Why some in one of our prestige rural industries think a water royalty is a good idea

Disclosure of interest: Paul Tudor MW is a member of Fish & Game and Forest & Bird, formerly member bodies of the Land & Water Forum and recently joined the Labour Party, however these views are his own


Jacinda Ardern is apparently a fan of Lindauer Brut, other than that, we do not know whether she enjoys NZ Sauvignon Blanc. And yet Labour’s proposed water levy could turn out to be a lifesaver when it comes to our wine industry.

Nobody seems to know exactly how much of our wine industry is controlled by foreign owners (one recent pundit guessed 65%), but we do know that Sauvignon Blanc dominates our exports and that the percentage of bulk exports is on the rise (around 25% according to that same pundit.) Winegrowers NZ does not publicise these statistics, whereas their counterpart across the ditch does, in fact we can learn a great deal about the global wine market from Wine Australia, including a few sour tasting lessons.

I recently visited Australia to do some wine work and one of my colleagues there asked “Have you guys hit the Sauvignon Blanc wall yet?” The question is a doozy, for fifteen or so years ago, Australia ran into a brick wall, a massive oversupply of Chardonnay that they couldn’t sell anywhere, which they are only now just getting over and customers are starting to get interested in Chardonnay again.

Swing over here and look at what is our most important wine export, Sauvignon Blanc. A few years ago the UK was our big growth market for Sauvignon, then it became Australia, briefly, and now it is the US, this to me is a worrying signal… What has happened is that markets have fallen in love with the punchy, intensity of the variety as expressed in our growing conditions, only for that fervour to fade.

Bulk wine exports will continue to be a significant part of our industry, as concern over carbon miles grows. Non tariff trade barriers are one of the icebergs floating out there that could derail the rapid growth in our wine exports (the other is the boredom factor with Sauv – lack of diversification.) Done well, bulk shipping of Sauvignon can be successful, although it inevitably does impact on aroma and bouquet, so is not really suitable for the premium market like your Churton or Dog Point. Ideally where we want to be is more at that quality end, adding value, however a succession of industry leaders do not seem to share that vision (perhaps because of the dominance of the big multinationals?) and so long as the variety grows like a weed and can be cropped heavily without too much impact on flavour, then who cares, right?

This is where irrigation comes in.

Many of the water rights for ground water irrigation of vines have already been allocated, especially in more developed regions such as Marlborough. And some companies have had to start collecting their own water on their properties.

But if you are on the flat in Marlborough and running a double canopy system and aiming to crop your Sauvignon at 12 or more tonnes per hectare, then you need plenty of leaves to get the sugar levels high enough, and you need water.

And lots of it.

Labour’s tax royalty may have an initial negative impact on some winegrowers trying to establish new vines, those first few years are crucial in a wine’s establishment, or to those who use aquifer water in overhead sprays as a frost protection measure. Presumably having consulted the industry, exceptions can be made for extreme circumstances or any serious weather events, including droughts (high quality European wine regions generally frown on irrigation – however the rules are occasionally loosened for severe drought.)

Yet there remains too much dependence on irrigation for certain wine styles, most notably heavily cropped Sauvignon Blanc. This is a problem for our future profitability and sustainability as an industry.

Low yields do not automatically mean higher quality wine, but it is a starting point for better quality. And market perceptions of our wine seem to be different between markets, but surely that better and higher value wines are the way to go (improving our “productivity” and sustainability by putting more money back into our wineries.) Eventually the end consumers are going to wise up to diluted flavours and high acid wines propped up with residual sugar and other winery tricks.

Meantime, we are slowly steaming towards that brick wall of a Sauvignon Blanc oversupply…

If we look at the vintages from 2010 to 2017 (and these are national averages, not Marlborough alone), the average yield for a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in this country has been 12.15 t/ha. And that includes the outlier vintage of 2012, when it was 8.94 t/ha. 13 tonnes appears regularly (2017, which was badly affected by rain, came in at 12.95 t/ha.)

In Sancerre, where great unoaked Sauvignon Blanc originated, the law states that the maximum you can crop is 8 t/ha, though in exceptional years, and they do have to be amazingly good in terms of weather conditions, you can apply and get that extended above 9 t/ha.

We should probably be aiming for our Sauv Blanc vineyards to be cropping in that sub 10 t/ha level if we want to make premium, higher priced Sauvs, all things being equal, with good training systems, canopy management, balanced vines.

Now our government and Winegrowers NZ have been clear that they will not legislate to reduce yields, but a water royalty on those growers who do use irrigation water can be a practical first step to encourage lower yields, better canopy management and potentially higher quality harvests and finished wine. Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ) does not place limits on the amount of irrigation water that can be used, it just merely notes this as an area for attention, but the water “tax” will have an immediate impact on those who chose to hang heavier croploads.

This is clearly what Sam Weaver, and other, enlightened winegrowers were saying after recent controversy over Labour’s proposals:


To round out this opinion piece, a brief look at the lessons learned by the Champagne industry.

In the late 1980s, Champagne fell on hard times.

The 1987 sharemarket crash had not helped with the demand side, but there were also supply issues. A number of houses had expanded quickly, and there were also new players entering the market, co-operatives in some cases, in others old, defunct houses were resurrected, often having no vineyard land and very little stock in the cellar. Initially there was a lot of horse trading in stock, it was legal then to purchase half made Champagne in bottle and finish it off with your own label, cork and cage. But then these new entrants were hit by the sharp drop in demand brought about by the financial markets downturn.

So prices started heading down.

With their margins suffering and some companies nearly going to the wall having to pay for all these bulk purchases, industry leaders took the bold step of sitting down and thrashing out some new rules.

The first major change was to cut production for any subsequent vintages. They did this by eliminating the Deuzieme taille (“second cut”) at the press, so only tete de cuvee and Premier taille (“first cut”) could be used in a wine labelled Champagne.

The second step was to increase the minimum ageing period before a bottle could go on the market. This had the immediate effect of aiding the wines already in the cellar, a few extra months does wonders for high acid, high cropped bubbles. It also shut off the tap into the market, so prices started to turn around again.

The major Champagne stakeholders carried out these changes at the start of the 90s and the industry has never really looked back. It was to be some years before the sale of unfinished wine (“sur lattes”) was to be outlawed, but the key changes that happened during the industry consultation were to lower yields and temporarily at least, restrict supply for what was a better and more attractive product as a result.


[Postscript – there is also a lot of water used in wineries – and arguably dealing with that winery wastewater may be more of an issue than vineyard runoff, which is why some companies have developed wetlands near their wineries and other innovative solutions to that problem.]

[Post postscript – if we are talking non tariff trade barriers, given the hoopla around carbon miles and New Zealand wine a few years ago, the fact that we promote ourselves as clean and green is also a major USP – if we don’t clean up our rivers then that is going to really destroy overseas consumers’ confidence in our wines.]


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Dear Mr English, Now would be a good time to come clean on our waterways

My name is Paul Tudor, and I shout at my television set.

Honestly, I thought I had it licked. I really did. It has been a difficult journey, but things were on the up and I thought blood pressure levels were aok again.

But last Thursday, during that first leader’s debate on TVNZ, there I was again, yelling at the telly and losing it.

The tipping point was when Bill English mentioned the Land and Water Forum in the debate about dirty rivers. Apparently, “we” established the Forum to solve the water problem and what a great outcome we are achieving as a result. What Mr English didn’t tell the New Zealand population was what his government did to that forum, possibly because he doesn’t remember or, more likely, he is ashamed to admit the truth.

The Forum initially brought together the major interest groups in the debate. And the Government supported the work programme. The problem came when the Forum’s first lot of recommendations came out and the Minister, Nick Smith, ignored most of them:


I fully support Fish and Game’s decision to leave the Forum:


Clearly there is a need for an organisation that brings everyone together around the table – but if the National Party are going to interfere to protect their stakeholders, farmers and big business (and Fonterra is the biggest business there is in this land), then what is the point in having such a toothless body.

Since the departure of Fish & Game, more members have walked away:


For English to claim this as one of his solutions to clean up our rivers is hypocritical – it is also misleading the New Zealand people to say that it is doing a good job. The only people doing anything here are the organisations that are walking out.

In reaction to the Labour Party proposal to levy water take, a group of agricultural bodies got together to show unity in the face of threatened water regulation. This was covered really well in a Morning Report story on Radio NZ (link to come) and also the issues were well summarised by Rachel Stewart in the Herald:


[Stewart’s previous column, on how she was jumping on the “Jacinda train” contained some of her most eloquent writing ever, but this one, on the fight for clean water, is one of her best ever and should be a shoe in for the shortlist, at least, for next year’s Canon Awards.]

Unity, but… The group gives good spin, but no actual commitments, it seems (and in case you are wondering the key parties were also founding members of the Land and Water Forum.)

But choosing to launch this group on the banks of the Ngaruroro was a clear bare buttocks or “bite your thumb at me, sire” (sorry Shakespeare) to the rest of society, the people, everyone.

The Ngaruroro is currently being investigated for the possibility of receiving a Water Conservation Order (WCO.) There are currently 14 waterways with WCOs, basically this is a national protection rule, it is not given lightly and to choose to have their launch here was a show of strength and arrogance. These people know that National will not criticise them for inciting division by the choice of location.

We have no hope – if these are the leaders of our major agricultural industries.

POSTSCRIPT – Bill English again cited the Land and Water Forum as a success story on Checkpoint (RNZ National) tonight, 13 Sept 2017 – the Forum has clearly failed to achieve what it agreed upon and is now a dysfunctional group with major disagreement among the remaining members

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Day 2, PA, gateway to the North

There is snow on the Olympic Ranges, they are not high, but it is starting to get nippy. Leaving Forks the road becomes a 60 mph zone once more and I motor on, trying to get to Swains General Store before closing, which is 8pm.

I cross one river several times, the Sol Duc. They don’t always name the rivers on their bridges, like we do back in Enzed, but Sol Duc must be special because there is a name plate on every bridge. I pass the road to the Sol Duc hot springs on my right, then comes the biggest surprise of the day.

I knew that the main road passed a lake, Lake Crescent, but what I didn’t know is that the road follows the lake for about 11 miles. I am on the safer, right side, because on the other it is just a barrier and you are in a deep, but beautiful lake. This reminds me a little bit of the South Island, the road is tight, patchy in places and gets down to a 30 mph limit a couple of times. There are a couple of logging trucks heading in the direction of Port Angeles 

One guy has pulled over on the left at a “turnaround” i.e. he is on the opposite side going in my direction, to take photos, so I do the same.

A bit chilly.

I drag myself away drive into Port Angeles, on the way passing a massive lumber yard, and the turnoff to Fairchild International Airport. Probably should have gone looked at it – but yes Port Angeles has an international airport.

See Port Angeles is the staging post for people going to Vancouver Island, which is in Canada, not the US. There is a ferry terminal that serves the island and on a clear day you can see Canada.

After fiddling with Google Maps, I pull into Swains’ carpark at 6.15 and the phone rings, it is Dave from Waters West, the local tackle shop, which closes at 6.30.

“Yeah, just buying my license now,” I tell him.

He gives me Curt’s number, my guide for tomorrow and tells me to meet Curt in Forks at 6.30am. I do a double take – I have just been to Forks – I could have stayed there and the drive between “PA” and Forks is an hour ten – across that treacherous lakefront.

After negotiation we decide I can text Curt and sort it out. In the end, I decide to stick with 6.30, but warn him I am still on NZ time so may be late…

My hotel in PA is basic, but it has a stunning view and nice staff, who seem rushed off their feet, and a hot spa pool.

So quick dip in the pool, then dinner at the Kokopelli Grill. A seat at the bar with the million dollar view, Nathaniel in charge. I forget that I have changed into my Nirvana shirt, one of the waiters stops me (“Great shirt man”) and we talk about Cobain and Aberdeen and he says I have to go to Cobain’s Seattle house (where he died) and the POP Museum where there are Cobain guitars.

I have a great night – my Twitter followers will know what I eat, but freshly shucked oysters and Halibut feature. Sadly no Washington wine – the beer list is great – the wines not so.

Tomorrow – Steelheading in the Pacific Northwest.

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Day 2 continued – “Underneath the bridge”

Clearing Olympia (you can see the Capitol dome from the freeway) it starts raining again. Everyone seems to drive over the limit in Washington, I try not to hold too many people up. I see a couple of logging trucks, but not many, which surprises somewhat.

It is a pretty good road, though they are fixing it up in a couple of places. Apparently Aberdeen is a bit depressed now, timber mills closing down, chips being sent to Japan rather than logs or milled timber. Something to do with Washington lumber not being up to spec.

The two and a bit hours fly by.

When you enter the city of Aberdeen the sign says “Welcome to Aberdeen” and then below it “COME AS YOU ARE”. Then a few yards further on there is a sign proclaiming “The Timber Capital of the World”. But of course, it isn’t any more.

You don’t have to go very far to find Kurt Cobain’s memorial park. You cross one bridge and there is a little Cobain sign on a lamppost pointing right. Follow this little signs – hard to read when driving and it leads you along the Wishkah River. I drove over the bridge by mistake, but backtracked and here I was.

A quiet suburban street, dogs barking, a guy in a huge construction lorry going round the block.

This was a powerful and moving moment for me. Thankfully I met a local who was showing some friends around, one was Cheyenne, a Native American who had recently moved up from Southern California. We talked politics, but he too was moved.

So they kindly took my photo under the bridge. It was muddy (thankfully the rain had stopped an hour earlier) and my new Doc Martens were covered very quickly.

The song “Something in the way” captures Cobain at his best, he would come down here, sit under the bridge and play.

I get in the car and Google tells me to drive up the Wishkah River to get to my next destination, so I do just that, but I realise just in time that Cobain’s childhood home is also around here somewhere.

Another u turn, some frantic Googling and here we are. It is a couple of blocks from the bridge in that same quiet neighbourhood, no signage, nothing. It was for sale a couple of years ago, but it looks like it is still uninhabited.

I end up driving ten or twelve miles up the Wishkah. It turns into an attractive river – eventually – but down by Aberdeen it is unappealing and tidal. Apparently a third of Cobain’s ashes were sprinkled in the river by the Bridge.

The Wishkah River eventually peters out and I take a cross country road and soon I am on the highway North.

After a while scrubby farmland turns into forest and it feels closed in. In the middle of nowhere there is post office, on the other side alas, in a place called Neilton.

The post mistress doesn’t have postcards, but I buy lots of stamps off her, including some collectible Star Trek stamps, which she says she has had for ages and nobody bought them. She then suggests if I am sight seeing to go look at the world’s largest spruce, coming up on my right.

What it is is the turnoff to Lake Quinault which is a beautiful resort type lake. The tree is pretty impressive and I struggle to get it in frame.

Hard filming on your own.

I stop at the general store, grab a root beer, some snacks for the road and postcards. Then back on the main road.

After a big zig (or is it a zag?) the road eventually finds the Pacific Ocean. The first beach, South Beach, is locked. But I stop at the next, “Beach 1”. The water is COLD.Trees grow right up close to the beach. It is wild and dangerous – signs warn of logs in the water.

As I came out I noticed this parked by the road.

Further ahead a sign foretells of a giant cedar tree, so I go have a look. Unfortunately the termites have got to it, so it isn’t so big anymore, but I meet a mother and her four little kids. I am wearing my Darth Vader “Paternity” t shirt, and a couple of the kids are wearing Star Trek hoodies cum costumes, so we have a laugh about that.

She tells me that at Beach 4, they have taken the drift logs and constructed a beautiful bridge, but I don’t feel like back tracking.

I do however spend more than half an hour looking for another giant cedar, but again I wasn’t impressed when I finally found it, so no photo.

This puts me behind schedule.

I eventually pull up outside the information centre at Forks at 4.45, but it seems they went home early this day. A couple of other tourists show up after me and bang on the door, to no avail, the sign is up.

Forks used to have 3450 residents, that is what the sign at entrance says, but it is probably less than 3000 now because the timber mill has closed. It is clearly not doing so well anymore.

I need to pick up the pace if I want to buy a Steelhead license, so I press on to Port Angeles.

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Day 2, Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

After a great night sleep in the Roosevelt I wake around 6.15 am and it is already light out.

Around 7.00 I get up and go for a walk up to Capitol Hill, which is a sort of bohemian neighbourhood really close to downtown Seattle, my destination this guy:

Seattle does not celebrate Jimi Hendrix much, but then he became famous living in London, a place I am still yet to go to. Some of MW friends are shocked that I have not been BTW, but I can’t change what has been.

Walking up listening to Are You Experienced, I come across a great little coffee shop, Stump Coffee

And I grab a sugar donut, it is oily but very fresh.

Walking back downtown I notice that gentrification has come to Capitol Hill. There are still lots of cheap Mexican eateries and dodgy looking cocktail bars, but construction work and signs in recently renovated buildings advertising upmarket apartments show things are changing. I pass a smart mountain bike shop with its own espresso machine and barista inside.

There are also hipsters here. This place had a video arcade and tables for people to play Dungeons and Dragons, or Scrabble if they prefer. Looked like it had a licence – at least it had a servery 

for food.

On my way downtown I notice that I had walked past the Paramount.

This is where The Guess Who, a bunch of crazy guys from Canada, recorded Live at the Paramount and so a legend was born, the song “American Woman”. What an album – as soon as Hendrix ends I play The Guess Who.

Quickly get my first Starbucks “americano” and it isn’t great – what a surprise.

I pack up and start pushing my bags along to where I think my rental car place is, about five or six blocks away. People are on their way to work so it isn’t easy. When I get there, and the number on the building seems right, the guy looks up his order sheet and says no car for me.

I ask this is 4th Avenue, yes?

Turns out, Budget Rental ALSO has a place on 4th Avenue South, same road but a mile or two away from the city. “Downtown”???

I Uber there and the nice guy running the place asks me where I am going.

“Oh, Aberdeen, are you doing some Nirvana thing?” Yeah, that’s right I tell him. “And didn’t they make some film out there?” It was called Twilight, says I, but that is of less interest to me.

Bad news – he has run out of GPS cars. Good news – this is a Chrysler, so it works well with iPhones. “Google Maps is better than GPS anyway.”

Once I figure how to plug everything in I set sail for Renton Cemetery.

Renton is way out Southeast Seattle I the outskirts. I have a few issues with Google’s navigator, she doesn’t talk to me for so long I get off the route by accident. But one U turn later and I am here.

Apparently Jimi Hendrix’s dad didn’t have any money for a fancy grave, so his ashes were interred elsewhere but eventually funds did come forth and this where they decided to put Jimi. Nobody comes here much, the grounds man was on the far side of the cemetery gardening but it was a quiet Wednesday morning and I was alone.

This was a special moment.

Getting back on the freeway, I set Google for Aberdeen, had already decided not to get off at Olympia and check out the music scene there, but of course, stupid me had forgotten that Sleater-Kinney named themselves after a road.

How awesome is that?

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Day 1 continued, The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen

Boarding the United flight to Seattle, I get deja vue. There are a bunch of people near the back of the plane standing up and a technician trying to fix their seats. I am in the very last row, so have to squeeze past.

We had a similar experience leaving Rio de Janeiro – spent nearly a couple of hours on the tarmac waiting for the seat to be repaired.

But after a few minutes he leaves. And we are on our way.

Landing in Seattle, miraculously my bag has arrived as well. It is 13 degrees out and I order an Uber. Great signposting leads to a section of the airport carpark dedicated to  Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing services.

And, almost as soon as we leave the carpark and get on the freeway, it starts to rain.

We have a joke in our household that it is always raining in Seattle. It is certainly overcast, cool and not particularly spring like.

Check into the Roosevelt Hotel and immediately upgraded to a suite, it seems that it is easy getting deals here because it is undergoing major renovations! Actually while the noise is considerable down near the lobby, the upper floors are very quiet.

This is an outstanding hotel, even with the current work. The staff are super friendly, the rooms spectacular, sort of an Art Deco feel to it. I would certainly come back.

I get recommended to a pub, The Taproom, around the other side of the block. Taproom is a bustling basement joint, with pool tables, sport TVs at the bar, a function room out the back and supposedly “160 Beers On Tap”.

I order Green Flash West Coast IPA, which only comes in a 12 oz glass, so it isn’t cheap. But we cannot Green Flash in New Zealand, so I couldn’t pass it by.

On the recommendation of my server, the second beer, this time in a 16 oz “pint” glass, is Elysian Space Dust IPA, Seattle based, it is an excellent hophead beer.

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Day 1, Bruichladdich again

My journey to Washington, Oregon and beyond begins at Mangere International Airport (or as I more familiarly know it as Auckland International Carpark and Airport.) I check in and put my Dragons shirt on – unfortunately the best day for my flying to Seattle is Anzac Day and because of the time difference between NZ and Sydney, I won’t be able to get to see the second half of the Dragons-Roosters clash.

Meanwhile I stop and catch up with Carol Pearcy at Aelia Duty Free. You don’t always get as big a discount at Aelia as at the other places, but the NZ wine selection is the best of all of them, in part thanks to Carol’s presence.

But Carol gets me to taste some oddities from Bruichladfich first, including one called Octomore, which is reputedly the peatiest whisky on the market. It has a Parts Per Million rating on the side of the bottle to prove this. I don’t understand how this is a rating system, but I also don’t care: the liquor is nicely balanced between and malt and it is a very smooth drop considering it is also sold at 58%.

The flight is uneventful, save for the boarding where my seat is changed apparently to allow a couple to sit together. “It is a better seat anyway,” the airline rep promises, though I don’t really notice. It is incredibly uncomfortable, the button is broken so I can’t tilt my seat back, though of course the person in front can, so now I am squashed. I guess I should have called one of the Air NZ cabin crew over to sort out, but I somehow don’t think of that. Sitting at the back of the plane, one of (not the last) the last to get the meal, it is just thrown on the tray table, no discussion about the choice. Yes, they had that some people were not going to get a choice, but the crew member should still have told me what it was.

When we finally land at SFO, we are surprisingly on time.

Unfortunately although I booked my next flight to Seattle as part of the Air NZ booking, my bags are not checked through and so one has to negotiate the airport with heavy bags. Helpful information desk staff.

Flying United, who have the entire Terminal 3 to themselves. After the recent scandal, I was apprehensive about what was to come, but I needn’t have been.

They have automated checkin and, yes, you do have to pay US$25 for a checked bag. When I check in the system asks whether I want to upgrade to a standby ticket for the next available flight, leaving at 3.50pm, instead of the 7.28pm I have been booked on. Of course, nothing comes free and this will cost US$75. You put your credit card in the checkin machine and voila! it is done.

Through airport security and I start looking for a California beer, or wine, perhaps the last chance for a while. Eventually I find this fabulous wine bar, quite close to the departure gate for the 3.50pm.

This place is great. They have enomatics for their glass pours (and you can buy tasting flights too.) Craft beer on tap and by the bottle and you can even get some tasty, light meals. Everyone else has ordered something to eat, while I have just had breakfast (though this is now 2.30pm) and hence not hungry, the dishes all look great.

I manage to jam myself next to a dark, heavily set man at the bar. He strikes up a conversation, his name is Yuri and he speaks with an accent. He used to live in Chicago, but now lives in Seattle and he knows a surprising amount about wine. Used to be a Bordeaux collector (principally     Left Bank) but now “I drink American Pinot, it has more colour and approachability than Burgundy and I don’t spend so much on wine anymore, too many other interests, like skiing.”

I point out to Yuri that this bar is BYO.

At an airport terminal?

And behind the bar, there is a cheeky (and empty) bottle of Chateau Montelena Cabernet, one of America’s iconic wines, presumably a BYO.

It is impressive stuff.

Service is a little slow – so I only get time for one craft beer (21st Amendment Brew Free or Die! IPA) and one glass of wine (Kistler Les Noisettes Chardonnay – though the Dehlinger Chardonnay WAS very tempting.)

Yuri is waxing lyrical about the virtues of cannabis dispensaries and how marijuana is much better at getting you to sleep than alcohol. And these places are legal in the Pacific Northwest. He leaves to board and assures me that I will be in luck.

By the time I get to Gate 89, they are already boarding and they flash up the list of people on standby, there are like 25 people on it! Though I am in position number 6. Two people are bumped up from standby immediately, then one more and another. I get talking to a young lady who’s dad is a United pilot and she is trying to get home to Seattle using standby, but isn’t hopeful, down in thirteenth slot. I am no longer hopeful. But….

When all the queues clear, three names are called out, me in the middle. One young man is going through the gate at the same time, so poor Mister Seven is told to sit down. Then I and Mister Five are ushered down the ramp just a lady saunters up and asks if boarding has closed. And she is assured that, yes, it has indeed closed.

So – off to Seattle and I will be getting in three and a half hours early than scheduled.

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