Meet the Correspondent: Marina Grechanik > Tel-Aviv, Israel$show=/search/label/Marina%20Grechanik

"Sketching is one of my passions. I don't feel comfortable when I leave home without a sketchbook and some pens in my bag. I think that my way to put things in my memory is to draw them. And taking pictures isn't the same thing.

I live in a very dynamic surrounding — Israel is a warm country with warm weather and warm people. Of course, we have seashores, which calm us a little bit. I love to sit in a corner of some Tel-Aviv coffee shop and explore relationships: between people, their environment, between myself. All this unique local mix of cultures, languages and styles is always a great source for inspiration. You need to be fast, because, as I said, everything is very dynamic. But that's why I love it so much.

Sometimes, I look around, and I find some usual items like sugar bags or napkins. I use them in my drawings to show the atmosphere. Sometimes I draw directly on placemats."

• Marina's art on Flickr.
• Marina's website.

Meet the Correspondent: Tina Koyama > Seattle$show=/search/label/tina%20koyama

"The dictionary says that a hobby is “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” Although urban sketching certainly provides both pleasure and relaxation, I don’t think of it as my hobby. I think of it more as a way of life – something that has become such a normal part of my everydayness that it shapes how I view the world.

For most of my life I had both the fear of drawing as well as the desire to draw. In 2011, inspired by Gabi Campanario’s Seattle Sketcher column, I finally decided to overcome the fear. His drawings of Seattle – my birthplace and lifelong home – were of sights that I had seen many times, yet had never truly seen. I wanted to learn to see, and therefore experience, those locations (and any new ones that I travel to) more completely. Part 8 of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto, to “show the world, one drawing at a time,” has a flip side: Sketching enables me to see my own world, one drawing at a time.

In the last four years, it is not an exaggeration to say that Urban Sketchers has changed my life. I have met and sketched with many wonderful people around the globe, either at symposiums or during other travel, because the USk network brought us together. I sketch almost weekly with my local group, sharing sketches, art supplies and friendship. Even when I stay home and enjoy sketches online, I am still a part of that rich network, learning with every sketch about other people’s lives.

In May, my husband Greg and I went to France for the first time, and I sketched the Eiffel Tower. Sketching one of the world’s most famous icons felt like a dream come true – the ultimate in urban sketching. But although I can’t resist sketching world-famous icons whenever I’m fortunate enough to see them, for me, urban sketching is much more than that.

Urban sketching is a tree with its middle chopped away to accommodate Seattle’s ubiquitous power lines. It’s about a couple of women chatting over coffee, or about workers roofing the house next door. It’s about an excavator filling a hole where a cherry tree once stood. Or the Tibetan monastery I drive by frequently that I couldn’t resist because it’s bright orange. Urban sketching is a string band performing at a local farmers’ market – or perhaps in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Celebrating the mundane as well as the famous is what urban sketching is all about. My sketches are not necessarily about “special” moments; they are moments made special because I sketched them."

Tina has been editor of Drawing Attention since 2013 and now serves on the Urban Sketchers editorial board. See more of her sketches on her blog, on Flickr and on Instagram.

Meet the Correspondent: Pete Scully > Davis, Calif.$show=/search/label/Pete%20Scully

"I am from urban north London, but now live in urbane Davis California. I sketch, I write, sometimes do things and go places and my name is Pete.

When not Davis, I sketch Sacramento, San Francisco, London, or anywhere else I happen to be. I tend to erase people and cars from my cities, but I'm starting to get over this.

Davis: calm, old-fashioned, progressive, quirky, very very hot in the summer. I use micron and copic pens, with watercolour."

• Pete's blog.
• Pete's art on Flickr.

Meet the Correspondent: Suhita Shirodkar > San Jose, Calif.$show=/search/label/Suhita%20Shirodkar

"I was born in Mumbai (Bombay) and lived in different parts of India until I moved to San Jose, California, where I now live.

Travel inspires my art, but, traveling or not, I try to view the world around me as a traveller would; so whether I’m capturing a moment of calm on the banks of the Ganges in India, or sketching over coffee at my local coffee shop, I aim to look deeply, and with wonder, at both the everyday and the exotic, the old and the new.

I love color. My sketch kit consists of Extra Fine Sharpies (the fact that they bleed into the paper as soon as they touch it works really well for me—it forces me to work super-quick), a small set of Prismacolor pencils and a little watercolor travel set".

Meet the Correspondent: Omar Jaramillo > Berlin$show=/search/label/Omar%20Jaramillo

"I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I studied architecture. I moved to Kassel (Germany) in 1999 to accomplish a master degree. Although I have always drawn and paint, it was not until I started studying in the Uni-Kassel, that I started keeping a travel sketchbook. I had a teacher there who used to do a lot of sketches when he travelled on university excursions. When he retired, I helped to organize an exhibition of his sketches. He brought a huge box full of sketchbooks he had filled since he was an architecture student. I spent a whole day selecting the most interesting drawings. It was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to a new world. In the last 10 years I have the feeling of being in a long journey. I like to discover the cities where I live, to understand why a place is the way it is and what makes it different and unique from others. Drawing is for me a way to learn to love a place, to become part of it. I like to draw architecture but I am more attracted to urban scenery, portraying how people live in the city. Since I’m a foreigner, everything that locals find normal and taken-for-granted, for me is exotic. I always carry a small watercolor travel set from Windsor and Newton and my sketchbook in my bag. I always thought that drawing was a solitary experience until I found Urban Sketchers. It was amazing to find so many people doing the same thing. It is a great place to share!" • Omar's blog. • Omar's art on flickr. • Omar's website.

Meet the Correspondent: Luis Ruiz > Malaga, Spain$show=/search/label/Luis%20Ruiz

Discovering the Essence of Oak in Wine Making

[By Richard Sheppard in Geyserville, California] I recently contacted my long time friend Arminée Chahbazian with questions regarding how oak influences wine and we agreed to meet for lunch at Jimtown Store to discuss the subject. Arminée happens to be the only American sales representative for Bordeaux-based cooperage Tonnellerie Bel Air.

The Alexander Valley’s Jimtown Store is a short drive northeast of Healdsburg. Jim Patrick founded Jimtown back in 1895 as a general store and post office, and it’s been a popular gathering spot for locals and travelers ever since. Current owner Carrie Brown and her late husband John Werner refurbished the store in 1991.

To get there, I drive down Alexander Valley Road between tree and shrub covered hills, over a Russian River truss bridge, and through a sea of Cabernet vines. I pull into the gravel parking lot of Jimtown and park next to the store’s mascot, a 1955 red Ford pickup, originally a county fire truck.

Just inside, I find Arminée browsing the deli counter. We order from a chalkboard menu, then make our way to a wooden table surrounded by antiques and hand made goods.
Over a vegetable caponata appetizer, I ask Arminée what’s new, and she talks about how busy she's been lately selling barrels.

Arminée Chahbazian, the only American sales representative for Bordeaux-based cooperage Tonnellerie Bel Air.

“I spent the last few months following up with existing clients and looking for new business. These days I’m traveling up and down the coast from Seattle to L.A., working directly with winemakers to taste from barrels, helping assess and advise, and taking a lot of orders.”

“I’m especially curious about how oak influences wine,” I tell her. “Doesn’t Bel Air use French oak exclusively?”

“Yes, but we don’t sell pre-made barrels. We work directly with wineries to custom design for them. We start with a test barrel filled with the winery’s newly fermented wine and store it up for up to three years, depending on the varietal.”

Three years. So that explains why the latest vintage of some red wines is pretty far from current. During this time, Arminée tastes the wine to determine how it’s aging, until the barrel influence feels perfectly integrated. The success of witnessing two natural products, grapes and oak, merging beautifully into a complete whole, is one of the most gratifying parts of her job.

“In France,” she says, “French oak is primarily used, but here in the States, it’s American and French. American oak is harvested in Virginia and Missouri and shipped to cooperages around the U.S. French oak trees are harvested predominantly in the central region of France and are 200 to 250 years old.

Anatomy of an oak barrel

“The French mastered the art of barrel making centuries ago, and the process hasn’t changed much since. The government manages the forests, each year selecting mature trees to measure and value for grain profile and density, then selling to the highest bidder. Once milled, the trees are air dried for two to three years before use. If they’re not dry enough, the wine tastes too green. Most coopers craft barrels from a single forest, but at Bel Air, wood from multiple forests is crafted into a single, customized barrel.”

After our server sets down Arminée’s Reuben sandwich along with my bowl of black-eyed pea soup, I ask how oak contributes to the character of a wine.

She talks about oak adding structure, fullness, balance. Well over 35 French forests are harvested, each imparting a particular nuance. The term “terroir” is referred to in grape growing as the character of the land and its relationship to flavor. In the oak forest, terroir is also very much at play.

“Terroir influenced oak can be described as spicy, nutty, sweet, mineral, and/or vanilla,” Arminée says. “Oak adds volume by fattening up the wine, adding mouth feel, and lengthening the finish. It also adds structure and substance. Wine without oak tends to taste thin and watery.

“Seasoning, or toasting, a barrel helps extract the wood’s natural flavors and aromas. A controlled fire is lit inside the new barrel for a specified time, depending on the amount of toast desired. This toasting process caramelizes the wood’s natural sugars, similar to crème brûlée. Poorly seasoned oak can taste pungent and resinous.

“Oak adds tannins can be aggressive, delicate, soft, or pretty. But ultimately, oak tannins are harmonized and balanced with the tannins of the wine. The barrel’s job is to support the wine in a beautiful way.”

It’s starting to become clear how vital oak is to wine. Our conversation winds down as we finish our lunch.

“We’re meeting at the perfect time, Arminée,” I tell her. “This afternoon I’m heading out to Robert Rue Winery to discover for myself what you’re describing.”

Robert Rue Winery located in Fulton California

After our goodbyes, I head over to the Winery located just outside of Fulton. There I find Dan Barwick, Rue’s winemaker since 2008, doling out samples to a group of tasters.

Dan Barwick pouring wine out of a barrel

I watch Dan empty a sample of  Zinfandel into my glass. He says it’s been French-oak aged for under three months. Aromas of bright plum and blackberry dominate, with little evidence of the oak barrel. The fruit flavors are so fresh, it’s as though plum and blackberry juices had been squeezed directly into the young wine, but of course that’s not how it’s done.

Robert Rue, the winery's owner

I ask Dan if it’s possible to compare this barrel sample with a finished wine. From the tasting room, Dan pulls out two Zinfandels, a 2007 and 2008. He pours me one of each for a comparison tasting. Where the barrel sample is loaded with fresh, mouthwatering fruit and little oak, the two finished wines both feel fuller on my palate, with plenty of fruit still in evidence. And there are those nuances Arminée talked about. In addition to fruit, there’s spice, a touch of vanilla and rich oak in the 2007 vintage, while the 2008 imparts a velvety chocolate feel. And, of course, the aged wines have more body in the mouth. But I imagine that this young aging wine will mature with complexity as it fills out in the barrel.

An old bottling machine

As he pours another sample, my eyes lock on to the insignia printed on the barrel behind him: Tonnellerie Bel Air. Ha! I had no idea Arminée sold barrels to Robert Rue but what a great surprise. And my exploration of wine and oak comes full circle.

Old barn and truck located on the Rue property.






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