Will They or Won’t They Mess with Texas?

Senate Contender Harris Visits Refugio with Media in Tow

<b>CRIME SCENE?</b> Attorney General Kamala Harris (second from right) paid a personal visit to Refugio.
Paul Wellman

PLAIN TRUTH? Wondering when — or if —  the Santa Barbara District Attorney will file charges against the Texans who greased our beaches, I joined a media horde at Refugio State Beach when California Attorney General Kamala Harris paid a photo-op visit last week.

AG Harris, who just happens to be running for U.S. Senate, was accompanied by a large contingent of Plains All American Pipeline rent-a-cops, her own PR flacks, and various State Parks people, and at least one Coast Guardsman.

Barney Brantingham

While Harris got the spill tour, we media folks were not only outnumbered but penned up on the pavement out of sight of both the May 19 spill site and the ruptured pipeline way uphill across the freeway.

Dodging Los Angeles photogs’ sharp elbows, I stood on the asphalt, my boots not collecting a smudge of tar. An L.A. reporter worked in flip-flops as Harris took questions. It was that kind of day.

Santa Barbara DA Joyce Dudley said, “I hope to be able to share my decision with our community regarding potential charges by the end of summer,” surprisingly soon considering the way these things usually go. Two weeks ago she called the spill site a “potential crime scene.”

Harris offered no timetable but a safe comment: “We’re going to go wherever the evidence takes us.” Of course she’s going to file something, even if it’s misdemeanor loitering. Let’s see now; you’re the favorite running for the U.S. Senate, and you just drop the whole thing and tell Houston that you see no problem? Who needs a stinking automatic cutoff valve? Just keep drilling and spilling.

I don’t think so.

It’s obvious now that the entire 10-mile Line 901 is probably corroded to Swiss cheese consistency, and the whole enchilada must be replaced. Replace one small section today, and a new gash will gush somewhere else tomorrow. This will cost the obscenely rich Plains All American Pipeline the equivalent of Texas peanuts, to continue the food analogy, and the sooner it’s begun, the better.

Meanwhile, not only are Santa Barbarans seriously pissed off over the spill, but they’re boiling mad at Governor Jerry Brown for exempting Plains from the beloved Coastal Act, free to do what it will in terms of cleanup and so on.

The wine world is buzzing over a New York Times piece pitting grape guru Robert M. Parker Jr. against Santa Barbara’s so-called “new California” wine rebel Rajat Parr, who commands a hilly vineyard near Lompoc.

Parr leads a band of mostly California vintners who reject as “fruit bombs” the riper style of wine they say Parker has long pushed.

Longtime wine god Parker kisses off the West Coast Pursuit of Balance group as the “anti-flavor elite,” according to Times writer Bruce Schoenfeld’s “The Wrath of Grapes” piece. Parr, who lives on Santa Barbara’s Riviera, says he’s been fielding “hundreds of emails” since it came out.

I talked by phone to Parr, a former sommelier, who feels no animosity against Parker. “I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s super nice. That’s just his opinion. He doesn’t believe in our wines.

“We make wines in a more restrained style” than what’s usually produced in California. “We’re not fruity, not jammy, not heavy. We just do what we do.”

Parker, writing in the 50,000-subscription Wine Advocate, assigns numbers in his grading system, 100 being the almost-unattainable ultimate. Any wine that hits his century mark can count on frenzied global demand — and top prices.

The idea of grading the grape by the numbers may sound alien, but Parker’s nose knows, apparently: “… for three decades, the tastes of mainstream American wine drinkers have been shaped by the personal preferences of one man, Robert M. Parker Jr.,” Schoenfeld writes.

Schoenfeld told of paying a visit to Parr’s vineyard on a slope along Santa Rosa Road, where Parr and partner Sashi Moorman produce Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte pinot noir and chardonnay.

Parr and his Pursuit of Balance group tend to prefer early picking and less ripe grapes. Schoenfeld said they tend to deride what they call “Parker wines,” shorthand, fair or not, for wines they deem generically obvious and “overblown.”

A Santa Barbara friend who likes what some writers call Parr’s Pursuit of Balance “new California” style wines predicts, “In time, I suspect that this will all be looked back on as a tempest in a wineglass.”


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