As Dick and Leslie Bush got ready to plant their vineyard, they took delivery of a load of hardwood stakes from Malaysia, to be driven into the ground to support their vines. The Bushes were told the stakes should last 25 years.

Wine competitions traditionally organize entries by varietals or styles. A few also define classes by price. A growing number, inspired by wine's historic association with place of origin and by an attempt to level the playing field, arrange classes by region, or what in wine circles is called appellation.

At Heritage Oak Winery of Lodi, the past isn't pickled and idly displayed, but continues to inspire, energize and contribute. The "heritage oak" itself is a tall blue oak wide enough to shade both the winery and the visitors who relax just outside the tasting room.

California's more storied vineyards always are at risk. They can get diseased and die, of course. They can be abandoned in the wake of economic downturns or unanticipated shifts in consumer tastes. Or they can be torn out in favor of a shopping mall, subdivision or freeway.

Don't know what to do with those empty wine bottles other than toss them into the recycling bin? For ideas, go to the website Pinterest.

In early January, on the sort of bright and balmy day that would become more rule than exception in Northern California this winter, Dave Koball is escorting us about the vineyards of McNab Ranch south of Ukiah in Mendocino County.

You can order wine online when you visit the website of Domaine de la Terre Rouge and Easton Wines, twin Amador County brands founded and owned by the husband-and-wife team of Bill Easton and Jane O'Riordan.

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