Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wine and cowboys, and goats

March 5

When rich Houstonians go to special events, many of them wear cowboy hats and boots. Lots of the boots are made of ostrich because, as I said, these are rich Houstonians. Many of the women wear other Texana, as it's called — frilly country-girl dresses and big medallions, leather jackets with yards of fringe.
This is what I learned at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which the Texas Board of Agriculture invited me to, mostly to check out the state’s wine.
The show was most excellent. It’s held each year at the Reliant Center and pretty much looks like any trade show, except that instead of restaurant equipment or new packaged food products or different types of printed circuit board assemblies, this show has animals.
The first thing I did there was learn that I had been signed up to participate in the celebrity goat-milking competition. I had no idea I was a celebrity. I also had no idea how to milk a goat, but I learned. Somewhat. Well, not really.
I was rushed over to one of the performance areas in the Reliant Center, handed my beer to one of my hosts, and knelt on the grass in a penned-in field before a remarkedly placid goat who was standing on a platform with her handler. Behind the goat were bleachers where spectators sat with apparent interest. People who know about such things showed me how a goat is milked. "It's like emptying a water balloon," one of them said, which was more helpful than it sounds.
We practiced for a couple of minutes and then had a couple of more to squeeze as much milk out of the goats as we could.
I’m glad my ego isn’t tied to my goat-milking ability. I think I came in last.
I was told that the Houston stock show’s celebrity goat-milking competition had only been revived a few years earlier after it had been done away with because of the unwholesomeness of the celebrities that were being selected — cheerleaders and such.
I had no idea I was wholesome.
We visited some exhibits, my favorite of which was a heated glass case with eggs in it, out of which chickens would periodically hatch. They’d climb exhausted out of their shells and collapse on the straw-like bedding on which the eggs rested. They looked unwell, but after a brief rest, and after their little feathers had dried, they’d stand right up, all alert and ready to face the world.
Most American chickens only spend about six weeks in the world, but I decided not to mention that to the wide-eyed kids surrounding the case.
I liked the goats, too. If you are a goat fan, or would like to be, you might want to get to know my friends Karl and Margaret.
The next day we went out to a historic ranch for lunch and a sampling of Texas wines. I learned that Texas now has 126 wineries and is the 5th largest wine-producing state. It’s also the fastest-growing wine producing state.
We sampled a wide array, including a $17.95 Bordeaux blend named Boar Doe (get it?) and Sweet Mama Rosa Rosé, which the label says goes well with bingo. It retails for around $7.
The Ostrich boots and other regalia were in full display that evening at the wine auction, at which a lot consisting of one nine-liter bottle and four magnums of a 1991 Napa wine went for $200,000, for no reason except that people wanted to donate money for scholarships.
Technically, the money from the wine auction doesn’t go for scholarships. It goes to the bottom line of the rodeo, which then gives the money to scholarships, because apparently selling alcohol to provide scholarship money is unseemly. I guess if you sell alcohol you’re supposed to give the proceeds to evildoing. If you can explain that to me, please do so.

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