Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Gutenberg, Let Me Introduce Ms. Kindle

Last week, after listening to Oprah, Ella and I decided to become part of a momentous, potentially groundshaking movement. No, I'm not talking about voting for Barack Obama.

Ella decided to buy a Kindle, the electronic book machine and electronic library.

Think about it: For 558 years, Johannes Gutenberg and his successors have been the only competitive reading game in town. Before the inventive German came along, monks for centuries were in charge of book production, one painful, beautiful letter at a time. Then, in 1450, Gutenberg invented movable type and the printing press, and practically everything that has been read since then -- except for handwritten love letters and post cards -- was first set into type and then printed. In the 1960s, the movable type part started to be phased out of the picture as offset, or electronic, type took over for hot type. But printing continues. Your morning newspapers, the copy of Saveur or Robb Report, the book you read at the beach this summer all were printed conceptually the same as Gutenberg did it. Sure, we can already read things on a computer screen, as you're reading this blog now, but lack of portability and flexibility hindered a totally electronic publication. Early electronic books were too klunky and too limited in scope.

Then came Kindle. Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, Ella -- the rapid adopter in our family -- got her first exposure to Kindle on an Oprah show, and she (and subsequently we) were bedazzled. Kindle is portable, can almost instantaneously download any of hundreds of books (including those just published) for $9.99, allowing you to store them for later or repeat reading, change fonts and type sizes, and find your place where you stopped reading any of them -- no bookmark or turndowned page corners. It can be read in any light with virtually no glare. And it can electronically access magazines and even your own computer files. Want to make notes in the margin? -- yup, Kindle can do that, too.

Of course, the Kindle people don't want you do printouts (too Gutenbergy and against their business model), and you can't share a book on one Kindle with another Kindle (oops, see corrective Comment below). Ella and I anticipate the day when I buy a Kindle, and we'll be switching our sets back and forth to read each others' downloaded books.

Some friends say they are holding off, partly out of loyalty to books and partly to wait for the technology to improve. The latter excuse sounds like one I would make, but we couldn't really think of anything that we would want in a handheld electronic library that Kindle doesn't already do. And we've done the test run. Ella's has quickly purchased and downloaded three books, including The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (above), her first.

As far as real books go....I have fondled them lovingly since infancy. I have been intoxicated by their smell, particularly the ones printed years ago in England. And I love the look of them ensemble, whether they are in the straining book cases in our library or haphazardly piled by my nightstand. We will probably end up buying more of them than we normally do just to justify our dalliance.

Still, when I get on the plane to Paris next month for a wine trip to Languedoc, odds are I will have convinced Ella to lend me her Kindle. Or will have bought one myself.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Harvest Dinner at Mercer Estates

I have had a long fascination with the area of Washington state that lies "east of the mountains" -- a desert of slopes, hills and plateaus made green by irrigation, a land settled by families whose pioneering ancestors arrived here by wagon trains, a broad farm belt of waving grain and grazing sheep. More so than most places, there is a tradition here that blends agrarian culture, which at is simplest comes from planting seeds and working toward a harvest, and the older, basic hunting and fishing culture. Over the past quarter century, wine -- and very fine wine at that -- has been added to the mix.

On a recent visit to the Yakima Valley, I was able to experience the combination of all these threads as guest of the Hogue and the Mercer families, which earlier this year opened their new winery, Mercer Estates, in Prosser, the small farm town that is the center of activity in the region. In addition to visiting vineyards and wineries, I also went hunting with them -- pheasants in the woods and shrub-brush upland draws of Horse Heaven Hills --and fishing for steelhead trout from drift boats in the remote Klickitat River. Most of all, I was able to share two harvest dinners with the combined families, one a pheasant dinner a the home of Ron and Barbara Hogue Harle and the other a seafood fest, including steelhead trout, at the home of Mike and Dora Hogue. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Rob and Brenda Mercer and Rob's father, Bud. The game dinner was prepared by chef Frank Magana of Picazo 7Seventeen Restaurant, Prosser's one fine-dining eatery, and the seafood dinner by Anthony's in the nearby Tri-City area.

I will be working on various articles soon about the Yakima Valley and its 60 wineries and about my delightful visit with the Mercers and the Hogues of Mercer Estates.

PHOTO NOTES: From the top, Mike Hogue, grape grower and wine pioneer with Hogue Cellars; Chef Frank Magana prepares a harvest dinner using a Mercer Estates Merlot in a pheasant dish; Ron Harle and Rob Mercer with the first of six pheasants bagged earlier in the day in Horse Heaven Hills near the Mercer family vineyards; Magana's pheasant entree and Mercer Estates wines bring an active October harvest day to a beautiful close.

Until next time....

Roger Morris