Friday, September 21, 2007

The Battle For The Cellar -- Moakie (Our Winery Cat) vs Benoit (Our Winemaker)

There’s been a lot of interest in winery cats lately, so let me tell you the story of ours...

Moakie, our Winery Cat

Our small, black cat is as much a part of the heritage of Olympic Cellars as the historic barns which have become our winery homes. When the winery first began it was housed in a dairy barn in Sequim. Our current home is also a huge, historic former dairy barn built in 1890 between Sequim and Port Angeles.

Moakie was born sometime in the early 90’s. Her Mom was the FIRST Olympic Cellars Winery Cat and reigned over the Winery barn in Sequim.

As the story goes, Moakie’s mom went out prowling one night and never came home, forcing Moakie to take over her duties at a tender, young age.

A winery’s cat job description is extensive, and includes but certainly isn’t limited to the following (after all, we all know cats do whatever they please regardless of the rules):

  1. Keep the mice out of the barn and oversee the cellar day and night.
  2. Meow in that irritatingly loud cat-voice the moment our car pulls up at the winery reminding us we only have minutes to get the winery open for business (no, we’re not late, just dang close)
  3. Greet guests by softly drawing their attention for a head-pat by rubbing around their legs (I’ve told Moakie many times, no tripping)
  4. Sun herself on the patio encouraging guests to stop and enjoy the sunshine, spectacular scenery... and maybe a glass of wine.
  5. Pose at all the picturesque places in the winery for guest photos (what a ‘ham’)
  6. Check out every barrel, regardless how high it is, to make sure the bungs (those are the things that plug the hole in the barrel) are secure (Well, maybe not really so much check the bungs as to leave “hair balls” especially in the spring just so we get into all the high spaces for our spring cleaning)
  7. Improve our “hide and seek” skills by hiding in every impossible-to-find spot in the tasting room right before closing so you can’t set the alarm ‘til the cat is found.
  8. And, of course, score double job points when delivering her “ultimate present” on the floor right behind our guests at the bar. “What present?” you ask. All of us who work at the winery know the sound of that meow, and more importantly the crowd gasps of “Ugh” and “Yuk”! We’ve practiced our sprint from behind the bar, pulling off a wad of paper towels without breaking stride, diving to cover up the “headless” mouse while praising Moakie in a crowd-calming tone, softly telling all… “This is really a good thing”! After all, see rule #1.

I met Moakie in 2001 after purchasing the winery. She definitely was a barn cat, aloof and arrogant. She had a “don’t mess with me attitude” and only submitted herself for petting when she wanted something… to get out, to get in, more food, whatever.

Her meow could stop a boisterous and happy wine tasting crowd dead in their tracks, all heads turning because Moakie was speaking.

I’ve never been a “cat person.” I grew up with dogs so there was much to learn.

Like the changing seasons, Moakie’s habits change.

Summer sun brings out the frisky side while cold weather brings her more loving side. Cuddled up on the couch, she dares me to put her out in the cold of night. Of course, we cave... usually finding a warm spot in the cellar just for her.

Winery life happily went along until Benoit, our VERY French Winemaker, joined the team in 2004.

Who Owns The Cellar…The Winemaker or The Cat?

Benoit is pretty dang particular.

And like a lion guarding his pride, the Cellar is his domain... or so he thought.

Benoit didn’t like having a cat perched on whatever barrel suited her fancy, taking a nap on top of his wine tanks, or yes, leaving those unwanted “hair balls.”

It didn’t take long before we noticed an abrupt change in Moakie’s demeanor. Most obvious, she would leave the room when Benoit entered.

Then the proverbial “cat poop” hit the fan.

Trailing the sound of very loud French cursing, Benoit enters the tasting room…. “Kathyeee,” he says, “Moakie has got to go. She “sheeeit” in zee middle of my cellar. I will not have thiessss.” (You have to practice your French accent here!)

Now, I may have grown up with dogs but I’ve come to know that cats are very smart and understand exactly what they’re doing.

Molly, Libby and I were all in the winery that day and almost simultaneously we ask, “Benoit, what did you do to Moakie?”

“Nothing”, he says, still bristling with anger.

Sensing we haven’t heard everything, we press on, “Are you sure?”

“Well”, he says, “I just make a face, hiss and hold my hands up like a mad cat every time I see Moakie,” demonstrating this action. Voila! (We are learning a few words of French.)

We explain to Benoit that Moakie has “left him a present” on purpose, just to get back at him.

Although he didn’t believe us then, we know he tested our theory because miraculously, Moakie went back to her cat box!

The cellar is now quiet... AND CLEAN.

There’s an unspoken truce between Benoit and Moakie. She does seem to spend more time in the cellar when Benoit is playing French music… so maybe they’re getting along. Or maybe she’s just trying to understand the French culture.

Yesterday I hung the pictures you see of Benoit and Moakie in the cellar to remind them...

The Cellar IS Big Enough For Two!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Concert with LeRoy Bell

Only one concert on the Olympic Peninsula!

Immediately following our Grape Stomp & Harvest Party, LeRoy Bell will perform at 4:oopm. LeRoy is definately the biggest musical talent we've had at the winery and we were lucky to get him. Don't miss this concert.

The Triple Door, Seattle’s most prestigious showcase venue, and the crowd play a big part in taking LeRoy's songs to new levels as the band jams and crowd rocks.

It’s easy to see why LeRoy Bell is touring with music legends like B.B. King, Etta James, India.Arie, Al Green, Los Lobos, Erykah Badu, LeAnn Rimes, Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, Leon Russell and even The Beach Boys

Sept 15, 4 p.m. Rain or Shine (We'll keep you dry)

Not to be missed, first time on the Peninsula
More Details

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

They All Stared in Disbelief At My Big Feet, But When I Started To Stomp...

I Felt The
THRILL of Victory

And Then ...

The AGONY of

7:30 a.m. Tuesday, September 6

My coffee is steaming on my desk and I find myself daydreaming. Seven years ago I was on a flight from Tokyo to Dallas watching one of Lucille Ball’s classic episodes… The Grape Stomp. (More accurately it was the 150th episode, Lucy’s Italian Movie that aired on aired April 16, 1956). I remember thinking; I should do this at the winery some day. Now I’m planning our 5th Annual Grape Stomping on September 15.

Who would have thunk that a 25-year corporate veteran would retire, move to about the farthest Northwest corner of the country and try her hands at rebuilding one of the oldest wineries in the state of Washington? Believe me, semi-conductors to grapes is not the most natural career path.

Wine does have the ability to “sucker and seduce” you into doing things totally out of your comfort zone… so when researching how to do a grape stomp and buying prizes, I got myself some rather “sexy but warm” Lucille Ball grape stomping flannel pajamas. I’ve got them on right now… got to be in the right mood to plan out the gazillion details that go into this event.

Oh, we learned so much the first year…. I ordered 2 tons of grapes. That’s a lot! We built the huge grape stomp tank (barrel staves encircling a 6 foot aluminum tank) to look just like the one in the Lucy Show. I pitchforked about 500 pounds into the tub, then tried it out and fell flat on my butt. The tank was slick as “snot” loaded with grapes. So, then out came the grapes (now it’s a total of 1000 pounds shoveled) and in went a piece of old carpet, Voila!! Again, I shoveled the grapes back in…. now 1500 pounds… I’m more than sweaty and not so perky any more in my “most classic harvest costume” and a red wig that now looks more like road kill.

After 6 years, this is still my favorite of all the winery events (even the skydiving!). You can get a real sense of the “grape” even if it is squishing up through your toes cold, sticky and wet. And yes, your stomp partner might have a bit of those grapes adorning their head since you’re really stomping to win your “competition heat” so you advance to the finals, “The Grand Stomp Off”. The Thrill of Victory or The Agony of de-FEET…. It’s still one of those life’s experiences that will not be forgotten.

Imagine yourself now, the competition is over. You have a celebratory wine glass in hand. The band is doing a sound check and you’re just about to listen to Leroy Bell. This is going to be a magical performance. He’s written for Elton John and opened for artists as diffuse as B.B. King, Al Green, Taj Mahal and Lee Ann Rimes. And, you have A FRONT ROW seat on the winery patio. It doesn’t get any better than this.

On a more serious note, Olympic Cellars is donating ticket proceeds from the Grape Stomp and Concert to the Clallam County Youth Suicide Prevention Program. This program is hard for people to talk about and harder to fund. We want to pack the winery grounds!

Grape Stomping Harvest Party and Concert
Saturday, September 15 1-6:30 p.m.

Kathleen Charlton
Owner/Manager, Olympic Cellars Winery
Home of Working Girl Wines
Created By Women, In Support of Women

Monday, September 3, 2007

I am so "Not Cool" anymore

My husband, Ralph, and I were shopping at a natural foods Co-Op up on Seattle’s Capital Hill a while ago. I’d left my glasses in the car so was letting Ralph pick the produce while I’m off wandering the isles.

As I passed a display of bottled water I noticed a brand I hadn’t seen before and picked up a bottle. I could just read the words “Send a Message in a Bottle.

Well, that captured my attention… you know, the marketing person inside me. So I put it in our basket.

On the way home I drank the water and tossed the empty bottle in my basket to take to the winery to show Molly and Libby (we each lug around these great African baskets that we use to haul all our stuff that goes to and from home, winery and events).

So, this story continues a few days later when I get to the winery for a Working Girl meeting.

I pull out this water bottle, again not really looking at it closely, and hand it to Molly while blabbering on about, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a promotional mailing to our customers in a ‘plastic wine bottle’.”

I can barely get the words out because Molly is laughing so hard she’s tearing up as she hands the bottle to Libby. “Kathy”, Molly says… “Don’t you know what this is?”
Again, I touch the bottle and say something like, “Well, it has a plant on the front and it say’s ‘Legalize It’.”

Still NOT GETTING IT… Libby rolls her eyes and informs me the plant in the picture is marijuana, and the label asks folks to send a message “in the bottle” addressed to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Count asking for marijuana to be legalized!

Well, jeez… details.

You know, if it was something techie I didn’t get I could understand but for goodness sakes, I even grew up in the 60’s and 70’s.
I guess I DO get going a bit too fast sometimes (well, maybe a lot of the time, according to the others).

I know the course we’re headed, the goals… but sometimes I’m just not the one to fill in all the details (that’s probably why I got such poor scores in school for not coloring within the lines!).

Like when I was proofing an ad for one of our last winery events. I knew something wasn’t right but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Until it hit me. I’d forgotten the “date, time and place.” Minor details. Guess I was hoping “women’s intuition” would get most folks here at the right time.

What’s the old saying... “The devil is in the details?”

My take-away from these embarrassing “brain farts?”

Two Points:

1. You need to work with a team who has complimentary skills. For the Working Girls here at the Winery, that means not all of us better be going through “menopause therapy” at the same time!

2. To stay competitive you’ve got to be cool! Well, maybe not on the ragged edge of “cool” but since your customers span multiple generations, your business sure as heck better reflect that, too. Between Benoit, Kathy Kidwell who works in the winery office, Libby, Molly and me, we cover 3 (and really close to 4) decades. Good enough.

Ah well, at least when my grandkids call me “Grandma Wine Chick,” I still feel cool!

Kathleen Charlton
Owner/Manager, Olympic Cellars Winery
Home of Working Girl Wines
Created By Women, In Support of Women