WITS AND METTLE

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Are accusations enough to convict a person of guilt? They shouldn’t be, but they can certainly smear a persons reputation enough to cause serious damage to their reputation.

Just look at what we’ve witnessed this week leading up to the election with the FBI Director announcing they were reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails, only to end the week with an official letter stating they have once again determined there was “no criminal wrong-doing.”

As of now, the current “Scandals” Secretary Clinton is accused of are:

  1. Emails – There’s been no proof of wrong doing, only poor judgment. Even if she did accidentally send “classified” information on a private server, it doesn’t mean there’s criminal wrong-doing. In the absence of evidence showing her personal server was hacked or the information fell into the wrong hands, this entire email “scandal” is nothing more than a Witch Hunt. The entire weight of the FBI has now been brought to bare on it twice, and both times they’ve concluded “no criminal wrong-doing”. End of story.
  1. Benghazi: This has been investigated already. And concluded… nine times in fact. And at a cost of over $20-25 million dollars to the American tax payer. And never once has wrong-doing by Clinton been uncovered. The real story lies in the fact funding for security at the embassies was denied by the Republican controlled congress, and Jason Chaffetz himself admitted he and others blocked requests by the State Department to increase funding for security because they “had to prioritize”. https://youtu.be/Y6BLMz1chEM
  1. Clinton Foundation – Again, there’s no evidence of wrongdoing by Sec Clinton. She’s not even involved in the day to day operations of the Foundation. The Clinton Foundation is a legitimate global charity that’s 86% efficient, and has already directly improved the lives of millions around the world. It’s highly respected and rated by charity watch dogs and has been rated “four stars” from Charity Navigator, an “A” from Charity Watch, and “Platinum” from Guidestar. Trump’s own foundation donated somewhere in the neighborhood of $250K to the Clinton Foundation, so if you want to talk about “Pay for Play”, let’s be real. So, accepting donations from foreign governments is by no means a controversial issue.

If you want to talk about how money and donations influence a politician’s actions, then get off your hypocritical horse and show the same blood-lust over Citizens United, the #1 greatest threat to our democracy… not to mention the thousands of Lobbyists who influence your Senators, Representatives, Governors, and legislators on a daily basis.

And if you want to delve into the world of conspiracy theories and UFO’s, you might get more satisfaction by looking into Trump’s financial debts owed to some of the most powerful Billionaire Oligarchs on earth, most of whom are Russian.

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http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/02/politics/eric-schneiderman-attorney-general-trump-university-fraud/

Unlike Clinton, Trump is actually under current indictment for fraud (Trump University).

Trump’s been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by countless women over the years and is currently facing allegations from as many as 10+ women who’ve gone public (despite his personal threats to sue them).

He’s been charged two times prior in public trials, including one by his former wife who accused him of rape while they were still married, and another in Federal court for forcible sexual assault during a business meeting with the wife of a partner. Both cases were settled for cash, with non-disclosure agreements.

Trump is currently a named defendant in a civil case accusing him of raping a 13-year-old girl at a sex party where she was promised a modeling career in exchange for sex. Keep in mind, his co-defendant in this lawsuit is accused and convicted child molester Jeffrey Epstein, a Level 3 registered sex offender (the most dangerous kind).

For those of you who would dismiss this case out of hand, be aware it’s filed with an independent eye-witness testimony corroborated by Epstein’s former party planner who specifically states she witnessed the girls having sex with both Epstein and Trump.

Trump himself is on record admitting to attending the parties at Epstein’s penthouse in the 90’s and said “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

Trump’s financial ties to the Russians are currently under investigation by the FBI, and according to him he’s paid no taxes in years and claims he is currently being audited by the IRS (which some people believe is a lie).

Trump’s charity is proven to be egregiously mismanaged after getting caught using tax-exempt donations to settle his legal battles ($250K+), and was caught red-handed buying a self-portrait of Trump, which was then hung in a Trump-owned property.

We’ve all seen the videos of him bragging about getting away with sexual assault then downplaying it as locker room talk (I might agree if we were talking about a high school locker room, but it’s not normal for a sixty-year-old “billionaire”), then we’ve seen him verbally attacking the women who have accused him, publicly berating and denigrating them.

And when confronted with the accusations of one woman, his response was to point out the fact she’s ugly, and he couldn’t possibly have sexually assaulted her: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you. Man, you don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”

Then consider the entire list of terribly questionable things he’s said and done during the course of his campaign against Muslims, Mexicans, migrants, refugees, Gold Star families, sitting judges of Mexican decent (born in the USA), Prisoners of War, over-weight women, inciting violence, and so many more deeply disturbing offenses (any one of which would have disqualified a past candidate).

Add all that to the thousands of times Trump’s been sued for non-payment by his business partners.

Stir this all up, and in my view you have one giant orange mess.

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So on one hand I have Secretary Clinton:

Other than allegations and accusations, she’s never been found guilty of of a crime, yet in the face of constant hateful allegations and investigations, she’s persevered. On the subject of her guilt or innocence, I’ll stick with the Rule of Law – Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat.


On the other hand, we have a man who has proven for decades to have questionable judgment, Donald J Trump:

He consistently screws over his business partners and doesn’t pay his bills (public record), he’s been sued thousands of times including twice for rape (both settled for cash and non-disclosure agreements), he hasn’t paid taxes for over two decades and refuses to release his tax returns because he knows it would sink him, he’s currently under indictment for his fraudulent Trump University, he’s currently named in a lawsuit accusing him of raping a child, and he repeatedly says and does things that make most level-headed people cringe.

This is what the media means when they talk about “false equivalency”.

There is no reasonable argument for Trump if the reasons you’re against Clinton have anything to do with her integrity or character.

Disagree on the issues all you want, but in a battle of wits and mettle Secretary Clinton wins every time.

THE GRAPE DIVIDE – PART II

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Let the healing begin…

The concept behind the Arizona Vignerons Alliance (AVA) is a sound one. In fact, with the booming wine business in Arizona and the nationally recognized successes from wineries all over the state, it’s surprising it took this long for an organization like the AVA to be formed.

Some have questioned whether the AVA is necessary, since there are already governing agencies at both the Federal and State levels regulating the industry and its practices, in addition to the existing Arizona Wine Growers Association (AWGA), which was formed many years ago and remains the states largest and most viable wine-related business development association.

But unlike the AWGA (which I understand is focused primarily on business growth, education, and promotion), the new AVA is being formed as a quality control alliance, focusing on different goals primarily meant to vet a wine’s quality and to verify it’s origin is 100% Arizona.

The AVA also intends to further the development and perpetuation of improved state-wide growing & production practices, gained through the sharing of information with all winegrowers. Moving forward, both the AWGA and the AVA will be critical to the ongoing growth and success of the industry, so it’s important the two organizations figure out a way to work cooperatively and symbiotically.

After it’s initial introduction, some people in the industry and a few informed consumers (myself included) felt the formation of the AVA was being handled in a way that could be anti-competitive and unfair. These concerns were probably caused by the unilateral way in which the alliance was formed, for the most part being hashed-out behind closed doors and only involving four of the eighty-plus wineries licensed and bonded in Arizona.

For some of those excluded, they felt they deserved an opportunity to be part of the AVA’s initial formation, to assist in developing its goals, and to have a hand in designing its authoritative bylaws and especially the criteria that will be used to analyze and judge everyone’s wine. There were also concerns around the apparent conflict of interest presented by four wineries who intended to judge their direct competitors.

And although I’m sure it wasn’t their intention, the exclusion of the other winemakers created an environment of division and perceived intimidation because the outsiders found themselves in a position where they had to either go along with sharing their proprietary business practices with direct competitors, or risk being viewed as uncooperative and possibly losing market share because they don’t have the AVA stamp of approval (which could lead consumers to believe their wine is inferior, which in most cases would not necessarily be true).

Since the initial announcement of the AVA, the founding leadership have made efforts to address many of these concerns by providing additional information, some of which was discussed publicly at their launch event held March 11 at The Farm at South Mountain, and some via personal communication channels. I’m told they’re in the process of updating their website and their Facebook pages to more accurately describe the updates and new efforts being made to put many (if not most) of the concerns to rest.

The President of the AVA (Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks) to her credit, has been very responsive to personal communications and for the most part has made un-emotional attempts to answer most of the tough questions.

Here are some of the questions asked of Mrs. Bostock, and we’ll share her response in a moment:

  1. How many more founding members will be invited to join the original four?
  2. How many more winemakers will be offered an official seat on the AVA’s Board of Directors?
  3. How many other winemakers and non-competing professionals will be officially employed to assist in 1) the development of the AVA’s bylaws, 2) it’s charter, and most importantly 3) the process and rules by which they intend to judge their competitors and their own wines?
  4. How will third party arbiters will be employed to audit and ensure the rules are being interpreted and enforced fairly and equally?

RESPONSE BY AVA President Kelly Bostock: “A quick answer to your questions:  #1 we will be forming an official board in the coming weeks, and we will be expanding it beyond the founding members so that we have fresh perspective. #2 The certification panel will be handled by an outside professional. John Doe (Name redacted until made public) has volunteered to head up the first panel. He is a former wine distributor and now has his own wine import company. He will be selecting a panel of wine professionals who are not directly connected with AZ wineries. The panel guidelines should be published on our website in the next few days. It is a good overview of who will be allowed to be on the panel. We will post it on Facebook when those pieces are up on the web”.

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Based on this response, it’s obvious the AVA founders are making a real effort to address all of the initial concerns people have voiced, and although the response doesn’t address all of the issues, it shows a willingness to listen, which many people feared wouldn’t happen.

We are undeniably witnessing an evolution of the Arizona wine Industry, and with more participants included in the development and ongoing operation of the AVA, they should be able to achieve their goals and also have a shot at becoming an alliance truly representative of the entire industry.

If the AVA lives up to it’s promises of opening the Board to other members, uses 3rd parties to conduct the wine analyses, and continues to listen to the industry as a whole, it will go a long way to satisfying many of the initial concerns shared by their competitors… and hopefully in doing so will encourage more to participate. The AVA needs participation to succeed, and participation will continue to increase and grow as long as they are transparent and responsive to all the stake holders in the business.

Much of what’s being developed in the AVA is still fluid and will evolve over time, so I think the time for fear and concern is past, and now it’s prudent to take an active role in providing constructive ideas and cooperative guidance.

Initially it looks like the AVA intends to require exclusively Arizona-grown grapes but I would like to suggest an idea I think makes a lot of sense because it will expand the AVA’s participation, and at the same time allow wine growers to run their business as they see fit while still ensuring quality:

What if there were three categories of Arizona wine certification, rather than just one?

  1. 100% ARIZONA ESTATE (all AZ grapes, all AZ yeast, all from the same vineyard)
  2. 100% ARIZONA GROWN (all AZ grapes, fruit from multiple AZ regions allowed)
  3. 100% ARIZONA PRODUCED (produced in AZ, but grapes could be sourced elsewhere)

So I say give the AVA and it’s founders the benefit of the doubt, keep providing constructive input and feedback, and above all, let’s get back to making and drinking the best wines around.

Eat local, drink local, live local.

Christian Burns McBeth

Chris USMC Blues 1986

Bio: “Christian McBeth is a USMC veteran who has been published globally on FORBES and CIO Magazine as an Information Technology subject matter expert. In addition to expertise in Disaster Recovery and Big Data, Mr. McBeth has produced TV commercials broadcast on NBC promoting the Willcox Wine Country Festival (voted Top Ten by Fodor’s Travel), and he engages in creative media projects (including aerial photography & videography) to promote the Arizona wine industry as a whole.”

ESPRIT DE CORPS

Chris USMC Blues 1986

USMC Boot Camp – Private First Class, Chris Burns McBeth (1986)

When I went to Marine Corps boot camp it was the first time I’d really been exposed to a wide range of racial and socioeconomic influences in one place.

The Drill Instructors were a mix of White, Black, and Hispanic and they were masters at weeding out the racists and “individualists” amongst us and working to change their unproductive ways.

But it was not an easy process. In some cases, everyone paid for the mistakes of the one. And we learned together, over time, the blackest of the black guys might also be the smartest, the whitest of the white guys might be the fastest, the biggest amongst us (myself included) might be the most creative, the Mexican with the gang tattoos was the most analytical… and in sixteen weeks our group of diverse individuals from all walks of life became “one”.

We learned it takes a group of strong team players with differing ideas to form a truly strong unit. A cohesive group that decides as one, acts as one, and succeeds or fails as one… composed of people who couldn’t be more different.

If someone didn’t pull their weight, we helped them until they could. If someone got sick or hurt, we covered for them because we knew they’d do the same for us when our time came.

And even in our darkest hour, we knew we were surrounded by people who had our backs… no matter what. Trust me when I tell you, that feeling of team security is one of the most powerful on earth.

The French call this “Esprit de Corps”… the compelling feeling of devotion, enthusiasm, and strong regard for the HONOR of the group. Respecting and working toward a shared purpose, fellowship.

I believe the loss of Esprit De Corps is the primary reason so many of our soldiers come home and commit suicide. It’s difficult if not impossible for most people to understand, but in essence, they’ve lost their soul and the meaning of life is lost with it.

And there are very few opportunities to regain that feeling once we integrate back into society where division and fear are heaped upon us like junk mail in a constant, never ending stream.

Back to present day:

We see our politicians sewing the seeds of hatred and division and they do it under the guise of strength, patriotism, and God… when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

What they’re selling has nothing to do with “Making America Great Again” and everything to do with turning the clock backward to a day when psycho and sociopaths could do what ever they wanted without consequence.

What they’re selling is a return to a day when women knew their proper place in society, the weak died off because they deserved it, and less fortunate citizens were nothing more than street trash without human rights.

What they’re selling is a place where the rich treat the poor as a virus, and do everything they can to eradicate it… but not until after they’ve squeezed every bit of profit possible from their suffering.

What they’re selling is all about people in power (i.e. money) acting like Rock Stars taking what ever they want, and acting out like spoiled petulant children who have never been taught the value of compromise and the common-good (and who are in need of a good hard spanking if you ask me).

So let me come right out with it:

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and people like them are dangerous to this country beyond measure.

Their fascism is giving rise to the worst Neanderthal “instincts” in us all, and the longer we let it go on, the more emboldened the weak-minded amongst us will become.

And in doing so, they weaken us all.

People throw the terms “fascist” and “fascism” around, but I suspect most of you don’t take the time to look up and understand the definition so you just breeze right by and dismiss the words as subterfuge or nonsense.

So I’ll make it easy:

fas·cism

“an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.”

Hmmm. Based on that definition it may not be evident why fascism is a bad thing… perhaps because we don’t fully remember what happens when fascism is allowed to drive public policy, business practices, and foreign policy?

Obviously you don’t need to look very far back in our recent history to remember what happens when fascism takes root and becomes the rule of law:

Just remember Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and even Joseph Stalin (although his version of “right wing” was the stuff of most current American “right wingers” worst nightmares… socialism!)

And to my Republican friends: I’m not talking about Republicans!

The people I call “real Republicans”, the compassionate conservatives who are moderate, those who still understand the importance of a social contract, the people who long for a return of compromise in the name of progress and the “Esprit De Corps” we so desperately all need.

No, I’m talking about this Frankenstein of mean-spirited hateful politicians and their followers who’ve suddenly come out of the shadows to “lead” our country back into a time when the strong prey on the weak and the weak provide the labor to enrich their masters.

These “ultra-conservatives” are crazy, they are selfish, they are self-centered… and they believe they are God’s gift to society and this world. Ted Cruz actually believes GOD sent him here to save us from… I’m not sure what.

But one thing I am absolutely sure of: Their version of “Making America Great Again” scares the shit out of me.

I believe with all my heart, anyone who would vote for Trump or Cruz must be out of their minds, but I understand how this has happened.

We are bombarded by the media with negativity and fear 24 x 7, and according to them we’re at an all time low in our country. We are standing on a precipice. Everything we hold dear to our hearts is UNDER ATTACK! But they’ve been selling that bullshit since time began. That’s what they do to profit off our fear.

And I say it just isn’t true. If you breath, open your mind, and take the bullshit out of the equation you’ll find we’ve been in much worse places in our past and things today are not that bad for most of us, considering the hurdles we’ve overcome as a country.

We’ve made real progress in righting many wrongs, improving our over all position, and we’ve begun programs meant to strengthen the weakest amongst us and open doors to new industry providing employment for new generations.

But we still have a LONG way to go, and the people in power, the ones who pull the strings, the people who justify their selfish actions in the name of profits and “patriotism”: To them I say enough is enough!

And to each of you, I say it’s time we spent our energy on making America great again by bringing people together, not splitting them farther apart.

There’s a reason why fusion is so much more powerful than fission: The combination of energy amplifies the outcome.

With Esprit De Corps will come true progress, and coming together is the only way that happens.

 

THE GRAPE DIVIDE

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The philosophy behind formation of the Arizona Vignerons Alliance is fundamentally a sound one:

Create standards of excellence & compliance that will drive industrywide quality, which should benefit all legitimate producers in the state whilst benefitting the consumer. It may also provide a much needed national (and global) vehicle to drive awareness of Arizona wines where the populace is not familiar with how good and respectable our wines have become.

So the formation of a governing body whose primary purpose is to drive excellence, consistency, and success sounds like a great idea to just about everyone! If managed effectively and fairly, it should lead to better wine, further growth in sales, and drive markets not yet established. Everyone wins!

So what could be wrong with this?

As with any big change there will be resistance and skepticism. People are inherently leery of change and in this case these concerns are amplified because the four (eight) founders of the alliance seemingly created it with little or no participation from most of the other winemakers in the state.

It also appears the new AVA has no association with the long-standing Arizona Wine Growers Association (AWGA), which may have it’s faults but undeniably has a well-established foundation of Best Practices and is comprised of legitimate wineries from all the growing regions in the state (Willcox, Sonoita/Elgin, Cottonwood/Clarkdale/Cornville).

The AWGA is governed by well-intentioned (volunteer and elected) members and officers doing their best to promote the same goals as the new AVA: Improve quality, increase awareness, and drive success locally and abroad.

So this begs the questions: Does the decision to create the new vignerons alliance inherently give it’s founders the power to run it, develop the standards by which all other wineries are judged, and control the organization moving forward? Is it even necessary?

It may take some time to answer these questions, at least if the founders are willing to listen and heed some of the feedback they’re bound to get. If they aren’t willing to listen, that will certainly make it harder (if not impossible) for them to achieve their stated goals, since exclusion will have the side affect of reducing competition, dividing resources, and weakening those winemakers less established in an already tough market.

Or worse, the AVA could refuse to assist competing winemakers with differing business or philosophical motivations than the founders. In other words, the AVA is meant to be a vehicle for universal success, but could serve as a potential platform to push personal agendas, giving the founders undue influence on competing wineries they disagree with or those who choose not to participate.

After looking around on the AVA website you can see the founders made significant efforts to state they have good intentions. They say the motivation for their alliance is based on what’s already been done in European countries where the wine industry is centuries old. They say they want what’s best for their businesses and their families, and that they’re working toward goals that will benefit everyone, including the consumer. And for now, I have no reason to doubt them.

Except for one thing: The way this organization was conceived and formed behind closed doors. Transparency breeds trust, and it seems the founding members of the AVA missed a great opportunity in that respect. Or did they?

Perhaps they felt the diplomacy and patience needed to form a truly voluntary alliance was just too much effort? Maybe they felt the formation of a democratic alliance similar to the existing AWGA would be futile, and who knows, maybe it is. There certainly is no published or (apparently) overt desire to drive a wedge in the burgeoning Arizona wine industry… But unfortunately that’s exactly what they did and I suspect they knew this going into it.

They’ve gone public and in doing so deserve scrutiny, if for no other reason than the unilateral way the Alliance was formed and stacked with self-appointed leaders. Leaders who each have their own vineyards, their own priorities, and can now push an agenda more beneficial to themselves than their smaller peers and equal competition.

In addition, some of the provisional rules already published seem designed to exclude specific winemakers from certification by the AVA. Why should an Arizona winemaker using 100% Arizona grapes be excluded from certification just because they don’t use grapes from vines older than five years? And as for the barrel-aging process, why should that be a limiting factor either, as long as the intended consumer enjoys the final product at a price point accessible to them?

There’s a good chance many of the founders of the AVA will never read this, or if they do they’ll dismiss my words out of hand. After all, who the hell am I?

My answer to that question is, I’m your customer!

I’m the consumer who keeps you in business, and I’m an ardent advocate & supporter of all things Arizona, especially your wine. And as a consumer I feel like I was just forced into a discussion that’s very uncomfortable for a lot of people to have… where it’s impossible to really know the truth or consequences of this new alliance.

I may not have a financial stake in this whole thing or even a seat at the table, but I certainly see the potential for it to hurt the industry rather than help it… This could divide an industry that really needs to be working as a team right now.

So if any of the AVA founders have read this far and are listening, my hope is you make the effort to reach out to all winemakers. Give all an equal opportunity to be part of this process. Give all a say in forming the rules by which they’ll be judged, and be transparent with your efforts. The perception of bias and elitism is reality if that’s the way it ends up coming across to everyone but you.

There’ll be wineries who still have no interest in participating, but that decision mustn’t lead to decisions and rules that hurt them. If the AVA isn’t political and it isn’t divisive, a decision not to participate shouldn’t preclude others from having a voice in the development of standards ultimately meant to apply to everyone (or no one).

As you move forward with the development of this governing body, try to respect the fact you aren’t the only ones with something at stake. And you aren’t the only ones who deserve a seat at the table just because you were the first to sit down.

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It’s a very big table and there’s more than enough to go around…

Christian Burns McBeth

THE ARIZONA WINE REVOLUTION – “LIVIN-LA-VINO LOCAL”

ARIZONA GRAPS

Anyone exploring Arizona wine for the first time will take about a year before they form their own opinions on who the “top” players are. But if you listen to the wino’s who’ve already spent the time exploring, you just might save yourself a bunch of money!

That’s what we did when we met Ken and Anita, who guided us on our first steps toward exploring the Arizona wine and food scene. We met them on a cool September afternoon at the Arizona Stronghold tasting room in Cottonwood Arizona, and ended up at the Page Springs Cellars Harvest party that evening!

Based on Ken and Anita giving us a push in the right direction, and the good experiences we’ve had with Arizona wines since then at incredible eateries like FnB (Scottsdale) & The Breadfruit (Phoenix), we’ve developed a fairly good understanding of who the best Arizona winegrowers and winemakers are.

Just to be really clear about this, there is no such thing as a legit “Top 10” list… its way too subjective, and the Arizona wine scene is evolving so quickly just when you think you have things figured out, everything changes! But that’s what makes it such an exciting time for Arizona wine makers, and wine drinkers.

After getting to know most of the more successful winegrowers in the state, and trying wines from all of them, we’ve come up with a short list of the “best”… in our opinion (my wife and I).

All of the wine labels I’ve listed below have earned industry accolades in national media from world renowned wine critics, local experts, and major wine publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.

In fact, Rob and Sarah Hammelman’s 2013 Sand-Reckoner Cochise County Malvasia Bianca was recently voted onto the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Top 100 Wines” for a second time. So I’m giving you a head start on the current AZ wine scene (which changes daily), and you’ll need to do the rest of the work yourself by figuring out which of these work for you!

  • Pillsbury Wine Company
  • Callaghan
  • Dos Cabezas
  • Sand Reckoner
  • Page Springs Cellars
  • Arizona Stronghold
  • Caduceus, Merkin, & FOUR-EIGHT wine works (Maynard’s endeavor’s)
  • Lawrence Dunham
  • Keeling Schaefer
  • Saeculum Cellars (boutique wines)
  • Bodega Pierce
  • Chateau Tumbleweed
  • Dektown Cellars
  • Burning Tree
  • And our newest “fav”… Carlson Creek! (Met them at the Festival @ The Farm!)

That list just saved you two years and about $2500… you’re welcome! 🙂

Seriously though, there are a number of AZ wines we’ve not tried, and I know some of them have one or two gems in their repertoire. Check out the recent 2014 Arizona Republic Wine Competition to get a feel for the award winners we have amongst us!

I would however, like to make a point about “Top” lists and competitions like the one I linked you to above: There is always something missed that’s worthy of recognition! So in reality, all these lists or competitions can (or should) do is provide a starting point! Make sure to explore on your own, or at least listen to wine-lovers (a.k.a. winos) you know!

The Arizona wine industry is going through a revolution right now analogous to what Napa Valley went through in the 1970’s. But we have a huge advantage: Years and years of experience to draw from! For the first time, AZ winegrowers are producing wines that are on par with (and in some cases better than) similar wines produced in northern California, and even the south of France. But don’t take my word for it, listen to the experts and do some “research” on your own (drink it!), after all it’s about what you like, and nobody else!

As you do research, try to avoid “Top Ten” lists from the internet like the plague. They are usually cobbled together from 2nd hand experiences or worse, outdated sources originally published by people who are neither trustworthy, nor objective. Not to mention, “10” is a simple and arbitrary # used to catch the attention of readers… but in a world as complex as wine it’s impossible to come up with a top ten list and expect anyone to take you seriously. At any given time, there are at least 25 or 30 “top ten” wines floating around Arizona, so in the end you’ll have to either try them yourself, or take the word of someone you know and trust, like me! 🙂

The crazy thing about what’s going on in Arizona right now is the bar of excellence and success is being raised every year by leaps and bounds. This friendly competition between winegrowers and winemakers has resulted in the best wines we’ve ever produced, and an atmosphere of excitement for those of us who enjoy drinking what comes from our own back yard.

The term “localvore” was coined to describe a culinary and cultural trend of consuming things locally grown and sold through local farmers markets and restaurants… and the same thing is becoming a trend in the Arizona wine industry.

I jokingly refer to it as livin-la-vino local! (I know, it’s reminiscent of a bad Ricky Martin joke!) Now more than any time before, there are a plethora of fantastic winemakers and winegrowers in Arizona who choose to produce their wines exclusively from Arizona grown grapes & yeast sources (not all the winemakers and growers on my list do this).

Everyone  agrees this results in a variety of tastes and experiences very unique to the Southwest. They call that local flavor terroir, which is a cool French way of saying the wine takes on characteristics reminiscent of where it came from, and the drinker can pick up on those nuances if they take the time to detect them: sniff, swish, swallow, repeat 🙂

There are 3 primary growing regions in Arizona, so make sure you visit all of them:

  1. Cottonwood (North)
  2. Sonoita (South)
  3. Willcox (Southeast)

If you decide to head South, check out this great website developed by a couple local Arizona residents dedicated to promoting wine, art, and commerce in the Willcox area. It’s the best map I’ve found that covers all the wineries and tasting rooms in the area, along with some landmarks and special galleries, etc. : http://www.willcoxwines.com

In addition, there are tasting rooms cropping up right in the middle of town (Lawrence Dunham) or tastings offered at a number of great local restaurants around the Phoenix valley who showcase Arizona wines. Make sure you find local places that serve Arizona wine, and let them know you came there to support the cause.

So go forth my friends, and start exploring the world of Arizona wines. The research is by far the funnest part! And in the process you’ll meet a lot of great people, make many new friends, and you will develop a deeper respect for the wines that come from your own back yard.

And if you aren’t from around these parts, welcome to the Wild-Wild West! Enjoy your journey through Arizona wine country!

Christian Burns McBeth Your Traveling Nerd…

THE MEANING OF LIFE (AND DEATH)

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October 6th, 1975, my father Richard Burdette Burns died of what can only be described as a long, drawn-out series of ups and downs in his battle with Brain Cancer. In those days, the “science” of brain cancer was in its infancy and frankly the medical techniques used to treat the disease were as devastating as the disease itself. The disease and treatments changed him, or at least changed his behavior in so many tragic ways. It was unbearable.

I have very few memories of my real father… many of them are wonderful, but one in particular haunts me to this day:

Dad had just gotten out of brain surgery and his entire cranium had been removed to expose the brain. The scar all the way around his head was Frankenstein… when he woke up he wanted to see his family and Mom brought us all into the ICU where we were surrounded by crazy noises and frightening things. Upon seeing his terrible scar we burst out crying and were afraid to get near him. I still get sad thinking about how that made him feel, but I know he was a strong young man and knew we still loved him.

It’s so tragic in so many ways, but I’ve come to realize life is sometimes tragic… and bad things happen to good people every day. But with the gift of life we must also accept the hard times and persevere. This process teaches us how to appreciate the gifts all around us. And if you look close enough, you’ll see you are surrounded by these gifts of life, it’s just harder to recognize them when things are not going well.

So it was not a happy time… but we were fortunate to be surrounded by love and the hope of a day when it would be.

Mom, being overwhelmed with all of this, was juggling the responsibility of holding down a full time job, while also raising her three little boys. Family pitched in as much as possible and Grandma & Grandpa Burns, and the entire Burns clan (Uncle John, Aunt Sue, Aunt Marsha) did what they could to see we had times of joy in our lives outside the evenings we shared with Mom after work. Uncle Ricky (Mom’s half brother) was also a fun and positive influence in our lives, and remains so today.

Meanwhile, Mom’s childhood sweet heart was changing before her eyes, our Dad was becoming someone we didn’t know. Everyone knew Dad had a history of brain cancer, but when things started going bad again, nobody knew it was because of an accelerated relapse of his tumors, and those tumors were fundamentally changing the operation of his brain, his personality, his actions. The tumors were taking our Dad away.

In the year before Dad died, Mom made a decision to move us away from L.A. to Salt Lake City. Mom simply could not handle the responsibility of it all while simultaneously watching the love of her life turn into someone she didn’t know.

I can’t imagine how hard this decision was for her, but I know to this day she has deep feelings of guilt because of it. And why wouldn’t she? She was forced by life, to make a decision between keeping herself healthy and raising her children, or staying with our father and risk losing her own life… leaving us orphans.

She did what she had to do, but that does not make it any easier for her, or for Dad’s brothers and sisters (and his Mom and Dad – Grandma and Grandpa Burns) who cared for Dad during his final days. Sometimes there are decisions we have to make, that we can never reconcile…

During this period, we were active members in the Mormon Church and there was a lot of support from family, friends, and neighbors. This help was a Godsend for Mom, and later in life I realized how great it was for us boys too. I’m no longer active in the church for personal reasons, but to this day I have nothing but respect for the organization because of the fabric of family, and caring for one’s neighbor… good tenets for anyone to follow regardless of your race, creed, or political leanings.

But at the end of the day, it was Mom who came home after a long day’s work and made dinner, cleaned up, did the laundry, got us ready for bed, ready for school, made breakfast, drove us to and fro, took as to the doctor, paid the bills. All you Moms and Dads out there know exactly what I’m talking about… the grind.

And in spite of all that, no matter how dark things got, Mom always took time with each of us one-on-one… tickling our backs to help us fall asleep, singing a lullaby to ease our anxieties, holding our hands as we drifted off into a dream world that was in some ways better than the reality we all shared.

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Dad lost his battle with cancer this day 39 years ago, but he left behind a legacy of three brave boys… all of whom carry him inside, and will never forget his kindness, his sense of humor, and his insatiable desire to enhance the lives of those around him.

We remember fondly the good times, and as time has passed the bad ones have softened too. From those memories comes the realization that life is not easy, and maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe its all a test to see how we react, I don’t know.

But one thing I do know is the lessons we learned from Mom and Dad have stayed with us: Lessons of love, understanding, perseverance, and appreciation for the good things in life.

Mom and Dad taught us life is precious, and the “meaning of life” is to make the most of it by enhancing the lives of others.

Maybe some day we will be reunited. That would be a great reunion filled with hugs, laughter, and tears… (and perhaps a couple finger-pulls to get the laughter going again :-))

Until that day I will do my best to treat my friends and family with respect, love, and always do what I can to make their lives just a little bit better… with no regrets when I reach the finish line hand-in-hand with the love of my life, Amy Libutaque McBeth.

“So live your life that the fear of death may never enter your heart”…

XOXO

THE HEROES AMONG US

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HERO: Coined in 1387, the word hero comes from the Greek (hērōs), “hero, warrior” and literally translated means “protector” or “defender”.

So how long does it take to become a hero? One moment? An hour? A lifetime?

How can you achieve this revered status? Unfortunately, I don’t really know!

But after experiencing the death and recovery of Mom since last Sunday’s drowning at Stinson Beach, I’ve come to realize there are two basic kinds of heroes:

There are “reluctant” heroes, and those who earn the title one day at a time.

My definition of a reluctant hero is a soldier, a firefighter, an EMT or innocent bystander who is presented with an unexpected situation, and because of their training or willingness to help they end up performing a heroic action like saving our beautiful Mom.

These reluctant heroes seldom want recognition, and often feel guilty when others project the “hero” label on them. They are just doing their jobs in many cases, and to a large degree I agree with that sentiment.

But to the person they saved, that reluctance doesn’t make them any less deserving of heroic recognition.

As humans we love to hear about heroic actions and we have a tendency to put reluctant heroes on a pedestal and idolize them. We crave that kind of feel-good story that is the stuff of movies: So neat, so tidy, so definitive. But real life is seldom so elegant, and resolution seldom comes with such expedience.

In Mom’s case, our firemen heroes (although off-duty) were in fact just doing their job, or at least what they were trained to do. They were in the right place at the right time (divine intervention?) and had they, the lifeguard on duty, or the two folks who originally pulled Mom from the water sat idly by, Mom would have paid the ultimate price and a tsunami of grief would have followed shortly thereafter.

But you know what I think makes them real heroes? Not the action they took, but the split-second decision they made to get involved. All of them.

They suppressed the fear or uncertainty any person has when confronting a life or death situation and took action immediately. Reluctant heroes are often the embodiment of actions speaking louder than words.

While reluctant heroes are typically thrust into their heroic situation against their will, one-day-at-a-time heroes are also our guardian angels and they come in all shapes and sizes.

I’ll call them the heroes among us.

Through hard work, dedication, and consistently protecting and defending those who can’t do it for themselves, the heroes among us deserve as much respect and recognition as the reluctant heroes, after all, they perform exactly the same life-saving heroism… the only difference is they do it over a much longer period, and they do it willfully.

During the past few days I’ve become acutely aware of (and found inspiration in) the heroes all around us. These are the heroes that earn our respect day in and day out through dedication, hard work, and meaningful interaction in our lives. The heroes I’m talking about are the caregivers at the Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo California, and of course our family and friends who’ve been so supportive through this painful experience with Mom.

Firstly, the nurses, technicians, therapists, and doctors who helped Mom:

They are as responsible for saving her life as the two firemen on the beach! They are heroes in every sense of the word. I don’t need to go into a long drawn out explanation of what they do, but suffice it to say they spend all day on their feet, walking from patient to patient, dealing with all kinds of terrible situations, and they still keep their heads up, their noses to the grind-stone, and make life-changing decisions at a moments notice with minimal information.

And they usually do it with a smile and a positive attitude meant to lift the spirits of those around them.

These hard working people take risk, the reward of which is to save a human life. And they take these risks every day, every hour, every minute. They protect, and they defend, and they do it at their own peril and in most cases without special recognition or thanks.

They truly are the heroes among us.

Mom is another hero in this story. She is so strong and so deeply desires not to miss anything fun that I guess she simply was not ready to go, and we are glad. When she finally opened her shining eyes three days after her accident and chatted with us about what happened, and how she got where she was, her very first instincts were to apologize for causing such a fuss and upsetting the kids and the family. She talked about how they were having “such a blast” then just remembers “being slammed”, and darkness.

Her second instinct was to share her deepest gratitude with the “hotties” who saved her life (the firemen), and the hospital staff who’ve been so instrumental in her journey back to us. She is a shining example of a life-long hero. One who has been through many trials in life, and through it all she’s never retreated or gone to a dark place, which is what so many others have succumbed to when confronted with great tragedy and challenges in life. Mom never focuses on her self, but instead chooses to project her positive energy on the people around her and in return that positive energy comes back to nourish her in spades. She is the real-life manifestation of “the power of positive thinking!”

Dad (Jeff), Ricky (Mom’s brother) and Allison (Rick’s wife) are heroes #2,3, and 4 in this beautiful story. Each of them processed this tragedy in different ways, but their actions were in keeping with the fine traditions of other heroes among us!

As you might imagine, Dad has been deeply affected by this whole thing. The devastating realization that life is short, and the fragility of our journey along its path can change unexpectedly at a moments notice. But in Mom’s darkest hour, Dad showed us his instinct to protect and defend her is not diminished, and in fact is strengthened. Dad sat by Mom’s side for nearly three days non stop, held her hand, spoke soothingly to her… he made sure the staff was well aware she is loved and needed by many!

Rick (Uncle Ricky as I like to call him) is also our hero, and Mom & Dad’s defender. Rick is Mom’s little brother and they share what I’ll so geekily describe as a covalent bond, and just like in chemistry, that bond can’t be broken without causing a powerful burst of energy. Ricky is one of the most level headed, sarcastically funny, uber-heroes among us I’ve had the privilege to love in my life. Like Dad, he was there since day one sitting with Mom, holding her hand, talking with her, and making sure that when she woke up briefly in a haze of narcotics and trauma, she was not stricken by the fear that would surely be brought on by the pain in her chest and the uncertainty of not knowing where she was or how she got there.

Rick also formed a strong bond with Dad by sharing the deeply emotional experience of watching helplessly as someone who forms the center of their universe struggle to stay with us. Making sure Dad had (reluctant) periods of respite so he could get some much needed and critical sleep. After all, Dad is now Mom’s guardian angel and she will need him healthy now more than ever before.

Sweet Allison is also a hero among us. Wife, sister, and Mom (and Aunt, but she’s only a few years older than me:-)… all at the same time, and all while dealing with this tragedy and juggling the life of a mother with two children Ben and Kate, in their FINAL WEEK OF SCHOOL: How does a mother deal with all this at the same time and keep it together? I can’t begin to deconstruct that, but I know she and Mom share many great virtues including selflessness, generosity, and an uncanny ability to feel empathy. In sharing these virtues with those around her, Allison keeps her own trials in perspective and in that clarity comes strength. Perhaps when this is all over and the storm has passed, it will involve some serious reflection, and quite possibly a few bottles of good wine that Amy and I will gladly help her with!

My incredible wife Amy is also a hero among us, and not just because she is a teacher of middle school math! From the moment we found out about this tragedy, she went into what I affectionately call her “crisis mode” where she puts up the deflector shields, shuts off her emotions as much as possible, and helps me manage my emotions to arrive at good decisions. In her strength I find mine, and Amy’s been by my side every step of the way, gotten less sleep, stayed more level-headed, and provided more comfort than anything else could have. She is what I needed to make it through this, and for that I love her dearly.

Last night after a really long and trying day of standing vigil over Mom, Amy even spent an extra two hours with Rick and Allison’s son Ben, helping him prepare for his final math exam. I tried to wait up, but passed out around midnight only to sense her getting in bed around 1:30am exhausted and shivering because she was freezing (believe it or not, its 55 degrees at night here in the Bay area during summer!). It never occurred to her to complain or interrupt her session with Ben to go put on a sweater or get some gloves. That’s what makes her a hero among us, and quite reluctantly I might add.

And lastly, but certainly not leastly (no, that isn’t a word, but who cares) the heroes among us who are family and friends. During an event like this the power of positive thinking, the support and prayers… its all good, it’s all meaningful, and I believe it all had a very real affect on the positive outcome.

Everything from Rick and Andrea helping out with a hotel room next to the hospital, to all the heart-felt wishes and notes of support… it all added up to an overwhelmingly positive experience, and one that reaffirmed my personal commitment to strengthen our “family” ties and continue my efforts at getting our families together more often to share this love in the good times, not just the bad ones.

As we see now, it must have worked! The prayers, the thoughts, the support, it all had a singular purpose and that purpose was to empower those of us around Mom to exude the confidence and energy she needed to come back.

And boy, did she ever!

Mom’s survival was made possible by a series of what can only be described as divine interventions… the bystanders who pulled her from the water, the off-duty firemen and the lifeguard at Stinson who literally brought her back to life with the defibrillator and CPR, and the care-givers who watched over her the following week, nursing her back to health.

All we can do is give thanks to the heroes among us, and renew our commitment to living a full life deserving of their sacrifices.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

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With a 45-panel 11.70 kW solar array, we’re currently producing enough electricity in one day to power two or three average houses (72kWh yesterday), and our highest production in May 2015 was 76kWh in a single day.

The surplus power we generate (mostly during the spring and early summer months) is fed back into the local grid and helps defray our power company’s cost of providing power to our neighbors. Arizona Power Supply (APS) pays us $.03/kWh for our surplus solar energy, and they turn around and sell it to the neighbors for as much as $.24/kWh.

Other times when we’re not generating power (dark or cloudy) we use power from their grid just like everyone else, and we pay the same rates along with our taxes.

We paid to install the solar array and we pay to maintain it. The only cost APS incurs is… nothing. So they profit from our solar power, and that power costs them nothing to produce. That’s a pretty favorable business position for them to be in.

So why are they scared?

Recently you started seeing ad campaigns claiming you are subsidizing your neighbor’s solar use. APS claims “net-metering” of surplus solar energy will cost them (and therefore non-solar customers) more money. Net-metering is when the power company pays us for our extra solar energy that is pumped into their grid, and they re-sell it to others for a pure profit.

But don’t believe them. Their math is, well, not even mathematical… they have an agenda and are literally making things up just to vilify the adoption of solar energy for no other reason than to slow it down. Believe me, there is no time like the present to buy solar, because the “power” these corporations hold over our government and our local legislators is endless… and they WILL figure out a way to change the game.

Their ruse is irresponsible and meant to fool you and our law makers into thinking solar isn’t viable technologically or financially, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. These ad campaigns are paid for by “Big Energy”… so do you think they have an anti-solar agenda?

Private citizens (and many businesses and schools) are paying to install these roof-top solar systems and in the case of APS and other power companies, they actually profit from our surplus power… and the big energy companies pay nothing to produce it.

So how are you subsidizing your neighbor’s solar installation?

The fact is you’re not; it’s the other way around, and that scares them. In the long run, this could actually save the power companies millions of dollars because it slows the necessity of upgrading their antiquated infrastructure. So again, why are they scared?

Behemoth & monopolistic big energy companies (oil, NG, coal, nuclear) are scared right now because solar energy is viable, and it’s taking off. It’s so viable in fact, it poses an imminent threat to their profitability. It’s also a serious threat to the stranglehold they have on our government, our economy, and our judicial system.

Privatized and decentralized clean energy will undeniably cost these huge conglomerates market share, but the loss of market share isn’t necessarily what they fear most. Their worst fear is the loss of power (and I’m not talking about electricity).

Maintaining a controlling and manipulative position is what compels these organizations to spend tens of millions demonizing clean energy. They’re relentlessly lobbying against it and spreading miss-information with no other reason than to slow down its inevitable adoption. And make no mistake, it is inevitable. Solar or otherwise, we will eventually be forced to use alternatives.

Carbon energy sources like oil, coal, and natural gas are non-renewable. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever, and the scarcer they become the more we’ll pay through the nose for them. And big energy knows this. They stand to profiteer more off us in the final days of this outdated carbon-energy policy than in all the decades prior.

But when we as a civilization know something is absolutely going to happen (its just a matter of time) isn’t the smartest path one taken sooner than later? One where we get out in front of the problem? One where we figure out a way to mutually profit from the change, and in doing so, maybe even save our planet?

I’m no priest, I’m not even very religious, but I’m pretty sure if there is a God, a path of ecological responsibility and cleanliness is one that leads to Godliness. And if there is no God (in the literal protect-me-from-harm sense of the word), that’s even more incentive to keep our earth healthy, because there is no salvation in self-destruction!

If you look at the inevitable depletion and ever-increasing costs of carbon energy sources coupled with the potential destruction of our planet, it certainly seems smart to pursue clean energy alternatives without hesitation, even if they do cost more per kWh than oil in some cases.

The Federal government is currently offering incentives for us to install clean energy with a 30% tax subsidy (assuming you pay that much in taxes in the first place). They do this for many reasons but one stands out in my mind: It’s a matter of National Security.

Our National power-grid is perilously close to collapse and is dangerously vulnerable to outages affecting entire regions of the USA. We need to take some pressure off the grid or risk the lives of many. We’ve been pretty lucky here in the Southwest, but that luck will eventually run out. The vulnerability of our decaying power distribution network is a clear and present danger to our National Security and it’s a ticking time bomb that could be exploited by evil-doers.

We know outages of any scale and duration will result in suffering and death because they’ve already occurred, and at an alarming and ever-increasing rate . We can reasonably expect extended loss of power in a region to eventually collapse the economy and destroy much more than just our ability to watch TV and browse the Internet.

Imagine no access to your money, no credit card, no ATM. No food, no water, no medicine, no gas. We’re talking anarchy: tons of guns, take what you want, dog-eat-dog, predators preying on the weak, post-war apocalyptic Road-Warrior kind of stuff…

So I have grave doubts about investing billions into an already antiquated power-grid and generation system that’s ultimately neither scalable nor sustainable. Instead we should push to further decentralize our power generation and in doing so mitigate the inherent large-scale risks of our current carbon-based energy policy.

By investing in solar, wind, and other regionalized clean-energy sources we take immediate load off the already broken power grid, and as clean power-generation efficiencies and power-storage technologies evolve, we can eventually eliminate the need for a national power grid all together.

The complexities of this discussion are way out of our hands and true change can only be affected with sweeping support and action in our government, which we all know isn’t going to happen any time soon… So maybe the best thing we can do is take initiative on our own by looking at the options available right now. Options more accessible and easier to obtain than at any time in our history.

Spend some time looking at this mathematically and my bet is you’ll find it makes more sense than you thought. If you have any doubt about the viability of going solar, contact your local solar installer and have them sit down with you and analyze the numbers.

Do the math!

My installer actually took direct excel reports from my APS invoices, ran calculations based on our roof size, angle, and other factors and helped us intelligently design an array that accomplished our goal: To save money on day one.

And guess what? It worked!

And I’m just one of thousands who can prove it’s working, and it’s working well.

So let’s do the math:

BEFORE SOLAR: We were on APS’ “Equalizer”. This resulted in fixed monthly payments of $260/mo. from about May to October, and $220/mo. the rest of the year, totaling approximately $2880 annually.

AFTER SOLAR: Now we pay $168/mo. for our solar loan (12 years @ 2.99% apr), and our APS power bill is nearly zero ($12 tax) for nine (yes 9) months of the year. The other three months we still pay our $168 loan, and we withdrawal from our “net-metering” credits to pay an average of only $100 beyond our loan in September and October, totaling $2256 annually.

Before: $2880 annually. 
After: $2256 annually (we put zero $$ down to buy this).

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And the cost of electricity is ONLY going to keep climbing up, while my cost to produce it with solar is fixed for the next 11 years and mostly free after that!

The math doesn’t lie: Anyone good (or bad!) with numbers will see if you engineer the solar array size correctly, you can achieve what is called an instant Return On Investment, or “ROI”.

Right from the start, we are saving money. But perhaps more importantly we’re investing our hard-earned money in a privately owned and decentralized power plant that (once paid off) will continue to produce the preponderance of our day-time power needs for nearly free, and at the same time free us from the bondage of relentless, inevitable increases in carbon-based energy… Oh, and we might just be doing our part to save our planet if you believe in that sort of thing.

So yea, I’m a believer.

I’m a believer in solar energy, and I’m a believer in putting the power back where it belongs: In the hands of the people, and not with our Government or the faceless Corporations that own it!