Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Weekend Miscellany

  Sometimes you just need to ramble so this is going to be a quickly written, unedited, rambling post. Valentine's Day, officially tomorrow I guess, is to this old curmudgeon a made up holiday, like Easter and Halloween, designed to pick the pockets of guilty suckers, who spend more than they can legitimately afford on fleeting pleasures like roses and chocolate, in a vain effort to make up for a full year of complete emotional negligence. Uh huh, feel all better now? It's secondary purpose is to cause angst among tween and teen boys and break the heart of every girl over the age of 10. An added benefit is lots of business for dentists. Humbug I say. Every day is Valentine's day at our house. Just ask Mrs. Goatherder....wait, maybe you better not. Anyhow, this weekend turned out pretty nice and since the Missus works tomorrow, we had a great time together as she was off all weekend.

  We had good friends visiting from the Frozen Wastes of Terre Haute Indiana, wherever that is, somewhere in the east I'm told. Mike and Terre are old friends who we don't get to see very often. Mike and I went to high school and college together and have had more than our share of misadventures over the years. They came out so Terre could run in the Sedona Marathon on Saturday morning. While Terre and Mike's son's girlfriend were huffing and puffing up the hills of Sedona, we were having breakfast at The Coffee Pot Restaurant, "home of 101 omelettes". Not a bad breakfast. It included the added feature of a case of heartburn. I never get heartburn. I did yesterday. Also included was a visit with Mike's first wife and the mother of his oldest son. She lives in Sedona it turns out. He has lots of sons. Lana was not only Mike's first wife at an extremely tender age, she was a crush of mine in the 6th grade. I used to walk her home. We hadn't seen each other since. Pretty strange but amusing none the less.

  Our pals went back to Flagstaff to spend the day with their son Devin. Devin works for Nackard Distributing, the 800 lb. gorilla of liquor distributors in N. Arizona, and he knows and has ins with all the restaurants. They spent the day eating and drinking too much. Kate and I came home and after a rest and a big slug of pink stuff, we went over to the recently re-imagined Casey's Corner, now known as Desert Market. You can look at their new website here. They were having their wine tasting. This wine tasting, as I've mentioned before, is the best tasting deal in the valley. They now charge 2 bucks for the first taste, and a dollar per taste after that. Taste 3 wines, it's 4 bucks and you get to keep the glass. One thing Desert Market has that you won't find at ANY other tasting: Beer. For the price of admission they'll also have usually 4 microbrews that they're featuring. No charge for samples. I had a chance to talk further with owner Mike Anderson and we are definitely going to work together. I'm going to start taking a few tastings a month and doing some private events for him. We'll see what develops after that.

  When we came home, I decided to put together an elk stew. Browned two pounds of floured, seasoned elk meat with a big sweet onion till they were caramelized, then added half a bottle of Bitch Creek, a handful of mashed garlic cloves, lots of pepper, some jalapenos I roasted on the grill, and the basics of celery (including the leafy tops, don't throw out the leafy tops, ever) carrots and whole baby yukon gold potatoes. Topped it with stock and stuck it in the oven for about 4 hours. The celery and onions melted down completely and it thickened into a real dark, tasty ragout. Went nice with a bottle of Malbec we picked up at Desert Market, followed by a few tiny bites of  artisanal chocolate confections that are being sold there, made by some very talented hippy girl from Cottonwood. Or Clarkdale. Or somewhere.

  Today, we met back up with Mike, Terre, Devin and Devin's lady friend Lindsay, who is a first year, rookie middle school psychologist in Flagstaff. God bless her. We went to the Camp Verde Wine and Pecan Festival which had been going on since friday. This festival gets better every year. Hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine, the antiques, the barbecue, the vendors of arts and crafts and cigars and of course, the wine. The valley's wineries were well represented, with the notable absence of Merkin and Caduceus. Nobody seemed to know why Maynard had decided not to sample his wines in Camp Verde. He missed a bet is all I can say. The booths were doing land office bottle sales. Mike and Terre took The Stronghold's reserve Chardonnay back to Indiana with them. I would suggest to anyone who wants to spend a pleasant early warm-up February day, this is the place to do it. A fine time all around.

  For those who aren't aware, Cornville has it's very own mission. The mission provides free food to all comers, and these days it comes very welcome by many who are struggling in our community. The mission is the single-handed success of Greg Roeler, who took it upon himself to fill this need a couple of years ago. In that short time he's managed to gather food donations from all over the northland, has opened a very nice thrift store at the corner of Page Springs Road and Cornville Road, and today, managed to pull off what Cornville has always been known for: a fantastic community come-together for a good cause.
  Greg organized a community dinner to benefit the mission. A seven dollar donation got you a very nice dinner prepared by noted retired chef Al Kramer, former owner of The Manzanita Inn, a Cornville landmark. The dinner was held at the Living Water Retreat Center, a place I often refer to cynically as "The Jeezus Hotel" at the end of our road. Josh has worked there bussing tables since he was 13. Finally, when they realized what a great kid and sterling employee he is, they quit trying to proselytize him. He never got the "Another Boy For Jesus" T-shirt. Recently, he became a prep cook there. He assisted Al Kramer in the meal tonight, all volunteer. He spent 8 full hours busting his backside and loved every minute of working for a real chef. Kramer is notoriously, shall we say, brusk. I had suggested to Josh that he practice saying "yes chef" and "right now chef" and it paid off. When we got there for dinner Kramer had nothing but praise for him. Well done son! It turned out that Greg had sold only 57 advanced tickets, but in typical Cornville style the whole darn community seemed to show up. There were at least 300 people there by the time we arrived, and the food ran out early. I forsee a yearly event. Greg was beside himself.
  We're now closing out this Valentine's weekend watching romantic comedies. I keep hoping we can watch a movie that has explosions or cowboys in it, but I'm betting it's not to be. Better get another Bitch Creek open and settle in. Salud!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sampling Wine at Sam's Club?

  I know it's been a long time since I've updated this blog. Very little in the way of wine has happened since the holidays. Mostly, I've been trying to figure out how to get rid of the 6 pounds that found their way to my gut thanks to all the Bitch Creek I've been downing in place of wine. No solution so far, as Suzy Q market still has a few cases of that frothy goodness left, and I am not quite broke yet. It's the best beer bargain on the planet. But I digress.

  WalMart is the Devil. Satan incarnate. Killer of local businesses and abuser of employees world wide. We all know that, yet we shop there anyhow. Go figure. Cheap is cheap. Principles be damned when the price is right. I stumbled into a gig working for a nationwide product promotion outfit and was offered the chance to sample some wines at the Prescott Valley Sam's Club. What the heck? Twenty bucks an hour plus mileage there and back. A big nationwide day before the Stupor Bowl promotion. First place winner in bottle sales for each state gets a hundred dollar Sam's Club gift card. Who knew they sampled wine at warehouse stores? Curiosity got the better of me and so I said yes.

In order to work for this outfit, I had to complete the Arizona Dept. of Liquor License and Control's alcohol server's certification. The company paid the 35 dollar fee, and I took the course online. It took half an hour and included such thrilling topics as how to recognize a drunk person, how to spot a fake I.D., how to cut someone off who's had too much, and how to handle an aggressive drunk. (call the cops, duh). The questions were multiple choice and tough. Here's an actual example which I am not making up:

You have refused service to a customer who has clearly had too much to drink. The customer becomes aggressive and argumentative. Your best response in this situation is:
A. Threaten the customer with a club or other scary weapon.
B. Acquiesce and give the customer another drink strong enough to make him pass out and be harmless.
C. Agree to serve the customer but slip him club soda with lemon instead of alcohol.
D. Notify management for help and then call law enforcement without confronting the customer.

It reminded me of the military test I saw during the Viet Nam war that had a picture of a flower, a cow, a hammer and asked "Which picture best illustrates a tool?"

Anyway, I was somehow able to pass with flying colors and now have a cool certificate. I also have one for the state of Texas, because the company initially sent me the wrong log in information and NOWHERE in the lessons and text did the word 'Texas' appear until I'd passed and had my certification.  For the record, Texas' course is a whole lot easier than Arizona's. Now I can bartend in private dry-county clubs in the Texas hill country. I feel ever so much more financially secure. When things get real bad here, "There's always Texas".

Next came a half hour conference call with the company to "train" me in how to contact the manager at Sam's club and arrange for set up of my sampling table. It also covered how to pour a half ounce sample and dire warnings about leaving open bottles unattended, and strict instructions on how to dispose of unused product at the end of the shift. No, I didn't get to take the half consumed bottles with me. They had to be poured down a drain with the manager on duty watching and I had to do it, for some reason. What they didn't cover is what to do if you arrive at your Sam's Club and NOBODY knows you're supposed to be there.

Me: "Hi Ms. Manager Person, I'm here for the Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo"

Ms. Manager Person: "The what?"

Me: "The Prestige-Trincheros Nationwide SuperBowl Wine Demo, it's going on at Sam's Clubs across this land of ours. They told me you'd know all about it."

Ms. Manager Person: "Huh. So you want us to set up a table or something?"

Me: "That'd be great, or just tell me where the tables are and I'll do it."

Ms. Manager Person: "That's OK, I'll get Eddie to do it, hang on a few minutes."

I hung on for half an hour until Eddie, who turned out to be a really funny and helpful guy could be found and got me set up. Thank goodness for the Eddies who work at Sam's Club, the managers are clueless. In this day and age, this little episode sure begs the security question. The kit bag I was lugging into that store coulda been loaded with ten or twenty pounds of plastique or a Glock with a few 30 round clips and nobody would have known the difference. Kinda scary.

The Prescott Valley Sam's is really nice. Spotlessly clean and has a great product selection and, apparently, almost no customers. We're used to going to Costco there, and on a typical Saturday it's packed. I figured this Sam's would be too, what with it being the day before High Holy Day. I fully expected to see hordes buying giant bags of fozen cocktail weenies, pizza bites, huge plastic barrels of "cheese" puffs and other savory delights for the big day parties. They weren't there. The majority of those who were there apparently go to Sam's for lunch. There are people handing out samples on almost every aisle. Shrimp cocktail with BIG shrimp, Fettucine Alfredo, beautiful pizza, all sorts of tasty looking stuff. I lost count of the number of people I saw pushing around empty carts that had the kid seat part folded out so it could hold a veritable smorgasboard of samples. Munching happily, they didn't appear to be actually buying anything. I commented to the guy handing out the shrimp that it looked to me like a lot of people just show up for the free food. He said "yup, 40 bucks a year and you can eat lunch here every day free." Apparently, nobody cares. Who knew?

The wines I poured were largely forgettable. A pretty good German Reisling in a cutesy trick bottle that has a 3D label, a puckeringly dry Italian sparkling Prosecco, which you'll definitely want to have on hand if you follow Giada Dilaurentis' cleavage recipes on Food Network, and two reds. One, Barrel Box Cabernet, I can't even find a link for online, and the last and only decent one was The Show Malbec; an Argentine import. We've had this one before as well as The Show Cabernet, and they are both quite tasty. The Malbec has really heavy tannins and oak and desperately needs to breathe in order to open up and mellow out. Out of the bottle there's only one word for it; bitter. Given a little air, it's great. I had been given strict instructions NOT to pre-pour samples for security reasons. Wouldn't want some wino or pimply teenager stealing a teaspoon of wine and getting all cranked up. After watching customers screw their faces up into knots and hearing "boy is that stuff BITTER" about a dozen times, I threw the pre-pour rule out the window and let The Show air out a bit. Afterwards, I sold 5 bottles of it. There are some wines that really do need some elbow room.

Altogether, my experience sampling cheap wine at Sam's was interesting and fun, albeit a bit demeaning. Will I do it again? Sure. Easy money is easy money.

On the way back home, I decided on a whim to stop in at Casey's Corner, now renamed "Desert Market" for some beer. Mike Anderson, the owner was there just concluding his Saturday wine and beer sampling. I told him what I'd been doing and we got to talking and it turned out he's going to hire me to do his tastings periodically. I'll also be doing a custom private sampling for a wedding in April. Some horsey couple is getting married at the Dancing Apache Ranch and then bringing their entire guest list to Desert Market for a private tasting. I get to pour. That's another story though, and I'll report on it later. Salud!