Book and Author
Pour and Explore
This blog explores intriguing aspects of the world of wine, and food to match. It also encourages readers to share time, wine, and food with friends.
Posts include travel photos and stories, wine scores, winemaker recipes, and videos – including drone shots and interviews.
Think. Clink. Drink.
We also recently re-released the book Vino Voices in a new, portable, affordable format – as a paperback without photos.
The Value of Wine and Work.
To write the book Vino Voices, I spent three years traveling through a dozen countries interviewing winemakers about their profession. I had the fortune to spend hours speaking with enologists, vineyard ecologists, wine guides, cork producers, and others who work in the world of wine.
The book Vino Voices is the result of these travels and conversations. It includes stories of why people do what they love, as well as their recollections of the passions and challenges that come with their work.
The book Vino Voices includes thirty-six chapters, dozens of interviews, over a hundred photographs, and roams through the world of wine. This book will let you slip into a world of colorful characters telling why – despite setbacks and nasty odds – they chose occupations they love. The book is published by Roundwood Press.
This web log (‘blog’) includes snippets of interviews, photographs, stories, and fresh insights into the world of wine. If you enjoy wine, food, travel, and tales of why people love their work (or crave inspiration to do what you love) – please keep reading.
About the Author –
After studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I gained decades of professional management and environmental consulting experience while living in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States. I’ve worked in the fields of management, business development, environmental consulting, and civil engineering, and have been involved with boosting the success of diverse environmental and infrastructure projects funded by governments, private entities, and international banks. I have masters degrees in both civil engineering and business administration, am a registered professional engineer, and have published several books.
Articles and photographs I’ve written have been published in magazines that include Columbia, World Water, International Groundwater Technology, Resource Recycling, Earth Journal, International Living Magazine, as well in the book Traveler’s Tales – Ireland. I’m now a regular contributor to Forbes. Publication resulted in my being interviewed by dozens of radio stations and I’ve been a public speaker in the USA, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. I’ve also been an invited presenter at multiple conferences hosted by entities that include the U.S. Geological Survey, the Missouri River Institute, American Rivers, the National Council of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, the American Chamber of Commerce in Panama, Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California, and the University of Newcastle in the UK. My work has included being a historian with National Geographic/Lindblad expeditions, and I’ve traveled to more than thirty countries and interviewed over a hundred subject matter experts regarding material covered in his books.
Recently I was contracted by a British company as Infrastructure Director for a $280 million school construction program in Asia. Before this I worked as Country Director overseeing a $230 million portfolio of projects to improve basic infrastructure within conflict riddled tribal regions of Pakistan, as well as to manage both an economic development portfolio, and a youth development program.
Though born in the Virgin Islands of the USA, I spent years growing up in Ireland, and now live in Bordeaux in France, as well as in Catron County, New Mexico, in the United States.
Some blog posts mention the Vino Value algorithm. This combines subjective and objective data – including overall quality scores from tastings (often multiple), prices per bottle, and others factors that may include distribution, availability, and aging potential. The algorithm combines linear interpolation, weighted scoring formulae, and variables derived from tastings in different regions. (It was calibrated using quadratic regression formulae applied to hundreds of existing price/quality scoring data.) The algorithm is iterative, and therefore improves each time it is applied. It is also proprietary, and was developed on the basis of methods learned and applied during more than two decades of strategic management consultancies provided throughout the world.
For the results of this algorithm, value scores are relative for wines from the same region. Tastings are not blind. This listing will not include wines that fail to meet a minimum threshold value for scoring. ‘Superlative ♫♫♫’ is the highest scoring, ‘Excellent ♫♫’ the second highest, and ‘Good ♫’ is the next highest. This new system was first developed and refined in early 2015.
Below sample chapters from the book Vino Voices.
All photographs, videos, and written content on this site are by T. Mullen and copyright © 2015 Roundwood Press (except where indicated on the Home page tab). All rights reserved.
You must get written permission to reprint or republish any of this material.
Sample Chapter One:
In wine, elegance is everything. But elegance is impossible to describe.
Villa St. Simon Guest House and Citroën 2CV
Les Kellen owns and manages the Villa St. Simon Guest House in the town of Blaye, situated about fifty kilometers north of the city of Bordeaux, France. Blaye is located on the east, or right bank, of the Gironde estuary. The tranquil town includes a citadelle that was constructed as a defense fortification in the seventeenth century by an architect of King Louis the XIV. The citadelle is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both Blaye and the adjacent region of Bourg include approximately eight hundred wineries.
Les also leads wine education seminars and guides tours to local wineries. His business is beginning to thrive.
On the afternoon that I visit, Les will take visitors on a trip to Le Cone winery, located near the Gironde River. In the evening, he will accompany several on a trip up the Gironde River on a rehabilitated sailboat named Sinbad. They will enjoy excellent appetizers, champagne, and bottles of local wine.
Villa St. Simon is located in a building, on Rue Charles de Gaulle, that has four stories, with rooms centered off of one central stone staircase. There is also a small tasting room downstairs. Twenty yards away from the building, across an alley, is La Galerie, an art gallery run by a lady friend of Les from South Africa named Clarissa.
The creatively decorated dining room includes books on wine within a glass fronted book case. There are also bottles of wine stacked horizontally in shelves. Instrumental music plays in the background. As we talk, Julian, an assistant to Les, tells stories and jokes with three lady visitors from southern England.
On this warm morning in September, Les sits at a table for breakfast inside this downstairs dining room. He wears blue jeans and a white collared shirt with red vertical stripes. A gold chain hangs around his neck. His hair is both black and salt and pepper gray. He pours orange juice from a flask and offers me a chocolate croissant from a basket. He then pours fresh coffee into our mugs. Les picks his reading glasses from where they rest on a purple napkin and places them in his shirt pocket.
Les, outside his B&B and wine education center
Les: I’ve been into wine since I was twenty-one, which was over thirty years ago. I had my first bottle of red, a Portuguese Dao. Loved it. Slept the whole afternoon. That was my introduction.
I studied law in South Africa. Quite frankly, I hated every second of that profession. Eventually I ended up teaching law and economics and setting up a private group of schools and universities called the Boston Education Group. It’s still in existence. We had seventeen private schools and universities. That was sold in an IPO on the Johannesburg stock exchange when I was 38. That enabled me to travel to Europe. I was lucky, really. Right place, right time.
I traveled in Spain and Portugal and tasted the wines in those countries extensively. Took over a wine bar with a restaurant in England with a friend. It continues to be very successful. Called the Naked Turtle. And that is now owned by previous employees.
There was always going to be France, ultimately. Because for me there are only two kinds of wines in the world – French and others. I knew one day I would end up here. This particular place is very convenient because Medoc is just a hundred meters away by ferry, we are forty minutes from St. Emilion, and we have the privilege of the most wonderful wines in the world of Bourg and Blaye, which fortunately at this stage have not been ‘discovered’ and are therefore the best value wines in the world.
We found this building more or less by accident. I came with an ex-girlfriend who was looking for a holiday home. They showed her this house. I said she should take it, with all its potential. It was a ruin. Hadn’t been lived in for thirteen years. She said it was too much work, and too big. She thought this was too much of a job. But I loved the house, so I came back and bought it. It took a year and a bit to renovate. It had been in one family since 1860. The family Droma. They had an insurance company which was on this ground floor. The family lived above, which is why the kitchen is on the first floor. And the last Droma died at the age of forty-eight and left the house to his sister and her husband. I bought it from the heirs. When we completed the transaction in the notary’s office, shivers went down everybody’s spine because the date of birth of the last owner and me are exactly the same. We were born on exactly the same day. 1951. Fifteenth of December. Same day, year, and month.
I went to complete the transaction at the notary’s office in Bordeaux. I didn’t know where to go. So I went to the train station to get a cab there. The cabbie had worked on the King’s Road in London for seven years and spoke perfect English. He dropped me and I took his number. I said, “Jean Louis, come and fetch me when I’m finished. I’ll give you a call.” He said, “Fine.” I went into the notary’s to do the completion. They said, “Where is ‘your translator?” I told them, “I didn’t know I needed one.” They said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get one.” They phoned around. Couldn’t get one. Eventually, I said, “Actually I have a translator.” I phoned the cabbie. He came back, left his meter running, and did the translation.
There’s a lovely adjunct to that story. Three years later I was one of the two witnesses at his wedding, because Jean Louis and me have stayed friends ever since. He’s actually an artist but cabs too because art doesn’t really provide a living.
Then there was Julian. You know how I met Julian? In England there’s a company that makes the roofs for the 2CVs [the Citroën vehicle ‘deux chevaux,’ meaning ‘two horses,’ because of its horsepower]. The ones that come off. Canvas roofs. I bought a roof, this one you can see out the window. I found them on the internet. They sent me swatches and I chose a color and they made the roof and then they asked would I mind giving them the old one because they use them to construct new ones. I said of course. They said they were coming to France. Would I mind coming up to the 2CV meeting in the middle of France. I went with Frank, my business partner. It was four hours away, but we got a bit lost so it took us six hours. It was on a big, wet, airfield. We spent two hours with them, and then it took us four hours back. And if you ever want to know if you can get on with anyone, spend ten hours with them in a 2CV. If you want to get married or if you want to have a business partner I think you should do the ten-hour-2CV test.
Citadelle de Blaye – a defense fortification constructed centuries ago
At that meeting I arranged to have the 2CV serviced. They agreed because they know everything about 2CVs. We agreed to do a swap. I said couldn’t we have three or four days holiday in winter when you’re not busy and we’ll pay for parts. The mechanics stayed here at our rest house. That was our arrangement and it went on for three years.
One day they phoned me and said they’ve got this friend Julian. He’d like to do something down here and he’s leaving where he was at that point in France. He needed a bit of tender loving care. They said Les, we think you’re the man who could do it. Can he come down for a bit? So he did. Well Julian’s got golden hands. He can fix everything. He’s a qualified carpenter and he’s also restored more than a hundred 2CVs. He knows every nut and bolt. He’s originally from Brighton in England. He can do anything in metal and wood. At the time he came, we’d had this house five and a half years and things had started breaking. He just got into it and he fixed everything. I said, “Well, look, why don’t you just stay and work here?” That happened two years ago.
Serendipity? I think that’s for anyone who’s open to what the universe sends them. Sometimes the universe does try, and we don’t respond. So I always try to give everyone a hearing. I’m open to everyone. I’m always available for whoever walks in. I was the instrument to help Julian, but at the end of the day, Julian ended up helping me far more because of everything that he did in this house.
Clarissa? That’s another interesting story. I have a friend since I was two years old who became the principal dancer in the state ballet company of South Africa. I got this email from her one day saying, “Look, I’ve got this friend named Clarissa who really needs a place to stay.” It was winter. She wrote me saying, “I know you’ve got a place. Could you help out a bit with accommodation for awhile until she decides what’s she’s going to do?” That’s how Clarissa came to this place. Came for a couple of weeks. That was about eight months ago.
Bordeaux province in the spring
Well I always had this dream of an art gallery that I was going to open. Suddenly Clarissa came in and that’s what she does. She’s an artist. She set up our art gallery, La Galerie, across the street. She’s done a fantastic job.
I love meeting with families that run small vineyards and eating with them and tasting their new wines. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the blending of some of the wines. I even named a wine. We were going to call it Orbit because the wine is being made with whole grapes and stalks in a barrel that rotates. But it seems the name was not suitable, because we didn’t know that in French it has a sexual connotation. The marketing people were not going to be happy with that.
The Sinbad cruising along the Gironde Estuary
I meet some of the nicest people from all over the world and learn lots from these people. I had a course in whiskey from a whiskey expert who came here to learn about wine. I just feel blessed. I meet so many amazing people and am able to share my passion with them and the pleasure in wine.
Most people who come here are surprised at the variety of wines, the authenticity of the place, and the tranquility. They have an experience way beyond anything they imagined. I had a Belgian couple here last week. It’s their sixth time in five years. There are a lot who come back, and back, and back, and just enjoy being here.
Twenty percent of our guests come from Australia and New Zealand. We have a lot from Canada, the States, and then Europe. Scandinavia. Iceland. Greenland. Japan.
The first four years were really tough. Wasn’t quite sure I was going to pay the electrical bill and stuff like that. It was just money going out for renovations. We didn’t have a stick of furniture. There were no light fittings. No one knew us. First four years were total loss making. This is the seventh year.
I love the size that it is. We have a lovely place where I can give each person individual attention. That’s what I like doing. I don’t want to be running anything that’s even vaguely like a hotel or big tour organization.
The feedback we get? A zillion write ups on Trip Advisor. Ninety-nine percent of them are good ones.
The wines have progressed a lot. I’m supplying fourteen private cellars around Europe and England and France now, including the conductor of the Queen of England’s orchestra in St. Martins-in-the-Fields. All the wines in his private cellar are my choice. He’s been here quite a few times.
I think I can help de-mystify French wines for foreigners, particularly Bordeaux. It is a bit of a mystery if you don’t take the time to figure it out. We do it while we’re having fun. Otherwise it’s not worth it. It’s done in an unpretentious way. That’s the way I think wine should be. Wine is a simple pleasure, whether one knows a little bit, or more than a little bit. You can enhance it with a bit more experience and knowledge, but we try to keep it simple.
Blaye – home to delicious, affordable Bordeaux wines
Sample Chapter Two:
Well, in wine you have to let go of the ego. You have to drop all this crap about being a wine maker.
It is mid February. Steve ‘Sam’ Schwindt, an unemployed house framer and contractor, has just spent four days crossing the U.S. from Florida to California on a Greyhound bus (including a full day spent in Shreveport, Louisiana, delayed by an unusual snow storm). He has worked for almost thirty years. He has raised two children. Now, Steve is looking for work. He weighs 125 pounds, the same that he weighed in high school. We sit on a public bench in the Corona del Mar region of Newport Beach, California. Before us spreads a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. The temperature is balmy. A light breeze lifts off the ocean. Sam describes an incident that occurred eight years earlier.
Sam: I ended up in Brevard County jail in Sharpes, Florida, due to a night out at a strip club. It was summertime. I told my girlfriend Robin that I was going to stop at this place called Club Goddess on the way back. Saturday night. I drove over to the club, and I drank about four beers. Sixteen ounce beers. Tall boys. Just Bud draft, because I’m cheap. I drank them down pretty quick. I got into the car. Honda Accord. I didn’t realize that the tag light was out in the back. The cops were sitting right across the street like they usually do. As soon as I pulled out of the parking lot they saw my tag light was out. They pulled me over. They stuck their head in the window and said, “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?” I said, “Yeah, you just watched me pull out of the bar, remember?” They said, “Okay, we’re going to administer a sobriety test, and make you blow.” I had no problem with the sobriety test but I ended up blowing a point one two.
I was impaired. They have the law for a reason. So I got arrested and taken to Sharpes. I didn’t have cash on me, and Robin didn’t have any kind of money. My credit was still kind of messed up from my marriage. I didn’t have any kind of plastic. So I said doesn’t matter, I work for myself. Business is going to be there when I get out. I said, “Just leave me here.” I had one call and told Robin, “Don’t even bother trying to bond me out. I’ll just sit here. It’ll all be over within about a month.” It was fifty-four days later when I got out.
Sharpe’s is written up as one of the worst jails in America. They had five suicides in like four months. It was that bad. People couldn’t take it in there. Kept my back against the wall, didn’t say nothing. Very crowded. They have an upper tier and a lower tier and there’s ten cells to each – twenty cells. Three men to a cell, supposed to be two. The whole day room, everything, was filled with cots. People sleeping out there. It was like three times over capacity. I’m not afraid of too much. I know when to keep my mouth shut, and how to conduct myself. Most people were there for the same stupid stuff – DUIs, driving on suspended licenses, bar fights. They separated them. The violent offenders were locked in cages. I wasn’t that worried. Just very crowded. I actually knew a couple people that were in there.
The big thing you do in jail, because of time on your hands, you play cards. Spades. That’s the jailhouse game. Spades. You sit around and bulls#*! I can’t remember their names. These weren’t people I knew on the outside, they were just jail buddies. We room together, we have to get along. So I’m sitting around. We’re playin’ spades. Someone was like, “Man, I wish I had a beer.” Well conversation got around. Someone said, “Well I know how to make wine.” I was like, “You can’t make wine in jail.” He had obviously been in and out. Lots of tattoos and kind of scraggly looking, but said, “I know how to make wine.” It’s got to be a team effort because they don’t feed you very well in jail. I mean, they give you the basic minimum calorie intake to keep you alive, which is I think twelve hundred calories or something a day? Something like that.
You save your fruit. Any type. Sometimes you’d get fresh fruit, but not often. Apples, oranges, peaches, apricots, grapes, mostly canned stuff. Save that. Save sugar from the packets from breakfast. Little packs you put on your oatmeal. Save bread. For the yeast. You can’t get yeast in jail, but you use bread. It helps if it’s a little older, maybe a little mold on it. Think we went three or four days. There’s no refrigerators, so after awhile you’re border line going to poison yourself. Then we all get in his cell. Got the fruit, hot water out of the tap, sugar, some bread.
He came up with the plastic bag. Good size. Like a freezer bag. Everything goes in. Sugar, water, fruit and bread. But you got to hide this stuff too because it takes a week to ferment. You hide the bag in the toilet. A little string, you know, inside. No one uses that toilet for the whole time it’s in there. There’s a toilet in every cell plus one for people in the day room. So when you’re fermenting that’s shut down. The guards never really looked that hard if you kept to yourself. They’d never come in and toss your room unless you were doing something completely wrong. Technically we didn’t break any rules. It’s not in the rule book. It doesn’t say, “You will not make wine.”
Like I say, takes about a week to ferment. It’s better if you let it go longer. We could never wait. We’d always have something going. There were three or four of us. Finally, everyone was starting to do it. It tasted horrible. But you could tell there was alcohol in it. That’s how we made jailhouse wine.
Biggest challenge? Making sure everybody else kept quiet about it. ‘Cause you have your snitches. People in jail get on each other’s nerves. You bump into someone, the next thing you know they’re going up to the guard and going, “You know, they’re makin’ hooch in the toilet.” Biggest reward? Gettin’ drunk. It was pretty potent stuff. Somethin’ to do. A project. Someone tells me you can’t do something, I’m bound and determined to do it.
Went up before the judge. Already agreed to plea bargain with the district attorney. They said in return for a plea of not guilty, you’ll get time served and be out today. I said, “Yeah, no contest.” Got out that night. Walked down to the store and bought a beer.