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Soooooo, my buddy D  just had in his little gchat tag line “when are we going to see another Burlytown Gazette post?”  It kind of made my eyes pop out of my head, Roger Rabbit style for a second with the kind of fear that you only experience when a teacher calls on you to answer a question that relates to the homework from last night that you did not do.  At first there was the slow trickle anxiety followed by mild rage that someone would have the nerve to call you out like that, followed by deep seeded head-strong promises that you’ll be a better, more disciplined little doggy.

The last few weeks have been cool cool.  I was out of town last week in Colorado for biz.  Landed in Denver-downer and immediately high tailed it out to Vail.  Vail is moneyed and has a cool little village area with shops and over-priced restaurants.

Aspen is a whole different can of worms.  It’s a mountain town first and foremost.  But it also has 5 star shopping, sleeping, eating, drinking, and crazy people.  Aspen is positioned between some of the most aesthetic, coveted mountaineering objectives in North America so the contrast between hardcore skiers, explorers and do-nothing-spend-everything glittering waistoids is dramatic.

For every Porsche Cayenne driving d-bag there are hard working people like Brad from the Aspen Brewery.  He and his buddies have started that place form scratch and the beers they have been churning out since St Patrick’s Day of 2008 are the real deal.  I spent a little time there, you know, just a little, tasting through the line up and they were all quality beers and certain gems like the Ajax Pilsner and Conundrum Red brought the party the mouthy.

Before we go, I’d like to address the issue of author photos as well.

authorYou should always ALWAYS  try to look like Lionel Richtie and Braveheart’s mystical love child swirling through the far hinter-lands of star-5B67TY*halfmanhalfamazingX4, always.  Terrestrial names are for suckers, call yourself the Dragonman and have a community access show.  d00d, this guy’s info about himself is a swirl of golden space dust!  You can’t compete with that!

I’m too worked up, out.

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There’s this old corny saying that goes “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.”  As I am about a month into my first harvest experience here at the top of Howell Mountain, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  You know what it takes?  Water and electricity.  All day, and my days are running about 14 backbreaking hours of physical labor I am surrounded by two of the most deadly elements when combined: water and electricity.

It would behoove me to wear a rain suit all day , but then I’d sweat like Josh Howard in a VFW hall.  It’s been really pleasant weather wise, just balmy, cool, and clear unobstructed views across the valley to western Mayacamus mountains.  I wake up at 5:30 every morning, it’s dark and I make coffee.  I shower at the END of the day now which is in reality a really nice way to go about life you end the day on this super-clean note and wake up, hit the ground, get coffee, eat some Kashi, fill up on Sportscenter and head out the door.

I pray to Jah that each day is not going to be the day when I need to start my routine with a face off with the family of racoons that live in the vicinity of where I live.  I may start packing some steel with me in case this happens, and by steel, I mean a big gnarly sharpened hoe in case I need to chop off some racoon heads one morning.  That would be sad, but I’m also not trying to go hand-to-hand with these bastard trash-guzzling rodents.

Once I’m in my car, NPR is a wasteland so I go through the ipod.  Because it’s dark, but it’s early I opt for some deep shit that’ll get me thinking and freaked out.  Burial, some Tricky, Eluvium, sometime I go shuffle just to see what fate will deal me that particular moment.  Today I went that route and I was really stoked by the time I got to work.  You know how sometimes shuffle plays TWO songs from the same album back to back?  Well I got Jay Reatard “My Shadow” and “Death is Forming.”  Holy cow, I was waiting for the Swedish orgy team to be on the side of the road and give me road massage for giving them a ride to the rainbow they came from.

The ride up the mountain is really pleasant.  You’d have to be Scrooge McDuck’s broken bill not to love the view in certain places/  Once I’m on Howell Mountain road I gain about 1000 feet straight up and then the road continues on the back side of the mountain for about 2 miles.  Conn Valley is way below and the hills are surrounded by morning pockets of fog and cran-orange light from the horizon.  This road is not so much a road as paved surface.  A couple times my heart has taken a nose dive right on top of my nuts as a huge cement truck or equal sized  vehicle comes barreling around a blind corner at about 40 mph +, no big deal and it does more for me than the coffee.  One of these days I’ll bring my coffee with me, pull over to the side of the orad and watch the day come alive wrapped in a electric blanket of 87 degree emotion.  Both hands on the mug, held close to my pursed appreciative lips, losers.

I arrive at the winery, talk shit with my fellow harvesters, mostly focusing on how ugly, stupid and sex deprived they all are, we laugh, it’s cool.  Oh we all have mustaches.  All 5 of us, mine is the best, that’s not me being all uppity, my mustache is the fucking bee’s knees, it’s sick, it howls at the early morning moon then I get to work.

There are two chemicals that dominate my daily existence:  TSP and Citric Acid.  If you found a maggot-infested armadillo carcass on the side of the road, dipped it in TSP/water/Citric/water it would come out a 8 ounce cut of the best damn filet mignon the world has ever seen.  We spend about an hour cleaning all the equipment we will be using that day with this system.  The equipment includes sumps, trays, shovels, hoses of various sizes, an irrigator, pitchers, buckets, graduated cylanders, hydrometers, clamps, and gaskets.  Once the fruit comes in and it is sorted and de-stemmed it is pumped into anywhere from 739-2269 gallon stainless steel tanks where the berries and juice begins to ferment.  Each morning we do pump overs which involves all the equipment listed above.

The sump is a large stainless steel bin that holds 100 gallons. The steel mesh tray sits on top.  We open a valve at the bottom of the tank and the berries and juice come rushing into the tray, the liquid goes in the bin, the berries stay in the tray.  When the berries get too full in the bin, I shovel them into a 5 gallon bucket that weighs in at 35-40 pounds and haul it up about 20 stairs to a cat walk above the tanks and dump it back in the top of the tank.  There can be up to 4 or 5 of these trips and sometime I do 4 or 5 pumovers each morning.  It’s similiar to watching events in World’s Strongest Man competitions, except we are making fine wine.  The liquid is constantly being pumped via a hose through the irrigator at the top of the tank creating a cycling effect, mixing berries and juice and making a smooth even ferment process.

After you use anything, you clean it with tsp/water/citric/water, this may not sound like a big deal, but this is 80% of what I spend my time doing, every winery is this way.  The morning is a stellar time up here, the light comes over one side of the vineyard and lights up the grapes, then it’s behind the guest house, then it’s over towards the west illuminating the valley.  Today after lunch our Assistant Winemaker put a tee in our dirt patio area and blasted a couple balls into the abyss this is below our property.  It drops about 700 feet right off the patio.  We eat lunch together at a big table in the guest house.  Lunch is provided by the winery.  Today we told some dead baby jokes and clown suit jokes, killer stuff.

We have a rough idea of when fruit is going to come in, but it’s never certain.  If fruit shows up at 5:00 pm you have set up the sorting table which is about the width and height of a large dumptruck, de-stemmer, stem bin, auger, pump and make sure the tank the fruit is going into is sterilized and read to go.  It gets cold here at night, down to high 40s, low 50s and when you spend 3 or 4 hours in that temperature handling cold fruit, you get antsy in the pantsy to get it over with.  My hands these days are quite stained purple and there are lots of lines I never had before.

I’m really tired in the morning, and really tired when I get home, my whole body is sore.  But when I get to the bar, that first beer tastes so damn good when I have it, it’s stunning.  I get a little loopy, sometimes there’s a million things happening at once and I’ve been working for 12 hours staright and I haven’t had a day off in 18 days.  It’s hectic, but overall it’s incredibly rewarding and cool to be a part of producing some of the best wine on the planet.  More on that to come.

It had been a while since we had ventured away from delicate china with ounce portions of seared foie on beds of children’s hair, $145 glasses of micro-climate produced cab and a sturdy population of white waspy people, so my main squeeze and I hit the skies for our former place of habitat and debauchery.

Before we were leaving, California and particularly the Tahoe area were experiencing an epic 50-year storm cycle that was planning to dump an estimated 10 feet of snow at Kirkwood.   No big deal I guess, the next time one of these rolls around I’ll be 78 and definitely by then science will have come up with a fountain of youth or some viagra off shoot that will make me able to ski neck-deep pow and throw huge back flips off 30 foot cliffs all the while reading 2058 editions of the New York Times on my brain cavity with much rejoice that life is simpler thinking I was so silly for fretting over this earlirer storm.  FYI, it actually dumped 12 feet of snow at Kirkwood, try that on for size.  Oh, is it too big for you?  Yeah, join the club papi.

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Leading up to Wednesday of this week I was waking up every morning with a sore throat, achey, and generally in sick-mode. As soon as I heard the Sierras would be getting some decent snow mid-week I put all that behind me and focused on getting some good turns in before the holiday. I drove to Kirkwood to meet up with my friend Eric and get a day of skiing in at the mountain. Snowpack levels here in the Tahoe have been startlingly low all season. Up until this day, the top of Kirkwood was wind scoured, bare and the mid-mountain and base were barely covered with a paltry 23 inches, dominated by volcanic death cookies, weeds, and other unsavory blights for skiers. Tuesday night had dumped a promising foot and a half and I arrived bright and early to clear skies and no crowds.
The early part of the day Eric and I tried to conserve our bases as much as possible from massive destruction. Kirkwood’s famous rare earth is the consistency of geodesic boulders dipped in razor blades and one bite from a hidden snow shark can lead to UBD (ultimate base destruction.) We spent the morning skiing the same terrain as the other 50 other people there that day which quickly got tracked out, rocky and generally sketchy right quick. Kirkwood is still running on limited terrain open and only 1 chair that runs to the summit. During lunch we considered our options and talked about all the other potential, though not easily accessible lines that must be covered enough to execute. Then, Eric the Magician pulled the ace out of his sleeve, the rabbit at once came forth from the top hat on the black velvet table: he had two sets of avie gear in his truck.The snowpack on the upper mountain was consolidated and stable, but definitely wind loaded in the chutes that make Kirkwood so famous, therefore a wooded shangri la it would be. Once we got geared up at the truck we rode the lift to the summit and skied down to mid mountain and cut skier’s left across the huge bowl tat makes up the headwall. To access the line we wanted we couldn’t travel though other closed terrain, however, Kirkwood patrol is very forgiving in how they close off sections of the mountain. We got into position where we would hike a spine between two chutes up about 750 vertical feet.

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Eric in position to start the hike up the spine

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The views of the Sierras were pretty epic with the afternoon light

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Eric with the fingers behind him, THE GNAR!!!!!!

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Decent place to spend a Wednesday afternoon, I guess

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We made it to where we could traverse over into the trees and reap lots of fresh turns, it was very worth it, oh yeah!

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We were going on pure speculation that the turns in the trees would be worth the effort. We hiked for about an hour, in varying conditions, me in my alpine boots and Eric in his AT boots. Big thanks to Eric for breaking trail which was no small chore that day. I offered to lead for a while, but ERic found that when the smaller guy breaks trail, the bigger guy just ends up punching through his boot pack creating a Sisyphus-ian effect.

Once we traversed and looked down the beautiful untracked line with incredibly aesthetic trees all around, we knew we had found our Shangri La for the day. The turns weren’t the deepest or most epic, but they were turns that we found for our own and nothing tastes so sweet as reaping what you sow. And that takes some burliness!

I’ve admittedly been a flatlander my whole life, never living above 4,000 feet for more than a few weeks at a time, but absolutely reading every book and report on any given mountaineering expedition into the 18 and 22 thousand foot range and thought, “I could get into that kind of shape and haul ass in two months given unlimited time, red bull, and fierceness.”

The reality is alititude, even the most mild bites you in the butt, almost literally. This past weekend I was at Kirkwood south of Lake Tahoe in the Sierras. Kirkwood has a base elevation of 7,500 feet and summit of 9,500 feet. I was hiking a spine rib in thigh deep snow with my pack, avi gear and skis on my back, all told about 15 pounds (read=not that much) and sucking wind HARD following by buddy Eric who was leading. Not only was I sucking wind, but seriously breaking it, to the point I was questiong everything I had to eat in the last 5 days because it was absurd and embarrassing.

We took a break after 40 minutes up up-hiking and took some pictures (more of that to come) and I was telling Eric he was lucky he was breaking trail. He laughed for a second because he thought I was being a dick, making him do all the hard work, but when I explained my reasons, he told me altitude’s effect on your body begins most mildly with active GI behavior. Good times up there in the mountains, really allows you escape.