Volunteering at the California State Fair Wine Competition – 2009

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

This year, I had the honor of being the Captain of the Champagne Squad at the California State Fair wine Competition.  This is perhaps the most prestigious of the wine competitions in California.  To enter, the wines must come from California.  This year there were over 2600 wines entered from almost 600 wineries.  The prize?  The coveted “Double Gold” (where every judge on the panel rates the wine a gold), the “Gold” medal, the “Silver” medal and the “Bronze” medal.  Judges come from all over the wine spectrum; from wine makers, to winery owners, to writers, to restaurant owners, etc.  All judges must demonstrate the sensitive taste palate necessary to discern the subtle characteristics of the wine maker’s efforts.  Judges are subjected to intense tasting over a three day period starting around 9:00 every morning and finishing in the early afternoon.  This is quite an undertaking with around three volunteers for every judge.  I was particularly impressed with the dynamic nature of the volunteer team.  Although they only work together this one time every year, they come together to make a seamless event.  There are volunteers that can claim to have been involved with this event for over twenty years.  Makes me feel young with only three years under my belt.  I have made many friends over these three years and have reacquainted with old friends.  One of the judges was one of my college professors at UC Davis in the late seventies, one I work with every year at the ZAP conference in San Francisco and two were friends from the Society of Wine Educators.  It’s amazing how small our world really is.  In any case, this year I was able to direct the Champagne Squad, with the responsibility to pour the right Sparkling Wine ( as is now referred) at the right time and the right way to show the beverage at it’s finest.  This is the only squad to perform “live pours” for the judges.  A live pour is where the wine is poured directly in front of the judge.  All other wines are poured in a separate room from the judges and then delivered.  Champagne is different because the carbonation and cooler serving temperatures are critical to the flavor profiles.  All in all, a great experience.  Not only to be involved in such a great event, but to be associated with such a highly talented volunteer team.  Life is just a great place to be!

A walk in Irvine Park

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park is the gem of Orange County parks.  It is nestled in the hills in east Orange and was part of the Rancho Lomas de Santiago.  It was ultimately acquired by Jame Irvine and eventually deeded to the county with the stipulation that the 160 acre Oak grove portion should be kept “as natural looking as possible”.  The park is now around 500 acres and somehow has been able to keep that rustic, rural feel when other county parks have succumbed to the sterile, concrete modern look.  In some areas of this park, you can’t help but imagine what it was like back in the last 1800’s when it was a personal picnic ground for James Irvine.  Over last couple years, my wife and I have developed the habit of taking a morning walk on weekends.  There are many articles and reports that well document the benefits of  physical exercise of this type.  However, we have also discovered the mental and marital advantages of walking with the proper surroundings.  We have found a walk around Irvine park to be one our favorites.  First of all, one of the perks is that it gets us up and out of bed early on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  We can often be found at the park as early as 7 to 8 AM.  That’s an accomplishment for us.  Likewise, the morning finds the park quiet with the peacocks actively feeding and a few other early risers grooming their horses at the stalls on site.  Occasionally, you can see and hear the wild parrots in the trees.  The oak grove is still there in the natural portion of the park and while walking through it,  one begins to image what the area was like back around 1870.  A walk around the park takes about an hour and the loop covers the entire park.  Mary and I have also discovered that without the distractions of phone, radio or TV we are free to relax and talk a lot.  We probably talk longer,about more things and make more plans during our walks than any other time.  And, by the time we finish, its time for breakfast…..Which is another story.  So, get up early, grab your spouse (or significant other) go to your favorite place to walk, enjoy the sights, listen to nature, watch life in general and have a great deep talk with the one you love.  And, Oh,by the way, get some exercise at the same time…..

Breakfast With Living History at Disneyland, Oscar Martinez

Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland
Me and a living legend, Oscar, at Disneyland

I had the day off today and decided to go to Disneyland for breakfast.  The morning started off wrong with my favorite place, Cafe Orleans, no longer serving breakfast as of September 2nd.  The next choice was the Riverbell Terrace, next door, but they remodeled it a year or two ago and made it very “fast food” like.  It is no longer a place to go for a relaxing morning breakfast.  To top it off,  Disney decided not to allow coffee refills there.    How do you enjoy a breakfast on only one cup of coffee?  By now I am almost to the point of deciding to leave the park and go elsewhere.  While walking down main street,  I came to the Carnation Cafe and decided to go in.  The cafe is midway down main street and is a great place to enjoy the atmosphere Disney displays during the holidays. It is also a good place to just enjoy watching people.  I had a small two seat table about midway back near the fence.  The menu was simple with a few items.  I usually have “Oscar’s” Breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatos and bacon but decided this morning to have the eggs benedict.  I took a paper with me and was enjoying my coffee while reading the days events when a man came up and started chatting about the fires in the news.  I looked up and it was Oscar,(see the picture above).  Oscar is a living legend around the park.  Heck, he even has a breakfast dish named after him on the menu.  He has been working there for 52 years!!.  Quite an accomplishment for anyone.  He is a walking history book and somewhat of a fixture at the park.  You will often see him in the mornings at the cafe, in his spotless chef’s outfit, walking around the tables chatting with the guests.  If you ask, the waiters will happily go find him for you.  Get him talking about the old days…..What a perk to going to Disneyland.   There are not that many of the old guard still at the park let alone working where they are readily accessable to the guests.   While all this was happening, a young family of four sat down next to me.  It turns out they live in the Portland, Oregon area and come down frequently to visit Disneyland.  This trip included the husband, wife, young son and grandfather.  They were celebrating the wife’s 40th birthday and the husband had set this up as a gift.  However, they all love Disneyland and I think they just needed a reason to come on down.  We talked about family, Kim’s overseas journey, and the joys of being able to come to Disneyland any time you want when you live in Orange County.  It turns out the husband, Boyd, does freelance video and has set up some great stuff.  Check out Globe Trekker and watch a great parody, that includes family, and learn about adventure land at the same time.  All in all, what started as a disappointing morning, ended up with a new adventure that beat anything I was expecting, if Cafe Orleans had still been serving…..I guess if life teaches you anything, it is that you need to be open to whats around you, life just happens….What a blast.