Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Reform (or, Two Angry Jews with Stethoscopes)

I have only one hard and fast rule in life; never ever do anything that you think is a good idea while driving. I don't know why this rule works or how but it has served me well over the years. So, when I thought of the idea for this post while driving back from the America's Grape Country Wine Festival in Dunkirk this past weekend I was immediately disinclined to write it down (yes despite the fact that these are called 'blogs' we still have to write them). Undoubtedly I will pay for this decision to ignore that rule. Anyway here it is;

It had suddenly occurred to me that at the last few festivals I have been to I have encountered very angry female customers. They weren't angry at me, (at least I don't think so). I suspected somehow it had something to do with anxiety over the ongoing health care reform debate. At the Catskill summer fest there was a redhead who came up to the booth. She seemed nice enough despite several intimidating tattoos. She offered to trade a massage for a bottle of wine. Now, not that I mind getting massages from strange women with tattoos in the middle of the Greene County Building parking lot you understand but nevertheless, I declined her generous offer but as she seemed harmless enough and it seemed like a good deal I suggested my daughter, who was helping me at the show, take her up on it instead which promptly she did. When the local tatteuse came to collect her bottle from me she handed me her card from which I deduced from that she was Jewish,--and that was when I noticed she was angry,- very angry.
Probably partly encouraged by the wine, she had launched into a rather lengthy tirade about how she had been mistreated and misdiagnosed for her medical condition. Her frustration was immediately understandable to me. We who share a Jewish heritage but have not followed the societal stereotype to become doctors, lawyers or accountants, needless to say, still have need of those services. We feel we are entitled to a little better care and attention from our fellow jews particularly in the medical profession, it's only natural. This doesn't ever happen but still we feel entitled to rage at the democratic lackadaisalness demonstrated by overworked doctors who seem only anxious to find the next pill to prescribe. I nodded in somewhat abstract agreement as she railed on (in my defense I was distracted, worried about whether my credit card imprinting machine was imprinting correctly). I saw her point. Despite the continuing perceived indifference we persist in expecting a little more personal interest. You know, after 5,000 years you could offer me at least a plate of 'kishkas' with my electrocardiogram. Of course, as I said, it doesn't ever work that way and speaking for all the jews not identified with professional corporation after their name, just so you know, it makes us angry,--and we're packing.

So, when another middle aged woman came up to me this last weekend at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds asking me somewhat angrily, 'Where is your winery' I proudly and abstractedly pointed on my laminated map from Staples smack at the Hudson Valley region.
"All our money you know goes down there you know." she asserted unequivocably, pointing at the region just south of where I was pointing.
"You know what I think?" She persisted emphatically perhaps sensing my indifference.
"What?" already intuiting the answer.
"They should cut this whole thing off, (indicating the metropolitan area) and let it drop into the ocean, or give it to New Jersey."
Now, I had lived in the Finger Lakes for ten years and I was very familiar with this sentiment that occurs with some frequency among some upstaters regarding the city that has the hubris to call itself the same name as the state and always looked at it as a kind of veiled racial and anti-immigrant prejudice.
I really was in no mood to deal with this anti-downstate sentiment and so I immediately pointed out that to New Yorkers we were also considered upstaters, trying vainly to deflect her anger by creating some spurious bond that I did not feel. I had been on my feet for six hours amidst the flies heat and hubbub, selling at most six bottles the whole time. My patience and my internal censor were both laying in a noxious puddle on the concrete floor, then for some reason, just as with this blog, full knowing that I was heading for disaster but unable to control it I launched into the following tirade of my own;
"You know what I would like to cut off?"
"I'd like to cut off my dog's balls."
I was treated to a look of shocked incredulity. I plowed ahead.
"Yeah, he is always peeing on my bed. He's a chihuahua and thinks my
mattress is one big pee pad."
The conjunctive use of the word 'pee' and 'balls' obviously had offended her more than the sentiment.
She didn't say anything else but just walked away probably thinking I was a little nuts.
Well, equating New York City with a pair of Chihuahua balls may have been a little bit crazy but I was one angry jew and I really felt much healthier after I
said this, as if I had had a mental massage. So, this is my response to the health care reform debate; Whatever they do it's fine with me so long as they don't cut off my balls or send an unlicensed massage therapist to kill my grandma and thanks yes, I do feel better already. Would you like a plate of 'kishkas' with that?
or, perhaps some rocky mountain oysters...?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pitchman's Paradise (Death of a Salesman)

In the recent swirl of news coverage and subsequent furor over Michael Jackson's death the contemporaneous event of the passing of famous pitch-man Billy Mays was largely eclipsed. Mays was, even to the most casual observer, a true American original, a huckster, part con-man part show-man part self made entrepreneur in the mold of P.T. Barnum. He was a marketer extraordinaire.

Marketing, though widely despised among college graduates (and particularly feared by English majors), is in fact the grease with which the wheels of progress of the American dream proceed, it is also, when one comes down to it, largely a social interaction which is at root heartless and hollow, one which puts the practitioner in the role of observer, removed somewhere above the fray, calculating, making minute adjustments to his 'patter', the fuel for the engine of sales. What made Mays so distinctive and unique was that by sheer energy he lifted himself above that paradigm, he transcended the transcendence, he would have none of that, he was not just an inflated ego looking with a jaundiced eye for the next mark in the crowd, he was what most marketing experts will confess they dread and despise most; a sincere salesman. It is difficult to dissociate one's own ego from the process of sales. We are all marketing ourselves along with the product at least part of the time, Mays on the other hand wasn't selling anything but the product. That is what made him unique.

As you may have guessed, I have been thinking about wine marketing a lot in this season of farmer's markets, festivals and wine shows. There is in fact a certain skill one acquires wherein one can accentuate certain features of the wine and de-accentuate others depending on the buyer. However, when it comes down to it, the wine is either good or bad, it is either sick or healthy, only after that is it a wine you either like or don't like. You can, I have found, sell someone a bottle of wine that fundamentally they do not like. The question is, --why bother

I could write more here about the Bounty of the Hudson festival (my first real exposure to my fellow HV winemakers en-masse), my stint at Union Square Market, (the culmination of a lifelong dream), the Cold Spring farmer's market (stranger in paradise) or the upcoming Catskill event however, my feeling would be that I was merely telling tales out of school. The various and sundry shenanigans that go on to cast these different venues as mini green Peyton Places are the stuff of good story but in the end, unless they are transmuted into art by some means, it remains basically forgettable gossip which interests the participants more than anyone else. Thus I don't find them a suitable topic for a venue such as this, blogs, which are by definition a rather rawer form of communication.

Instead, let me talk about a subject that was close to the heart of pitchman Billy Mays, in his case as found in that (I have since determined somewhat overrated) product called Oxiclean and in wine in a process known and dreaded by all wine makers; oxidation. The fact is, unlike Oxiclean, the results of oxidation in wine are difficult to predict or quantify. The reasons for this are several;

1. there is always going to be a certain amount of oxidation occurring in wine
(unless it is pressed and bottled in outer space)
2. the oxidative processes have different outcomes depending on the compounds
in the wine which are oxidated (like the expression of genes in offspring some
characteristics become evident and some remain hidden) and,
3. the perception of oxidation is to a large degree related not to the mere presence
of oxidated compounds but to their volatility ('Seniors on Hondas' and 'Hells
Angels' are both motorcycle clubs).

Consequently, the term oxidized may refer to a variety of phenomena that occur in the wine and therefore the term is generally thrown around rather loosely to characterize almost any fault in the wine. The two most easily identifiable undesirable characteristics of oxidation are known to wine drinkers as either browning or production of acetylaldehyde. Browning is always evident to the eye, though moreso in white wines (but it can be seen in red wines with some effort) and acetylaldehide production is immediately always apparent as an overpowering nail polish smell. Both these are produced by oxidation but the former is generally a result of the oxidation of metallic compounds in the wine, while the second is a result of the oxidation of ethanols. It is to prevent the oxidation of ethanol from proceeding to volatilized acetylaldehyde that winemakers introduce SO2 which interrupts, but does not entirely prevent this process from occurring. The link in the chain just before the production of acetylaldehyde is the creation of Hydrogen Peroxide. The blondes in the reading audience may know that this compound tends to bleach out color and also reduce fruitiness. Just to complicate matters there are a whole 'nother set of compounds in wine which may oxidize. These are called phenolics and when these oxidize they produce something called quinones. (Armando Quinones also happens to be my neighbor. He works for UPS and plays in the college orchestra with me and the other bass players.)

So, (to sum up--I was told by someone very knowledgeable to keep these things short), as you can see, the effects of oxidation in wine can be varied and pernicious and can lead to anything from a loss of fruitiness in blondes to the presence of bass players in the finished wine. All I can tell you is that I am as confused as you at this point. Perhaps we need someone like Billy Mays to clear all this up! Perhaps we can come out with a product called OxiCab, or OxiMerlot, something which both stains and cleans your clothes at the same time. Just send in $19.95 and we'll add this second set of handy lint reducing wine glasses.

P.S. After an autopsy, the coroner announced that there had been cocaine in Billy Mays' blood. Another hero with clay feet.