April 8, 2013


 photo mancave1_690_zps9ca81659.jpgsan francisco, october 2012


April 4, 2013


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petaluma, march 2013

March 20, 2013

emma & dewey

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petaluma, february 2013

August 20, 2012

elk bar camp

along the middle fork
Photobucket Photobucket
salmon river, idaho, july 2012

August 12, 2012

tony's place

los angeles, may 2012

July 12, 2012

las cascadas

 photo cascadas1_690.jpg cafayate, argentina, march 2012

June 8, 2012


 photo angastaco1.jpg  photo angastago2_2.jpg  photo angastaco3.jpg  photo angastaco4.jpg  photo angastaco_triptych.jpg

May 11, 2012

las ventanas

mexico city, february 2012

March 10, 2012

the argentina fiasco

Three months back, in search of wine-related work in Argentina (and having had no luck the couple months previous), I paid for a subscription to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and began sifting through a database of close to 200 farms in Argentina.

WWOOF puts people in touch with farms. If there's a farm I have interest in I'm able to contact them and see if they need another pair of hands. If they take me, I work in exchange for food and a bed.

There were three farms dealing in wine. I sent out some e-mails and received a couple responses, one of which came from a girl who told me that her father had been growing grapes and making wine for years, and she said they'd be happy to host me. Without knowing much more than that I told her I'd see them in March and I bought a plane ticket.

As the departure date neared I wondered just what I was getting into. I sent a couple more e-mails to the girl with questions about the farm and in return received a little more information, but came to realize that no matter how much I got out of her the true nature of the place would remain a mystery until I arrived there.
A couple months ago with the little information I had, I got onto the computer and looked for the family's property and I found it. The out of focus satellite imagery showed me a couple of small buildings on the side of the road in the middle of what looked like a sad, barren land. It made me nervous. But as I sit here in the front row on the second level of a double-decker bus and look out through the bug-splattered windshield onto a beautiful countryside, I think that from a satellite even the Grand Canyon probably looks miserable, like not much more than a ditch in the desert. The land in San Juan is dry at times with a dead horse and dogs on the side of the road, but when its not dry its green with tall wispy trees, the Andes a day's walk to the left, and little clumps of attractive deteriorating buildings with the light catching the clothes hanging.
The worries that came from the computer search are alleviated. The bus arrives to the San Juan terminal where I catch another, smaller bus that takes me forty minutes deeper into the country past small homes with vineyards in the frontyard. The locals ride down the roads on horse-drawn carts, and the hot breeze smells of fermentation.
I wait on the front steps of a church on the plaza in the town where I'll be living for the next six weeks. A truck that looks like a little boat on wheels pulls up and with a thud it comes to a stop. The farmer with whom I'll be living gets out, says hello, and gives me a hug. He's a big, handsome guy, rugged and dirty, and wearing those woven leather sandals that only a big, handsome, rugged guy can pull off. As we drive the 4 km to his house I try my Spanish on him. I ask him how long he's been making wine and he says his whole life, that it's a tradition. I ask him what types of grapes he works with and he says Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple others I've never heard of. And then, in his thick Argentine accent that I can only hardly understand, he says something about a French boy.
We arrive to the property and park across the street from the house in the shade of a eucalyptus tree. We cross the street and in the frontyard there are two horses, an old junked car with the windows busted out, concrete chunks in piles, a large wagon wheel, cigarette packs in the dirt, two huge palm trees with bees swarming around them, about a dozen blue, plastic trash cans, a bunch of broken wooden crates, and a pitbull comes running out barking at me.
We enter the house and beside the dining table there is a guy and girl standing there with their hands folded. I introduce myself. They're French. We all sit down for lunch, chicken in a red sauce. There's a mix of Spanish, French, and English spoken at the table, though the farmer speaks no English. I say to the couple, 'I see that your bags are packed. Are you arriving or leaving?'
'Leaving,' the girl tells me. 'My boyfriend has been sick,' and she takes the back of her hand and strokes his cheek with it. He never says a word.
The girl asks if I study winemaking, and I say no, and the farmer perks up with a look of concern, and I explain that in a way I am studying, by means of reading books and hopping the equator every year, traveling the world and making wine. But the farmer shows no look of relief. He keeps his head down and gnaws every last bit of meat from the ckicken bones.

After lunch we have a siesta. The farmer shows me to my room, a small room with a bed and nothing else at the end of the hall. I'm happy to lie down and have a rest. It's hot and I stick to the bed with sweat. I fall asleep for around an hour and wake up to the sound of car doors slamming. I sit up and look out the window, and the farmer is driving off with the Frenchies. 'Bon voyage,' I think.
There are 6 or 7 or 8 dogs living on the property. The day I arrived it was the big, white mama pitbull with big, droopy nipples hanging from her belly that gave me a scare. The little hairs growing out of her are so short and semi-transluscent that all the imperfections of the skin are apparent - the sores and rashes, the red spots and parasites.
There are a couple of twin dogs that look like the cutest, dirtiest stuffed animals you've ever seen. They've got little black eyes and blonde curly hair, but they're easy to tell apart because one of them has a gray cowlick on top of its head and what I think might be a broken leg.

There are a couple little black dogs and another pitbull that's always tied up behind the pigsty, and then there's the little guy, a pitbull puppy that couldn't be older than a couple months. He's the cutest thing, half the size of a housecat. He walks along slowly on his little bowed legs that extend out from his broad shoulders, barking and barking like a little wind-up toy. He's got bugs on him like sequins and what looks like a white pillbug living inside one of his ears.
After lunch with the French couple the farmer went out back and tossed the chicken bones on the ground along with napkins and the dogs came running and fought for the bones, and the little guy had the napkins.
In the months leading up to Argentina I worked as a ranch hand for some friends on their property in Petaluma, California, what once was a functioning dairy. One of my jobs in the time I worked there was to strip the milking barn of all the old machinery. It took a couple days and afterward I power-washed the place, and what remained was an awesome space, a building with beautiful concrete walls, a pitched roof and wooden beams running across, nice and cool even on a hot day. The hours I spent imagining what I'd do with the space if it were mine! The wine cellar I would build, and the wine that would result!

Part of the fun was imagining how I'd make it work in such a small area and with little money. Without a pump I'd have to use gravity to my advantage, so the fermenters would be higher, positioned on a satge of some sort, and post-ferment I'd rack the wine off the skins by siphoning directly to the barrels positioned at the base of the stage. And the old basket press could fit there! And that wall there, eventually it'd be lined with bottles of wine from vintages past, slowly collecting dust in the dim, cellar light. (O! The Romance!)

So, I was excited to see how this humble farmer in Argentina was making it work.

The farmer arrived back from dropping the French couple at the bus stop and he offered up a little tour. I was eager to see the wine cellar, and we stepped out the door and into the front yard, and there we were in the cellar. All the blue trash cans I'd seen served as fermenters. Some had grapes in them already and they sat in the sun and put out a sour stink, and the others were scattered about the yard on their sides in the dirt. The wooden crates I'd seen were for collecting grapes, and what I hadn't noticed was an ancient destemmer in the corner and a basket press tangled in the weeds.


Half the grapes on the property are grown how you're probably accustomed to seeing them, in rows and across a wire, clusters hanging just above the knees. The other half are trained up what are called parrals, up poles to a height overhead with wires connecting the tops of the poles in a grid. Before maturation the vineyard looks like a field of grapes trees, but once mature it can create the effect of a roof of vines, clusters hanging from the ceiling. It's a wonderful space to be in, all shaded and traqnquil.
My first morning in San Juan the farmer and I have a silent breakfast of bread, butter, and tea. Then we go outside and gather all the wooden crates we can find, stack them on a sleigh built of tree branches, attach the sleigh to the tractor, and the farmer rubs a couple of frayed wires together and the tractor comes to life.
We begin work on the less mature plot of parrals. It's my first time picking grapes, and the farmer fills crates more than twice as fast as I do and I'm self-conscious about this, but I notice that he picks everything in sight, the biggest clusters of the least ripe grapes, and this strikes me as odd.
Funny that I should be reading Steinbeck's
The Grapes of Wrath, the story of a family - one of thousands - forced off their land and fed the idea that great things lay waiting for them in California. There's the promise of work in the vineyards and the Joad family just can't wait to get their hands on some grapes!
Never have I very seriously romanticized the prospect of picking grapes. Having worked in the Napa Valley, having seen the bright lights over the vineyards at all hours of the night and the frost and the fog in the morning, and knowing that they're out there in the heat of the day and with little shade, and for hours and hours and for little pay - I've never much looked forward to picking grapes.
It's not long before the negativity begins to creep in. It doesn't take a whole lot of concentration to pick grapes, and so my mind is free to marinate on the intricacies of what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-here? And I battle with it.
This is South America, after all. You've come to live in a poor town with a poor family. This is rustic not because rustic is fashionable but because there is no other option. If you want to make wine you have to pick grapes and there aren't any lowly minorities here to do it for you. This is hard but not really all that hard. And then in my dad's voice, Toughen up, this is what you signed up for.
Maybe it'd be easier if the stakes were higher, if I had a family to feed, or if I didn't have my parents there to catch me if I fall, or if I'd come out of Great Depression, Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma. But none of these are the case, and I find myself getting down and hoping the Joads don't ever make it to California.
That night, sitting down at the dinner table I go to sit beside the farmer and he barks at me that
that chair is his daughter's! I apologize and move down a seat and from then on that's where I will sit.
We eat in silence, except that the TV is always on(dubbed-over American cop dramas), and it's above and behind me and always during meals the family(a rotating cast of characters, 2 sons, 2 daughters, and is there a wife/mother or not?) is always looking at me - not right at me - but just over my head.
The next morning it's the same routine. It's out to the vines to finish the plot from yesterday. But the farmer leaves me to it. I'm left to finish the work on my own and I pick up right where I left off - in the middle of the vineyard and very much inside my head.
I make attempts at cheering up. I whistle, I sing, I appreciate the view, and I try to keep on that thought: This really isn't all that hard. But with my arms overhead for hours and my shirt always catching in the sweat at the center of my back, and bending over to lug the crate, and the grape juice sticky on my hands and the bees swarming because of it, I just can't do it, my brain is only strong enough to keep me from the negativity for a second at a time. I wonder if I've still got the fire in my belly for this whole winemaking thing. Maybe I just came to Argentina because it gave me an excuse to stop through Mexico and see a girl.
A couple of the dogs are out there with me - the one with the broken leg rolls in the grass at my feet, and the white pitbull roams. Typically pitbulls kind of put me off, but this one seems sweet, and I think it's because I'm comparing her with the farmer. He comes out to check on me and he says something. I don't understand and I tell him so and he repeats the same words but twice as loud as if it's a hearing problem keeping me from understanding.
Never since the time he first picked me up has he looked like that cool, handsome guy in the slightest. Now he is only sad looking with a sullen face, dark expression, closed posture. I try to see the first guy but I can't.
The Grapes of Wrath there's a character named Casy, a former preacher and always deep thinker. He accompanies the Joad family as they struggle to make it out west, and he brings up that idea of having to put one foot in front of the other - it is what it is and you just keep going. The idea provides some comfort but brings to mind other thoughts. When is bailing justified? When is something bad enough that with the bail there is no tail between the legs? When is it not shameful to get out, not a bail but a proper escape, trouble averted, a wise move, a rescuing of the self? When is it alright to leave others high and dry? What is the spectrum and where does this experience land?
In the last light of the day we open up the tarp on the ground just behind the destemmer. There sits the mound of grapes collected over the last two days, left to sit in the sun, left overnight in the vineyard, the fruit now half-shriveled and crawling with insects.
With a single hanging bulb lighting the front yard the farmer puts a rubber strap around the gears of the destemmer and powers it on. The bulb flickers as the metal parts grind together, and the farmer's son pitches the grapes into the machine. The stems shoot out the one side and the grapes fall out the bottom and land in a concrete basin. I collect them with a bucket, pour them into the fermenters, and roll them off to the side. All the while mosquitoes hang in clouds around us.


The next morning the farmer's wife arrives home. I think, 'Maybe this is the warm female presence capable of transforming the nature of this situation.' For the first time music comes from inside the house. She and her daughters listen to the radio and sing along and talk while they prepare lunch. In the front yard the son and I assemble the basket press. He offers me a cigarette and I decline the offer. He lights one for himself and we get to it. He scoops the skins from the fermenters to the press while I siphon the wine to buckets and then pour the wine through a screen and into another fermenter where it will be stored in the coming months. Compared to what I'm accustomed to in winemaking(cleanliness), this is just too much. I'm pretty sure that the hose I'm using came off a car, while the bucket was previously used for mixing cement and still shows signs, and the screen came right off the farmer's bedroom window.
While we work the farmer and his son talk business, and I learn that they are aiming to up their production from last year's 3,000 liters to 10,000 this year. The aim is so far from quality. This experience feels like it's unraveling in a hurry.
Once we have the first container full the farmer comes and takes a cup from it. We each have a sip of the offensively acidic, mildly-alcoholic sugar water. The farmer raises his bushy eyebrows and with a smile says, 'Bueno.'
The son and I are loading the press for the third time when the farmer comes out from the house with a clear plastic 1 liter bottle. Over the container of wine he opens the plastic bottle, turns it upside down and the bubbles go glugging upwards. Once empty he drops the bottle to the ground and walks back inside the house. I know what he's done but have to check to be certain. Sure enough, he has just compensated for his wine's lack of alcohol by adding to it a bottle of grain alcohol. This is illegal, definitely not organic, but worst of all it's phony.

He comes back outside and this time with two cases of the stuff, nine bottles to a case. He pours three more bottles into the wine and I'm astounded. When he walks away I go into my bedroom and write it down:
Etilico Alcohol
Faramcopea Argentina
4 liters
When I return back outside he's pouring in a fifth bottle, and then he pours a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth, and he keeps on going. Once he's poured the fifteenth liter into the wine - no longer wine - a truck comes down the road, slows in front of the house, and sits there idling for a moment. The farmer sees this and grabs as many of the bottles as he can and runs inside with hem. His wife comes out for the last three as the man steps out from his truck and approaches. She keeps her back to him and does a funny sideways walk into the house. The farmer returns. He's all smiles and shakes hands with the man. This man has brought with him a guy like me who's interested in helping on the farm. And out comes the wife, charming. Politely, the farmer and his wife shew the two away, and there is a great sigh, but little relief.
I do the pressing on my own while the farmer and his son work on something somewhere else. I go and find them and ask the son if I can take him up on that cigarette offer from earlier.
Back at the press, leaned against the front of the house in the shade of the bamboo awning, I slide to the ground. I have to leave this place. I know that now. To think, I bought the ticket and came all the way to Argentina for this. I pull hard on the cigarette. The little pitbull comes along, lies down and nuzzles against my thigh. He lifts his head and licks at the grape pulp on my pant leg. Poor thing.

November 7, 2011

NZ super 8