Archive | March 2012

Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum

Recently, Jon and I made a trip to Seattle to see the Gauguin special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.  It is a short term exhibit through April, 2012.  The SAM has spent the last several years compiling and organizing an exhibit documenting Gauguin’s time in Polynesia towards the end of his life.  They made arrangements for loans of 60 Gauguin artworks and the same number of Polynesian artifacts, including headdresses, tiki statues and decorative weapons.  Apparently bringing the Polynesian artifacts into the U.S. was quite the undertaking, because all of the artifacts that contained shell, animal hair, feathers, bone and teeth had to be cataloged with their exact animal components.  That can be tough when they were made 200 years ago, and since now the art form has pretty much died out.

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France in 1848 to a French father and a part-Peruvian mother.  He spent the first several years of his life in Peru with his mother, after his father died on the trip there.  They returned to France when he was 7, where he grew up and became, of all things, a stockbroker.  After working for 10 years as a stockbroker, and becoming increasingly more interested in studying and purchasing fine art, the stock market crash in 1882 convinced him to leave the profession for good.  He didn’t begin painting until he was in his thirties, and started out in the Impressionist movement before becoming disillusioned with the art style.  He spent a period of nine weeks collaborating with Van Gogh, spending time and painting with him while both fought depression.  At the end of this nine weeks, Van Gosh threatened Gauguin with a razor and then fled, culminating in Van Gogh cutting off his own ear in a brothel.  Although he didn’t harbor any ill will, and even invited Van Gogh to collaborate again, Gauguin never saw his colleague again.

After the market crashed in the 1880’s and Gauguin lost his job as a stockbroker, he became increasingly disillusioned with the European scene.  He began dreaming of traveling to the Polynesian islands to escape from the developed world and be a part of a simpler, less corrupted lifestyle.  Unfortunately, when he arrived in Tahiti, he found a culture and people that had been devastated by 100 years of colonialism and disease.  The people had almost lost their native cultural traditions and art.  Gauguin proceeded to drown his sorrows by shacking up with a 13 year old girl (because that’s different than what the colonists did!), and using her as his muse.  She appeared in several paintings, including The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch.

The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch

Unfortunately, as is the case with many artist muses, Gauguin fathered her child and then left her when he made the trip back to Paris.  There he contracted syphilis after having sex with a prostitute.  His health started to decline, and he was unable to sell many of his paintings in Paris.  He went back to Polynesia, this time to the Marquesas islands, which were less developed and had maintained more of their native culture.  He created several more paintings,  and had several more children with his mistresses, and managed to piss off the colonial authorities when he sided with the natives on some colonial matter.  Some accounts state that the colonists were also tiring of his hard drinking/drugging lifestyle and the fact that he was spreading syphilis around among the local population (what a charmer right?).  He was convicted of libel and sentenced to a month in the island’s jail.  Before he could begin his sentence though, he died of a heart attack coupled with an overdose of morphine.  The year was 1903, and Gauguin was 54.

Anyway, I’ve digressed, because I couldn’t help much give a few more of the juicy details of his life.  But if you have a chance, take the time to see this exhibit – it is worth it.  It makes you wonder what more he could have contributed to the art world, had he not died so young.  Of course, on the flipside, the Marquesas might have been wiped out by syphilis if he had lived much longer!  I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from the exhibit – Three Tahitians.

Three Tahitians

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2009 Moonstone Cellars Merlot – a Keeper!

The other day, we received a wine shipment from Moonstone Cellars.  Moonstone is located in Cambria, California, and we were lucky enough to happen upon the tasting room when we took a trip down to central and southern California in August, 2010.  For more on that trip and Moonstone, see this previous blog post.  We really enjoyed all of the wines that Moonstone offered, so we get excited when their wines are on the way.  Their tasting room is a lot of fun too, one of the most memorable ones we have visited.  They not only allow, but encourage dogs in the tasting room, and frequently take photos of them to post on their Facebook page in their Dog of the Day! feature.  The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and the owner Todd, is very down to earth and friendly.

The other night, we opened the 2009 Moonstone Merlot.  The grapes are sourced from the Paso Robles area, which is not a wine region that we have had the opportunity to explore.  The color of the wine is like the skin of a dark red plum, ripened perfectly.  The nose is of blackberry, oak, and smoke.  The smoky smell is not evident when you taste this wine though, and the oak gives way to a wine that is wonderfully balanced with soft fruit, and a tiny hint of tartness on the finish.  It is a wine that will please someone who likes a heavier red, and someone like me who enjoys a softer, less oaked Merlot.  In fact, we both loved it so much I put up a fight to make sure that Jon didn’t drink my second glass!  It was really hard for him to see the bottle sitting on the counter, waiting for me to get to it – I’m sure it was calling to him.  He was strong though…. because he knew I was serious about this wine!

2009 Moonstone Cellars Merlot

Jon was so thrilled with this wine that he wants to order more, and I’ve heard a comment or two about how the Paso Robles area needs to be our next wine trip.  I think that means this wine is a keeper.

Feeling Pious Tonight, so I Had Black Muscat!

We visited Piety Flats Winery on our Yakima wine tasting trip last year, and I really enjoyed their wines.  For more on our 2011 Yakima Valley trip…  At the time of our visit, we weren’t able to taste the Black Muscat because Piety Flats was sold out, but on the way home, when we stopped at the Thorp Fruit and Antique Stand, we found a bottle and purchased it.  It has been tucked away ever since.

I had never actually tried a Black Muscat, so I wasn’t sure what I was in for.  Black Muscat is one of more than a hundred types of Muscat grape, which are primarily used in table wines and dessert wines.  Due to the fact that there are so many types of Muscat grapes, it is believed that Muscat may be the oldest grape varietal.  And, interesting, it is also the grape that is used to distill Pisco, the liquor of choice in Chile and Peru (I never would have guessed that, because there is not any sweetness in Pisco!).

Upon pouring the 2008 Piety Flats Black Muscat into my glass, I was met with an aroma of strawberry and blackberry.  It has the color of a dark rose.  The nose lets you know to expect a sweetness at first taste.  The taste of this wine reminds me of the syrupy, sugary strawberries that are perfect on strawberry shortcake. Although it is certainly a sweet wine, it isn’t a dessert wine.

If you are looking for a sweet wine that doesn’t overpower, consider this one if you can find it.  It would be perfect on a hot summer day, paired with dark chocolate on the patio in the sunshine.  Can’t wait for summer!

Hippie Art and Pie!

This week the weather was a bit schizophrenic. Monday morning it was raining. Pouring really. And actually, surprisingly, this was an improvement because Sunday night it was pouring with high winds. So, pouring with no high winds is quite preferable. Then Monday afternoon we got sunshine. And Monday night we got snow. And Tuesday morning, sunshine again. And it alternated between rain with wind and rain without and blue sky for the rest of the week.  And some full moon with Northern Lights action thrown in too!  I didn’t see the Northern Lights but the full moon was gorgeous.  And now rain.  But the problem is, it’s March. And I’m tired of the endless rain. I want spring and summer and hot weather and semi-drought conditions. I want to have to open the windows to sleep at night because otherwise it’s too hot in the house. I want to not be paying a heart-stopping, depression-inducing gas bill each month. I do know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Spring is less than 2 weeks away, and each day we should be getting closer to the letup in the rain and cold. And in the meantime, I’ll just have to hold onto that.

Sunday was my mother in law’s birthday, so Jon and I went down to Whidbey Island to spend the day with her and his siblings. 3 of 4 of his sibs were able to make it (his other sister just moved to Florida). Jon’s mom wanted to go to Greenbank Farm, and I had never been, so I packed the camera for our trip. Greenbank Farm was a farm at the turn of the last century – the large main barn was built in 1904 (in case you forget it tells you in huge letters right here on the barn!). Now it houses a café, a few art galleries, a wine shop with tastings, and an eclectic cheese and specialty food shop where you can find something for everyone (it’s a little pricey though). The farm is now owned by the Port of Coupeville and runs through an agreement with a local non-profit.

Greenbank Farm

Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island

My overall impression was that it was fine, but nothing amazing. The art at the galleries is a bit eclectic for me… just a little too out there in terms of hippie, new age, mixed media type stuff. I would compare it to the clothing designs you see at a fashion show. Just because it is interesting to see it walking down the runway, doesn’t mean it is something that I should wear. And just because an artist makes a piece, doesn’t mean that it is something that I should put on my wall.  There was one outdoor sculpture I really liked though, right here….

Outdoor Bronze Sculpture at Greenbank Farm

The shining light at Greenbank Farm is the café. We sat down for a snack, and were treated to an excellent seafood chowder with cod, crab and Penn Cove mussels, in a light broth. And the pie! We got a rhubarb pie to go (sadly they were out of marionberry pie), and it was amazing. The crust was light and flaky, and the rhubarb was tart and perfectly cooked. Let me just say that it might be a good thing that I don’t live closer, because I’d be getting plump on pie!

We also visited the wine shop and had a few tastes – the selection is all Washington wine, with a big focus on Whidbey Island and a few Yakima Valley wineries. I didn’t see any of the Woodinville or Walla Walla wineries represented, which would be nice if they wanted to round out their collection. I had tried a large majority of their tasting menu already on other wine-tasting trips, so I just wasn’t wowed by the experience. Jon did try and buy a Port style Whidbey Island wine (he’s been really into Port style and dessert wines lately). After Greenbank Farm, we headed to downtown Coupeville to do a little shopping. We poked around the shops and galleries, and I even got a present for Jon for some upcoming birthday or Christmas (no Jon, I’m still not telling you what it is).

So my final verdict is that Greenbank Farm is good for a visit on occasion, especially if you want some pie, but there isn’t enough to do there to make it a regular trip. If you do go, be sure to try the pie, and let me know what you think of the art!

Book Review: Bold Spirit

I’ve been reading more lately, and finished another book the other day.  This was a book that a friend loaned me after telling me a little bit about it.  The book, Bold Spirit, by Linda Lawrence Hunt, is based on the true story of a woman and her daughter, Helga and Clara Estby, who walked across the United States in 1896.  They were offered a prize of $10,000 if they made the trip within 7 months, wore a new style of bicycling skirt that didn’t touch the ground, and collected signatures of governors and other political notables they met along the way to prove that they had visited specific cities.  They could accept rides on non-train transportation, as long as the ride was freely offered and they did not pay for it.

Bold Spirit

Their motivation?  Helga Estby was a mother of eight whose husband had been injured in an accident while working, and was unable to support the family as a result of the injury.  Their farm was heavily mortgaged and they were at risk of losing it.  She decided to take a wild risk in order to earn the prize money that would ensure that they would be freed from their financial troubles.

The downside?  The prize was being offered by an anonymous benefactor, who did not want to be revealed.  If anybody ever knew who this anonymous person was, the identity has been lost to history.  The conditions of the journey were extremely challenging.  Helga and Clara were obligated to reach New York City from Spokane, Washington within 7 months.  They were allowed additional days only if they could not travel due to illness.  They had to stop along the way to work to earn money to continue their journey, as they were only allowed to leave Spokane with $5 each.  They had to walk in all weather conditions, from snowstorms while crossing mountain passes, to a journey through parched Midwest grasslands in scorching temperatures.  In order to reach their destination in time, each day of travel had to average more than the distance of a marathon.  And, last but certainly not least, they were subjected to the harsh judgment of the Norwegian community in which they lived, and the disapproval of their own family.

There’s a lot the reader doesn’t get to know, because after the trip the manuscript that Helga Estby wrote was destroyed.  Information on the story comes from newspaper accounts of the trip at the time, which unfortunately don’t reveal the true feelings and experiences of Helga and Clara Estby.  The author weaves together a believable story on what Helga and Clara likely felt and experienced along the way.  It is well researched and well-written, and offers a story of an everyday woman that otherwise would have been lost to history.  The book is a fascinating account of a woman’s courage and strength in the face of adversity, as well as her desperate attempt to save her family’s farm.  They face tragedy that no one should have to go through.  And, you want to know – did she win the prize?  You’ll have to read the book to find out!

President’s Day Weekend – Part 4 – Wine Burnout and Antiques!

Sunday we started our day at the Lafayette Schoolhouse, which used to be a school, but is now an antique mall.  It was originally built in 1912, so the three story building itself has tons of character.  Jon shopped around inside for a little while, but then went back outside to listen to music in the car.  Which left me to wander around and look at everything, without someone hovering impatiently.  I found a few Howard Pierce figurines, including one little baby quail, that is almost identical to a set of two quail I already have.  Pretty exciting to find a baby that matches and completes the set!  I know my mom was jealous, because every time I tell her that I’m going to the Lafayette Schoolhouse, she tells me how she has never been there.  Someday mom, you’ll just have to come wine tasting with us.  I’ll take you to the schoolhouse!

After I got my antique fix (thanks Jon!), we decided to try out Domaine Drouhin.  We’ve been talking about their wines for ages, and had never been (we tried to go once at Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve – can’t remember which – but they were closed that day).  So it was finally time.  They are located at the top of the hill, with a beautiful view of their vineyards down the hill.  When we arrived, we were immediately wowed by the beautiful architectural details in the tasting room – vaulted ceilings, huge windows looking out on the vineyard, and exposed wood beams.  There were a couple other couples there at that point, and we settled in for our tasting.  They had 3 wines – a Chardonnay and 2 Pinot Noirs.  The Chardonnay was very nice, with a light oak and excellent body.  Their 2009 Pinot seemed very soft to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked it a lot, but it seemed to be a “drink now” wine, rather than one that would last for future drinking.  The 2008 Pinot Noir was more robust and was very enjoyable, but the price was steep at $65.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

Now, Domaine Drouhin in France was founded by Joseph Drouhin, and his grandson first visited Oregon in the 1960s during a trip to market the French Drouhin wines.  During this trip, he became convinced that Oregon could grow amazing Pinot Noir.  The winery in Oregon opened in the late 1980s, with Joseph Drouhin’s great-granddaughter as the winemaker.  So it was interesting when our server offered us a taste of the Domaine Drouhin French 2009 Pinot Noir.  And we were sold.  For a reasonable $25 a bottle, this wine is excellent!  By this time, the place was filled to the brim with couples on a limo tour, so we made our purchase and ske-daddled before Jon had a nervous breakdown about the crowd!

The view of the Vineyard from Domaine Drouhin Oregon

Our second stop was Argyle Winery – another winery that we have talked about a lot but never visited.  Argyle specializes in sparkling wines and also does some Pinot Noirs.  When we first got there, the place was pretty quiet, but it quickly filled up.  I decided to do the sparkling wine flight, and Jon went with the standard flight, which gives you a mix of regular and sparkling wines.  The result?  I thought that the sparkling wines were very nice, although I definitely preferred the sparkling wines that used Pinot Noir as the base wine, rather than Chardonnay.  And I thought the $25 bottle – the Argyle Brut – was just as good as their $50 bottles.  To top off my tasting they let me try the Black Brut, a 100% Pinot Noir sparkling wine.  I had received an email about it, and was very excited about trying it.  But to be honest, I really wanted to like it more than I did.  It just lacked something – a sweetness I suppose.  Jon wasn’t blown away by any of his wines either, although we did both like the Minus Five Riesling Dessert wine quite a bit.  They did have a beautiful setting though, in a historic farmhouse with a nicely landscaped garden.

Argyle Winery’s Side Entrance and Garden

By this time we were starving for some lunch, so we went across the road to the Red Hills Market.  It is deli style, with tables to eat in and kind of a general store atmosphere where you can buy deli goods and gift items.  Even real Vermont maple syrup!  I had the American coppa pizza, which was only $12 and was big enough to share, and Jon had a mushroom fennel soup.  This. food. is. amazing!  I would be such a market junkie if I lived there!  But we had to get back on the road to continue our tasting tour.

The out-of-this-world Pizza at the Red Hills Market!

Wall-O-Gifts at the Red Hills Market

The next stop was Chehalem.  Always a home run.  Chehalem does all their wines well, and it is always such a treat to visit. I have given the longer review in other posts, so I won’t rehash it here, but one interesting development is that Harry, the winemaker, decided to restyle the Cerise, which has been a blend of 80% Gamay Noir and 20% Pinot Noir.  For the 2010 year forward, it will be a single varietal Gamay Noir.  The new vintage is delicious, but unfortunately, since it uses more Gamay, which they don’t have that much of to begin with, there will be fewer cases available for those cult followers like me.  I’ll have to make sure I stock up….

Then we headed up the hill to August Cellars – a co-op style winery that shares winery space and equipment with other small wineries.  They were tasting their own wines the day we visited, and we were impressed with the lineup.  I liked the Baco Noir, which is a hybrid grape that is planted in small quantities in southern Oregon.  Sadly, the winemaker explained that he doesn’t think he’ll be getting Baco grapes again, so the bottle we bought might be the only one I get.  Oh well, that’s always the challenge, to find the next great wine!

August Cellars

Artisanal Wine Cellars was the last stop on our mega-tour.  We discovered Artisanal Wine Cellars when we visited August Cellars on a previous trip, because Artisanal is one of the wineries in the co-op.  Last year, Artisanal opened their own tasting room in downtown Newberg, and it is open until 7 pm!  As I have written before on this blog, the owner and winemaker is a science guy, and it shows through in his wines.  New wines included a Pinot Blanc (very tasty), and a Tempranillo that Jon really enjoyed.  I love their Gamay Noir Rose, called Evangeline, named for the owner’s daughter, whose middle name is Evangeline.  Artisanal’s first crush was in 2005, so they are a fairly new winery on the scene.  This is a winery that we will continue to visit for a long time to come!  The tasting room is located in a historic building in downtown Newberg, and the staff are friendly and chatty.  I also spent a bit of time talking to another customer who has visited the Okanogan Valley in BC, so he gave us some recommendations on wineries to visit up in that neck of the woods.  Too many trips, too little time!

At this point, we had reached major wine burnout, so we had dinner and went back to our room to enjoy some quiet time.  Jon fell asleep early again, and I stayed up watching TV.  Unfortunately, there was a trucker catching some ZZZs at the hotel, and his refrigerator semi was outside my window.  Those suckers are loud!  When he finally left sometime about 3 am, I was finally able to get some rest.

The last day of our trip we got up and moving slowly, sleeping in until almost 9.  It was nice.  We stopped in briefly at the Factory Outlet Mall, and did a little shopping before we had to head on our way.

A stop to visit Jon’s friend from high school took us to the Hedge House, a restaurant owned by the Lompoc Brewing Company.  It’s in an old house that has been converted to a restaurant, and they really want to make it a gathering spot for the locals – they have open mic poetry and other special events in the evenings.  It seems like a neat place to have in your neighborhood.  I hadn’t heard of Lompoc beer, but I was pleased with the Condor Ale that I had.  And their PABST sandwich really hit the spot.  And no, that’s not a beer sandwich – PABST stands for Provolone, Avocado, Bacon, Salad Greens and Tomato.  YUM – a million times better than Pabst beer!

Hedge House Restaurant in Portland

After a too short visit, it was time to get on the road, and brave the traffic towards home.  Can’t wait until next time!

President’s Day Weekend – Part 3 – The Used Car Salesman of Wine!

In our last installment, we stayed overnight in in Hood River and did a little shopping in the downtown area in the morning…  Just before noon, we headed out to check out a few Hood River wineries. We decided to give Marchesi Vineyards a try – Jon found Marchesi on the internet, and it was also recommended by our server at The Pines the night before.  They focus on the Italian varietals, which tend to be less robust/tannic reds, so I was pretty excited about our visit. Little did we know we would meet the used car salesman of wineries!

Our server was a younger woman who was very pleasant – she guided us through our tasting cheerfully. But shortly after we arrived, an older, bald gentleman started working the room. At first, Jon and I thought that he was the owner the way he was chatting everybody up and seemed to know them, but as we listened, it became clear that he wasn’t, because he kept talking about Franco Marchesi, who is the owner. He talked to us for a couple of minutes, telling how this wine and that one won awards(!), but never offering any details about the wine, or the award for that matter. After a few moments, he went back to working the room, and that’s when we began to marvel at his ability to sell a wine club membership. Of the more than half dozen couples in the room, it seemed that we were the only ones who weren’t signing up for a wine club membership! So we sat and continued with our tasting, watching the master-schmoozer work his magic. He did come back over and tell me about it, and I told him politely thanks, and that we would consider it.

Marchesi Vineyards Tasting Room

Once we finished up with our tasting, the woman server came over and asked us if there was anything else we would like to revisit or try, so I asked if I could try the Pinot Noir that I had seen on the counter and on the tasting menu. She cheerfully brought some over and poured some in my glass – meanwhile Jon revisited the Sangiovese.  Then Mr. Schmoozer came back over and asked us what we were trying, so I told him that I was trying the Pinot.

You would have thought I just told him that I had just given meth to a baby! He blurted out, “The Pinot is only for wine club members! That side of the tasting menu is for our wine club members!” He spent a few more minutes mumbling indignantly (I love that word) about the wine club and then huffed off, disgusted that we, mere mortal non-wine club members, had somehow managed to finagle a taste of the coveted Pinot. After he left, I turned to Jon and told him that I felt that was pretty insulting, and certainly not gracious. The Pinot was on the menu, given to everybody, and open in plain view on the counter. What a jerk! Unfortunately, our experience couldn’t be salvaged after that. I did like their wines, although I didn’t think they were spectacular, but life is too short to be treated poorly just because you don’t want to join the club.

The one good thing about the experience was that Jon and I will have plenty of laughs about Mr. Schmoozer, well into the future. “What?!? You don’t want to join the wine club? Do you know that these are award winning wines? They won awards! You can’t have that Pinot!  Don’t touch that glass!  You are not worthy!”  Hmmm… I didn’t think that kind of pretentiousness existed outside of Napa, but I guess I was wrong.

After our snub at Marchesi, we headed a couple miles down the road to Cathedral Ridge. We were there a couple of years ago, and absolutely loved their Halbtrocken, a Rose that has a proprietary blend (although the tasting room server did tell us it is Riesling based). The Halbtrocken did not disappoint again, tasting like fresh strawberries. This is a perfect wine for enjoying on the deck on a hot summer day. Unlike our experience at Marchesi, the Cathedral Ridge staff do not push sales or the wine club, letting their wines stand on their own. I also was pretty excited to learn that they recently opened a second tasting room in Dundee, Oregon, which is often easier for Jon and I to get to. Maybe now I won’t have to go so long without the Halbtrocken!

Cathedral Ridge Winery

The Awesome Photo Print in the Cathedral Ridge Ladies Room

We left Cathedral Ridge and headed west towards the Willamette Valley, stopping in Troutdale to visit the McMenamin’s Edgefield Inn. The Edgefield used to be the Multnomah County Poor Farm – it was built in 1911 and was where destitute people could go and live if they didn’t have the money to support themselves. In 1963, it became a nursing home and the farm operations were discontinued at that time.  It closed completely in 1982 and fell into disrepair. It was purchased in 1990 and restored by McMenamin’s and is now a hotel complex with a unique, eccentric flavor. The hotel has about 100 rooms, most of which do not have private bathrooms. There is a restaurant, a winery, a brewpub, a pool hall and in the summer they have an outdoor movie theater and picnic area. They also do concerts there in the summer, with fairly well known northwest area bands.

McMenamin’s Edgefield Inn

It looks like it would be a fun place to stay, but book early, because it seems to book up far in advance, especially if you want a private bathroom. We had lunch in one of the bars, and I really enjoyed my chicken sandwich with bacon and avocado. Jon had a salmon salad, and liked it a lot, although it wasn’t a big enough meal for him. We both had hot tea, which was loose leaf, and delicious (I had the Black Mango). It was raining off and on, and cold, so we didn’t do much exploring of the grounds, but it would be a neat place to stay or visit in the summer. I haven’t seen the rooms, but I do imagine it might not be the quietest hotel to stay at though – bring earplugs.

The Fountain at the Edgefield Inn

After our late lunch we got back on the road and headed over to the Willamette Valley. I realized as we were planning this trip that we have not been there since Memorial Day weekend 2011, which is a lot longer than I was thinking it had been. By this time, it was evening, so we headed to the La Quinta for a nice relaxing evening.  After dinner and getting settled, I stayed up late after Jon fell asleep, watching “In Her Shoes,” with Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz. It had been a couple of years since I had seen it, and I enjoyed it all over again – I think Toni Collette is a great actress.  It was a perfect end to a great day.