Good Fences, Great Neighbors

Before I built a wall I'd ask to knowWhat I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.

Robert Frost, “Mending Wall,” 1915


Maybe it’s the midday heat.  When it’s 95 degrees outside, and your brain’s grey matter is sizzling like Zingerman’s artisanal bacon, slow motion is the new warp speed.  Any sudden moves provoke the disapproving scrutiny of our neighbors savoring a cold beer on their covered porch next door.  The problem is compounded by on-street parking.  Unlike home where I ascend straight into an isolating garage, here I am forced to confront the humanity living on either side of me.  I can no longer skulk home unnoticed, obscured by a phalanx of Trader Joe’s bags and oversized, Costco boxes.  Most likely, though, it happened because we live in such physical proximity to our neighbors.  I see their kids peeking though the slats in the wood fence dividing our property from theirs and hear their gleeful yelps as they splash through their Elmo Slip and Slide.  (As an aside, I am pretty sure the neighbors must hear me shrieking at my own kids to “clean up,” “LISTEN!” and “Stop throwing food!”  Apparently the contractor can’t construct a fence either that thick or that tall.)    In any event, these factors culminated in a tsunami of goodwill that prompted me to actually introduce myself to both sets of new neighbors, something I have never done in San Diego, not in the 30 years I’ve lived there.  Embarrassingly enough, I do not actually know who lives next door to me on the uphill, north side back at home.

It turns out that our right-side neighbor is in the wine industry, which is, evidently, the very best kind of neighbor to have.  He is a wine distributor who offhandedly remarked that he often lugs home half-full bottles of discarded, top quality wine, unconsumed leftovers from the daily tastings he conducts for work.  Heroically, I offered to rescue the spurned bottles myself, proffering my own digestive tract as a means to dispose of this forlorn and unwanted juice, especially as his pregnant wife probably wasn’t good for more than a few swallows anyway.  Ever magnanimous and helpful, I extended every favor to help ease his burden of unfinished and perfectly drinkable wine.  And that is how it began.

While I was rolling out cookie dough for my kids, I amicably thought to punch out a few snacks for our neighbor’s kids too, as I famously bake far too much and far too often.  The morning after that first cookie drop-off, at precisely 8:20 am, the wine guy’s wife knocks on our door to proposition us with three half-full bottles of South African red wine.  Brian and I had great fun tasting two Ernie Els cab/syrah blends side-by-side.  Incidentally I most preferred the 2006 Englebrecht Els proprietor blend, with dark red fruit and plumy flavors, cherry, spice and softer tannins.  The third wine, from a label called Cirrus, is a cool concept- a collaboration between Ernie Els and Jean Engelbrecht of South Africa and Ray Duncan of famed Silver Oak, here in California.   My only regret is that we hadn’t yet purchased a barbecue to tame those hefty, tannic bad boys with some grilled meat.  Round 1: complete.

I reciprocated the next day with some yellow heirloom tomatoes from our backyard garden.  In return, we were sumptuously gifted with four spectacular Italian reds, including two awesome Brunellos.  I tapped into the 90 point Rosso di Montalcino, a lighter red, as I cooked dinner, since I simply couldn’t wait.  Using fresh herbs from our garden, I crusted mini lamb loin chops with herbed Dijon mustard accompanied by baby, herb-roasted potatoes.  The meal perfectly complimented the oh-so-smooth and forever, lingering mouthfeel of the 2004 and the 2003 riserva Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcinos.  The gaminess of the roasted lamb melted into the earthy spice and leather in the juice.  For Robert Parker’s full report on these 95 point beauties, please click here.  The final wine was Barolo from famed Piedmont producer Angelo Gaja, and it did not disappoint.   The rich and full 2003 Dagromis Barolo to me embodied a more approachable, New World style with oak, dark fruit and spice.  Paired with food, I sensed no bitterness at all.  In the vast, other worldly scoreboard of karmic exchanges, I think I am definitely getting the better side of the deal. 

The sentimental persuasion of classic Americana and small town life wields a powerful aphrodisiac, but frankly the town of Healdsburg charmed us years before we’d even met our big-hearted neighbors.  Still I cannot conceive a sweeter seduction than the genuine warmth of this small town life, even when the thermometer inches past 100.