I took the 101 to Paso Robles, where my mother is from and where my grandparents farmed almonds, zinfandel, and vegetables . My uncle, proprietor of Richard Sauret Vineyards, still lives there and grows grapes for Rosenblum and other wineries (congrats on inclusion in Wine Spectator's top 100 for that yummy 2003, by the way), so making a quick wine stop seemed appropriate. Since I've always been a big fan of Turley Zins (or a fan of big Turley Zins), I made that my stop of choice despite the temptations of many new wineries along the 101/41 corridor. A quick turn onto Vineyard Road in Templeton led me to the redesigned winery and tasting room (formerly Pesenti winery) and I tasted several new releases, including the powerful Ueberroth and their version of the famed Dusi vineyard. Very good wines, all, so I ordered half a case to be sent to me (isn't it Friday yet?), some I can drink soon (Old Vines) and some to hold, the Moore Earthquake--fond memories of sharing one bottle, 17.1% natural alcohol, with Kurt Brown and David Oliveira at the Paradise Grill in Santa Barbara--and a Haynes Vineyard, their flagship zin. Some don't like Turley style wines, especially James Laube, but I find the fruit extraction more than compensates for the alcohol. Generally, the nose is dense fruit with just a hint of briar (moreso in the central coast offerings) and spices more or less complicate it nicely or amazingly, depending on the source. They're balanced, portlike wines without the sweetness, and I can only compare them to Amarones in a great year, with roasted fruit flavors and enough acidity to make it friendly to strongly flavored foods or even with deserts. They make a port, but it wasn't available for tasting.
I arrived in the afternoon at the Williams "Estate" in Fresno, a green 50s era tract home in a lower middleclass neighborhood two blocks from William Saroyan's former pair of Fresno houses. My nieces, Haley and Hannah, were playing in the wading pool, while my parents fiddled in the garden. Dad's gone seco-palm crazy, and sprouting fronds everywhere make the yard an eye and balloon hazzard, but it was nice to be home and to see my parents in good health. Dad has lost 20 pounds and Mom especially looks much younger than her 67 years. It was also good to catch up with the kids' mom, my sister Kelly, and Chase, her oldest son.
The next day, my full day in Fresno, I planned to visit the homes of various poets I know there. Phil Levine was in New York, but I wanted to catch up with Peter Everwine, Connie and John Hales, Glover Davis, Charles Hanzlicek, Jon Vineberg and Dixie Salazar (David O. and I visited Jon and Dixie last year), and I made a contact list and headed out. I made it to Peter's and just never left. It was great to see one of my favorite teachers and one of our finest poets, share a couple glasses of zin, and hang out, talking about everything from mutual friends mentioned already, poets we liked (especially Bob Hicok, whom Peter likened to Bill Matthews in terms of his pure love of language), prose poetry, the book festival, and our lives. I enjoyed his classes because he was so efficient and yet genial. He cut through everything in a workshop or class and always said something that was both surprising and luminous. He'd pull us out of our cloud-of-dust verbal scrum and say, "Hey, look up, here." Then he'd show us. I don't think I ever would have pursued poetry if it weren't for him. I first met him through his work, when Thom Gunn at Cal pulled out one of his poems, "Desire," to show us what a great contemporary poem was, then later when I met him in Fresno as I pursued a teaching credential, showed him a little poem, and heard him tell me to my surprise that it was good enough for me to begin serious study. (I can't emphasize enough the word begin in the previous sentence.) It still took me several years to get into the program, since I had a young family and a new career as a teacher. But his encouragement helped many of us take the art seriously even as many of us were intimidated by his inimitable, underappreciated talent. To whit, one of my favorite poems of all time, currently available in From the Meadow: New and Selected Poems (Pitt Poetry Series, 2004):
How It Is
This is how it is --
One turns away
and walks out into the evening.
There is a white horse on the prairie, or a river
that slips away among dark rocks.
One speaks, or is about to speak,
not that it matters.
What matters is this --
It is evening.
I have been away a long time.
Something is singing in the grass.