Monday, April 04, 2016

Go West, Pinot Noir Lovers

The following appeared in the Yakima Magazine, a monthly publication of the Yakima Herald News.

In 1865, Horace Greeley, an American author was quoted in the New York Tribune encouraging America’s expansion westward, “Go West, Young Man, Go West…” Who knew that a little detour to the south of the Columbia River, to the now abundant Willamette Valley, would pay off? 


The Cayuse War of 1847, an armed conflict between the Cayuse people of the Walla Walla region and the United States Army, resulted in most of Eastern Washington being closed off to possible settlements in the Walla Walla and Yakima areas. 

In the mean time, before the Cayuse treaty was established in 1859, new settlements had been channeled around the area of conflict further west to the Puget Sound area, and especially to southern Oregon near the Willamette Valley. Among one of the settlers was Henderson Luelling, a horticulturist who traveled to the area and planted the first known grapes in the Oregon Territory in 1847. 

Similar to the regions of Washington Territory near the great Columbia River, the European and French-Canadian presence was also known among the “French Prairie” at Champoeg located in the Willamette Valley. The immigrants brought with them grape stock from their European homes and experimented with many wine grape varieties, until the Prohibition era banned all alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933. 

After the Prohibition era, there wasn’t much of a presence of wine grapes in the State of Oregon, especially not much wine, other than the occasional “country” wines made with the local Oregon fruit sources, such as Marionberry, pear, and other orchard fruit-style wines — or at least not until the 1960’s when the first Pinot Noir grape vines were planted in Oregon. 

Pinot Noir is a red grape variety with a reputation for being finicky in the vineyard and finicky in the vat. The thin-skinned grape in its tightly packed cluster and shaped like a pine cone, is grown all around the world yet takes comfort in cool regions, and particularly thrives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It’s a temperamental grape that viticulturist and winemakers alike, love to hate and hate to love, but the consumer has fallen in love with this historic grape with roots as deep as its vines, dating back to 100 AD in the Burgundy region of France. The grape is known to produce some of the finest wines in the world with its flavor notes and essences of cherries, strawberries, and herbs. 

Today in the Willamette Valley, and all through Oregon, there are a total of over 20,000 acres planted in Pinot Noir and over 500 wineries with many producing Pinot Noir. The Willamette Valley is designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), with a total of six sub-AVA’s. American Viticultural Areas are known as designated wine grape-growing regions in the United States. They are distinguishable by geographic features and their boundaries are defined by the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The following sub-AVA’s within the Willamette Valley are: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton. 

The wine country of the Willamette Valley area is vibrant — and not just with wineries. There is great farm-to-table dining, lodging, shopping, tourist attractions, annual Pinot Noir celebrations, and a scenic jaunt of around 60 miles to the Pacific Ocean. Here are three, not to be missed wineries of the Willamette Valley… 

Domaine Drouhin


Domaine Drouhin - Oregon
Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) in Dayton, may be a state-of-the art winery, but it brings with it deep historic roots from France. The DDO vineyards and wines are known for their “French soul” — produced with Oregon soil. The Drouhin Family has been making wine since its early days in France when it first established Joseph Drouhin wines back in 1880. 

Across the globe in 1961, the third generation of the Drouhin family “discovered” Oregon, and by 1987, Drouhin purchased land in the Willamette Valley. Two years later the Domaine Drouhin Oregon winery was opened with an emphasis on Pinot Noir. This was a perfect partnership as the Willamette Valley is at the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France, as well as a similar climate, making it the perfect home for the finicky Pinot Noir grapes to thrive. 

Today the fourth-generation Drouhin family is behind the beautiful French-inspired wines that come out of Oregon. Don’t just stop at tasting their Pinot Noir, but take a moment for a worthy sip of their Chardonnay as well. 

Stoller Family Estate 


Stoller Family Estate
It started as a turkey farm in the 1940’s by the Stoller family, located in the farm land of the Dundee Hills. Throughout the next five decades, the turkey farm would grow from a small family farm to one of Oregon’s largest poultry operations. When the farm closed in 1993, Bill Stoller, whose father and uncle originally started the farm, took the opportunity to purchase the land from a cousin. The old farm buildings and property would be alive once again keeping with its agriculture roots; however this time the only turkey to be found would be on the label of a bottle of wine. 

Staying true to Bill Stoller’s rural Oregon upbringing, Stoller’s quest for sustainability earned the vineyard the first-ever LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification in the world. At this time their vineyard is the largest contiguous vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. The property spans 373 acres, with approximately 190 acres dedicated to growing vines at elevations ranging from 220 to 640 feet, and over 120 acres dedicated to Pinot Noir. The winery grounds are peaceful with views of the vineyards from all around. Melissa Burr, head winemaker has been with Stoller since 2003. Once again, don’t stop at the Pinot Noir, but if in season, seek out their cool crisp and mouth watering Pinot Noir Rosé. It’s pretty and it’s pink. 

WillaKenzie Estate 


WillaKenzie Winery
If you are a fan of Pinot Noir then you have definitely struck gold when you reach the doors of WillaKenzie, with at least 10 different Pinot Noirs to sample from their variety of Pinot Noir clones, to the various elevations from which the vines are grown. There’s a French term used in agriculture known as “terroir,” meaning a “sense of place.” Indeed, WillaKenzie Estate Wines gives meaning to “sense of place” with the distinct elevations and various soils on the one parcel of land. Owner and winemaker of WillaKenzie, Bernard Lacroute grew up in a small village in the Burgundy region of France. Accepting a fellowship to study in America, he eventually found his way to Oregon. In 1991 Lacroute and his partner, Ronni Lacroute purchased the 420 acre cattle farm in the Yamhill area and began planting the vines. In 1995, the winery was ready for business. 

When visiting the WillaKenzie tasting room, a three or a five flight of Pinot Noir is encouraged. Discover the differences, especially to focus on the uniqueness and even the similarities that each distinguished Pinot Noir brings to the palate. 

This is just a short day or perhaps a long afternoon of the bounty of Pinot Noir to be found in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. No, you won’t make it to all of the wineries, but you can come back for another visit or two, right? 

Catie McIntyre Walker - Author

Sunday, April 03, 2016

It started with an Apple… Apple Pie Moonshine

The following appeared in the Yakima Magazine, a monthly publication of the Yakima Herald News. 

We have been told for centuries that it started with an apple. After all, it was Eve who was tempted by the luscious red orb and plucked the first forbidden fruit from the tree. It started once again in Washington State when the oldest state’s apple tree was brought from England and planted in 1826 by the Hudson Bay Company. In the 1900’s, Swedish immigrants settled in the Yakima Valley and contributed to the first orchards in the valley — an area now known as Swede Hill.

Photo By Grit City Photography
Once again it started with an apple when Kevin and Pamela Milford’s mission was to create a product out of this popular fruit. It made sense from a business standpoint, being this raw material was plentiful, living in the heart of apple country. It made sense from a regional standpoint, since Washington State is known for apples around the world, and it made sense on a personal level since Pamela’s grandparents were among the immigrants who planted the orchards — making it a perfect area for Swede Hill Distilling to settle, and call home. 

Kevin started his journey into the home beverage business when he first became a student at Washington State University. With the knowledge he obtained at the library, Kevin stored that information, and would later apply it to building his own still, and distilling in his kitchen. Long story short, the Milford’s can boast their attention to detail from the apples picked from their family orchards to the hand labeling on every finished bottle of Swede Hill Apple Pie Moonshine. 

Today, the Milford’s join the growing group of micro-distilleries that are all the rage in Washington State. In the beginning of 2008, there were no craft distilleries in the state, and now there are over 100. Market Watch Magazine reported earlier this year that according to the American Distilling Institute (ADI) in 2003 there were only 60 craft distillers operating in the United States. Today there are around 760 in the U.S.,   with at least 200 craft distillers currently under construction. 

Do you drink your Swede Hill Apple Pie Moonshine straight or on the rocks? The answer is, “Yes.” There are many ways you can serve up a “helping” of Apple Pie Moonshine. A splash of bourbon here or a few shots of caramel vodka there — it is almost endless. In fact, when it comes time for dessert, with several scoops of vanilla ice cream and a blended dollop of peanut butter, you can enjoy your Apple Pie ala Mode. Cheers to your health, “An apple a day… ”

Catie McIntyre Walker - Author

Monday, February 08, 2016

Happy New Year - Year of the Monkey

Yeah, I missed the traditional American calendar New Year, so how about celebrating the Lunar New Year? Here is what's ahead for you and me in the year of the Monkey - 2016.
The positive and negative quality of the Monkey Year 2016 culminate in a year that anything can happen. There is little point in storing up goods or planning one’s life. The influence of the Monkey puts everything into flux. Things will get accomplished, but largely through personal and individual efforts. Group movements, such as political upheaval or revolutions, will not make a mark during this year.
This cheeky animal bursts with exuberance, bringing a lightening fast pace and fantastical motivation. The Monkey increases communication, humor and wit, helping us get through stressful times with grace and ease. Business flourishes and risks tend to pan out. The Monkey’s gift is the ability to find unconventional solutions to old problems. Daring to be different can lead to success.

For myself I am going to try and keep my humor and wit, and will muster up any grace that I can find - - when necessary. I know I have a bit of grace left in me for the deserving. Thankful to hear my risks in life will pan out. 

First of all, I appreciate my readers who have stayed with me through the last 10 years. I appreciate it more than you know, as well as always surprised when someone reaches out they are a reader of this blog. Last year I did change up the ol' blog a bit, and instead of the 99.99% concentration of all wines of Walla Walla, I have added wines from other regions, as well. These changes to the blog also assists me in research and wine education beyond where I live. 

As you may know in November 2014 I released my first book, "Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History." It's been a lot of fun being a guest at various book shops, wineries, and even public lectures about the rich wine history of the Walla Walla Valley. And the book writing continues, as just before the end of 2015, I signed another contract to write my second book about the history of the Walla Walla Valley. This time the emphasis will be on the agriculture and the food scene - - and there are already negotiations in the works to write a third book. I've also been taking a few creative writing classes to perhaps write a murder mystery some day. I figure my years of working in funeral homes, law firms, and wineries should be put to creative use.  

I have also returned to some freelance writing with the emphasis of wine and food for local and regional lifestyle publications. It is almost writing 24/7 at my household. In the mean time, I do get asked if I still sell wine. No, that is a chapter that is behind me. The only thing I sell at this time are non-alcoholic items  where I am in charge of being the creative producer, such as books and a logo. The Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman blog has always been of its own creative entity and not legally affiliated with the The Grape Vine LLC which was a LLC partnership. The name and art, Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman," was lent to that corporation. 

Since I first started writing my blog in 2005, there has been a lot of growth in the wine blogging community. Many former bloggers, such as myself, have moved on to other wine writing or wine-related projects. However, there are still many new wine blogs popping up to enjoy. Critics like to say that wine blogging is not relevant anymore, but if that is so, why such success for so many new and current wine bloggers? 

Today I cannot even begin to mention all of the wine blogs out there to view, and I have resigned myself to not bother keeping up. However, I can share that each wine blog has their own opinion and characteristics - something for everyone. I recommend to find a few you enjoy, but please remember to keep your mind and your palate open. Stop taking the wine world so serious, unless of course you have a few million bucks invested in it. As a consumer, just relax, discover, and enjoy. If you like a buttery oaky Chardonnay, then enjoy it no matter if I or another blogger tells you that over-oaked and diacetyl-laden wines suck. We're just asking you to keep an open mind, keep tasting wines, and once in awhile try a blended steel-fermented/two year-old barrel Chardonnay with clean notes of citrus and mango. Remember our palates change like our hair color - - or at least for some of us our hair color changes.   

Let me make a recommendation to you, and especially to the male readers. Reach out beyond the male perspective of wine and check out some of the many wine blogs by women, if you haven't already. Wine writer, Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications keeps a list of women wine bloggers. You may just find a different approach, as well as remove some of the gender stereotypes. We like other wines than just "Chardonnay and White Zinfandel." Some women wine writers also like beer. Aghast! One may even discover that there are women winemakers in the world, as well. (ahem)

Unfortunately, there are wine blogs who are rather dismal and their only motive is to harm and figuratively maim other wine bloggers. They bitch and bully when a prominent wine blogger gives out information they don't agree with. Instead of clarifying or giving their own professional opinion, they call out names instead. Seriously, to call people names and try to ruin their reputation is very sophomoric, "my love," besides missing out on an opportunity to assist and share your own professional opinion. It's important to share the wealth of knowledge in a wine blog instead of using others in a nonconstructive way to gain an audience. 

To sum it up, as an old friend use to say about men who were bullies or drove small trucks with noisy exhausts and big monster tires, "Sorry about your penis ... "  

A sympathy card is on the way. 

Over all, this is just a long way to get around to let my readers know that I appreciate all of you very much. Any success I have been blessed with started here due to my readers. Thank you, and here's to a healthy and profitable New Year for all. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

African Passion: Passionate About Chenin Blanc

Right. I know. I live in Walla Walla and typically write about Walla Walla and other wines from Washington State, but once in awhile one must "think" outside the box, or more like go beyond the border. Many of us locals have cut our teeth on the wines of the Walla Walla Valley, but as we explore in our pursuit to become knowledgeable about wines, it's important to explore beyond. 

The African Passion lines of New World wine were first debuted in the United States back in 2013, and created in the KWV Cellar from Paarl, Western Cape. The grapes as well are also sourced from the Western Cape of Africa where Chenin Blanc is currently the country’s most widely planted grape.

In 1918, the year Nelson Mandela was born, South African wine farmers founded KWV with the aim of stabilizing, supporting and structuring a young, struggling industry. Until the early 1990s, when world markets opened to South African wine, KWV played a central role in regulating the industry. Since then, KWV has transformed itself into a commercial player, exporting award-winning wines and brandies from its main cellar complex in Paarl all over the world.

Chenin Blanc is a favorite of mine, and there are times I cannot get enough of it. It's not a plentiful white grape in the US, such as Chardonnay. We see a few Chenin Blancs in Washington State, and especially a couple of producers in the Walla Walla Valley. Whenever I see a bottle of French Vouvray, from the  Loire valley - the birth place of Chenin Blanc, I cannot leave the bottle on the shelf. 

The beauty of this white grape is that it is so easy to sip, but also one of the best white wines to pair with food. Even now, I am thinking how well it pairs with the Thanksgiving turkey, and sage and onion dressing. It's endless - the crisp acids pairs well with the charcuterie and cheese platters. Fish, seafood, poultry and creamy cheesy pasta dishes - from the basic fish and chips to lobster, and mac and cheese to a creamy primavera Alfredo.

African Passion Chenin Blanc - 2012: Juicy! Crisp! Fresh!  Pretty! So typical of a well made Chenin Blanc. Orange blossom and melon on the nose. It's a bite of the fruit orchard, especially Granny Smith apples, ripe pears, and peaches. A hint of honeydew melon and lemon curd gives it a smooth mouth feel, with a sprinkle of nutmeg for spice.  

One of the noticeable things of the African Passion line, it comes with a screw cap. Especially important if you are often a party of one, as I was able to enjoy about three days worth of this tasty wine. It's important to note that about 10% from the sales of the African Passion wines will be contributed to the TransAfrica Forum in order to support human rights and social justice in Africa. (Received free sample) 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Tall Sage

“Find a Tall Sage and you have found a place that will sustain superior grape vines.” - Dr. Walter Clore, "Father of Washington Wine."

Goose Ridge Estate Winery in the Columbia Valley at Richland, Washington is located in the center of their 2,200 acre vineyard. Founded by the Monson Family in 1999, they have diversified with growth of their vineyard, as well as a new label, Tall Sage. Tall Sage is exclusively sold through Vintage Point, a small wholesale portfolio featuring small luxury wines. These wines made their first appearance around three months ago. 

Tall Sage is the Monson Family's tribute to the founder of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards, Arvid Monson. Arvid was an entrepreneur in the Yakima Valley, as well as an orchardist, cattle rancher, and in the fall of 1997 he started the development of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards with the guidance of Dr. Walter Clore. Arvid died last year, December 1, 2014. 

Sunrise over Goose Ridge 
Andrew Wilson is the winemaker for Goose Ridge Estate Winery, and with his 12 years winemaking experience (and we were in a few eno/vit classes together) has been a familiar face in the Walla Walla Valley. Andrew has worked for Forgeron Cellars, Long Shadow's Vintners and Artifex Wine Company; which are all located in Walla Walla. 

Tall Sage Chardonnay - 2014: With my nose deep in the glass, I immediately knew this was a Chardonnay. It presented a clean and bright aromas, with a bit of honeysuckle and pineapple. With a sip, or two, this wine brought to my palate a hint of apple, more pineapple, and also just a hint of sweetness. It wasn't a cloying sweetness, but just a kiss. The finish was bright, yet with mineral-like quality. 

That little hint of sweetness from the Chardonnay is quite perfect for the beginner wine drinker. It also makes it perfect for food, such as spicy dishes with an Asian-influence, curry dishes, as well as spicy Mexican shrimp and chicken dishes. Also, with a good chill, a perfect porch sipper. 


Tall Sage Cabernet Sauvignon - 2014: 100% Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Syrah and 3% Malbec. Distinctive. Bold. A wine meant for food - "big" food. The nose was a bit on the smoky side. On the palate big cherry and dark berry, and other dark fruits, such as plums comes through. More smoke is showing off possibly from the barrel, and even the Syrah. 

There was also just a hint of sweetness in the finish, perhaps from the Malbec. Again, this "fruity" presence makes it a wine for the beginner who wants to tackle a bold red wine. And the boldness from this wine, pleads for a big meal of big roasted meats, and even grilled slightly charred vegetables. Also, I keep thinking about a big grilled portobello mushroom burger with melted Swiss or Fontina cheese on whole wheat bun.  Ooey-gooey with lots of smoky-sweet BBQ sauce, and even a light herbal-mayonnaise spread, and a sip of Tall Sage Cabernet Sauvignon between each bite.  

The price point of Tall Sage wines are an attractive around the $10 range. At this price it makes these wines important as a reminder to drink local - drink Washington State. 

(Wines received as samples)


Monday, October 05, 2015

Mother Knows Best: Sleight of Hand Spellbinder - 2012

Yes, I am still writing about wine. So, I took a couple of months off. You're not going to rid of me that easy ... 

Like most families, we are all busy, including my mother. My mother is legally blind, but can still maneuver her house chores, she coordinates neighborhood gatherings, walks with her morning walking group, and has the most beautiful flower beds that she maintains all by herself. I should be so fortunate, even with my half-way decent eye sight. In other words, my mother makes me look like a slacker. 

Because we are all so busy, about once a month she likes her children, at least those here in town, to come over for Sunday dinner. I will often bring a bottle of wine, but mom has a nice little stash herself and anything that looks interesting to her, she brings home and puts in her collection. You see, her doctor told her a little glass of wine before bedtime is good for her - - and she follows the doctor's orders. Wines with a screw cap works especially well for mom. 

Last night we went to mom's for Sunday dinner. She made a meal that was a childhood favorite of mine and my siblings - Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, fresh local green beans, a garden green salad with lots of fresh local tomatoes - - and if we cleaned our plates we got ice cream. Yay! 

What is "Swiss steak?" It's a large round steak cut into serving sizes, then seasoned, browned and braised very slow in a crock pot or oven in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and mushrooms. And yes - - the recipe is originally from Switzerland. 

Mom was prepared as she already had a bottle of wine set out - it was the Sleight of Hand Cellars Spellbinder - 2012 

Perfect! It had been a few months since I had a glass of red wine - - yes, really. For some reason this summer I had been exclusively drinking bubbles, whites and plenty of rosés. My taste buds have not been in the mood for reds. However, having a glass of Sleight of Hand Cellars Spellbinder changed my mind - - and it is also fall, which is the perfect time to pair reds with the seasonal fare. 

Spellbinder, with a screw cap for Mom, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. It was a great nose full of cherries, dark berries and dried plums, with a hint of tobacco. The flavors were soothing to my palate, especially after a palate of white wines for a few months. The flavors offered more black berries, a hint of Cocoa-Cola, and the right balance of tannins. I sampled it a bit before dinner, and of course, it paired perfect with Mom's dinner.  In other words, whether you enjoy this as a "lone-sipper" or pair it with a casual, but well-prepared tasty dinner - - the Sleight of Hand Spellbinder is a winner-winner-Swiss-steak dinner! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Brosé: The French, The Oregonian, and the Washingtonian

There's a side of me that almost gave a second thought about adding "Brosé" to the title of this blog, but I think it needs to be addressed. The new, yet hopefully short trend in the USA is the name, Brosé.  Somehow, somewhere, someone gave "permission" to the male wine consumer that it was okay to drink that pretty pink wine, but only if it is referred to as "Brosé." 

Nonsense! Tell that to many generations of men in Provence who have been sipping on the Bandols and Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence during a game of pétanque. Tell that silly term to the men of the Loire Valley who sips on a glass of Reuilly or the pink Chinons. Oh, and I dare you to discount Rosé Champagne: the queen of Rosé. 


A few moons ago, I was working as a part-time tasting room attendant and we introduced one of the very first Rosés in the Walla Walla Valley. It was a tough sale at first, and especially to the men-folk.  Once we convinced them to taste this luscious bright Syrah Rosé, they were sold - - especially when you gave them food pairing ideas, such as: grilled seafood, croque-monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich), smoked sausages, and poultry.  

How did we convince our male customers to take their first sip of this Rosé? We slipped in a few special words, "Produced by a French winemaker ... just like they do in France ... He produced it ... just like they do in France ... dry and crisp ... just like those wines of France ..." 


French or France was the key to this game of sales, yet the new Rosé lover went home with a treasure, and some wine education.
~~~

There are days I need to go in hiding. There are times I get so busy with writing or home projects, I forget the time, the month, and finally realize I haven't even left the county. Just this April was one of those times when it occurred to me I hadn't left since I started my book project - over a year ago. It was time to pack my bags and go.  There's a tiny little cabin I am rather fond of at Wallowa Lake, Oregon where I like to hide. So, I packed many books, enough food for 3-4 days and most important, three bottles of some of my favorite Rosés - - from France, Oregon, and Washington. 

Domaine St. Aix, "AIX" Rosé (Coteaux d'Aix en Provence), 2014 -  This 130 year old winery, located in the south of France, has produced a very pale pink wine, almost clear. The aroma in the glass is ripe of fresh thyme and berries. It's a traditional blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah.  It is delicate in taste, but the Herbs of Provence still shine through with crisp acids, and fruits of raspberries, cherries, vanilla, and a hint of mineral in the finish. 

Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Oregon Pinot Noir Rosé, 2014 - this Rosé first caught my attention almost eight years ago and I have been seeking it out ever since. It always makes an appearance in my wine refrigerator. The color-palette is a little richer shade of pink. The nose is of watermelon and rose petals. The palate brings forth more watermelon and raspberries, making it thirst quenching with it's bright acids. I've actually had a couple of occasions to sip this pretty wine in the Stoller Estate Vineyards during the hot month of August. Again, it just quenched my thirst, as well as adding to the romance of a vineyard.  

Maison Bleue Winery "Lisette" Rosé of Grenache, 2014 - I've been drinking this Rosé, since I have been aware of the existence of Washington State winemaker and Maison Bleue owner, Jon Meuret and his elegant Rhone-style wines. Raspberries and flowers reach the nose of this lovely pale peach-colored wine. Strawberries, plums, and spice, with a reminder - just a reminder of mineral in the finish. This wine is intricate, yet elegant, but still perfect for laid back porch sippin' and very special when paired with light summer meals. 

If you can hang onto these great Rosés long enough, I would even recommend the Stoller and Maison Bleue Rosés especially to pair with a Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe I will take a couple bottles back to the mountains this fall. 


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