The 12 Point Plan to Save America

I hear a chorus of cautious and concerned voices in the mainstream media warning Democrats to refrain from pushing their agenda too far to the left. When you’re on the inside looking out, I suppose you’ll do that.

Here’s what I believe: Hesitation kills and this is the absolute worst time in American history to play it safe. The federal government is broken. It does not need a tune-up. It needs a complete overhaul or it’ll never run again.

Were I able to mold a candidate from human clay (as Karl Rove has done), I’d put the following platform forward.

The 12 Point Plan to Save America

1- Reinstate the draft and make military service (or the equivalent public works service) mandatory. It’s the only way to run an Empire.

2- Simultaneously reduce the size of the Empire. We currently maintain more than 800 military bases in 70 countries overseas. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have 30 foreign bases combined. Let’s reduce the footprint to 200 total overseas bases and put all those dollars saved into infrastructure and social services.

3- Make Election Day a national holiday and encourage the use of mail-in ballots and paper ballots (to prevent hacking and boost participation rates).

4- Treat guns like cars. Own as many as you want, but each gun must be registered with the state and you must prove you’re competent with firearms (via regular testing) in order to have a license.

5- House the homeless and provide universal healthcare for all people and all conditions. If you need to know how we will pay for it, we will close more than 600 overseas military bases. See #2 above.

6- Outlaw for-profit prisons and turn all but the most high-security prisons into mobile work camps, where people work outside on farms and on other infrastructure projects.

7- Encourage corporations to focus on their triple bottom line and provide job training and jobs via a public/private partnership dedicated to improving our city, county, state, and national parks; providing affordable and efficient public transportation; and creating sustainable energy and agriculture solutions.

8- Make all campaigns for public office publicly funded and remove all dark money from the process entirely.

9- Welcome refugees and put them on a fast track to citizenship and job training.

10- Officially recognize and apologize for our original sins—slavery and genocide—and make restitution to the victims’ offspring. Also, establish two new memorials on The Mall in Washington, DC.

11- Pay our best teachers as much or more than lawyers. See #2 above.

12- Create a North American partnership with Mexico and Canada where all citizens can easily travel and work in any of the three nations.

West on Highway 290, It’s Where the Wine Is

West on Highway 290, It’s Where the Wine Is

Texas Hill Country is the second most visited wine region in the United States today. Only Napa Valley receives more visitors on an annual basis.

The expansive multi-county area west of Austin is home to dozens of wineries and the Highway 290 corridor from Johnson City to Fredericksburg is literally packed with possibilities. The question for the curious visitor is where to turn in, because the invitations all look pretty good from the road.

As a Texas resident for 16 months now, and I have much to learn about Texas-made wines. The good news is I am a fast and motivated learner, especially when I love the subject. Therefore, I do have a few significant findings to share with other wine lovers, and visitors to Texas Hill Country.

Tasting Texas Terroir

One of the things I enjoy about wine and visiting vineyards, a.k.a. wine tourism, is the pursuit of terroir. The objective is to sense what a particular place produces. Here’s the question…What do the soil, the climate, and the vines give a winemaker to work with and how has she decided to express this in the wine?

Making wine is part art, part science and a good bit of good fortune. Wine expresses both the terroir and the point-of-view of the winemaker. This makes wine a fascinating beverage, as well as a favorite intoxicant.

In Texas, a great majority of the fruit is grown in the Texas Panhandle, near Lubbock, and shipped hundreds of miles to Hill Country wineries where the grapes are made into wine and bottled for consumption. Therefore, when you visit a Hill Country winery, it’s highly likely that you will experience the terroir of an entirely different place.

My first question upon arrival in the tasting room is often, “What estate wines do you have available?” Sometimes the answer is none. Other times, the answer is an array of hot weather varietals like Tempranillo known to thrive in the Hill Country heat.

Three Kind Finds

If you want to get right to the good stuff, find Lewis Wines a few miles west of downtown Johnson City on Highway 290. Lewis Wines “proudly produces wine from 100% Texas grapes.” Their tagline is “Real. Texas. Wine.”

Lewis Wines 2017 Estate Rosé — $35

This is the second vintage of rosé produced from the Estate Vineyard, which was planted in 2014. The vineyard has very shallow, well-drained clay soil over limestone, resulting in wines with richness, weight, and texture.  The Touriga Nacional and Tinto Cão were hand harvested at night, whole cluster pressed, then fermented separately in stainless steel.

Ron Yates 2016 Cinsault Rosé — $22

We enjoyed a bottle of this locally-made wine at lunch in Johnson City. The light and bright Texas High Plains fruit was an ideal compliment to my deep fried flounder.

The Ron Yates winery is west of Johnson City, situated on 15.8 acres abutting Highway 290 in Hye, Texas. The acreage is currently planted with four acres of Tempranillo grapevines, with an additional six acres of estate vineyards planned for grapes such as Graciano and Petite Sirah.

Signor Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir — $44

The kind folks at Lewis Wines directed us to Signor Vineyards, a Texas Hill Country winery that works in partnership with Weisinger Family Winery in Ashland, OR. Signor Vineyards near Fredericksburg ships Texas-grown fruit to Ashland to be made into wine and bottled. The bottles then come back to Texas in refrigerated trucks, along with bottles of wine made from Oregon fruit.

As it happens, Oregon pinot noir is my favorite wine in the world and this Rogue Valley vintage is a classic with hints of raspberry on the finish. Our ability to buy it locally and support this unique interstate connection is also a good thing.

Kickin’ Facts and Countin’ Dollars

Texas was home to the first vineyard in North America, established by Franciscan monks circa 1662. The oldest continually operating winery in the state is the Val Verde Winery, in Del Rio, established in 1883 by Italian immigrant Frank Qualia.

The wine industry in Texas accounted for $2.27 billion to the state’s economy in 2016, employing more than 12,750 fulltime workers and paying them $528 million in salaries and wages. In addition, more than 1.8 million guests visited Texas’ 400 wineries in 2016 and while there spent $482.9 million.

Jessica Dupuy, a certified sommelier who covers wine regularly for Texas Monthly, says, “In the past ten years, we’ve seen a significant boost in quality. New, savvy winemakers are setting the standard for wines that reflect a distinct flavor for the regions in which they’re grown. I think in the next decade, we’ll be talking about wine tasting like Texas in the way that we talk about Oregon or Washington.”

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

Place shapes people and people shape culture.

Texas writer and literary lion, Larry McMurtry, knows all about this premise. In fact, he has spent several decades making this geocultural reality his own truth and his books are both products of and reflections of The West.

In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas is a book of nine essays by Larry McMurtry. The book was first published in 1968.

As a new resident of Texas, I love to hear the stories of this place, and I want to hear from the state’s best storytellers.

It’s interesting to me how dated some of the material is—for instance, he describes Austin, but he does so over 50 years ago and the description, while insightful, is of another city. I blame the fact-based form more than the writer. At the same time, some of the things McMurtry says about other parts of the state ring as true today as I imagine they did then.

Like this one:

In Dallas, a flavorless Protestantism seems to have yielded superpatriotism as by-product. The Dallas true believers have made conservatism a religion-surrogate: they hate liberals the way passionate religious dogmatists once hated heretics.

And this one:

The South is memories, memories—it cannot help believing that yesterday was better than tomorrow can possibly be. Some of the memories are extraordinarily well packaged, it is true, but when a place has been reduced in its own estimation no amount of artful packaging can hide the gloom.

We suck at conflict resolution in this country. We suck because we generally lack the skills as individuals, and we almost always lack the collective will do to the right thing as a nation. The price we pay is, therefore, sky high. Until you resolve the conflict in the right ways, it lingers and festers.

When I lived in rural North Carolina as a teenage boy, my friends would constantly remind me that The South was gonna rise again. I would nod and then ask, “Then what?” No one said they’d reinstitute slavery on Day One. It didn’t need to be said. It was nevertheless understood.

Today, nuance is napping. Today, we do need to say what is. For me, this is what is: I believe We, the People, need to atone for our two original sins—slavery and genocide—and until we do, we’re going to keep paying too high a price as a society. Atonement and restitution will not wipe away racism. This is about acknowledging the damages done. It’s too important to leave the next generation. The time is now to take these immense and long-overdue first steps.

Money Doesn’t Make The Man

McMurtry also examines class in 1960s Texas.

Amid the bland Texas middle class, our vulgar rich can seem baroque and delightful, and indeed, certain of them are delightful. As a class, however, they exhibit all the difficulties of the desperately confused, and they are dangerous in proportion to the amount of power they wield. They are frequently very able and very strong people, but I have yet to meet one whose abilities or whose strength counterbalances his insecurity.

That’s casting some serious shade on your fellow countrymen. Of course, this is often the work of a conscious writer. The dark side is the side that needs words to light it up. Thankfully, McMurty has excellent words to express his deepest thoughts.

I know not which “dangerous men” the author has in mind in the above passage. I do know he shows no indication in his book that he thinks highly of President Johnson, who at the time of the writing, held immense power and did not always use it wisely.

I’m sure there were other men that McMurty considered when he took out his knife pen. He did not write about the Bush family in this book, as that family’s Texas story didn’t fully emerge until the 1980s when Goerge Bush became Vice President, and then President. Even if they had emerged in time, the Bush family are Yankees who emigrated to West Texas for the oil. They’re Eastern prospectors, or they were.

Cowboy Love and Longing

The theme of the collection is the disappearance of the Old West, and with it, a way of life lived by a few short generations of cowboys. The McMurty clan lived this life, and Larry McMurtry saw it fade away and in its place, he witnessed the rise of modern Texas.

Now that it’s 2019, we can argue about what parts of modern-day Texas are worth celebrating and keeping. We can also turn to more books, fiction, and nonfiction by The Bard of Archer County. A friend has recommended Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond.

Prose In Accordance with the Land

“A lyricism appropriate to the Southwest needs to be as clean as a bleached bone and as well-spaced as trees on the llano.”

Damn. That is fine advice for a writer to dispense and for another writer to soak up.

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

The Year in Place: 2018

Last March, we sold our house in West Linn, Oregon and moved to Austin, Texas. Positive change and forward motion have been a big part of 2018. We call it our year of the pivot.

When it was time to move (after months of preparation), we embarked on an epic road trip from the Pacific Northwest to the American Southwest. The highlights started in Ashland, Oregon where we spent two lovely wind-down days at Lithia Springs Resort, soaking in their healing waters.

Palm Springs was our mid-way destination and literal turning point (from south to east). We spent three incredible days and nights in the desert with our close friends Lotus and David, who generously opened the guest wing of their home to us and showed us around their town.


North By Southwest in ’18

  • Seattle
  • Stevenson
  • Ashland
  • Fresno
  • Palm Springs
  • Tucson
  • Silver City
  • Las Cruces
  • Ozona
  • The Domain/East Austin/Oak Hill
  • Salt Lake City
  • Deer Valley
  • Spring (2)
  • Port Aransas
  • Palo Duro
  • Ransom Canyon

After a night in Tucson, we arrived at The Murray Hotel, an historic art deco hotel in downtown Silver City, New Mexico. Silver City is an artist’s colony and university town at the doorway to the Gila Mountains. It’s a charming place, in an authentic, non-manufactured way. I look forward to going back to Silver City for more.


We arrived in Austin on March 16th, the second Friday of SXSW and the night before St. Patrick’s Day. The hotels were booked solid but we found an expensive room several miles north of the city in a new neighborhood called The Domain. It was not our scene, so we quickly shifted to an amazing rental house in East Austin. The historic home had been remodeled and it just felt SO AUSTIN, which was a great feeling and an affirmation.

After 10 days of looking intently for a new home to rent, we discovered an awesome ranch house in Western Oaks with a fenced yard and lots of trails for Lucy. Also, a community pool! Home sweet home.

In July, we met the Shafer family in Deer Valley, Utah for a vacation. We went rafting on the Weber River, played disc golf at Solitude (where I felt the altitude big time) and we played ball golf with Sarah and Travis at Wasatch Mountain State Park in Heber. We also saw Ricky Skaggs backed by the Utah Symphony with my mom.


Texas presents unlimited exploration opportunities and we are just starting to see what’s over the next rise. In October, we ventured south to Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico near Corpus Chisti. In November, we drove eight hours northwest to Palo Duro State Park in the Panhandle for two nights of cold camping with Ski and Sara. We also made two trips in fall to Houston where my uncle, aunt, and cousins live.

Years in place: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 |2008 | 2007 | 2006

Maria from Monterrey

I wrote this poem after visiting a photo exhibit at Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin.

Maria from Monterrey

It’s not terribly far, as a bird flies, from Monterrey to Laredo
Young Maria’s journey was wingless
She moved at night, her thirst unsatisfied
Coyotes and owls shared their star-lit canyons
When she slept she had bad dreams of home

Maria finished fourth grade at Santo Nino Elementary
The family moved to San Antonio for a year
English slid smoothly from her tongue
Sister Sarah said she could go to college
“Do they have scholarships for Dreamers?”

Her softball coach was no Nun
Her history teacher spit white lies
Maria found some solace in science
She played her flute by the lake
Butterflies swooned, Suzy, the poodle exhaled

The people of Laredo named her “Best Dental Hygienist”
Maria was always careful with the instruments
Her husband the handsome highway engineer
They made friends with other parents at the pool
She never served a casserole

When Don descended the neighbors turned
The lady at daycare asked for her papers
The dental group let her go
America turned its lights down
Maria cursed the powers that be

Now, heavy white clouds roll in from the Gulf
Torrential rains pound the dry Earth
Maria bathes half-naked in the yard
Her minerality is pure Meximerican
Her spirit, mighty Texican

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

America’s Priorities Are Plain To See

Military spending in the United States eats up more than half of our nation’s “discretionary spending,” or the portion of the budget that the president requests and Congress appropriates every year.

Yet, you don’t hear cries for change when it comes to military spending. We can’t deprive the American military its right to might. That would be unpatriotic.

Fact: Our Taxes Prop Up The Empire

Can we talk about putting a peaceful end to the American Empire? When you weigh the damage we do, it’s clearly the merciful and sustainable thing to do.

Did you know that U.S. military bases, both domestic and foreign, consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, as perchlorate and other components of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil?

Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. For emphasis, please allow me to scream in type: 800 OVERSEAS BASES!

Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have 30 foreign bases combined.

From private prison profiteers to arms dealers and oilmen, the white men who run the Empire have a lot at stake. A lot to lose, you might say. Can you see why they’re so afraid? They believe in their own supremacy at all costs, literally at all costs.

We’re Nowhere Near The Change We Need

We can hope for change, hope that we get money out of politics, hope that we restore the illusion of democracy, and we can do our part while maintaining hope. We can also start to admit the things that so few of us want to admit. We are a nation built on genocide and slavery, and today we continue the bloodbath we started here on a global stage.

With the help of 139 Democrats, the House of Representatives easily passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act last month.

Just how aligned are Rs and Ds when it comes to preservation of the Empire (which we, the People, clearly can’t afford)? The vote was 359-54 in the House for the authorization. The Senate voted 87-10. In other words, we’re a long distance from the kind of systemic change this country needs.

According to NPR, the bill sped through both houses of Congress as the nation’s military continues waging war in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Niger, Libya, Somalia and an untold number of other global hot spots.

Congress matched dollar-for-dollar what the Pentagon asked for. The $716 billion in spending authorized by the bill is $16 billion more than what Congress approved for the fiscal year 2018.

Don Don now has a $717 billion war chest. The bill specifically authorizes $616.9 billion for the base Pentagon budget, $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department, and another $69 billion in war spending from the special Overseas Contingency Operations account.

How does that make you feel?

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

First Bites: Bat City’s Best Tacos, BBQ and Pasta

Austin makes a strong impression on the newcomer. It’s sunny and warm, the people are warm and friendly, and there are seemingly a million places of interest for the food and beverage lover to consider and discover.

Both Zagat and WalletHub rank Austin high on their lists of best cities for foodies. And Easter Austin does a great job keeping close tabs on the daily developments here. We’ve also picked up several recommendations from new friends in the city.

I’d like to list some of our early favorites.


Amazing Restaurants in Austin, Texas

Suerte: This new Mexican fine dining restaurant on E. Ceasar Chavez features three different ceviches on the menu. They also ground their own masa from locally sourced heirloom corn. Need I say more?

Fresa’s: This restaurant’s “Pollo al la Carbon” or chicken on charcoal is simply the best. In fact, there’s no better preparation of chicken on the planet. Mix in the frozen avocado margaritas and the sun porch full of happy people, and a new favorite is born.

The Salt Lick: Drive to Driftwood, TX and enter BBQ Holy Land. Do it today. It’s B.Y.O.B. at The Salt Lick, so bring a sixer and mosy up to some bison ribs, turkey, sausage, and more. To top it all off, the blackberry cobbler is divine.

Andiamo Ristorante: Tucked into a midtown strip mall, this classic Italian restaurant is built to please. The dishes here are carefully constructed by a master chef who transports diners to a romantic village in Italy.

Excellent Restaurants in Austin, Texas

Evangeline Cafe: Real New Orleans-inspired food in SW Austin! I’ve had the catfish po’boy and the fried shrimp po’boy so far. The roast beef po’boy is next in line.

Stile’s Switch BBQ: It’s hard to rank high in a city devoted to smoked meats, but I can’t wait to return to this spot for turkey, brisket, beans, slaw and more. It’s all super tasty.

Via 313: This “Detriot-style pizza” is a standout pie that Austinites will stand in long lines for. Order it extra crispy and wait your turn!

Juniper: This stylish Italian spot on E. Ceasar Chavez served us a great brunch on their shaded patio. Our server was slightly off-putting, but the food made it easy to overlook.

Hummus Among Us: This Israeli street food comes from a cart in East Austin. If you want the perfect falafel, and I do mean perfect, this is your place.

The Funkadelic: This cozy breakfast and lunch spot on S. Lamar provides innovative treatments on Americana classics like waffles, pancakes, and the burger.

Outstanding Coffee Shops in Austin, Texas

A friend in Portland suggested that I might not miss much about the Rose City, other than the quality of the coffee. I smiled at the suggestion but had to inform her that Austinites are nearly as fanatical about their coffee.

Patika: This funky and friendly place on S. Lamar serves a lovely avocado toast along with some of the city’s most delicious caffeinated brews.

Stouthaus: Great coffee shop with a dozen craft beers on tap. This coffee-before-beer combo is a lot more common in Austin that other cities, and it makes perfect sense.

Flightpath: Classic coffeehouse vibe thanks to the tables full of UT students and local hipsters. Great service and coffee too!

It’s important to note that Austin is not a pretentious place, and the restaurants and coffee shops in the city support and reflect this reality. On the rare occasion that there is a touch of pretense in the air it stinks like cheap perfume, and the place gets nixed from the list.


In the personal trivia category, Darby and I went our first date together in Austin during South By Southwest, March 2003. We dined at Carmelo’s on Second Street downtown. We recently learned that the restaurant closed in 2017. Later that first night met friends for drinks at Lala’s. The bar where it is Christmas every day of the year remains open for business.

Larry McMurtry’s “Bleached Bones” Come Shining Through

The Year In Place: 2017

When you live in or near a big city, it’s crucial to get out of the city and reconnect with the outside world. I’m pleased to report that we found several adventurous ways to do just this in 2017.

Coast-to-Coast in 2017:

  • Cannon Beach
  • Roseburg
  • Ashland
  • Omaha
  • Gleneden Beach
  • Boise
  • McCall
  • Walla Walla
  • Seattle
  • Eugene
  • Sundance
  • Marco Island
  • Seattle

I do have a well developed obsession with place, particularly with how geography and climate impact people and culture. To me, it’s endlessly fascinating to explore the differences and likenesses in people and places. Inside the state of Oregon, we go from Portland urban to something else entirely in Eugene and Ashland—two of the finest university towns on the West Coast. We enjoyed seeing the Ducks play Nebraska in Eugene this September. We also visited wineries and played disc golf along the Umpqua River in April, and saw “Julius Caesar” in Ashland. Travel Or-Eee-Gun!

One of the highlights of the travel year was our visit to Idaho in July. My mom flew into Boise and we proceeded from there to McCall, and then over to Walla Walla, Washington. McCall was the star of the show. The charming mountain town on the shores of Payette Lake is a great destination. I’m a fan and I’d love to return in any season.


We also made it to Sundance this Fall for the changing of the leaves and incredible new memory making with old friends.

An interesting side note here, almost everyone we mentioned “Sundance” to this year thought it was in Park City. The film festival is in Park City. The mail order catalog is in Salt Lake City and the resort is a few miles up Provo Canyon from Orem. The resort is another destination where time slows down and nature takes over. My hat is forever off to Robert Redford for using his Hollywood money to save Sundance from unchecked development.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” –Seneca

Seeing close friends in Seattle, and family in Omaha and Marco Island were also joyful and important trips in 2017.

Place is endlessly fascinating. The people in the places are the reasons we live.

Prior movements: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 |2008 | 2007 | 2006

Mike Riley’s Soft Serve Makes Big Mess at Autzen Stadium

This Husker fans know: It’s Mike Riley’s third season in Lincoln and he continues to lose well, which he did again this past Saturday in Eugene.

What we witnessed in person at Autzen was football ugly. From the opening kickoff, the game seemed like a painless scrimmage for the Ducks.

Here’s one honest press report for all Husker fans to weigh:

Long passes, big runs and a raucous Autzen Stadium had a dizzying effect on a young group of Blackshirts still learning the ins and outs of regular playing time and a new 3-4 defense.

The carnage report at intermission was equally disorienting: forty-two Oregon points on 409 yards of offense.

NU was within a touchdown of tying the most points it had ever allowed in a first half (49 vs. Oklahoma in 2008).

It’s hard for me to relate to this team. These Cornhuskers in no way resemble the tough-nosed teams I once knew. I still love Nebraska and I love my people of the Corn, but I do not relate to a defense that’s soft like room temperature butter. I watched intently on Saturday for any kind of pressure on the QB. Herbert was never touched. He may as well have had his red practice jersey on. That’s how easy it was for him to pick Nebraska apart.

Once the Huskers were down 42-14 at the half, I was hoping for the full Ducks treatment. Putting up 84 points on Nebraska would have been the kind of thing Grandpa Riley could never explain away. The fact is Nebraska was never in this game. And the second half was as off-putting as the first. Oregon was asleep and Nebraska is simply bad.

As a fan, it’s tough to take and harder to understand. The University of Nebraska can hire any coach they want, so why is this now the third coach in a row that has little clue about where they are, or how to conduct themselves in a winning fashion?

It’s fair to ask if “Nebraska Nice” is a real thing? Not on the gridiron!

I don’t care how nice he is—if the Nebraska football coach fails to win 10 games a year, he’s not a good cultural fit in Lincoln. Thus far, Riley is 16-12. That’s a winning percentage of just .571. Will this be Riley’s breakout year? One look at this team and the slate of conference games ahead and the answer is as clear as a dinner bell on the prairie.

Viniferous Grapes Ripen Into New Economic and Cultural Opportunities

Boise, Idaho and Walla Walla, Washington are inland agricultural empires that have famously produced potatoes, wheat, onions and other staples of the American diet for generations. Today, the farmers in these areas are increasingly growing viniferous grapes and the impact that this crop is making on the local farm-based cultures is significant.

Earlier this month, we drove six and a half hours to Boise from Portland and pulled directly up to Telaya Wine Company’s generous riverfront establishment before heading to the hotel. Their sunny, dog-friendly deck had plenty of room for us and our impromptu picnic. The staff was warm and hospitable, and the wine flights were terrific. The Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding and we bought a bottle to open on my mom’s birthday, a few days later in McCall.

McCall is an idyllic lakeside community on Lake Payette two hours north of Boise. There are no wineries in McCall, but the scenery is intoxicating, and our waiter at Shore Lodge opened the Red Mountain Cab minus the additional corkage fee, which is always a nice touch.

On the way from McCall to Walla Walla, we stopped for lunch in Lewiston, Idaho at Mystic Cafe. It was here that a clue was given. Our friendly server recommended a trio of Walla Walla wineries to visit, and the next day we took her up on one of her choice spots. Thankfully, Va Piano Vineyards surpassed our expectations in every way. The wine is exceptional, the vineyard is an easy 10-minute drive from town, and their picnic area outside the tasting room, adjacent to the vines is lovely.

Walla Walla is literally overflowing with wineries and tasting rooms. The city takes more than a single visit to orient oneself. While we arrived in town with a hot tip from the road that led us to Va Piano, we also arrived with our favorite producers in mind. That’s why we made a point to visit Waterbrook Winery, a wine we are able to purchase in the grocery store at home.

Waterbrook is a fantastic place to visit. It’s one of the few wineries in the area with a restaurant. Waterbrook’s impressive grounds, helpful staff, yard games, and delicious wine is the ideal combo for a nice afternoon. We had Lucy with us, and the rule is no dogs on the patio where food is served. Before I could protest, Waterbrook’s gracious staff helped us set up our table under a tree in their yard. Delicious burgers, salads, and wine were served. The Reserve Malbec was outstanding. I’m also impressed by the reasonable price points on many of Waterbrook’s wines.