Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks

I just finished reading a series of books called the Night Angel Trilogy. This trilogy, consisting of The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge and Beyond the Shadows is written by Brent Weeks and was one of the most interesting series I have read in a while.

Basically, this group of books is about a rogue assassin named Kylar (a pun in "killer"). Yep, I said rogue assassin... you know it has to be cool once those two words are put together. The series starts with Kylar as a young boy growing up on the streets, follows him through his training as an assasin and his breif stint as a killer-for-hire before his monumental decision to go rogue... and that's just the first book! The second book follows Kylar's struggle to leave the world of killing behind and (as we can tell because there is a third book) his failure to do so. Finally, Kylar and the characters who have surrounded him since his childhood grow up to be powerful people who change the world in which they live significantly.

Brent Weeks creates an entire world in these books -- we're talking multiple different countries each with their own culture, quirks and skills. There is the country full of evil magicians, one full of people who deny magic even exists, a south pacific island paradise country and many more in-between. We've got two different types of magic weilded by three different types of people, kings, 700-year-old immortals on both sides of the fence, zombie-thingies, a bunch of different religions, love and betrayal and un-betrayal... everything you could want. By the middle of the second book you are following at least 4 different plot lines (don't worry, they re-converge by the end of the third book) taking place at the far corners of Brent Weeks' world. Despite this, I didn't have trouble following what was going on! A truly remarkable feat.

When asked to compare this series to another, I can't think of one. It's not quite "epic" in the way that Lord of the Rings is epic. There's no innocence and it's too gritty to be "harry potter-esque." Really, the thing that comes most to mind when I read these books is the last book I reviewed here, The Name of the Wine, by Patrick Rothfuss. Both are dark fantasy imbued with magic, but not consumed by it. I highly recommend this series of books. I devoured them in less than a week -- Rob just devoured the entire second book in a single day!

This past weekend, my college roommate, Genevieve, told me about this great new website that she has been using called I have been using this website for 2 days and I already think it is fantastic!!

Basically, you do what the website says. You post paperback books (and hardcovers) that you want to get rid of. These enter the website's database and people can search for books just like on Amazon. If someone finds a book that they like, click on the "get it" link and an E-mail is sent to the person who owns that book. If the owner is able/willing to mail it to the person asking for it, the owner prints out a shipping label with the recipient's name and address. Did you know that a paperback book can be wrapped into an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper? You use shipping label is your wrapping paper! How cool? The owner pays postage to sends the book to the recipient (usually $2-3).

On the other end... the recipient goes on the website and confirms that they got the book. When they do that, the owner gets 1 credit. 1 credit is good for requesting 1 new book. Now the owner gets to turn around and be the recipient of a book from someone else!

Basically, you pay $2-3 for a book instead of $7.99 AAAAAND you get rid of the books you have already read! There are TONS of books on this website, and joining is completely free. You just need to have a printer and some packing tape =). Thanks, G!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Swine Flu Part 3B- Why is it so scary?

We have finally come to the reason why I started writing this series of posts. I mentioned this in my last post, but the swine flu is actually less deadly than the annual influenza outbreak with an estimated mortality of 0.2% as opposed to the combined influenza and pneumonia mortality which ranges from 7-9%/year. However, swine flu is highly infectious, infecting a mind-blowing 60% of the mexican village in which it originated. I found an excellent answer to my question in the editor's comment on a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article published on May 7, 2009.

The scare-factor of swine flu is four-fold.
  1. This virus has gone pandemic in a very short amount of time.
  2. Higher percentage of patients with H1N1 are requiring hospitalization than with the normal flu.
  3. The sickest patients are working-aged people.
  4. Influenza season is about to start in the southern hemisphere.
I will explain each in more detail:
1. H1N1 has gone pandemic in a very short amount of time.
The seasonal influenza outbreaks tend to hover around the epidemic threshold. Each country/region has its own influenza virus subtype causing its localized, contained epidemic. Remember my analogy about flu from different regions of the world have different RNAs and therefore "look" different? This also helps to prevent one particular influenza virus from going global and causing a pandemic. H1N1 threw all of that out the window. It is so contagious that it has created a pandemic almost overnight.

2. Higher percentage of patients with H1N1 are requiring hospitalization.
But remember, they aren’t dying at the same rate. This increase in required hospitalization represents a huge change in morbidity (sickness) that our global healthcare system is completely unprepared to accommodate. We literally physically do not have enough beds to put people on. Not to mention lack of enough staff or medical supplies to treat the projected numbers of people who may need hospitalization. The CDC and public health officials are going to great lengths to change this potential outcome and I will discuss what they are doing below.

3. The sickest patients are working-aged people.
The highest rates of hospitalization are among 30-44 year olds. The seasonal flu tends to hospitalize children <2,>65 and patients with defective immune systems. The change in who is very sick can have a global economic impact as the workforce is affected. I don't think I need to go on about bad economic stuff.

4. Influenza season is about to start in the southern hemisphere.
This is bad news for them – there will be a whole jumble of influenza viruses going around. Differentiating who has H1N1 from others is going to be extremely difficult. Added to that is the issue of increased succeptibility to H1N1 transmission because the other viruses going around will weaken patient's immune systems and vice versa. It is unclear how H1N1 will interact with the seasonal flu but there is a huge amount of potential for reassortment and recombination as people become infected with more than one type of influenza virus at a time. The CDC is anticipating tremendous outbreaks of H1N1 in the southern hemisphere from June – October.

There are some things listed above that we can try to wrestle some control over. The fact that H1N1 is pandemic is over. The cat is out of the bag and there's nothing to be done about it. The fact that influenza season is about to start in the southern hemisphere is unstoppable. Sun rises every morning, sets every night, influenza season happens, fact of life. #2 and #3, however, are things that the healthcare community can try to effect change over.

One more science lesson for you, this time on epidemiology.

Outbreaks of an illness follow a bell-curve. First one person gets infected, they infect 5 more. Those 5 go on to infect 5 more each, etc. You get an exponential rise in the number of sick people in a given community/area/globe/whatnot. The bell-curve peaks and the height of the peak is determined by how infectious a disease is and how long it lasts. The peak represents the highest number of infected people in a population at one moment in time. You may be wondering, why does the curve come back down? For the same reason why you can't catch the chicken pox twice. After a person has been infected with the disease in question and has either a) recovered or b) died, they cannot get the diesease again. There are literally fewer people to are suceptible to the infection and therefore the number of people who get sick falls off until everyone has gotten it or there are too few people still succeptible to allow the disease to continue to propogate.

Important facts about the epidemic curve: 1) the line/bar represents number of active cases at that point in time. 2) area under the curve = total # of cases for the entire outbreak.

It is often difficult ot affect provision #2-- the total number of cases for the entire outbreak. However, we have a number of methods for adjusting the number of cases at any given time and lowering the peak of the curve. These things consist primarily of community mitigation (school closures, quarantine), vaccination and prevention with antiviral drugs. The ultimate goal is to get a picture like what we see on the right. This figure is EXTREMELY idealized but it makes the point well. Control measures will make the pandemic last longer and probably will NOT reduce the total # of people infected (area under the curve) but they will hopefully reduce the upslope and peak to allow for a manageable outbreak that our global healthcare system can absorb. The three goals listed on the figure are 1) delay outbreak peak (allows for vaccine and prophylactic strategies to be put into effect) 2) Decompress peak burden on hospitals/healthcare and 3) diminish overall # of cases.

What do school closures do? They are simply a delaying tactic. By reducing these reservoirs of transmission, public health officials hope that the peak of the pandemic can be delayed until a vaccine is developed and administration strategy is worked out. Slowing virus transmission will also reduce hospital burden and help our healthcare system to absorb H1N1 patients. It is an attempt to reduce volume of patients at any given time along the pandemic curve.

Where is the vaccine? Being worked on. Laboratories are working as fast as they can to develop and test a swine flu vaccine. If one is distributed (we were burned in the 1976 epidemic) it will be two separate shots that cannot be given in conjunction with the seasonal flu shot. Why two? Because good vaccines make your arm hurt. Patients would rather get sick than have their arm hurt -- it's a medical fact of life -- so by diluting the vaccine and spreading it out over two shots, it becomes publically acceptible. Patient's arms won't hurt.

There is a second problem with vaccination. Vaccination decreases numbers of people infected when initally given, but there will be a resurgence of disease later down the line due to the impossibility of vaccinating an entire population. You will get a bell curve that abruptly drops during the upslope only to peak later on. In some mathematical models, if vaccination is done incorrectly, this second peak can be even larger than what the original was projected to be! However, a correctly timed vaccination strategy targeting the correct population and lasting for the correct duration (4 weeks is better than 2 days) will significantly decrease the second peak. Even if a vaccine to H1N1 is developed and approved tomorrow, public health officials may correctly hold it until the appropriate moment in the pandemic.

The figure on the left shows how the number of hospital admissions would be projected to decrease using different durations of vaccination campaign from 2 days to 10 days. This particular graphic is for a theoretical smallpox outbreak, but the curve holds for all epidemics for which a vaccine is available. The timing and duration of any vaccination campaign is critical to its success in both protecting the public and reducing hospital burden.

That's all, folks! Write a comment if you have more questions!!

Brownstein JS, Influenza A (H1N1) Virus, 2009 – online monitoring. NEJM. 2009 May 7 [epub ahead of print]

Update: Novel influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infections – Worldwide, May 6 2009. MMWR May 8, 2009 / 58(17);453-458

Hupert N, Wattson D et al. Anticipating demand for emergency health services due to medication-related adverse events after rapid mass prophylaxis campaigns. Acad Emerg Med March 2007, 14(3), 268-274.

For informaiton on mathematical modeling for epidemiology, any articles by Nathaniel Hupert.
New England Journal of Medicine H1N1 center
CDC H1N1 center

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm a goof :-P

Sometimes I even amaze myself (and wonder how I have survived my life so far)...

My college roommate got married one year ago (congrats on your anniversary, Gen and Bren!!) and she asked me to act as photographer for her wedding -- a huge honor! I have about 2G of photos for her from her wedding, burned onto a CD complete with a slideshow of the best ones... and I have yet to send it to her.

Fast forward to this weekend. I am all packed and ready to go and visit the happy couple down in DC for the holiday weekend. Rob and I are leaving at 5:30am tomorrow morning. But I forgot the picture CD up at 83rd street! I go hauling ass up there late at night from 74th... stop by the pharmacy, straighten my room, open some mail... another friend of mine from college, Cara, calls. I haven't talked to Cara in a long time and we start catching up. I lock the door, walk all the way back down to Rob's apartment only to discover (after I am all warm and comfy in the 74th street apartment) that I forgot the photo CD!!

Yep. I just walked a mile for a CD that I forgot to get. Fabulous. I apologize in advance, Genevieve!

Swine Flu Part 3A- Why is it so SCARY?

This question is actually why I began writing this series of posts in the first place. I knew that lots of people were getting infected, yada yada... but I also knew that it was not as deadly as your average seasonal flu, so I wanted to know why everyone cared so much! I just didn't get it. The truth is, it's not so much that the Swine Flu is scary now, but it has the potential to become scary, and that's what is scaring everyone.

In previous posts, I have gone over viral genetics and practical diagnostic information on Swine Flu. Bits from there will tie into today's post.

Let's start with some history. This is not the first time that we have seen Swine Flu (aka- H1N1, aka- Swine-Origin Influenza A Virus (S-OIV)). There was a small outbreak of H1N1 in the United States in 1976. During that outbreak, 200 people were infected. Companies scrambled to make a vaccine against H1N1 and were successful, but somehow something got botched. The vaccine was administered broadly in the area of the outbreak with the following results: 1 person died of the swine flu. 25 died of the vaccine. Oops. (it is important to note here that vaccine technology has improved TREMENDOUSLY since 1976 and the safety regulations in place by the FDA will prevent anything like this from happening again.)

Now we have what science is calling a "novel H1N1"... novel being the scientific word for "new." This figure shows us what happened. The colored bars represent viral RNA. On the left is the swine flu virus from 1976. On the right is the current pandemic virus. By picking up RNA from eurasian swine viruses made H1N1 newly infectious. Just as a person of Chinese ancestry is easily distinguished from a person of swedish ancestry, viruses with ancestry in different regions of the world "look" different to our immune systems.

Let's look at this outbreak. The first US case was a 10-year-old boy in california. He got sick on March 28th, 2009 and, by luck, was enrolled in a clinical trial for a new viral laboratory test at the hospital which treated him for his illness. His virus was analyzed and typed as "unspecified Influenza A subtype" (see Swine Flu part 2) and therefore sent to the CDC for analysis. It arrived at the CDC on April 15th, was discovered to be a novel H1N1 and the CDC notified the California department of health on the same day to institute epidemic investigation protocols. Around the same time, reports from Mexico were arriving at the CDC of an unidentified, severe influenza outbreak. The global health community is commending Mexico's health community and the CDC for their rapid and appropriate response. After extensive epidemiologic investigation, it is now thought that the first cases of swine flu may have hit the US as early as January of 2009 (public health lecture, Cornell U. Med Coll, May 20, 2009).

The initial reports of H1N1 in Mexico were in a town with a population of 3000. Mexican health officials reported to the CDC that 60% of the population was infected, but only 2 people died. The majority of the people infected were young adults with an average age of 27.1 yrs. Continued surveillance of global H1N1 infections has shown that the illness is most severe in patients aged 30-44 yrs old. Globally, these are the patients with the greatest rate of hospitalization. The CDC now estimates that mortality from H1N1 is 0.2% but warns that it is still too early in the pandemic to tell.

0.2%. I'm sure a lot of people have no idea if that is good or bad. The CDC tracks annual mortality (deaths) from influenza and pneumonia. aapproximately 7-9% of people infected with one of these two conditions will die annually. Comparatively, swine flu looks safe! However, an infection rate of 60% is staggeringly high. I was unable to find an estimate of how much of the population gets the seasonal flu each year, but take my word that 60% of the population infected is mind boggling.

I know I haven't answered the question, but I'm tired. I'm getting to it. The history is fascinating.

More to come....

Brownstein JS. Influenza A (H1N1) Virus , 2009 -- Online Monitoring. NEJM 2009 May 7 [epub ahead of print].
Novel Swine-Origin Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Investigation Team. Emergence of a Novel Swine-Origin Influenza A (H1N1) Virus in Humans. NEJM 2009 May 7 [epub ahead of print].

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Moving... almost back!

So sorry I have been AWOL! Mike and I have been moving into a HUGE new two-bedroom about 10 block up from where we used to live. It's exhausting, the place is a mess and I just found my computer! I'll be back once the new place is all set up =). E-mail me for the new addy... don't want to post it on the public feed (paranoid new yorker, remember?)


Monday, May 11, 2009

Swine Flu Part 2- Do You Have Swine Flu?

As promised, everyone wants one SINGLE question answered -- do I have Swine Flu??? You can go on the CDC website, like I did, and get confused. Then you can go to the WHO website and get confused. There is a whole lot of hand waving and paraphrasing for a number of reasons. First, the "flu" seems so commonly defined, no one bothers to define it anymore! Yet, there is confusion as to what exactly is the "flu." Second, illnesses are variable. If the CDC were to say "If you have swine flu, you will have these 5 symptoms..." and some guy presented with only 2 of the 5, the CDC would be in deep shit. Hooray for the American climate of litigation. Finally, the only definitive diagnosis for swine flu would be to isolate the virus from the patient, sequence the RNA and have the fancy lab machine spit out a yes/no answer. Of note, the lab machine is in Atlanta at the CDC.

Below: Influenza A
So, the answer to the simple question is simple (yes/no) but getting there is quite complicated.

The Flu vs. A Cold:
The primary scientific distinction between these two is that they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused specifically by the influenza virus. (see previous post) The Common Cold is caused predominantly by Rhinoviruses (fall/winter) and Coronaviruses (young children, SARS). Viruses, however, are not like bacteria. We can just grow bacteria on a dish, throw a series of fancy dyes and chemicals at the sample and come out with a bug. Viruses require cells for replication, so we can't grow them in a petri dish. Doctors walk around the hospital saying "This patient has c. diff and this guy here has MRSA." (Both bacterial infections) However, we don't walk around saying "This patient has aborovirus and the guy in bed B has an arenavirus infection." Why? Because we don't know!
Below: Rhinovirus
Alright, so for the lab guys out there, sorry, your viral identification process takes too long to be practical. Now we have to rely on symptoms to distinguish a flu from a cold.
  • A cold is generally associated with cough, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, headache. Symptoms last about 1 week. Occasionally a low-grade fever is noted.
  • The Flu has FEVER, muscle aches, weakness, headache, sore throat, cough, runny nose, sneezing. Symptoms last about a week. The influenza virus also has the ability to cause pneumonia and your regular flu season(winter) flu can be lethal in certain populations, hence, the flu vaccine.
The difference is subtle, but there. Illnesses that seem "virus-y" (think: head cold) but that also have a fever can be classified as the flu.

Variable symptoms:
Just because the textbooks say that patients sick with the influenza virus have a fever does not make it absolute. There is a very common saying in the medical world to remind physicians of this fact: "The patient hasn't read the textbook." In other words, no one is going to present as a textbook case. Beyond this, physicians are so skeptical that if a patient presents as a perfect textbook example of a particular disease, doctors start wondering if they are faking it.

Bearing this in mind, it's a good idea to stay home if you have cold OR flu symptoms, especially coughing or sneezing because the swine flu virus (as well as all the viruses discussed in this post) is transmitted through the air.

Right now, we are NOT in flu season. Our normal, annual flu epidemic (and it IS an epidemic, I promise) is in the winter months. November - March in the northern hemisphere, June - September in the southern. Fortunately for the medical community, this makes the diagnosis of Swine Flu right now much easier. If we see a patient with the classic "flu" but it's the summer, it's Swine Flu until proven otherwise. Then we take samples and send them to the hospital lab. The hospital lab machine only has the capability to diagnose one type of influenza virus -- the annual one, H1N3 (usually). If a patient has swine flu, the lab machine will spit back "unidentified influenza virus." Then the sample will get sent to the CDC in Atlanta for full genetic sequencing and definitive yes/no answer to the question "is this swine flu?"

Phew! complicated, I know.

Lange Review of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.
New York City Health Department Press Release

Next time: Why is Swine Flu so scary?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Swine Flu Part 1- Viruses and Genetics

Recently, I have been fielding a whole slew of questions about the Swine Flu. To really explain this, I have to start from the beginning.

1) The flu = an illness caused specifically by an influenza virus. This is a type of virus like a whale is a type of sea mammal. If you catch the HIV virus, you have HIV, not the flu. Get it?
2) The genetic code of the influenza virus is RNA. It does the same job for the virus as our DNA does for us: it is the code of the genes (for the purposes of our discussion).

The news media has been explaining that the swine flu came about by evolving. This is very true, but it is confusing since we are taught that evolution takes millions upon millions of years and yet, here swine flu suddenly is. Let's start with human reproduction. One copy of every gene from the mother is carried in the egg, one copy from the father in the sperm. This allows for recombination of our genes with each offspring. Every child has half of its genes from each parent.

Viruses do not do this -- they self-replicate by infecting a cell, making millions of copies of itself and then breaking free of the cell to go infect more. This means one "parent" makes millions of "offspring" which are identical to the parent. Not only that, but when the replicate themselves, they hijack the cell's machinery for building RNA and proteins. Like an assembly line, all the different parts of the virus get made separately and then at the very end, everything gets packaged together into a new virus. (see below. Yellow = virus, red squiggles = RNA... remember that for later.)

How do humans evolve?
1) Mutation
2) Mixing genes which is called "Genetic recombination" (remember, 1/2 of each parents genes --> one offspring)

How can viruses evolve?
1) Mutation! however, mutation is a slow, slow process. In humans, it can take hundreds of generations for a mutation to spread throughout the population. It takes only a few generations in a virus (remember-- ONE parent --> TONS of offspring, no genetic mixing) AND those generations happen on the order of hours to days, not centuries or millenia. Still, too slow for the sudden emergence of the swine flu.
2) Viruses have figured out a way to have genetic recombination despite having a single parent per offspring. This is where subtypes come into play. Let me explain...

Earlier I said that the influenza virus is a type of virus like a whale is a type of sea mammal. But if you follow that out again, there are lots of types of whales -- humback, blue, killer... etc. Similarly, there are lots of subtypes of influenza viruses and these are classified by H and N. The swine flu is in the H1N1 subtype. The bird flu is H5N1. Different kinds of whales, but still whales. (Interesting side note, it was an H1N1 virus, the Spanish Flu, that caused the pandemic of 1918.)

Let's go back to looking at our simple virus diagram on the left. Remember that the red squiggles are RNA? They look like they are free-floating in the cell. They basically ARE! Now, imagine that the same cell got infected with two different influenza viruses at the same time. Those viruses would just have their RNA floating around free in the cell! When the virus puts itself back togehter, it grabs whatever RNA is sees... leading to a mixutre and a NEW type of influenza virus.

This is how swine flu came about so suddenly. A host, be it animal or human, was infected with multiple kinds of influenza virus at the same time. The viruses got scrambled inside the cell and out came a new kind of virus or, more accurately, LOTS of new kinds of viruses because each individual virus is going to have a random assortment of RNA from the two parent viruses (much like humans). Most of the new viruses formed from this method (called reassortment and recombination) will not live. However, with so many combinations, nature is bound to hit a jackpot at least once. Voila swine flu.

In fact, the swine flu virus has genes from so many different types of influenza virus that science is baffled as to how it got so many! Researchers are counting RNA from 3 different swine viruses, bird and human in the swine flu. As a result, this virus is something very novel that our bodies are not used to defending against. It doesn't look like other influenza viruses to our immune system, so it takes longer for our bodies to fight it off. This is accounting in part for why swine flu is so contagious.

The bad news: the flu vaccine will not protect you.
The good news: antiviral drugs (Tamiflu and Relenza) will work.
The bad news: antiviral drugs are not very effective after symptoms start, which is why they are not commonly used in medical practice.

I mainly used my memory to write this one, but here is an early and easy to understand editorial about swine flu.
Butler D. Swine Flu Goes Global. Nature 2009 Apr 30;458(7242):1082-3.

Next time: Do you have Swine Flu?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Ahh, the antics of a 4 month old Ridgeback puppy. I must say, Deka is the most rambunctious Ridgeback puppy my family has had to date. She hasn't chewed any furniture, hasn't peed on the carpet, hasn't broken any lamps, but she's got a LOT of energy.

Deka's newest thing is that she likes to jump up and put her front paws on Sashi's back so that she can see over tables and counters. My father was chopping vegetables with the back of the knife overhanging the edge of the kitchen counter and the pup cut her forehead on the knife. Quick trip to the emergency vet resulted in 3 stitches and one of those space-dog cone collars. I don't have a picture of that cuteness because...

When they got back home, Deka went running into the house, tried to round a corner and caught the edge of the cone collar on the wall. This sent the pup flying and, ofcourse, broke the cone collar in two!!! Apparently she just stood up, shook it off, sniffed the collar (now on the floor) and ran away again!

The collar lasted a grand total of 30 seconds. I'm STILL laughing just thinking about it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

TasteCamp East!

I spent this past weekend doing something I had not previously devoted much time to -- tasting wines. My family really aren't "wine-os," but since starting to date Rob, I have learnt a lot about paying attention to what I am drinking above answering the ultimate yes/no question: "do I like it?" He invited me with him to a weekend wine tour of Long Island Wineries organized for wine bloggers by a wine blogger at lenndevours. I have to say, up until the drive out (when I discovered that this was for bloggers and their significant others), I was very nervous about being among people so passionate about something I know very little. Put me in a room with a bunch of docs, I'm cool. Put me in a room with a bunch of classical musicians and I can hold my geek-ed out own (barely), but wine??

I must say, I had a great weekend! It was overcast and rainy, but that did not stop us. Lenn planned a whilrwind tour of the east end of Long Island which started with a fabulous gourmet dinner at Raphael winery Friday night. Saturday consisted of 5 actual winery visits with tasting wine from about 15 wineries thanks to a sponsored lunch. Saturday night was a "BYOB of your favorite" BBQ -- 'nuff said. Sunday topped the weekend off with a ferry ride across to the south fork to visit the last two wineries and, finally, beer at a pub. Overall, we drank wine from 20-25 Long Island Wineries. Nice sampling.

Of all of these wineries, three places stuck out to my inexperienced palate -- Shin Estates Winery, Lenz Winery and Channing Daughters Winery. The wines from these very different wineries were all great!

Shin Estate Vinyards is on the North Fork and is part of a select few growers on LI trying to go organic. They spent a very long time explaining the difficulties of being organic on LI. These are not hippies waving their hands around doing a rain dance (joke intended). They are concerned farmers using science and collaborations with Cornell University to decrease their impact on nature. Plus, they are making damn good wines while doing it! Two of my favories of the weekend were the Shin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (barrel sample) and their Shin Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008.

The Lenz Winery was one of the highlighs of the weekend for me. The winemaker, Eric Fry, met us and took us on a two hour tasting through almost exclusively tank and barrel samples of his upcoming vintages. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about his wines -- he believes very strongly in aging wines and therefore doesn't release wines until he deems them ready to drink. Their current Merlot release is 2001. Plus, there was the hilarity of walking all over the building -- start inside, the out to the right, then back in, out ot the left, back in, around back... you get the picture. Rob and I ended up taking home the Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon 2002.

Finally, our last stop of the weekend found us at Channing Daughters Wineries on the South Fork of LI. Unlike most of the wineries we visitied, Channing Daughters focuses on white wines -- a refreshing change from a weekend of mostly underwhelming reds (except for those noted, ofcourse). Here we met James Christopher Tracy, another incredibly knowledgeable and engaging winemaker who was unafraid to experiment with his vineyard. Rob and I bought 5 (count 'em, FIVE) different wines here: Channing Daughters Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Vino Blanco 2007, Rosato Cabernet Franc 2008, Blaufrankisch 2007 and a 95% merlot blend, Sculpture Garden 2006.

To learn what qualified people think about all the wineries we visited this weekend, check out Rob's blog, WinePost and from there link on to others who were there this weekend. Enjoy!

Pictures from the weekend at: