the beach with a only a few locals.   Here are some pics...

Christmas Surprise!

As usual I am way behind on blogging but I have to post a few pictures from this past Christmas when my sister Regan and her family (minus Jax) made a surprise visit to Arizona for the holidays.  It was one of the most surprising moments in my life when I came home from work one night around 7, entering through my garage into the house and I heard loud Christmas singing.  At first I thought Matt had the TV on really loud and there was a Christmas movie on but when I looked into the living room the TV was off and Matt was not even in there.  Then I thought I must have Christmas carolers at my door- how strange because I live out of town a bit.  I slowly peeped around the corner to look at the front door and to my GREAT SURPRISE I saw my sister, her husband and their kids with Matt singing "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" at my front door.  I was utterly shocked and confused!!  It took me a minute to realize what was going on.  They had a great laugh as they came in and we had welcome hugs.  Apparently Matt knew the whole time of their plan to come stay with us over Christmas and New Years and never let on a thing about it!  It was very nice to have them here and share our Tucson life with them.  It was also heart melting to have my two nieces playing together.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Burn Baby, Burn!

A few days after my exam Sandi came over and made me a celebration dinner of my favorite dish she makes- Yorkshire pudding and roast beef which we enjoyed with Michael David's Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi. 

 The next day I headed out to the backyard, lit up the fire bowl, and proceeded to burn all my study guides, papers, and flashcards from the last 3 years of wine tests I have taken.  It took about 30 minutes.  Oh so satisfying!

The Big Day

Pictures cannot do justice to the Aria Casino & Hotel of Las Vegas where I took my level 2 sommelier exam last month. From the moment I walked in I  thought, "I do not belong in here!  This place must have a dress code- so fancy!"

I scouted out the convention center the night before the test, to make sure I would know where to go in the morning.  I wanted to give myself every advantage because I did not want to fail this exam for any reason, though I knew I had a decent chance of failing given the fact that I don't work in a restaurant and my blind tasting is hit and miss!  But I was running out of time to take the test, and since it wasn't coming to Phoenix I decided I would travel to Vegas to take it, which is an easy drive.

I left Sunday morning.  It took me about 6.5 hours to get to Vegas.  The drive is uneventful save for a beautiful stretch of Joshua Tree National forest about halfway between and the mountainous border crossing between Arizona and Nevada which is quite gorgeous. I felt comfortable going to Vegas since I have been there half a dozen times or so in the past, the last time being in 2006 for a class for work.  I decided to stay at the Excalibur because the price was right and it was within walking distance to Aria.  When I arrived in town the traffic was really bad.  At just a block or two from my hotel I found out the whole Las Vegas Blvd was shut down due to a marathon.  I could see my hotel but I could not get to it.  Already stressed out enough as it was this was not a welcome obstacle.  With the help of one local and Matt on the phone I was able to find my way around the south end of the strip through much traffic and pulled into my hotel about an hour and half later.  I checked in worn out and starving but I had a lot to do.  First I walked up to the Aria to find the testing site and then I got a bite to eat at a wonderful woodfire oven pizza place called 800 Degrees which I had passed on my walk to Aria.  I did make one little stop at the Bellagio to watch the water show which is the best thing in Las Vegas as far as I am concerned.  Then back to my hotel room to go through my flashcards one more time.  Exhausted, I went to bed around 9. 

I woke around 6 the next morning to get ready with plenty of time for breakfast and one last pass through flashcards which I did at Starbucks where I had a $4 plain croissant.  No coffee or tea to mess up my palate but I did swish with Cava right before I entered the exam room. 

The exam room was large and had about 100 people in it I would guess.  Less than 10 women.  There were 8 Master Somms there to proctor the exam.  I didn't know this at the time but later heard that Las Vegas has the largest concentration of Somms in one place (glad I didn't know that before, it would have made me even more nervous).  Each place setting had a red and white wine and the tasting grids and exam face down, as well as water and a pad of paper.  The exam started promptly at 8:20.  We had 45 minutes to complete the written exam of 45 questions and the deductive tasting of two wines.  I started with working through the white wine, which I thought was fairly obvious and then took a quick assessment of the red wine before moving on to the written exam.  I first answered all the questions I felt confident of and then went back and forth between the red wine and remaining questions.  I checked and rechecked the written.  I felt pretty good about the white wine and the written exam but had no idea what the red wine was.  I made my best guess and used the entire 45 minutes.

Upon arrival before the written I had been given my service exam time which was noon.  So now I had over 2 hours to wait.  I stayed at the Aria and went through more flashcards. I also got a bite to eat down in the casino and talked to some of the other candidates, some of whom were at the bar.  As candidates finished their service exam they came down to the bar and started drinking!  And some were so nervous about the service exam they had a drink or two before!  I knew a drink would not be a good idea for me but I did talk to a few people, one candidate in particular who worked as a server in Las Vegas at a high end restaurant.  He was there taking the exam for the second time, as he failed the blind tasting the first time.  He said he smoked the service portion the first time but he was still nervous this time!  Yikes!  I headed back up stairs and talked to  a few lady candidates who had just finished the service exam.  One of them had a real problem with the cork and had to take the cage off so she could get the cork out. Another lady, I learned, had to have 2 Master's help her get her sparkling open!  And another candidate was telling me the corks were really tough and to open the sparkling in the ice bucket but I had never done that before so I didn't think it was a good idea to start today! 

Finally my noon time service exam was here.  I was very nervous but also very anxious to get it over with and be free.  I wanted to pass so bad and be done with studying but I knew that even if I didn't pass this the first time around the exam would no longer be a mystery to me that I didn't know how to study for.  Now, I would know what to expect.  Even if I failed it and had to take it again the study time would be much diminished as I would know exactly at what level they were testing at.  But still I wanted to pass so bad and be done studying for good.  I was tired of flashcards, tired of drinking just the blind varietals, and most of all tired of this test hanging over my head!! 

I entered the mock restaurant room with 5 other candidates and a Master gave us the scenario.  Each of us was assigned a table with a Master seated at it (and 3 other imaginary guests).  We were told what Champagne was ordered and to go greet the table before we started our Champagne service.  One thing I didn't know until then was that the service exam is timed.  Twelve minutes is all you have to perform the Champagne service as well as answer all the Master's questions table side. I was given a very soft spoken gentleman.  I had to strain to hear him.  I had to pour wine for him and his table guests and was told 4 additional guests would be joining them later.  I performed the service with just a few small mistakes, although I was so nervous you could hear the glasses rattling on my tray as I brought them to the table (since I forgot to line the tray with a serviette!).  I had a little trouble opening the bottle and the Master who led us in gave me a tip for my stuck cork which worked.  My bottle did make a pop but it wasn't huge so I felt okay about it.  After pouring the extra glasses at the side station  I then had to clear the table to the Champagne and walk around the room with the full tray (here is where waitressing throughout high school and when I first moved to Tucson helped me albeit over 15 years ago now!).  I went back to the table where I was asked about a dozen or more questions about food and wine pairing, cocktails, aperitifs, cordials, sparkling wines, and spirits.  My service might have been just okay but I knew all the answers to each question the Master asked me so I felt like I performed well enough overall to pass the service exam.  Twelve minutes after walking into the room  I was done.  And hopefully done forever.

I left the Aria and went for a walk outside where I called Matt to tell him  about it.  Of course I did this in front of the Bellagio, just in case the water show was going to pop up.  I had 3 hours to burn til I would get my results.  At this point I felt like I passed all portions of the exam except for maybe the red wine.  I was afraid I had gotten that wrong and wrong enough to have to repeat the test.  I hoped and prayed not.  I ended up going back to the Aria and listened to my ipod while I waited.  But guess what I didn't listen to?  Not wine podcasts! 

The results were to be given out at 3:45.  We were back in the original large exam room.  They began by congratulating everyone for coming this far in the process.  Then they began to read off the names of the candidates who passed.  My name did not get read until about three quarters of the way through so I was really starting to lose hope.  But finally it was read. I thanked God as I sat back down with my certificate and pin.  I was so happy and relieved I could have cried right then and there.  As soon as the names were all announced every one proceeded to celebrate with a glass of bubbly- Blason Rose Perrier-Jouet.  Before I grabbed my glass I snapped a pic of my certificate and sent it to Matt and to all my friends and family members who had been praying for me to  let them know I had passed.  I stuck around for a little while talking joyfully with some of the other candidates and then headed back to my hotel to get changed so I could go get something to eat.  The stress of it all caused me to lay down for a while in my hotel room even though I was starving.  I went back to 800 Degrees for another pizza and thought about how I was in there just the night before wondering how this very day would go...

The next day I got up bright and early, eager to head back home.  The drive home was uneventful with a quick pit stop at my favorite place in Phoenix, Halfprice Books where I picked up some Peter Reinhart bread baking books.  What a great find on the heels of my exam, now that I am free to reading whatever I want again!

That evening Matt and I celebrated  with my favorite takeout- Indian Butter Chicken and also drank the special wine I bought for this occasion- Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or Brut Champagne 1999.  And as far as opening it went, I had Matt do it! 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Last Day of Blind Tasting Practice with my Study Partner

My study partner Tali and I have been meeting once a week for the last 6 months practicing blind tasting together.  Usually it is just the two of us with Matt pouring four blind wines for us to deductively taste through.  Every so often her boyfriend Nathan joins us as well as Matt.  My last study night with her was about one week before the exam (which I was to take on November17th).  Nathan and Matt joined us that night as we worked through 8 wines.  I look pretty calm, don't I?  Ha!

A Welcome Addition to the Casa

 We have talked about how awesome it would be to have a hot tub on our back patio since we bought this house.  We had set aside some money to take a trip this year that we were unable to take and so decided to use the money to get a hot tub.  Since we knew it would be delivered with a crane we invited some people over to watch.  The delivery  guys arrived a bit early and I was the only one here.  I took many pictures as I stood there hoping the hot tub would not come crashing through our roof as they lifted it over the house. Thankfully these guys know what they are doing and they lowered it down just where it needed to go.  Unfortunately I was the only one to see all the magic.  They set it up for us and Ariana was the first one in.  We  had dinner with friends who came over to see it that  night and then after Matt got back from his soccer game we got in.  We use it now about  every other day.  My favorite time of day to use it is right as the sun is going down, after a day of work.