This evening, sometime shortly after 11:00, I'm expecting a phone call from one of the kindest souls I have ever met.  We met just over a decade ago at a seminar in Toronto hosted by the Writer's Guild of Canada.  Over the years we've met on occasion for coffee in the city to discuss our respective projects.  We offer each other opinion, information and advice on all things writing.  The best part?  Neither one of us takes anything personally.  In fact, I welcome her criticism!  I'm grateful for it!  She makes my writing better, tighter, and smarter. :^)

Point being, IT'S MY EDITOR'S BIRTHDAY!  Tonight, I am officially "tasting" my first wine EVER to celebrate!  She's picked up a Shiraz and I've picked up a bottle of Muskoka Lakes Winery's Cranberry Wine.  Word is, THIS is how all of this fancy "tasting" business is done.

Not sure if this stuff will have any legs or not (no grapes in the wine that I'm tasting).  Not a clue how my olfactory bulb will respond during the sniff stage (will it do the funky chicken or fan itself and swoon?).  I'm pretty confident orthonasal refraction will be able to tell this stuff is made out of cranberries because that's what it says here right on the bottle (if they're not in there I'm in trouble).  Sure can't wait to find out if my mucus covered olfactory nerves are working!!!

For those of you who'd like to better navigate the process, more in-depth info on "tasting" wine found HERE.


PS - Looking for something fun to do this winter?  Check out Muskoka Lakes Winery's generous 2 for 1 offer.
You may find our Facebook page HERE.

For more information on Theobroma Fine Chocolates International Inc. and their signature icewine truffles, please visit their website HERE.

Thank you and good luck!

Truth be told, this isn't even remotely close to what I was really looking for.  Apparently we have these fancy things called wine caddies.  You know, in the event some would rather sit their wine aside vs. cracking it open.  Call me crazy, but I thought that's what fridges, and wine racks, and cellars were for.  I guess I have a whole lot more to learn about wine than I thought I did.

I suppose it does help make for a much nicer presentation.  You know, for the odd retirement gift, birthday present, or the man who has everything (I believe today these guys are better known as "Hoarders").
Makes perfect sense to pick up a Drummer.  In fact, you could pick up a Drummer, a Fiddler, an Electric Guitar Player, a Sax Player and a Piano Player and have the makings of a really nice little band!  Don't forget to pick up a Jet and a Pharmacist.  I hear all of the better bands usually need those.  Might be a good idea to pick up a Paramedic, too.  You know, just in case.

They are really very lovely pieces of art.  The designer, Guenter Scholz, has a whole lot of talent.  For a better set of examples, see H & K Steel Sculpture's inventory HERE.  

Photo source:
If you're like me, you've probably figured wine is pretty much just made from grapes.  Take some grapes, add a little water and stir in some sunshine, maybe the occasional frost, stomp on them, stick them in a barrel, hammer a cork into it and Bob's your uncle.  One day, someone comes along, there could be a tap or some tubing involved, and the wine winds up in a bottle.  Maybe a cork comes next, could be some wax or a screw top lid, and maybe some foil.  ...Right?

The more digging I do to educate myself about wine, the more "What in the?" moments I seem to be having here in my office.  For others like myself who might not be so experienced in wine, believe it or not, some wines are made with animal products.  Here's the rub.  

Some wines are made with what they call finings.  Finings are things added while brewing wine to remove organic compounds.  This process can improve the clarity of a wine, or alter it's flavour or fragrance by helping eliminate things like, among others, proteins, polyphenols, and sulfides.  Sulfides, for example, can cause bad odours.  Most of these things, including the finings, wind up in a sediment that's tossed out once this process is finished.  Unfortunately, they can't remove all traces of the finings.  For a closer look at finings, you have to check THIS out.

What are these animal-related finings, exactly?  Not all of the below ingredients appear in every single wine, and keep in mind a lot of finings used today come from plants or other compounds.  If you have some concerns regarding your diet, really helpful information HERE from the Vegan Wine Guide.

Warning:  If you're a vegetarian, or a vegan, maybe a little sensitive, you might want to throw up a little bit in your mouth right now.

Some animal-related finings:
  • Blood ("Sangre de toro" means "bull's blood," for example).  Animal blood has been outlawed in the US and France.
  • Egg whites (or dried albumen).
  • Milk (or proteins from milk called caseins).
  • Fish swim bladders (or isinglass), typically from sturgeon.
  • Gelatin (extracted from boiled cow or pig hooves and sinews or tendons).
How to find a suitable wine without any animal products?  Check the Vegan Wine Guide or you can simply Google vegetarian or vegan wines for other directories, recommendations, and listings.  

All creatures great and small,
Photo source:  Wikipedia
Launch ceremonies for new ships have been celebrated as far back as ancient times.  Thing is, ceremonies back then were very different than today's.  Good thing, too.  I can't imagine Princess Catherine slaughtering a sheep or a lady-in-waiting to launch an ocean liner or a cruise ship today.  Certainly not in her condition.

Long before the days of popping corks and marching bands, before any flag waving and all of this Mickey Mouse stuff, our ancestors dreamed up all sorts of interesting ways to launch their boats, including human sacrifice. 
(Kinda makes you wanna cut Tinker Bell to get the whole thing over with, doesn't it?)

That's right.  At one point in time people would kill to launch a big new boat.  The Vikings and folks in the Pacific Islands were known to offer up human sacrifices when they launched their dragonships, longships, and war canoes.  They'd rub their offering's blood on the bow of their boat before it hit the water to please the gods of the sea.  Word is the Turks sacrificed a sheep and used its blood while Babylonians offered up an ox.  With the rise in Christianity, human and animal sacrifices became a thing of the past.  Instead of sacrificing slaves or POWs, or common barnyard animals, some ceremonies began revolving around red wine.

In jolly old England circa the 17th Century, crews began celebrating ship launches with royalty or nobles on hand and what they called a standing cup ceremony.  The celebrant would take a sip from the chalice and the remaining red wine, possibly a symbol of blood, would be poured on the deck and down the bow of the boat.  Afterwards, for whatever reason, this fancy cup would be tossed overboard into the ocean.  Because the cup was made of precious metals, this started to become too pricey.  They eventually replaced the standing cup ceremony by simply smashing a bottle of red wine across a ship's bow.  I would imagine this process would be a whole lot more civilized, too.  I bet a fellow could only stand for so long shivering in the cold on deck or dockside while a haughty official, with a big ornate golden chalice worth more than this poor sod's house, droned on and on and on.  Imagine it.  One poor officer standing there after one standing cup ceremony too many, you know he's bound to snap.  "For God's sake, man!  We're all freezing here!  Just use the bloody bottle!"  

In other parts of the world, they'd launch ships by blessing them with good old-fashioned water.  For ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, pleasing the likes of Neptune and Poseidon was a must.  They poured water on their boats to protect their seamen before they launched.  Apparently the French launched their ships in the 18th and 19th Centuries with water as well.  Word is on Wikipedia that a godfather for the new vessel would hand a godmother a bouquet of flowers and together they'd announce the ship's name while a priest at the ceremony blessed the ship with holy water, and they lived happily ever after.

Apparently US Navy records dating back to the 19th Century indicate they christened American warships with water from significant American rivers.  Puja ceremonies in India involved smashing coconuts (I guess the pumpkins were booked?).  In Japan, they'd craft a new axe with a silver blade for luck to apparently ward off the devil.  The good luck axe would cut the ropes that tethered the ships that waited in slips that were angled on slopes that swallowed the fly that wiggled and jiggled and - whoops!  A great trove of information regarding other launches HERE.

Why champagne?  When did champagne enter the picture?  Likely with the rise of big steel American ships.  You can't watch that Disney video up above and tell me Americans don't live for show.  More expensive boats meant more expensive booze.  Give a Canadian a lawn chair, a bottle of pretty much anything, and we're good to go.  

Thinking of picking up a boat this summer and christening her yourself?  Note you can't just smack a bottle of bubbly across the bow of a recreational boat because it could do some serious damage.  Important tips HERE.

Funny thing, isn't it?  Guy builds a boat, next thing you know it he's building sacrificial alters, taking the day off work to worship some hairy old guy who lives on the bottom of the ocean, starts crafting fancy gold encrusted drinking cups and stocking up on fireworks (not to mention hiring the likes of a Lucas Arts or a Spielberg).  Woman creates a life?  She gets a washcloth on her forehead, maybe a little Tylenol, and it's back to work.

To progress,

Photo source:  YouTube
Or to ask an even bigger, burning question - What in the heck's a vintage?

In wine-speak, a vintage is a wine from a particular year or crop.  It's basically the year the grapes were harvested to make a particular wine.  The quality of the wine produced can be influenced by everything from what the weather was like that year in the area to, well...  Have you been watching the stars?

According to folklore, for generations many would look to the night sky to predict the quality of their wine year after year.  The more comets they saw per season, the more likely they would produce a premium crop.  These were called comet vintages.  Back in the day, did they draw any correlation between clear night skies and ideal weather conditions?  Did they notice the cloudier it was, the less likely they'd notice any comet activity?  Which do you think would excite someone more? A meteor shower in the dead of night or a rain shower come high noon?  

Did you know too much rain can make grapes rot and produce mildew?  Too much rain right before the grapes are harvested changes the grape's sugar and acidity levels, too.  According to THIS SITE, several weeks of dry weather prior to harvest produces a much better grape.  ...Think you'd see more night sky activity if there wasn't any rain?
One of the most expensive bottles of wine on record is an 1811 Chateau d'Yquem aka The Comet Vintage.  More on this wine here on YouTube.  I wonder what it will taste like when the buyer actually tries it sometime in 2017? :^)

Add into the mix the power of suggestion.  We're all familiar how the power of suggestion can influence so many.  If your kids know the Elf on the Shelf is watching them, you know you're going to have a easier time of it come bedtime.  They might even help clean out the dishwasher or clean out the litter box just to score brownie points.  What happens when farmers who don't have access to the type of information that we have today - meteorological maps and storm-tracking systems online and on TV - or if they don't have to contend with things like light pollution, never mind smog and haze that block the view - notice an increase in the number of comets over a season?  What happens if you witnessed a comet that was bigger and brighter than all of the others?  If you believed in comet vintages, think you'd be easily convinced you have an extra spectacular vintage on your hands that year?

So what do we do come 2013?  How do we determine if a wine from a certain area is truly worth a buy?  What to look for?  Check with Google.  Somebody out there somewhere has likely already sampled the wine that you're looking to purchase but there are a few things you still have to look for, including the power of suggestion.  That's right, it's still here.  Ask yourself where any particular critic was during a review.  Are they friendlier with one brand over another for any particular reason?  Do they travel independently?  Who covers their expenses?  

Still, if there's any hint of truth with the notion of comet vintages, check out what sort of crops we can expect THIS YEAR.  


Photo source:  YouTube.
Check out the prototype of Wall-Ye the robot.  It was designed in France to help manage vineyards.  At just over $30K a head, or the price of a car, among other things, I'd be curious to find out the lifespan of this little robot and if it'll run a full 24/7 or if it will just peter out come sunset?  YouTube video HERE.

I'd also be curious to find out if someone has to stay glued to a controller and prompt the vineyard robot, or will Wall-Ye handle decisions independently?  Was Millot checking email on that iPad or manoeuvring the machine?  What's more tedious, really?  Taking soil samples and pruning vines - or watching a slow little robot taking soil samples and pruning vines?  Just how much does one have to pay a teckie to operate a vineyard robot in the event it requires an iPadded sidekick to fully function?  When you consider the price tag on this seemingly slow little fellow, it makes me wonder if it might be more cost-effective to simply pay a little more for speedier traditional labour? 

What if someone hacked into Wall-Ye?  Could they go rogue and destroy a vineyard or do some serious damage elsewhere?  What if something shorted out on this little fellow?  Would he just sit there all day or sound the alarm?

Even better.  What if a ship comes down from outer space and Wall-Ye hooks up with an EVE?  You know, one of those saucy little Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluators.  She might swoop in on some sort of a recognizance mission, and the next thing you know it, Wall-Ye's hitching a ride on the mothership.  What would you make of your little vineyard robot then, huh?  I saw Wall-E, people.  I know he had a mind of his own.

To tech,

Photo source: YouTube
Did you know the word "wine" has been around since before the 12th Century?  Swing by Merriam-Webster and that's what they'll tell you there.  
Middle English win, from Old English wīn; akin to Old High German wīn wine; both ultimately from Latin vinum wine, perhaps of non-IE origin; akin to the source of Greek oinos wine  First Known Use: before 12th century
Know what else was happening around and about that time in history?  Aside from things like the Knights of the Round Table, the burning of witchesgothic art and medieval music?  Seems Christians created the notion of the existence of purgatory.  Let that roll off your tongue.  Purrr-gahhh-torrrr-eeeeeee.  Come on now, people.  Wine?  That's it?  We drink glasses of wine today because some old Latin dude called this stuff "vinum?"

You're telling me that hundreds of years ago, folks would invest all of that time tending to grapes, harvesting crops, and stomping on vats full of slimy rotting fruit - and the end result of all of their trouble was  Isn't a word like wine more of a whimper?  A hiccup?  A burp?  
Origin of PURGATORY Middle English, from Anglo-French or Medieval Latin; Anglo-French purgatorie, from Medieval Latin purgatorium, from Late Latin, neuter of purgatorius purging, from Latin purgare
See, I totally get purgatory.  The act of purging.  Squeezing out the bad stuff.  You know if you squeeze anything that's been rotting at the back of your fridge the laws of gravity are bound to kick in.  That overripe rotting whateveritwas is going to drip or ooze or plop in one direction.  Downwards.  So any rotten scoundrels deserve a purgatory.  Go ahead and purge the bloody hell out of them.  I'm game.  But wine still doesn't quite sit right with me.  It doesn't make any sense.  I mean, these guys were surrounded with names like "Babylon" and "Mesopotamia."  They had kids with names like "Bartholomew" and "Beatrix."  

"Wine."  Are you serious?  That's it?

What if we had to come up with a name for wine today?  I mean, these days we've got fancy names for drinks like "Redbull" and "Venti Mocha Frappuccino."  I don't think "wine" would even make the cut.  Even the World Meteorological Organization could come up with a better name for wine than "wine."  These guys have already dreamed up names for this year's crop of Atlantic Tropical Storms.  Names like like "Humberto," "Lorenzo," and "Jerry."  

Host:  What can I get you?
Heather:  I'll have a glass of jerry, please.
Host:  Red or white?
Heather:  Red, I suppose.  A nice full-bodied red jerry.  Everyone on my Facebook page is telling me to stick with a nice red jerry.  That is, of course, if you think he'll fit in my glass.

You know, if we were to go back to the original source, back to where it really all started, I should really be looking into Merriam-Webster's definition for grapes.  Where did the word "grapes" come from in the first place...?
Middle English, from Anglo-French grape grape stalk, bunch of grapes, grape, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German krāpfo hook
Whoa.  In hindsight, I suppose "wine" isn't so bad after all.  Seems if the Germans had their say, we could be toasting with glasses full of krap!

Chang Bhala,
Believe it or not, there's been a recent resurgence in this once popular poor man's drink.  That's right.  Back in the day, many artists and writers couldn't afford to drink wine, so they turned to absinthe in order to, apparently, liberate their minds.  Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were some of this spirit's biggest - if not poorest - fans.  Their fondness for this drink can also be credited for its surge in popularity.

Historically, there has been a lot of misinformation in circulation about absinthe for quite some time - with thanks, in part, to the temperance movement and European wine associations as far back as the Victorian age.  During the 1800s, when wine producers realized absinthe was taking up a fair chunk of their market, they were only too glad to spread rumours and crazy talk about it.  Some years later, the temperance movement in the States took the misinformation and ran with it.

Many compared absinthe to nasty psychedelic drugs if for no other reason than because it was made from botanicals.  Others described absinthe as being a hallucinogenic, but this myth was merely manifested, if not celebrated, by a growing fan base of artsy types because they could afford to drink a heckuva lot more absinthe vs. wine.  Naturally, because they could afford to drink more, they'd become a whole lot tipsier.  By drinking larger doses of this cheaper booze, they were more prone to alcoholism, thus a change in temperament and their ability to function.  They'd be more prone to delusions and outrageous behaviour as the disease progressed.  

Others became frantic over absinthe's high alcohol content without acknowledging it was meant to be diluted before it was consumed.  Absinthe is typically mixed with a combination of sugar and water.  In Hemingway's case, he'd mix one jigger (1 - 2 ounces or 30 to 30 millilitres) of this spirit with champagne instead.  It wasn't uncommon for Hemingway to toss back 3 - 5 of his so-called "Death in the Afternoon" cocktails per sitting.  Again, was he delusional?  Was he hallucinating?  You try pounding back five glasses of champagne, with or without the other added ingredients, and walking a straight line.  Absinthe eventually became so popular its sales surpassed wine's.
A sign of the times?  Above, Edgar Degas's painting, L'Absinthe (1876), was simply a portrait he'd painted of friends at the Café de la Nouvelle-Athenes in Paris.  The café was frequented by the likes of Degas, Matisse, and Van Gogh.  After showing the painting, Ellen Andrée, an actress friend of Degas's known to pose for a number of artists (including Degas, Manet and Renoir - you can see their Ellen paintings HERE), was labelled a "whore" simply for appearing on a canvas with a glass of the green stuff.  

Can you imagine what damage rumours like any of the above in this day and age could do to a product via the likes of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter?  Today we can easily track back information to its source online and set the record straight.  These guys couldn't do that.  The majority believed most everything they heard or read.  They embraced the absurd.  This was an age when folks were still bloodletting, burning witches and could legally own people.  

Still, the popularity of absinthe sent some wine producers to chemists who tried to alter the appearance of their red wines so they'd look more like their growing green rival.  You know, a la if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  In 1862, Angelo Mariani mixed a batch of Bordeaux with cocoa leaves to give the wine a green tint and Vin Mariani was born.  So, in an effort to eliminate absinthe, a rumoured psychedelic/hallucinogenic from the market, Mariani's mix extracted cocaine from the cocoa leaves and made it especially potent.  That's right.  They were producing a mix spiked with coke.  (Apparently, a predecessor of today's Coca-Cola.)  Pope Leo XIII awarded the brew a gold medal via the Vatican - and he even endorsed it!  

A more recent rumour in circulation post absinthe ban is this spirit is apparently an aphrodisiac.  The likely source of this information is rumoured to be a Playboy article, circa 1971.  There's really no scientific evidence on record to prove this claim anywhere, but it's been further fostered by absinthe fans online and, allegedly, some of its producers.  Funny thing about absinthe today?  Instead of slagging its rival like the wines of days gone by, all of its new sexy talk is spreading the love.  Another surprise for the record?  This once celebrated cheaper drink is now twice if not ten times more expensive today than your average bottle of wine.  Go figure.

Regardless of what you make of this apparently potent little drink, keep in mind everything you've heard about it in the past likely doesn't ring true.  I'd take it all with a grain of salt.  No - wait.  That's tequila.  Wrong drink. :^)

Who'd a thunk it?  That's my dog Smokey up above, circa '79.  When I was about eleven, I received my first camera for Christmas.  One of those fancy Polaroid One Steps.  The first pics I snapped off were of my pup.  Problem was, the instamatic film was so expensive, by the time I had a dozen or so pics of my dog, that was pretty much it for my stint as a photographer for quite some time.  Still, I somehow managed to take this snap.  Never thought I'd actually use it.  Gotta love the orange shag...

When Smokey was much smaller, often times we'd spot him hovering around the foot of my mother's chair.  Every so often at breakfast, she'd slip him a raisin from her toast or a hot cross bun.  Had she known what I've only just recently found out, her sneaky methods to move herself to the front of the pack would have likely involved anything other than raisins.  Turns out, raisins and grapes are highly toxic for dogs.  So much so, they can cause kidney failure and death.

Word is nobody really knows why ingesting raisins and grapes can be fatal for dogs.  Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea within a few hours of eating.  Additional symptoms include lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite and increased consumption of fluids.  Kidney failure typically develops within 48 hours.

Vets induce vomiting to eliminate toxins from the dog's system.  Additional therapies, including intravenous, may also be prescribed.  More on raisin and grape toxicity in dogs HERE and HERE.

Here's to good health - including your dog's!