8.11am, Thursday 18th March, Best Western Orange Plaza Motel, Orange, Orange County, CA, USA
Here’s one for you straight up!
Q. Where do you not want to be?
A. On the crazy roads overpopulated by mental drivers in the Los Angeles to Orange County corridor!
Q. Where do you REALLY not want to be?
A. On those roads in a tiny little Aveo rental car, kind of like driving a black jelly bean in and out through the legs of those giant SUVs, pickups (utes), trucks etc .
Have a look at my little black buzzbomb – powered I’m sure by not much more than two big rubber bands – parked in relief at our motel last night. It’s scary stuff getting along in six lanes of traffic where everything towers around you – very intimidating. I got my first rude gestures from another driver yesterday – and he cut across 3 lanes in front of me to exit right whilst I was coming in one lane to the left to avoid the drama! You have to be in it to fear it.
Needless to say, I shall be looking forward to getting back to the Bay Area and my beloved BART train!
So to our fortunes this last couple of days in Southern California (apart from the endless sunshine, which is why – the locals tell me – everybody wants to be here). Firstly though – for the gals more than the boys – I will just bring you up to speed on the status of The Quest to cross paths with actor Nathan Fillion (did you watch “Trucker” yet?). Well, pleased to say that karma had a great deal to do with it, and mission is more or less accomplished. I went up to LA after working Tuesday in OC, and even though I didn’t have a ticket for the soldout Cast of Castle session at the Paley Center For Media, I thought I’d drop by anyway, nothing lost, just to see if there was any standing room only. It all started at 7pm and I didn’t get there till 7.30, but I did have the parking fairy with me as I got a slot right out the front! In Beverly Hills! For free! (I’m sure that will cost me somewhere down the track.) So I wandered in and had a chat to the gal at the desk and she said that any other time she would have, but this event was so oversold it was chockers!
But lucky for me, they were televising a sneak preview of Part 1 of a double header episode of “Castle” that is to be screened next Monday night – before the question and answer session with the cast on stage – and they were broadcasting it onto a big screen out in the foyer. And I was allowed to watch it out there with the gal from the Center. So there I was perched on the lounge in the foyer, just reclining after a hard day in the trade with my favourite show with my favourite actor on the B IG screen. Lucky days.
Then, with about 10 minutes of the show to go, some folks wandered out as a group to see the climax of the episode … and I looked twice as they looked familiar. Yes folks – the entire cast of the show came out and stood right there with us and cheered the last explosion. I was right behind this big lump of a lovely bloke – oh yes – looked very much like Nathan Fillion … because it was! I was very cool folks, didn’t ask for an autograph or photo, just propped! Then they went through to the auditorium and did the interview session, and this was also broadcast on the same big screen so I just enjoyed the whole thing.
As the actors came through afterward, I got the autograph on an old cast pic from the “Firefly” TV show where our boy does a magic job on the darkish character Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Didn’t get a piture of the boy, but did get a great shot with the lass who regularly steals the show, Tamala Jones, who playes the medical examiner, and with Jon Huertas, who plays Detective Javier Esposito. So not bad from setting the quest with Kirsty back at the office at Yalumba in February to crossing paths in LA six weeks later. Lot better than the four years it took to cross paths with Hugh Grant!
The Quests are a lot of fun actually, and it becomes good fodder for wine dinners – and essentially gives you something else to think about as you spend nearly every waking moment consumed by the job or figuring out how to do the job!
And so to the business of the business!
Every day there is this overwhelming presence of “the state of the economy” that belts in from every direction, and if you listened to everything and took it in, you’d get on a plane and go home, plant your own vegetables and hide! But in truth you have to take a deep breath and try and keep some perspective, as every coin has the two sides. Yes there’s 10-12% unemployment – but this means 88-90% employment. When I went to hire a car for these four days, there was not one car to be had at the Orange County John Wayne airport. I had to go to an off-airport rental company, and even then, got one of the last cars – my little black jelly bean – which goes like a rocket and I’m starting to love it! And it was $100 a day! Now this was because demand was through the roof. Why? Becasue there was a huge convention in town, plus folks are starting to arrive for spring break.
That must be an indication of things on the improve.
I went to Whole Foods yesterday to buy lunch – hot chicken & veg soup, and made up a cold chicken salad and edadame bean dinner. The store was busy and the car park for the shopping centre in general was full. When I parked at the Airpark at Oakland Airport – it was already three quarters full. All my flights (Southwest – I love ya) the last two weeks were full, and every Starbucks or Peets coffee place I see is flat out. Try and get a park at the Home Depot weekday or weekend near Pleasanton where I am! And check the queues at the In & Out Burger places – both inside and the drive-throughs. Things are on the move.
There was an article in the paper this morning about the tax preparation companies being down 10-15% this year as folks did their own. But the company selling tax software was up by 10% and one tax specialist said they’d spent a year fixing the mistakes folks had made when they did their own returns. So it is really about trying to keep an even keel and get out there and be part of the revival – with a big slab of positive outlook – and for us that means knocking on doors, opening bottles, telling a good story, and being prepared to talk to consumers 25 hours a day!
Which brings me to our day in Orange County with Kevin. We went to stores that knew Australia well and were still able to give folks a pleasant surprise with the wines we were pouring on the day. We went to restaurants that know us well and want to keep going with us, as they see things on the improve. We went to a country club that is travelling well and that we want to do a consumer dinner with. We talked to buyers and folks from the shop floor, and covered a lot of ground in between. We heard all sorts of opinions about what Australian wine was – the styles that were manipulated and muscular, about the lack of regionality, about the lack of personality, about the sheer lack of Australian wine personnel visiting the market.
Then – when we poured our wines – we found The Force Was With Us!
We heard balance – fruit, tannin and acid. We heard integrity and true to region. We heard pleasantly surprised at the direction with the Wild Ferment Chardonnay, and elegance of the Eden Valley Shiraz parcels cofermented with viognier. We heard encouragement for an against-the-grain blend where the Mourvedre (Mataro) parcel was the dominator at 60%, and yes it would be perfect with osso buco or caramelized sweet potatoes. We heard yes! … return Grenache to its marquee front label single varietal status. And we heard “Can I have some of that?” for the spectacular drinking right now 2008 Botrytis Viognier.
I’m just reporting the facts folks.
So thanks a huge amount Kevin, for taking me out and about whilst you’re still coughing and spluttering your way out of a cold. And thanks Johnny at Hi Time and Greg at Southern Hemisphere (and Oliver) and Mike at the Amazing Grape – for continuing to wave the Australian flag, and for your staunch support. And at the stoves – thanks Britta (of Britta’s!) – your chicken noodle soup is the stuff of legend and powered me through the whole trip down to LA and having a tilt at the Castle Quest – without another stop! She’s had the Y Viognier on by the glass for ever, and we say thanks a huge amount!
And I’m going to go out into the fray today bearing all this in mind, and with any luck we’ll win a few more hearts and palates today – or win them back.
Through to LA tonight after a bit of a windfall yesterday – we’ve got a chance to slide some of our wines into a spot they haven’t been before – so fingers crossed that tomorrow’s meet and taste goes well!