Willamette Valley

I recently spent a long and exceedingly pleasant weekend in the wine region of the north Willamette Valley.

First and foremost, the Black Walnut Inn (http://www.blackwalnut-inn.com/) in Dundee, OR was fabulous. It has only nine distinct rooms, each with its own character, but all wonderful. It looks like a Tuscan villa that overlooks the red-hilled vineyards.

My favorite restaurant was the Joel Palmer House (http://www.joelpalmerhouse.com) in Dayton, OR. Make a reservation, but only if you like wild mushrooms. The executive chef and owner is Chris Czarnecki, a fourt-generation restaurateur, who comes from a family of mycologists. Joe’s Wild Mushroom Soup, a homage to Chris’ dad, and Heidi’s Three Mushroom Tart, a homage to his mother, are both wonderful. Great wine list and great sommelier (who also recommended a number of the vineyards we later visited). If the weather is nice (as it was for us), eat outside in the yard, under the stars.

I wasn’t a Pinot Noir fan until this trip. I had thought of Pinot’s as too earthy for my taste, but learned of the huge variety of tastes from this varietal. My absolute favorite vineyard (the one recommended by the sommelier) was Witness Tree Vineyards (http://www.witnesstreevineyard.com/). Their wines are less expensive than many, but quality was excellent. Not only great Pinot’s (e.g. the Vintage Select and particularly the Claim No. 51), but also a surprisingly wonderful Dolcetto “Remari”, and not-to-be-missed Sweet Signe. Also visited several others: Bethel Heights, Christom, etc.

And, lastly, for a great quick lunch visit the Blue Goat in Amity. It’s a tiny place, with its own brick oven and a goat meat empanada that shouldn’t be missed.

What a great way to spend a long weekend away from Seattle, especially during a sunny weekend!

The Economic Crisis

A while ago, I blogged on the decline of Microsoft (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=42). Lately, many people have asked me about the current debt crisis, followed by the S&P downgrade of US credit. There are striking similarities.

Until about 20 years ago, for over 200 years, the US has been in a building mode. We have created the economic engine that fueled world growth, established an education system that was the envy of the world, a climate and legal structure that allowed great entrepreneurs to create companies that were the envy of the world. Even when faced with extraordinary challenges, like the great depression or the world wars, we were able to overcome these challenges.

Just as with businesses, in times of plenty, it is incumbent upon a business (or society) to put aside for the lean times. (I won’t cite Biblical references here, but they are obvious.) Since WWII, we have had numerous times of plenty. In the late 40s and early 50s, as a county we hugely increased our infrastructure (think the Interstate highways), invested heavily in universities (which have been the envy of the world and fueled much of our entrepreneurial growth), and through the concomitant consumer spending, created a surge in our standard of living. Many of these improvements allowed us to weather some of the storms that followed. With confidence, we strode into space – landing on the moon, created the Internet and countless other platforms that fuel global innovation.

But, our generation seems to have lost sight of what is really important. We have spent with reckless abandon. We have made poor strategic decisions. We, as a society and management team (the political leaders we elected) made bad strategic decisions. If we were a company, our stock would be trading at record lows and our investors would be clamoring for a change of leadership. But we have lacked the will and foresight, not to mention the systemic governance issues that prevent truly innovative leadership from coming to power. We need to make changes in the way we are run.

We are negligent for not having done this in the US. And, despite politicians’ desire for reelection demanding that they give us a silver bullet, there is no silver bullet! It took 20 years to make this problem – 20 years of lack of political will to curb spending and live within our means. But, just as I suggested with Microsoft, there are reasonable long-term solutions.

From my point of view, the solution is to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that is embodied in the startups. This is where the economic growth, job creation, and invigoration of our society can come from. In a very specific sense, legislation before congress, like Senate Bill S256 “American Opportunity Act of 2011” (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s256/text), sponsored by Senators Mark Pryor and Scott Brown that gives a 25% tax credit to angel investors; when similar legislation was enacted in other places, dramatic increases in angel investing and increased tax revenues have resulted. Another example are the proposed changes to IRS Section 1202, exemption for gains on qualified small business gains, which will give 100% exclusion of capital gains for angel investment.

These actions will spur angel investing in those high-growth startups that will ultimately move the economy. While modest in cost, they could be large in impact.