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We're always glad to welcome Peter Wellington of Wellington Vineyards back to the Wine.Woot blog. Here's his report on the 2010 growing season.

The Year They Cancelled Summer

I used to jokingly refer to 1980 as the year they cancelled summer. It was an exceptionally cool and foggy summer in Sonoma Valley, but the harvest went well when we had a protracted “Indian Summer” in September and October. The 2010 growing season started with a very wet El Niño winter and spring. We had over 60 inches of rain here in Glen Ellen, a figure we have reached only one other time (1998) in the 24 years since we bought the vineyard. After some nice warm days in late February and early March the temperatures were substantially cooler than typical all the way into the latter part of August. Daily highs only in the 60’s much of April and May were followed by highs in the 70’s through June and July, when we usually experience 80’s and 90’s. To my memory, we had only two or three days when it even got to 90º...

Budbreak was at the normal time, but bloom came two to three weeks later than average, and so did veraison (the advent of the final phase of ripening, when grapes change color, soften and start to rapidly accumulate sugar). It was obvious that harvest would start late as well, which is a mixed blessing. Everything else taken equally, a late harvest bodes well for quality, particularly for earlier ripening locations and early varieties. It also means increased risks of rain damage and insufficient heat to ripen late vineyards and varieties.

Anyone Order Fried Grapes? (Sonoma Index-Tribune story heading, Aug. 31, 2010)

On Saturday, August 21st it was 59 and foggy at 11:30 AM, and reached a high of only 73º. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat that morning said the first 2010 grapes to be picked in either Sonoma or Napa counties were scheduled for the following Monday, one small press load of Pinot Noir for sparkling wine. Grapes for sparkling wine are harvested at much lower ripeness than grapes for still wine; the base wine is usually around 10% alcohol with a very high level of acid.

Sunday the 22nd was markedly warmer, hitting the mid 80’s, and Monday warmer yet, approaching 100º. Tuesday, August 24th Sonoma and Napa readings ranged from 105 to over 110. I had been irrigating that day, and on my way back from closing some valves at around 4:30 PM I was heading northeast, with the sun at my back. The sight in front of my eyes was shocking; every grape I could see from that direction was caramel colored rather than either deep purple or green. We suffer a little bit of sunburn most years, but I’ve never seen anything that remotely resembled what I saw that day. It appeared to me that as much as 25% of the grapes were affected in some blocks, ten times as much sun damage in one day as we had in the previous 24 years combined. We certainly have seen hotter days in past years, so the most logical explanation for the widespread damage is lack of acclimation. I’ve been using the analogy of someone taking a tropical vacation in February and lying on the beach all day without sunscreen. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.

BSN (WTF?)

More damage started to become visible a week or two after the sunburn episode. Clusters with only a few sunburned berries were starting to shrivel. The main stem (rachis) of the cluster had been burned and was shutting down, cutting off water from the whole cluster. On some vines every cluster was affected – a 100% loss. In mid September a grower friend asked me if I had heard of BSN (“everybody in Napa is talking about it”). I said “wtf is bsn?” The answer came back, “bunch stem necrosis”. I certainly knew of bunch stem necrosis – the condition where the rachis shuts down (usually for unknown reason), cutting off the flow of water and sugar, resulting in “waterberry” – basically sour raisins. I just hadn’t heard the acronym; I guess in Sonoma we’re just a bunch of bumpkins.

The end result was that losses due to sun damage in Sonoma and Napa probably totaled between 15 and 25%. Some vineyards had insignificant damage and others lost their entire crop. A friend who is the vineyard liaison / grape buyer for a fairly big Zinfandel specialist said all their Sonoma County old vine growers were off 50-70% in terms of tonnage. We probably lost around a third of our grapes, including 80% of our Malbec, and probably 50%+ of our Zinfandel and Syrah. On top of the crop losses, we had increased costs for pre-harvest thinning, picking and sorting.

Everything Except a Plague of Locusts

September was a more typical month, weather wise. There were some fairly intense heat spikes that alternated with more moderate, but still sunny, weather. I wish we could have swapped July weather with September weather, but at least the excess heat was better than insufficient heat. We finally started harvest the last week of September, picking some Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay that had wonderful flavor at lower than usual sugar levels – I was stoked. A big heat wave at the very end of September ended the dream of having all of our wines at lower than typical alcohol levels. Zinfandel was affected the most; substantial raisining during late September / early October drove potential alcohol levels through the roof. We’re still trying to coax all our Zinfandels to dryness as of this writing in mid December.

Harvest went very smoothly for us, although I heard horror stories of insufficient labor and inadequate tank space at wineries to get all the grapes harvested quickly enough. Then the threat of a major storm popped up, only a month or so after the start of harvest. “Rushing To Beat Rain” was the front page headline of the Oct. 19 Press Democrat. The lead sentence was “Mother Nature may deliver one last gut punch to grape growers before this historically dismal season comes to an end.” I was talking with a fourth generation grapegrower the day before the rain hit, and told her it seemed like we’d had everything except a plague of locusts this year. She pointed skyward and said, “Don’t give Him any ideas”. We ended up on the receiving end of 5.4 inches of rain – almost the identical amount we had received during the second week of October, 2009. Although this storm hit more than a week later than the 2009 rains, it was more worrisome because a much larger percentage of the Sonoma and Napa grape crop wasn’t ripe yet.

After the big storm there was a huge rush to bring in as much as possible before another predicted storm’s arrival. Both before and after the storm wineries were faced with a tough decision: pick less than ideally ripe grapes or risk rot and hope for good weather to follow. We did a little of each. I decided we had more to lose than to gain by letting either the Saralee’s Roussanne or our estate Durif (aka Petit Sirah) hang through the first major rain. The Roussanne was physiologically mature, with nice flavor but very low sugar – only 20.5º brix, and is extremely susceptible to rot. Fortunately, our estate Roussanne (60%) of the blend) had come in earlier at 24º brix. The estate Grenache, even though prone to rot, was not ripe enough, so I let it hang. The same strategy applied to three other vineyards, two of Cabernet sauvignon, and one Petit Verdot. Only one of the four survived the deluge relatively unscathed – the Mohrhardt Ridge Cabernet. We picked the Grenache and the other Cabernet vineyard the last week of October, with careful sorting both in the vineyard and at the crusher to pull out rotten grapes.

The weather forecasters were promising a heat spell going into the first week of November. The Mohrhardt Ridge Cab was in great condition, and stood to benefit significantly from another week of sunny hangtime. On the other hand, the Petit Verdot was starting to rot like a bandit, but was seriously underripe. We were not the only winery getting fruit from that vineyard, and therefore had more limited input regarding farming practices than we have with most of our growers. This grower gambled, leaving a very large crop unthinned (after all, it had always ripened in past years). When we finally harvested these last two vineyards, the Mohrhardt Ridge fruit was gorgeous, fully mature at 22º brix (around 13% potential alcohol), and I’m thrilled with the resultant wine. The Petit Verdot grower lost 90-95% of his crop. We ended up with one barrel; it’s better than it would have been had we picked earlier, but still not great.

Blind Men Describing an Elephant

I’ve been reading various winemakers’ assessments of the harvest, and at times it’s hard to believe they’re talking about the same year. During the time leading up to crush a lot of winemakers were excited about the potential for fully ripe grapes at lower sugar and higher acid levels than usual. Late season heat waves did dampen that enthusiasm somewhat, but many of the wines from the early phase of harvest are quite charming, with bright, fresh fruit and moderate alcohol. Color is very deep in most of the reds; the young Pinot Noirs are so dark that they don’t even look like Pinots.

A couple of prominent winemakers have been quoted as saying that increased hang time resulted in great wines. Let’s see: bloom time three weeks late, veraison three weeks late, harvest two weeks late equals increased hang time? Either somebody hasn’t been out in the vineyards much this year, or they just can’t turn off the PRBS machine.

I think the 2010 season and harvest bore more resemblance to 1980, 1998 and 2000 than to any other years I can remember. I’ve heard comparisons to many other years, even 2006, when we had 11 days in a row over 100ºF (because that was the latest harvest in that winemaker’s memory?). For some winemakers it was a logistics nightmare, and for others it flowed smoothly. Some said it was a wonderful year, others said it was a near disaster.

So, You Ask, Are the Wines Any Good?

It really is folly to generalize about vintages in our region because of the vast diversity of climate and varieties. An outstanding year for Russian River Pinot Noir may be a weak year for Napa Valley Cabernet and vice versa. However, since the critics typically either laud or damn a vintage, with little in between, I’m guessing they may give 2010 the thumbs down, considering that the most prominent U.S. critics have a preference for big, sweet, high alcohol / low acid wines.

From what I’ve seen and heard, I think I can offer a reasonable early assessment of the vintage. There should be some fantastic wines and some lackluster wines, as there are almost any year in Sonoma and Napa, although 2010 may be more uneven than usual. Here are my observations and predictions:

  1. An excellent vintage for white wines, particularly from warmer locations such as mid-Napa, Dry Creek, Sonoma and Alexander Valleys. Whites may be a little more uneven in cooler parts of the Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast.
  2. Variable Pinot Noir, with the best being stupendous. Location and row orientation were critical this year vis-à-vis the August heat wave.
  3. A challenging vintage for Zinfandel. A lot of old head trained vineyards suffered huge losses to sunburn, lack of heat made true ripeness a challenge, and raisining (always an issue in Zinfandel) was rampant. There will be a very limited supply of 2010 Zinfandel, with quality variable.
  4. The “quality” of 2010 Cabernet sauvignon, the bellwether of Sonoma and Napa, will depend largely on your stylistic preferences. For myself, and others of a more traditional bent, it was a wonderful year. The Cabernets have great color and structure, good acid and below 14% alcohol. If, on the other hand, you prefer über-ripe, jammy, high alcohol Parkeresque Cabernets then 2010 is a dismal year. I heard of more than one winery that rejected grapes because they didn’t reach their minimum sugar requirement of 25º brix (about 14.5% potential alcohol). I am a bit suspicious some of these wineries had ulterior motives for rejecting grapes – inventory backlog and cash flow issues.

2010 - all in all a vintage that many winemakers and all growers would like to forget. There will be some outstanding wines, but you’ll need to select carefully, and taste before buying whenever possible.

klezman


quality posts: 121 Private Messages klezman

Peter, thanks again for the outstanding report! I've been trying to figure out so many of the issues you talked about. I'm also excited to try some of the 2010 wines before bottling.

What do you think a bout Carneros Syrah? It seems like it could really go either way as well, based on your descriptions.

2014: 28 bottles. Last wine.woot: Scott Harvey Red Re-Mix
2013: 66 bottles, 2012: 91 bottles, 2011: 92 bottles, 2010: 74 bottles, 2009: 30 bottles, 2008: 3 bottles My CT

jhkey


quality posts: 51 Private Messages jhkey

Thanks Peter, Great post! I hope you've had some time to recover!
Like you, I'm really looking forward to some lower alcohol cabs from 2010!

"I double the doctor's recommendation of a glass and a half of wine a day and even treble it with a friend."
- Thomas Jefferson (CT)

polarbear22


quality posts: 35 Private Messages polarbear22

Peter, thanks for another interesting read. I think that anyone that envies winemakers and thinks that is their next career should read this. There are a lot of dice rolling that can go against you big time. I'll stick with my corporate job.

Look forward to seeing the next Wellington offer.

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cheron98


quality posts: 123 Private Messages cheron98

Peter, I always appreciate your vintage reports. Honest and down-to-earth, with no sense of "I have to make it sound good so people will buy my wines!" Giving both the good and the bad really helps me appreciate the differences between varietals even more.

Very glad to hear that the Cabernet looks to be excellent this year - it's a favorite for me and I definitely prefer the more traditional style.

I saw HitAnyKey42 on wine.woot! and clicked "I want one!"

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo

Hi Peter -

As always, you give us the detailed unvarnished report as you see it. Though bad for growers and winemakers, it would seem from a consumer standpoint that the weather provided a year where folks who were interested in getting more restrained wines, might have a good chance of finding them if they pick and choose carefully. It also might illuminate which winemakers really know how to work with their grapes to produce something interesting, rather than relying on jamminess and alcohol to shout the flavors of the grapes.

Thanks for taking the time to give us the update!

ddeuddeg


quality posts: 29 Private Messages ddeuddeg

Just like a great book, I couldn't put it down. Thanks for the insight and information. If it wasn't before, it is now obvious why "Weary Winemaker" is part of the title of these Ramblings.

"Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you've got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge". - Hester Browne


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gcdyersb


quality posts: 141 Private Messages gcdyersb

I was wondering what kind of bad things would happen if grapes with no flavor development were baked. There it is: waterberry. Nothing worse than a raisined wine with no flavor and spiky acidity.

Peter, how much of the sunburn was a result of pruning, do you think? I have read some accounts that vintners pruned back aggressively due to the cool, cloudy weather. Seeing how our tomatoes reacted, the ones getting direct sun and facing the street were burned, while those with some foliage to cover them on the other side of the plant did much better.

It's good to hear that skilled winemakers will still make excellent wines. I guess this is a vintage that tests producers and vineyard sites, and the better ones will end up succeeding.

Cabernet Franc: it's not just for blending! It's also for blogging.

zTimothyBz


quality posts: 2 Private Messages zTimothyBz

Nature and the gods conspire against Parkerization!

Sounds like tasting the 2010's is going to be a grand adventure!

Thanks for the report, Peter.

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gregorylane


quality posts: 15 Private Messages gregorylane

Great post Peter...I know you had high hopes for the vintage when the tour visited, sorry for any losses incurred. Did your old vine in front of the shop make it?

RPM had posted about doing a pinot tour in 2012 (I guess), and it would be really helpful to know which pinot makers fared well for the 2010 season. Any names of those pleased come to mind?

There is really no point in trying to explain liberty to people who don't understand what it means.
rpm-2012

wkdpanda


quality posts: 10 Private Messages wkdpanda

Peter,

As always, your writing is "required reading" for those who are looking to learn. Thanks for the post and the insight.

Going to have to keep all this information stored away for when 2012 releases come out.

-andy

----------------
Andy the Wicked Panda

SmilingBoognish


quality posts: 47 Private Messages SmilingBoognish

So, would laying down a case of 2010 Mohrhardt Ridge Cabernet for my 2 year old's college graduation be a good call?

Thank you, as always, for such an interesting insight into the challenges of farming.

kylemittskus


quality posts: 229 Private Messages kylemittskus

PW: as always, the veracity in your report is greatly appreciated. It sounds like the 2010 cabs are notably not my style which is great to know ahead of time. Time to start stocking up, I suppose.

"If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine." -Rainer Maria Rilke

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rpm


quality posts: 170 Private Messages rpm

Thanks for a thorough and thoroughly informative report -- the detailed insights give us a framework within which we can reasonably assess and evaluate reports from other voices.

It looks like it may be a very good year for the sorts of wines I like. Interesting you compare it to 1980, and as good for whites: you will no doubt recall that both 1979 and 1980 were considered excellent for whites, with 1979 being better in Napa than 1980 (the 1979 Raymond was particularly good as was the 1979 Joseph Phelps), but 1980 being better in Sonoma than 1979, and the Sonoma 1980s Chardonnays being very often better than Napa Chardonnays.

Pity on the lack of Zin, but there's more and more decent Pinot, so I'll survive while the Cabs slowly mature....

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zTimothyBz


quality posts: 2 Private Messages zTimothyBz
rpm wrote:Pity on the lack of Zin, but there's more and more decent Pinot, so I'll survive while the Cabs slowly mature....


What about the Cabs you already have slowly maturing?

-- T
(remember So Cal in August 2012...)

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richardhod


quality posts: 261 Private Messages richardhod
SmilingBoognish wrote:So, would laying down a case of 2010 Mohrhardt Ridge Cabernet for my 2 year old's college graduation be a good call?

Thank you, as always, for such an interesting insight into the challenges of farming.



I'd say yes! I was there for last day of crush, in November. Jay Mohrhardt:s a lovely chap too. Peter's (yum) 94/95 Syrah and victory still have a decade or more in them yet!!

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
klezman wrote:Peter, thanks again for the outstanding report! I've been trying to figure out so many of the issues you talked about. I'm also excited to try some of the 2010 wines before bottling.

What do you think a bout Carneros Syrah? It seems like it could really go either way as well, based on your descriptions.



Yes, either way. It could be outstanding if it ripened fully.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
gcdyersb wrote:I was wondering what kind of bad things would happen if grapes with no flavor development were baked. There it is: waterberry. Nothing worse than a raisined wine with no flavor and spiky acidity.

Peter, how much of the sunburn was a result of pruning, do you think? I have read some accounts that vintners pruned back aggressively due to the cool, cloudy weather. Seeing how our tomatoes reacted, the ones getting direct sun and facing the street were burned, while those with some foliage to cover them on the other side of the plant did much better.

It's good to hear that skilled winemakers will still make excellent wines. I guess this is a vintage that tests producers and vineyard sites, and the better ones will end up succeeding.



I do know of some growers who pulled more leaves out of concern about increased mildew pressure, and one often quoted grower who blames his sunburn losses on that practice. We didn't pull any leaves on the afternoon sun side of our vines and had catyastrophic losses in some blocks. It's impossible to tell how much of an effect was due to canopy management practices unless a grower had side by side blocks that he/she treated differently.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
gregorylane wrote:Great post Peter...I know you had high hopes for the vintage when the tour visited, sorry for any losses incurred. Did your old vine in front of the shop make it?

RPM had posted about doing a pinot tour in 2012 (I guess), and it would be really helpful to know which pinot makers fared well for the 2010 season. Any names of those pleased come to mind?



Most old vine vineyards, including ours, suffered serious damage.

I'm not in regular contact with very many Pinot Noir producers, but a 2012 summer trip should provide a great opportunity to judge for yourself. There will be some great ones, so it shouold be a wonderful year for a Pinot-centric tour.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
SmilingBoognish wrote:So, would laying down a case of 2010 Mohrhardt Ridge Cabernet for my 2 year old's college graduation be a good call?

Thank you, as always, for such an interesting insight into the challenges of farming.



Why not something from his/her birth year?

SmilingBoognish


quality posts: 47 Private Messages SmilingBoognish
SonomaBouliste wrote:Why not something from his/her birth year?



When are you releasing '08 Victory? ;)

I've got quite a few California cabs from his "conception" year - 2007. I'm not sure how many I'll be willing to share, though.

richardhod


quality posts: 261 Private Messages richardhod
klezman wrote:
What do you think a bout Carneros Syrah? It seems like it could really go either way as well, based on your descriptions.



Peter implies it may be hard to ripen them there.. and indeed to me it sounds like a waste of Pinot and Chardonnay terroir! Comparative advantage works for aethetics too ;)

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
richardhod wrote:Peter implies it may be hard to ripen them there.. and indeed to me it sounds like a waste of Pinot and Chardonnay terroir! Comparative advantage works for aethetics too ;)



Carneros has varied climate / terroir, and wind can be a huge factor. Exposed areas toward San Francisco Bay get enough wind to shut the vines down (the stomata close in order to conserve water) most summer afternoons, delaying ripening. Protected eastern exposures in both Napa and Sonoma Carneros can produce outstanding Syrah. My comment was based on 2010 being such a cool, late vintage. The smaller than average Syrah crops here in mid Sonoma Valley did ripen fully, but in mid October, just before the rainstorms hit.

INTLGerard


quality posts: 58 Private Messages INTLGerard

Guest Blogger

For those who may not have seen this our condolences go out to Peter and the Wellington family as Peter's dad, John S. Wellington has passed away. We are truly sorry for your loss Peter.

Here is the article in the Press Democrat on John S. Wellington.

Winedavid39


quality posts: 200 Private Messages Winedavid39

Guest Blogger

INTLGerard wrote:For those who may not have seen this our condolences go out to Peter and the Wellington family as Peter's dad, John S. Wellington has passed away. We are truly sorry for your loss Peter.

Here is the article in the Press Democrat on John S. Wellington.



i had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wellington, albiet in the twilight of his life. He still was a striking figure and i'm told lived a tremendously active and fulfilling life. When the time is right, i'd love to hear more from Peter.

woopdedoo


quality posts: 35 Private Messages woopdedoo
INTLGerard wrote:For those who may not have seen this our condolences go out to Peter and the Wellington family as Peter's dad, John S. Wellington has passed away. We are truly sorry for your loss Peter.

Here is the article in the Press Democrat on John S. Wellington.



What an inspiring life story, and a great legacy.

richardhod


quality posts: 261 Private Messages richardhod
woopdedoo wrote:What an inspiring life story, and a great legacy.



Looks like a long life, well-lived. Commiserations to Peter and his family, and wish them a fine celebration of his father's life.

ScottHarveyWines


quality posts: 152 Private Messages ScottHarveyWines

Hi Peter,
Wonderful portrayal of the 2010 vintage. I'll print it out and keep in my 2010 wine records book, so years from know I can refer back to it. The Aug. heat spike completely wiped out our Napa Old Vine Riesling from the Rutherford bench. On Sept. 7th we harvested Sauvignon Blanc from a shady vineyard on the river at Lodi Lane that showed almost no damage. What excited me about this vinatge was the Amador Zinfandel. Seems those vines are more used to heat spikes. Much like the 1991 vinetage, a cold growing season might be hard on Napa and Sonoma, but sure makes great wines in Amador producing grape maturity at lower sugars and higher acids.

ScottHarveyWines


quality posts: 152 Private Messages ScottHarveyWines

Hi Peter,
I noticed your blog on the 2009 vinatge, as well. Do you have write-ups on any previous vintages? Be great to put them in each of my yearly wine log books. I think they are so well done.

canonizer


quality posts: 22 Private Messages canonizer
INTLGerard wrote:For those who may not have seen this our condolences go out to Peter and the Wellington family as Peter's dad, John S. Wellington has passed away. We are truly sorry for your loss Peter.

Here is the article in the Press Democrat on John S. Wellington.



Peter, I'd like to offer my condolences as well but your father's life seems truly worth celebrating. What were some of his favorite wines/vintages from your winery?

signed.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
canonizer wrote:Peter, I'd like to offer my condolences as well but your father's life seems truly worth celebrating. What were some of his favorite wines/vintages from your winery?



Thank you for the kind thoughts. My father liked Syrah a lot, especially the Estate bottling, and he was always a fan of the Noir de Noirs. He liked bold wine and food, and one of his favorite pairings was Mongolian BBQ and Noir de Noirs.

SonomaBouliste


quality posts: 234 Private Messages SonomaBouliste
ScottHarveyWines wrote:Hi Peter,
I noticed your blog on the 2009 vinatge, as well. Do you have write-ups on any previous vintages? Be great to put them in each of my yearly wine log books. I think they are so well done.



Not exactly. I did make running comments in w00t blogs during the 2007 crush, and some comments on 2008.

richardhod


quality posts: 261 Private Messages richardhod

Here's a fine article from Steve Heimoff on the 2010 Vintage. Implies that some vintners in Napa are humans (edit: fools) and could be declassifying their best grapes in decades!

http://www.winemag.com/Wine-Enthusiast-Magazine/March-2011/2010-Napa-Cabernets-Expect-the-Unexpected/

gregorylane


quality posts: 15 Private Messages gregorylane
richardhod wrote:Here's a fine article from Steve Heimoff on the 2010 Vintage. Implies that some vintners in apa are human and could be declassifying their best grapes in decades!

http://www.winemag.com/Wine-Enthusiast-Magazine/March-2011/2010-Napa-Cabernets-Expect-the-Unexpected/



Good read. Sounds like Peter had a little bit of all of this...I wonder who the anonymous vintner was.

There is really no point in trying to explain liberty to people who don't understand what it means.
rpm-2012