Friday, July 25, 2014

“Keep it simple!” A no-nonsense approach to the production of quality wines – Caparone Winery in Paso Robles, California

I’m working on two novels that take place on vineyards, the first one on a vineyard in Tuscany and the second one on a vineyard in the Paso Robles region in California, along Hwy 101 about half-way between Los Angeles and the Bay area.
Since I love red wine, particularly Italian red wine, but know little to nothing about the actual process of making wine, I have to do a lot of research. I read books, navigate the internet, and visit tasting rooms and wineries. My friends of course nudge and wink whenever they mention my “research.” They probably think I sit around in tasting rooms or lie half-drunk between wine barrels on some estate.
Well, this is not the case, of course. I actually do serious research, but who says that serious research can’t be enjoyable and entertaining? Anyway, last year I had the opportunity to spend a week in Tuscany together with my relatives and friends in Switzerland. It was a wonderful experience and I wrote about it in a series of earlier blog posts:

This year, I tried to find wineries and vineyards in California. Now, that shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? After all, California is THE wine region of the United States and every since Californian wine won a blind tasting contest in France of all countries, also called "The Judgement of Paris," the reputation of fine Californian wine has spread all over the world.
Therefore, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to find vineyards where I could watch the process of winemaking and ask questions. Actually, it turned out a little more difficult than I had expected. For one thing, as many vineyards and winemaking outfits as there are—and there are many!—most of the tasting rooms are not necessarily next to the vineyards or wineries. Many of them are full of tourists during the vacation season and you can’t just monopolize the time of the people who pour the wine and ask a lot of questions. Besides, you can’t just walk on someone’s property to look at his or her vines.
After a few unsuccessful sessions in tasting rooms, where I spent some money buying a few bottles of wine but getting little out of it with regard to solid information about winemaking, I approached my research somewhat more intelligently. I honed in on smaller outfits and on vineyards and wineries that produce Italian wines, since this is the kind of background my novels focus on.
And lo and behold, I found a gem of a winery, which was just perfect for what I was looking for: the Caparone Winery on the westside of Paso Robles:

It is an artisan winery, tucked away in the hills of Paso Robles, run by a father-son team. I found their address and got a little background from their website, but when I drove up to Paso Robles and searched for it, it took me a while to find it. Used to large banners announcing wine tasting and all kinds of entertainment at other wineries, I nearly missed the Caparone sign. 

I finally spotted a vineyard and a house on top of the hill. I followed the country road up to a large red-brown barn-like building. As I parked and got out of the car, it was very quiet and peaceful. Only the singing of a few birds interrupted the silence. 
There was a small sign on the barn that said “Tasting,” so I opened the door, went inside, and stood smack in the winery itself: fermentation tanks on one side, stacks of barrels four levels high in the middle and the back, and boxes of bottled wine on the other side. 

Somehow, I knew I had found what I was looking for. Here was finally an outfit that looked like a real winery and not just a glitzy tasting room. In fact, there wasn’t a tasting room at all but just a tasting area, a longish table with bottles of Caparone wines and wine glasses lined up neatly in a row. Behind it stood a young man who smiled and asked if I wanted to taste some wine.

Now, I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a taste of wine, particularly since there was no tasting charge. Other wineries usually charge ten dollars for tasting, unless you belong to their wine club. Marc Caparone poured me a glass of Sangiovese, one of my favorite wines, and it was truly delicious. So were the other two varietals of their estate wines I tried, Nebbiolo and Aglianico, both wines I had never had before. They were excellent—interesting, complex, with a lot of character and just the right amount of tannin. I’m not an expert on wines, not by a long shot. But I know what I like and I truly liked those wines. I have ordered several bottles since then.
However, it wasn’t just the wine, it was also the friendly, unassuming, and helpful attitude of the owners that I liked. The first time I met Marc I didn’t have much time to ask too many questions since I was just driving through on my way to the Bay area. But he immediately volunteered all kinds of information and gave me a good overview of the history of the vineyards and winery, of his family’s background, and of how his father, Dave Caparone, had started the winery back in 1979, although he had already been involved in research and winemaking for quite some time before that.
Here is an interesting article about the history of the winery and Dave Caparone's early days making wine:

A few months later, I spent a whole week in Paso Robles and went back to the Caparones and it was then that I also met the father, Dave Caparone, who had started the vineyard and the winery. Now in his seventies, the trim, wiry man shows no sign of slowing down. According to his son, he still checks the vines every day, sometimes even at night.
As Marc and Dave told me, they do things a little differently from some of the other wineries in the area. They try to keep the whole process simple. They have thirteen acres of planted vines, which is moderate compared to the other estates. They are not taking part in wine contests, they are not investing millions in advertising. “We don’t like the show-biz approach to winemaking,” Dave Caparone said in his straightforward, no-nonsense demeanor and his son, Marc, agreed.
Instead, they focus all their energy on working the land in a sustainable fashion, planting their vines in the correct microclimate, cultivating the grapes carefully and with love, producing quality and complex wines, and selling them at affordable prices! They do all the work themselves with the exception of picking the grapes at harvest time, when they have a crew of people helping them, and again when it’s time to bottle the wine.
Since the family has been at it for over thirty years, they have a lot of experience, they know what works and what doesn’t, and they have many loyal customers from all over the country without having to spend a lot of money on spreading the word. Their wines speak for themselves and allow them to make a good living.
Both father and son took hours answering my questions, suggesting books, and showing me around. My initial hesitation of taking up too much of their time and asking too many questions began to fade as I began to feel they both truly enjoyed telling me as much as possible about their work.

But Marc and Dave Caparone don’t just produce great wine, they are also excellent musicians. They play jazz and perform publicly. Dave Caparone, the father, has a Masters in Music and plays the trombone, and his son, Marc, plays the cornet and bass. Marc’s wife, Dawn Lambeth, is a very talented singer. See the videos at the end of the post!

In addition to his passion for wine and music, Dave Caparone has a third interest: He loves classic cars and has fixed up a few beauties that even impressed a non-aficionada of cars like me.

The following videos provide a glimpse of the Caparones' musical talents. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back, and enjoy!

Here is Marc Caparone playing the cornet:

And here are Dave and Marc together. Dave on the very left, playing the trombone and Marc next to him with the cornet:

Here is Dawn Lambert, Marc's wife, singing one of my favorite songs:

And finally, the whole family together:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Malala Yousafzai - the inspiring story of courage, generosity, and sacrifice - for freedom and education of all children

Moved by the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who stood up for the education of women, got shot in the head by the Taliban, survived, and continues to fight for the right of every child to have an education, my friends and I decided to pool our creative resources in support of this courageous girl, her amazing father, and her wonderful family.

During the fundraiser, I was reading some passages from my Family Portrait trilogy. There was music, acting, and all kinds of artistic presentations. All the money we collected will go to the Malala Fund.

Furthermore, for the month of June, I will contribute all the royalties from the sale of the printed versions of the Family Portrait series (An Uncommon Family, Love of a Stonemason, Emilia) to the Malala Fund. To buy the books, please click here:

An Uncommon Family on Amazon
Love of a Stonemason on Amazon
Emilia on Amazon

OR you can also just make a contribution directly to the Malala Fund:

This isn't only about Malala but this is about justice, the right of everyone, boy or girl, to have a decent education, to be able to fulfill their dreams, to live in peace and without fear.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a child, she became an advocate for girls’ education, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived and has continued to speak out on the importance of education.

Malala attended a school that her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, had founded. After the Taliban began attacking girls’ school in Swat, Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2008. The title of her talk was, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

In early 2009, Yousafzai began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. She hid her identity behind the name Gul Makai. However, the Taliban found out about her in December of that year. With a growing public platform, Malala continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Price in 2011 and that same year she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.

When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Though Malala was feared for the safety of her father—an anti-Taliban activist—she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not harm a child.

On October 9, 2012, on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was riding in and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala on the left side of her head. The shooting left her in critical condition. She was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar for an operation and for further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England. Malala underwent several difficult surgeries, but luckily had suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in England.

The shooting resulted in a massive outpouring of support for Malala, which continued during her recovery. She gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013. She has also written an autobiography, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which was released in October 2013. Unfortunately, the Taliban still considers her a target.

Despite the Taliban's threats, Malala Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education. On October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freemdom of Thought. The same year, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She didn't win the prize, but was nominated again in March 2014.

And here are a few pictures of our fundraiser, which was a great success!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day in the Great Beyond



nearing ninety winds the old clock
pulling the chains dangling
from the wooden case.
Time stored in her flesh and bones
seeps through her hands.

I listen to each shallow breath,
feel the faint trembling of her arm
tucked into the curve of mine,
as we climb the last steep hill to the store
on those muted winter days
which follow each other like dull pearls
strung on the thread of life.
The late afternoon sun casts
our thin shapes among the
shadows of birches and pines
coated with hoarfrost.

In the coffee shop she softens bites of
crusty bread and dips them into hot chocolate.
A drop falls on the face of Madonna
staring blue-eyed and beige from the
cover of Mademoiselle.

At dusk the waitress switches on the light.
My mother’s face,
white as a moon,
refracts from the window-pane.
I peer past her into the growing
darkness outside.
It’s not death I fear,
I am afraid of being the last one alive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My sister Rosmarie - October 19, 1929 - April 15, 1997


Winter in Castaneda 

Climbing the stairs
from the cellar to the room
with the tile floor,
eight months later,
after the pain has softened,
after the ashes have been scattered
on the rock, after driving past the
snowy fields of Saint Gotthard,
we feel your presence
fill the spaces between our bodies.

Not yet understanding the full meaning
of this merging, of your hands
entwined in the leaves of plants,
your scent lingering in the
cedar closet, your smile
in the candle flame,
your voice trailing the crackling
of logs in the fireplace,
a sound so delicate,
we dare not move
as not to disturb it.

With each breath we take
the silent words into our hearts
and choose to believe in the
here and now
of all that was, before you left us.

(The Path of Fire, poems)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Story behind the story

What made me write my first novel? The story behind Love of a Stonemason

Find out here: What is that book about?  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

But What Are They Eating?

What do characters in a novel eat? And why is it important? What does it mean?

Hop on over to author Shelley Workinger's blog where I talk about one of my favorite hobbies:

Have fun!


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When authors kill the wrong characters ...

Have you ever read a book and liked or even fell in love with a character, only to realize one page with dismay that the character is killed off by the author. It’s a heart wrenching experience!

Sometimes the character’s death is unavoidable, I guess. Sir Arthur Canon Doyle wanted to kill Sherlock Holmes so he could move on and write his historical novels. He made him fall to his death together with his arch enemy Moriarty down the Reichenbach falls above Meiringen in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. However, his readers protested so much that he was forced to bring the sleuth back to life. (There is an excellent new TV version of Sherlock Holmes on PBS, so far there are only three series. I hope there will be more!)

Anyway, characters die for different reasons: illness, murder, war, natural disasters, etc. Most of the time, the reader accepts the death as being a necessary part of the story. We grieve, gnash our teeth, but ultimately we agree with the author that the character’s time has come.

Sometimes, however, the death of a character is so out of line and, in our—well, at least, in my— opinion, outrageous. How dare the author….

Here is an example. I have been reading a series of four excellent mysteries/thrillers. They are real page turners and I couldn’t wait until the next installment was out. I’m not going to list the title or the author because I would be spoiling it for the readers. The heroine in the novels together with her journalist friend is trying to unlock a sinister secrete having to do with a religious cult. One of the characters, the father of the heroine, has disappeared under very mysterious circumstances and is believed to be dead. The heroine, however, finds evidence that made her believe that he is still alive. She suspects that he was somehow involved in the crimes committed by the cult and has faked his own death to protect his daughter.

As the story proceeds through three books, we get glimpses of the mysterious father. The author does an excellent job of keeping us wondering, wanting to know more about him. Like his daughter, we are made to believe that he is not exactly innocent, but we begin to like him and we want the daughter to finally meet him.

In the fourth book, the long-awaited meeting and reunion finally does take place—but what a reunion and what a disappointment. The father is about to be arrested and what does he do? HE SHOOTS HIMSELF. What??!!! Nooooooooo! After all this time, all our wondering and debating and waiting, he comes on the stage to be killed?

Please, that’s just not fair. Now, to the defense of the writer of this otherwise excellent series I have to say that there is going to be a fifth part. So, perhaps, the author will bring the father back to life just like Canon Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes? Well, I doubt it but I am looking forward to finding out more about all this. Still, dear author, you could have been a little gentler with the poor guy. Really!