Clarifying a paradigm

 It is taken for granted that low yield and small berries make better wine. Now no one would suggest it is that simple, but often I feel as though winemakers/growers strive to reduce yields and berry size because that’s just what you do to improve quality. For anyone who has heard Mark Matthews speak, or taken one of his classes you will quickly learn that he has a penchant for challenging paradigms or at least clarifying the argument. In his vine physiology class he is quick to point out that lower yields typically produce bigger berries. And yes, to get the smallest berries minimal pruning, or high yields is the way to go. So what are we to make of this and what do we make of the extremely low yields in certain appellations of Europe?

The Matthews lab has been looking into the impacts of yield and water stress on berry physiology for some time now and recently put together an excellent summary clarifying the paradigm of yields and berry size. This diagram summarizes an accumulation of research predominantly performed on Cabernet Sauvignon in Oakville of the Napa Valley. What they discovered is intuitive, it is not low yields or small berries per se that drive quality, but how the berry/yield arrived at that size, or as they put it, its journey. For example, studies demonstrated that if the journey to low yields involved cluster thinning at veraison, there would be minimal if any sensory impact on the wine. In contrast, if the yield was reduced via water deficits (particularly pre-veraison as often occurs in Europe) then the wines become less veggie and more fruity, i.e. generally accepted to be better.

Many people may read this and say Of course, we’ve known this all along. Hmmm, well I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but next time expresses it more succinctly and clearly. Most of what it seems people understood is that lower yields – regardless of the method – improved quality. It just doesn’t seem to be true, at least in Napa.

Donuts fallen from Grace Part 2

Ah yes, coffee – the second reason of the donut’s downfall. Twenty years ago, if a person wanted a good cup of coffee, the donut shop was seen as the keeper of the bean. If a trucker needed a caffeine fix, the 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts was the prime location.

Then Starbucks entered the equation. Starbucks, whose selection of scones, cakes and yes, even donuts can best be described with the phrase “(Sigh). Well…at least they tried”. Here in Seattle, Starbucks provides one or two selections made by the dependable Top Pot doughnuts, where they get equal billing with the “too-dry” scones and the “what-were-they-thinking”? cinnamon sticks. Outside of Seattle? *shrugs* It’s not a priority for them – at least not while they’re pimping their Banana Coconut Frappuccino Blended Coffee.

Banana and Coconut? In a coffee?


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I notice the sign above the entrance – “Sunrise Donuts”. Clearly here was a shop who knew what was going on with their donuts. Their sign was telling the world when the best time was for picking up their product.

And here was I, at their doorstep at six thirty in the “what-in-gods-name-am-I-doing-at-this-time-in-the” morning. I am a lucky person at times, because early morning is the best time to get great donuts. The reason? Early morning is when most donuts get made.

Krispy Kreme understands something that no one else seems to be able to grasp. Donuts (and bear claws, apple fritters and maple bars) are best within 30 minutes out of the oil. Their neon lights flashing “FRESH NOW” have clued people in world wide of the proper moment of donut bliss. Glazed or not glazed, a fresh donut from Krispy Kreme is a great donut. Too bad they don’t know how to balance their checkbook.

I leave “Sunrise Donuts” with a white bag containing an apple fritter and a donut glazed so fine that I swear I could see my reflection in it. I scurry on towards my workplace and set up a makeshift breakfast nook upon my workdesk. Along with a simple cup of drip coffee (with a bit of cream), I indulge in the fresh pastries. The Apple fritter is first up, and it tears easily into my mouth. The pastry is light and fluffy, and the glaze gives it an almost imperceptible crunch as it sweetens the homemade apple filling. Beneath all of this is the subtle hint of oil, which reminds me that this is a treat and not an everyday indulgence.

While eating the glazed donut, my mind concocts various punishments for the atrocities that Hostess and Little Debbie have foisted upon us. I decide upon having to force their various board of directors watch people enjoy freshly made donuts while all they have is their meager products. Oh, and if they put down their donut, we get to chuck it at them. I believe that’d be proper penance.

Donuts fallen from Grace

I leave for work at six in the what-in-gods-name-am-I-doing-at-this-time-in-the morning. It’s not a choice I make freely. If I wait any longer than that, my 35 minute commute expands exponentially as the morning drags on.

At the end of my drive, about a mile away from my workplace, sits an unobtrusive plaza, with an unobtrusive donut shop. The shop is so unobtrusive, that it took me several months to even notice it existed, and several more before I thought that it might be in my interest to see what wares they sell.

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Donuts and other related pastries such as apple fritters, bear claws and crullers are odd beasts. Much like cheese, sausage and a plethora of other examples, the tradition and taste of donuts has been blasphemed by the likes of Hostess, the bakeries of Safeway, Kroger’s and the countless other companies who feel the urge to wrap donuts in cellophane and allow them to sit in vending machines for months on end.

Located in a vending machine not 30 steps from my office is a package containing a “cinnamon roll”. It has been there since the new vending machine was put in place in late April. I can tell you, without opening this package, how it will taste. The icing, with its solid stark white color, will be overly sweet, designed to cover-up the fact that the pastry portion of the roll will be dense, dry and taste of styrofoam. Each bite taken from the roll will be a chore, with it taking up to 3 or 4 minutes to fully masticate the pastry to the point where I can even get it down my throat. Afterwards, each bite will sit like a stone deep within the recess of my stomach, painfully reminding me for the rest of the day that I had made an unwise eating decision.

I can make this guess on how this pastry will taste because 99% of every donut, maple bar, cinnamon roll, crueller, bear claw, danish or apple fritter made to sit upon a shelf for a period longer than two days tastes this way. A dense, stale donut is a bad donut.

The donut has earned its place in pop culture history. It’s iconic. Police are supposed to love them. Homer Simpson eats several a day. In the Route 66 of my imagination, I see one or two donut shops with 30 foot donuts placed above, alerting travelers on where to get their sugar buzz.

I have no evidence to prove this, but I think that this icon has seen better days. I don’t see as many donut shops as I used to. Outside of a business meeting or two I don’t hear of people eating donuts much anymore. Long ago, I can recall of special Saturday mornings where a dozen or so were brought home, now a donut is something that is purchased singularly, alongside the Caff Latte.

What Your Wine Choice Says About Your Personality

A common question during night outs or dinner outings is whether to have red or white wine. Every person has a preferred variety of drink. The type of wine that someone drinks can say a lot about his or her personality. Since human beings are complicated and mysterious creatures, they deserve a drink that suits them. Below is a look at what your wine choice says about your personality.


White Zinfandel


Since this wine has high alcohol content, it is ideal for those who live life to the fullest. A person who chooses White Zinfandel is a free spirit and adventurous soul. He or she enjoys lying on the beach during the day and dancing the night out under club lights. Such an individual is usually quite versatile, is always willing to take part in an adventure, and is inclined towards passionate liaisons.




For anyone who chooses Chardonnay, chances are that he or she has a brassy and bold personality, just like its flavor. Such a person orders it wine without even looking at other types because they know it is a safe choice. The chameleon is his or her spirit animal as it is possible to adapt to virtually any social situation. The person is always imagining new ideas and can convince friends to join him or her in any activity.




People who drink Merlot often think deeply about life and tend to reflect about it in between sips. The ideal way of spend a Friday night for such an individual is reading a good book while sipping some tea. At times, the person goes through old pictures on the phone or in photo albums just to relive old memories.


Wine Cooler


For a person whose choice of drink is a wine, he or she probably never experimented with good wine previously. Another likely scenario is that the individual still lives at home and tends to �steal’ his or her parents’ wine coolers from. While these wines may be the person’s specialty for now, it is advisable to try out other types in order to up the game.


Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir is the choice of clever and charming but complicated people. These are the type of individuals who, if granted a single wish, they would most likely ask for additional wishes. They follow their instincts and wouldn’t hesitate to splurge money so that they can have a good time.




Shiraz is for a person who happens to be the life of the party. Such a person has no qualms throwing caution to the wind and dancing on top of tables. He or she is a genuine free spirit who always tries new things without putting into consideration the consequences, and can handle anything that life throws at him or her.




People who take Riesling are nice and friendly people. Although they are genuine individuals, others find it difficult seeing through the pleasant visage to observe the real them. A person who chooses this wine offers great advice, and is always the first to help a friend in trouble. He or she loves listening to friends and supporting them.