Hot Today, Chili Tomorrow
A sure sign of autumn is the smell of roasting peppers at the Ferry Plaza farmers market. But this year's pepper crop, like so many others, is “late,” says co-owner Dale Coke of Coke Farms in San Juan Bautista. The culprit is not last winter's heavy rains, but the cold, damp spring — which seemed to delay summer until the middle of July. Farmers know that no matter what the weather, it's never quite perfect. The recent warm, sunny weather (which would have been welcome back in April and May) is now causing “sunburn problems” with the peppers, according to Coke. Excess of sun causes “patches of white” on the peppers that end up destroying some of them, he says.

Despite the bad weather, there will soon be an abundance of peppers in local markets. “We haven't hit the bulge of the season yet,” Coke says, “but it's coming.” He thinks that harvest quantities will be normal and the peppers themselves of good size and taste, although “nothing extraordinary.” The best thing about the heart of pepper season is that prices plunge as dramatically as any seasonal crop's. The summer's first peppers generally run $3 to $4 a pound, but by early October they're going for $1 a pound, and the market is swimming in them — reds, greens, yellows, golds, and purples; sweet, hot, and in between. Just follow your nose.

On the Wagon
Alcohol-free wine may be to the '90s what decaffeinated coffee was to the '60s: socially useful, but not very tasty. The bulk of alcohol-free wines are so unimpressive that K&L Liquors doesn't even stock them, and the Wine Club will only do special orders. “I usually do about one special order for alcohol-free wine a month,” says Tom Boriolo, assistant manager of the Wine Club. “Demand is tiny.” Boriolo thinks that some of the alcohol-free wines are “pretty decent,” but he would “pick it out in a heartbeat” if he was served one of them at a social gathering.

Big winemaking names are getting into the act — a sign of things to come? Besides Ariel (which offers a full line of regular wine in addition to its 11 alcohol-free varieties), Sutter Home, St. Regis, and Sultan Empire now sell alcohol-free wine. “Customers are picking up the bottles because of the growing selection,” says Bill Coffman, wine steward at Safeway's Diamond Heights store. But sales, he says, are still “very small — a case a week. They're going to have to make it taste better.”

Maybe they are. When Coffman's wife was pregnant, he served her Ariel's top-of-the-line reserve wines, which he says tasted “pretty decent.” Could there be a better recommendation?

By Paul Reidinger

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