Category Archives: Newsletter

2017 Newsletter

Father had the great advantage of history behind him when it came to his superlative newsletter story telling. So as I look back I realize that his great writing skills weren’t based on his enormous talent ,, no,, it was based on the great depth of characters, he had to write about. My epiphany is that the only interesting denizens in Trinity were from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Everyone in my youth seemed to be just mundane folk, no eccentric’s at all. I racked my brain looking for someone to write about, There’s , my teacher who’s coffee had more ingredients distilled in Kentucky than beans grown in the Andes, ah blasé .  The mechanic, who would cut the metric bolts off of foreign cars and replace them with “American bolts” then reference something about Pearl Harbor, nothing to talk about here. The braggadocios loggers who chained their trucks bumper to bumper to see what would break first the Chevy or Ford, just another Saturday night at the “Deli”. The doctor who would have to move x-rays of his pregnant cats from the exam table so you could sit down, at least there were no pigs in the office. Even routine actions of elected officials were boring like when the supervisors prohibited  F-111 attack fighters from creating sonic booms over Trinity, this in turn prompted the Sherriff to request funding for a P-51 fighter to enforce this ordinance, protecting the farm animals from the heartless air force during the “great egg laying crisis” of 1970. See, these are all actions of rational folk.

There was one unique man, who had the highest IQ of any one I ever met ,, his nick name was Turtle, named from the way he wore his camouflage hat right above the bridge of his nose or so he thought, I think it was his really based on his rate of speed when he worked in the woods. Turtle was a tall skinny man who chain smoked and drank like a fish. He had scraggly long blond hair and a goatee that after fifteen years of growth still could have been outdone by a high school freshman. One time a group of us decided to hike to Boulder Lake for lunch so we packed a large cooler and started in. On Turtle’s arrival I was reminded of his belief that shoes were only an accessory, so Turtle took off like a flash leaving us in the dust, partly because of his lanky stride or mainly that he was only carrying a gallon jug of his ever present Red Mountain wine. As we almost crested the hill we ran into a back packer who had the look and gear as to have been a model for Sierra Club monthly. As he passed by us,, almost at a run; the  look on his face was that could have only been caused by seeing Sasquatch in the flesh. When we caught up to the shoeless Turtle, he was sitting along the trail, with a half finished bottle of Red Mountain in his lap, Turtle looked up with a smirk and said “those city folk aren’t very friendly , I asked to trade him the rest of my wine for his boots and he took off running”.

Then there was the time that Turtle’s excessive drinking saved his life. He and his side kick were out in the middle of Trinity Lake in a boat about the size of a claw foot bath tub. They were enjoying the nice spring day with his trade mark Red Mountain, around the time they had finished the third gallon they inexplicably capsized the dingy. Of course life vests were for lesser men , so with only moments to go before Poseidon called , his brain was kicking into high gear… then like a bolt of lightning… “Tie the empty Red Mountain bottles together on our belts”. This stroke of genius kept them afloat for about an hour before rescuers arrived on the scene. In my opinion his big faux pas was drinking red, we all know that it’s white wine goes with fish.

2016 Newsletter

Prelude: Dad had one more newsletter in the queue before his passing, since my winemaking skills are considerably stronger than my writing skills; I decide to delay your disenchantment of me for another year. So without further ado here is his final newsletter:

It is not uncommon for winery visitors to ask why I haven’t put more of my “stories” on paper. And the simple truth of the matter is that I am leery of reprisal by committee. If you’ve read the book or viewed the movie, “the Ox-Bow Incident,” you would know what I mean. Sometimes an incensed vigilante posse will hang the innocent. Ergo I deem it wise to await the demise of protagonists before committing their stories to paper. Besides, it pays to tread lightly when the subject’s relatives are as numerous as ticks on a hound and twice as bloodthirsty.

To give you an example take the case of Ed H______, Coffee Creek’s beloved communist. See, I’m already in trouble because Ed’s friends and relatives considered him just an eccentric over-zealous socialist. But I have proof to the contrary. I ask you, who but a very clever soviet agent would dream of giving away BEAR steaks wrapped in the “Daily Worker?” Then, of course, there was the damming testimony of Elmer H_______ who let the cat out of the bag when he let it slip that J. Edgar Hoover had hired him to “keep an eye on Ed.” And Elmer no doubt had the ideal perch for the task since his cabin was so high on Battle Mountain that visitors were in danger of being inflicted with pulmonary edema. That is, unless Elmer didn’t nail them first with his trusty 30-30.

By an odd coincidence two of Elmer’s relatives dropped by the winery last year and I ran the story by them. Neither said they were particularly surprised with the narrative and blamed Elmer’s behavior on the fact that he was gassed by the Germans in 1918 at Verdun and subsequently had a “rather muddled mind.” To which I say, “Balderdash.” Elmer had a crackerjack mind and the tenacity of a bulldog, just the sort of guy the F.B.I. would trust with covert surveillance.

And then there was the story of Baldy T._______ who had a fish farm up the canyon. Baldy was a clear-eyed, soft spoken mountain man who belied his years. I fact he sold a parcel of land in his 85th year and put it on a twenty year contract, informing me that he planned to tour Europe when it was paid off.
I didn’t think Europe was in the cards however. Not because of his age, but because his business was a veritable gold mine. The secret of his success, he once told me, was families with children. Lots of children. He said he would strategically place them about the pond far enough apart to ostensibly prevent line tangling, but in reality it was to thwart parents from suddenly yanking the poles from their child’s hands just when the “pay by the inch” tariffs were approaching the national debt. Baldy told me he never tired of gawking at the out-of –shape city folks as they scurried from one child to the next, huffing and puffing, bellowing like a banshee for them to drop the poles. He said it was more fun than watching a passel of critters on loco weed.

That brings me to the Gypsy Queen, Leone C_____. I always regretted that I never knew her in her youth for she was said to have been a very bright and beautiful woman, a graduate of Vassar and the daughter of a distinguished Shasta County Superior court judge. But by the time we crossed paths she was as flaky as a Marie Calender banana cream pie. If only half the tales of her winter escapades in Redding were true she could have played the lead in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” In Coffee Creek she mostly confined herself to her gold mine, the Gypsy Queen, but would occasionally make forays into the hinterland to raise havoc. Such was the case in August of 1952 when she descended upon me at the Forest Service Guard Station.

The knock at the door was frantic and insistent, like the drumming of a woodpecker on steroids. Upon opening the door I was greeted by a tall, thin woman with anxious green-grey eyes and unkept salt and pepper hair. “Look!.” She said, holding out her hand. “I’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake. What are you going to do about it? “I finally got her to hold still long enough to examine her hand and found no fang marks or swelling. It appeared quite normal. “I don’t see any bite marks,” I said. “Perhaps it was just a wasp.”

That was my second mistake. The first was answering the door. No matter what I said she kept insisting that I treat her “wound.” “You’re supposed to cut my hand and then suck the poison out. That’s what I’ve read. Now, get on with it. I can take it. Let’s see some urgency here.” And since I wasn’t about to perform surgery on a phantom snake bite we reached an impasse, a stalemate where I was left to contemplate, in silence, a flood of salacious words delivered with all of the panache and style that a well educated Vassar girl could muster.

I later learned she reported me to the Forest Service Supervisor’s office for failure to act in an emergency, complaining that young “whippersnappers” like me had no business having such important positions that rightly belong to people of maturity and judgment. “People like me for instance,” she proclaimed. “Now, if you would provide me with a job application I shall be on my way.”

Here are Keith’s tasting notes

2015 Newsletter

As the days of my 85th year draw to a close I find myself wresting with a paradox:

just where the hell were these idyllic storm free winters when I was pruning grapes seven days a week? Just to confirm that my mind hadn’t gone south along with my hearing I offer the following from some old newsletters: 1993: “the winter was delightful, particularly if you happen to enjoy pruning grapes on snowshoes.” 1996: “…a four foot diameter digger pine came crashing down in a snow storm wiping out eighty feet of deer fence and two gates.” 1999: “I was sloshing around the vineyard in mud and snow.” 2002: “It was one of those long, bitterly cold, winters. The kind where vicious storms lash out and shatter conifers like brittle matchsticks.” 2006: “It snowed every day in March with the exception of the two days it merely rained and hailed.”

 Are you beginning to get the picture?

For twenty-five long years I fought Mother Nature tooth and tong and now that I’m a wheelchair bound spectator, squinting at the outside world from the confines of my office, the capricious lady has thrown in the towel and declared northern Trinity County a “no fly zone” for storms. T’ain’t fair McGee!

 As most of you know Keith has taken over the entire vineyard and winery operation. My role has been reduced to insubstantial fluff. I show up at the winery periodically to “keep an eye on things,” but invariably fall asleep before catching anyone in a grievous n misstep. I insist, however, upon being vigorously shaken awake for any barrel tasting. It’s a bothersome task, but I’m a firm believer that duty trumps comfort. Oh, and another thing, before I depart I always like to leave the crew with a few words of encouragement. It was something I picked up watching Pat O’Brien portray Knute Rockne giving a stirring Notre Dame half time talk. “Gang”, I pause to make sure I have the full attention of both girls “Gang, I want you to know I think you’re the cat’s meow.” How’s that for stimulating the blood and fueling the imagination? It kinda leaves you teary-eyed and all choked up, doesn’t?

 Last summer, while helping a historian locate East Fork Indian sites, I came across some Wintu place names that might be of interest. The list came from Jim Fader and was recorded in 1930. Jim was born in 1845 and was considered the last local Wintu chief. Incidentally, both Keith’s and my ranches were once owned by Indians, Keith’s by Jim Fader and mine by Bud Wagner.

The one thing I learned was that the Wintu had a penchant for naming virtually everything.

No creek, spring, deer lick, mountain, trail, meadow, fishing hole, flat or swamp was too insignificant to name. The area where Keith’s ranch is now located was called ts’upaxi or “goes fast, gets stuck,” an obvious tip of the hat to the soggy nature of the meadows there. Immediately to the west there is a flat across the river that was named lubelen panikni or “place where the Wolf dances.” China creek, across from the winery was called limoston or “roaring noise.” A fishing hole in the river above the winery was named phuq lubeq or “dust waterhole.” Wildcat Peak was tsup’ewi son or “Spike buck rock.” And the mouth of Halls Gulch was named khawi labalqol or “Copper basket mouth.”

 In 1948 I had the good fortune to meet and visit with Jim Fader’s daughter, Ida Lechuga, on numerous occasions. I had a Forest Service trail maintenance contract on the Halls Gulch trail that began at her cabin’s doorstep. I knew her only as “Princess Ida” which was based, I think, not only upon her father’s status, but also by her comportment. She acted like royalty. With admittedly one exception. It was late one afternoon and Ida and I were talking on her front porch when her two mongrel dogs began to bark and yelp inside the cabin. The hullabaloo became so distracting that I asked if something was wrong. She looked at me as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her and turned to peer into the shadows of the cabin. There, coiled on the kitchen floor, was an immense rattlesnake holding its own against the antics of the dogs.

 Ida shook her head wearily, gathered up a broom, and swept the snake out the back door while muttering what I perceived to be a torrent of Wintu profanities. This was hardly conclusive however. She wouldn’t let me kill the snake so perhaps she was merely entreating the reptile to take its pleasure elsewhere.

POSTSCRIPT

In the hospital room in Redding, from a large window facing the Trinity’s we watched the sun slowly setting westward with a vibrant orange twilight glow that was fading into night.   So  to, like the sunset my father  was slowly fading  into the next life, his wife of sixty years and his granddaughter were holding his hands, as dad peacefully moved on to the next harvest on 6/6/15 at the age of 86.

Mark Groves
1929-2015

Spring 2014 Newsletter

spring2014

Hey, if the county sent out their tax bills as late as this newsletter you’d be ecstatic so we don’t want to hear any more complaints.

Besides, last winter threw us completely off schedule. It was so bitterly cold that it stopped all of our fermentations and delayed bottling by months. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

A few years ago while hosting some visitors at the winery a question was poised by one of the guests that baffled me.

The person wanted to know what it was like to live here in the “old days”. On the face of it I considered the question pejorative and more appropriately directed to my grandfather who, alas has been dead for nearly seventy years. I profess to know nothing of the “old days.” In fact, during all my time in the mountains my neighbors and I have been blessed with every modern convenience: roads, schools, electricity, telephones, restaurants, stores, police, post offices and even an air strip.

Of course, during the summer the roads were caked with six inches of dust and an equal amount of mud in the winter; the telephone was a hand cranked seventeen party line; the power lines were constructed for the gold dredge and only those within rock throwing distance were allowed to hook up; the school was a one room wood-heated bell-towered building that housed children from the first to the eighth grades; movies were periodically shown at the I.O.O.F. hall where the reels would break often enough to allow the viewers to visit and gossip with their neighbors; crime was held in check by a constable known as the fastest gun west of the Pecos for his penchant of shooting his pistol in the vicinity of speeding vehicles; the general stores contained everything from grocery items to tools and saddles, and from Mason jars to rolled oats; gasoline was dispensed from an apparatus composed of a hand pump and a glass fuel receptacle; the post office was in the Red & White store and no one had to worry about improperly stamped envelopes or packages since Florence, the post mistress, never failed to dig into her purse to make up the difference; and the air strip was more than sufficient for small planes as long as you eschewed afternoon landings when the heat from the dredge tailings made operation problematic.

phoneAfter having spent the summers between 1945 and 1952 working for the forest service on the Angeles, Shasta and the Trinity National Forests, with a one season hiatus at the family gold mine at Steveale, I found myself at the Coffee Creek Guard Station, alone and rattling around in a large empty house devoid of furniture except for a single bed, two chairs and a rickety table. The only entertainment was the aforementioned telephone which was, admittedly, more fun than a pratfall at a monastery. Unless, of course, you had the curiosity of a coarse-haired sloth or a scintilla of decency. Nevertheless, eavesdropping was rampant and the state of the art eavesdropper was Mac, our constable, who regarded it as a sworn duty to monitor all phone calls. Indeed, he was relentless in his effort to ferret out any and all nefarious plots hatched in the community. And it was evident when Mac was on the job. He had a huge Grandfather clock next to his telephone and its ticking and tocking was an ominous prelude to cacophonous BONGS.

In addition to his anti-crime obligations Mac also held the Coffee Creek mail contract and once when my Willys conked out I persuaded him to give me a tow. Out of sorts and grumpy that his routine had been disrupted he tied a rope to my bumper, jumped back into his jeep, gunned the engine and took off in a cloud of dust. I can’t tell you how disconsolate I was to see my bumper fade into the distance, bouncing and twisting down the road. I later learned that Mac had driven twelve miles before noticing he was missing a vehicle. Needless to say, Mac had a little drinking problem, a fact that I deduced well before my teens when he once refused to give me my mail until I shared a drink with him.

That first summer at the guard station we had some horrendous lightning storms which produced a profusion of fires.

One particularly hot one was on the East Fork of Coffee Creek and I was dispatched with a crew of six to corral it. Upon arrival it became immediately evident that we would need some additional man power so I radioed Bob Anderson, the Billy’s Peak Lookout, and asked that he relay my request for another eight men to the District Ranger, Clem Crouch. Shortly thereafter Bob called back barely restraining his merriment, “Clem said that you were to take a deep breath, fine the shade of a large tree, sit and relax for fifteen minutes and then radio back and let them know if you needed any more men.” Fifteen minutes on the dot I radioed Bob and said, “Tell Clem I considered the matter and have changed my mind. Send sixteen men!’

And then there was the case of the phantom prowler, the notorious peeping tom who terrorized Trinity Center and Stringtown for months.

peekingHusbands and fathers kept their shotguns handy and loaded with buckshot during the duration of the siege. To no avail. For in response to the nightly roar of shotguns the prowler would merely flit from shadow to shadow “Whistling a mocking reply.” No one ever knew who he was or whatever happened to him. I always suspected that he found more fertile ground for his escapades, some place where women didn’t wear long johns.

Spring 2013 Newsletter

spring2013

Since there was a bevy of you who objected to my decision to quit writing the newsletter I have capitulated for another year.

Well, perhaps the word “bevy” is a little charitable. The more precise number is two: A sweet delusional lady from Palo Cedro and a sister-in-law who squirrels away my letters as evidence of an alleged mental aberration. The poor dear believes that one day she will be called upon to testify in her sister’s behalf at my insanity hearing. That’s utter nonsense, of course. I never become deranged unless some little kid who is sauntering by greets me with, “Yo dude!” Dude? Has mister become as antiquated as the hourglass and the horse drawn carriage? What in God’s earth has Doctor Spock wrought?

My own upbringing can best be described as an exercise in attrition… Even after I became an adult.

Take, for example, when I was at Oregon State and journeyed by Greyhound bus to Redding during Christmas break to hunt ducks with my uncle Charlie. Charlie had a cabin on a gold claim a few miles west of Whiskeytown, then called Schilling because the former name offended the good ladies of the community. All four of them.

In any event the trip was long and tedious and when the bus pulled into the Redding depot I anxiously stepped down and entered the waiting room filled with a motley crowd of active youngsters, bored travelers, sleeping dead beats and shifty-eyed miscreants.

No Charlie. Well, it was only 5:30 p.m. and Charlie was never one to waste daylight. After about an hour and a half, however, it occurred to me that the letter pertaining to my arrival may have been lost in cavernous bowels of the post office. Or, more likely, Charlie had just failed to pick up his mail.

stormMeanwhile, outside on the sidewalk, the sky to the west was beginning to look ominous.

A storm was apparently moving in. The question became should I continue to wait or start hoofing it. After a few perplexing moments I chose the latter. After all, it was only fifteen miles and there was no guarantee that Charlie was coming. The decision made, I tossed the duffel bag on my shoulder and commenced the hike to Modesty Gulch.

By the time I reached Old Shasta I was feeling pretty good except for the burden of the damned duffel.

It was filled with clothes, boots, toiletry, a twelve-gauge shotgun, three boxes of shells and a handful of candy bars. I considered ditching the bag in some brush and returning in the old Dodge Powerwagon the next day, but quickly discarded the notion. An uncle who considered a twenty mile trudge on snowshoes a stroll in the park would not look kindly upon a nephew who was a derelict and a slacker.

lampHalfway up the divide between Clear Creek and Rock Creek it began to snow and continued all the way to my turn off at Grizzly Gulch. By then the snow was four inches deep. Further on, above Modesty Gulch, I could see a light from the cabin glistening in the snow. It was just after midnight and Charlie was apparently still awake.

When I arrived at the cabin I hurriedly brushed away the snow, stamped my feet and entered. My uncle was sitting next to the wood stove, reading a book from the light of a Coleman lantern. He slowly lifted his eyes from the book, examined me briefly and said “You’re late”.

So much for the letter lost in transit theory!

Self-reliance wasn’t the only thing my uncle taught me. Among other things he taught me was that there are twelve hours in a work day, you don’t go to town for enjoyment, you keep up a steady pace, you swing through a target, you don’t feed bears cayenne pepper, Drew Pearson is a scoundrel and you keep away from the mercury fumes of a retort. But the one thing I was never able to quite grasp was to stroll leisurely out of a tunnel while the fuses of five sticks of dynamite sputter behind you.

See, what did I tell you? I should’ve quit last year.

Better yet I shouldn’t have started this winery newsletter stuff twenty-eight years ago. From the very beginning it was evident that what I knew about wine would fit neatly into a midgets vest pocket.

The crux of the matter is that winemaking requires hard work, long hours, a keen palate, and a thorough knowledge of chemistry and the luck of the Irish. Three guesses as to what I bring to the table.