Category Archive: Wine Thoughts

5 Wines You Should Stay Away From

Posted on September 10, 2018

People are always writing about what to drink, what’s hot and what is the most unique.  This is helpful, but can be overwhelming with a new product hitting the market every week.  I think more than anything, people don’t want to make poor choices. Let me help you out. This is my list of 5 wines you should stay away from. Sorry if I insult anyone, it is not my intention. It’s my blog and my personal opinion. You can take it or leave it (in the comment section).

5 wines you should stay away from


1)  Butter and Jam

Any wine whose label gives you the illusion of what it is going to taste like. There are laws against calling a wine fruity or jammy. TTB says that it is misleading consumers. There are brands walking on a fine line with this by calling their wines Butter or Jam. I guess what really annoys me is that wine should taste like wine. This means it should have fruit, acidity, tannin and hopefully in balance. Great winemakers strive to do this every year through farming and wine making techniques. But wines like Butter, are manipulated so the wine resembles a wine aged in 100% new oak which has gone through malo-lactic fermentation. Instead they are manipulated so that they have such flavors and textures, what a disservice to the heart and soul of winemakers around the world.  Jam is a wine pushing the boundary of ripeness though the laboratory and giving adults a kid friendly wine. We should stay far from them.

expensive napa cab

2)  $500 bottles of Napa Cab

Try a $35, a $50, a $100 and a $500 bottle of Napa Cab. Blind taste them and tell me which is the $500 bottle. It is absurd that some of these wines warrant that high of a bottle cost.  Just because the owners decided to pour millions into their pet project, does not mean that their wines are worth the price tag.  Let the wealthy elites waste their money on over priced wines that taste the same. In the meantime, if you want a new world style wine with a bang buy a $35 bottle of exquisite high elevation Malbec from Mendoza, or a single vineyard sites in Chile, or an old vine Grenache from Australia on its own root stock.

red blends

3)  Red blends

Okay not every  red blend, but those mass produced red blends with some kitschy name on the front label and where the back label reads “vinted and bottled by”. These are massive wine corporations trading left over juice with each other and trying to squeeze every last drop of potential profits into the bottle. Someone had under ripe Merlot, they give it to someone that had over ripe Cabernet and sold it to someone that had Pinot which never finished fermenting.  Put them altogether and viola, “Barbed Wire”, “Apothic” or any “Trader Joe’s Red” is born. These wines use labels to sell themselves. The labels deceive you into thinking it is is big, robust, tannic red wine but in reality are flimsy, over-ripe sweet wines. They lack integrity. Wine has evolved over centuries trying to prefect techniques, procedures and regulations with intent to get the best product into the bottle. But now with profits driving the industry, quality wines take a back seat to Wall Street wine makers branding grape juice.

Bourbon barrels

4)  Bourbon barrel aged wines

If you have not had one of these wines, and you are looking for elegance and balance, then you are in the wrong place. For years winemakers have been trying to reach optimal grape ripeness while balancing alcohol levels.  The goal is to have fruit minus the hot and overwhelming warmness on the palate. Many might agree or disagree the top wines of the world are “Robert Parker” wines, which are ripe and push higher alcohol levels. Where ever you stand on this style of wine, they are still drinkable and in balance. Sometimes one does not know they are drinking a 15.5% wine. Which is a good thing, the alcohol is not overwhelming and the wine remains in balance. Now with Bourbon barrel aged wines, and you change the concept of balance. These wines are boozy, one can feel a headache coming on just by taking a whiff. Worst of all, producers making bourbon barrel aged wines use poor quality juice. Instead of using “Parker” juice which may be able to take on this added boozy oak aging they choose juice left over by the Wall Street wine makers. The best way to describe this experience is like driving a Suzuki on 4 spare tires with a Charger engine. NO BALANCE

Cheap Pinot Noir

5) Pinot Noir Under $10

I am always looking for a value wine, hence I do not buy $500 bottles of Napa Cab. However, I also have dignity. Pinot Noir is one of those grapes which lets you know what side of the tracks it comes from. One can manipulate and mix it but if they are not quality grapes, the wine will never become affluent. Most of these wines do not taste like Pinot Noir but fruity insipid wines. Pinot Noir should have vibrant acidity, touch of floral aromas, burst with red fruits and it takes the right amount of oak really well.  Throw oak chips into it and it is like an 8 year old girl putting in make up.  If you are going to enjoy Pinot Noir, splurge a bit. Save the value brands for Malbec.

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Employees are Key to a Restaurant’s Success

Posted on August 24, 2018

Reflection on the blog post in video minute 13:00-17:00

Most people do not realize how vital the restaurant industry is to US economy. It is a 799 Billion dollar industry, double that of Hollywood. The alcohol business is a 300 billion dollar industry. Restaurants provide jobs for 15 million people, that is 1 in 10 workers in the US.  One out of two people at some point has worked in a restaurant. For every dollar spent on food, whether it be grocery store, farmer markets or online; restaurants make up 48%, back in 1955 we spent only 25% in restaurants. This means that more and more people are going out to eat, two times more than in the 1950’s, which was the dawn of fast food.  In 2000 there were 160.1 restaurants per 100,000 people. Today there are 189.8 per 100,000 US residents. All of these statistics show us that the business is continuing to grow which means more competition.

Along with more competition restaurants are facing some challenging obstacles.  The labor pool is a lot smaller than it had been in the past. Some reasons are tied to recent policy changes such as,  not hiring illegal immigrants, not having people who want to do the work, and in many areas wages are not inline with the cost of living in those cities. Retaining good employees is difficult and if there are more and more restaurants opening, the need for more labor is crucial. “The grass is always greener”, is the mentality of most restaurant workers. Many people jump from job to job in search of the perfect job guaranteeing $200 or more in tips each night. With more competition, this is getting more and more difficult to find as the consumers are spread thin throughout this growing industry.

The consumer is also changing. Baby boomers liked to go out and splurge on dinner, they sat in steakhouses and ordered wines. The Gen Xer was a mixed breed, some going out, some looking for value and many looking for restaurants through a health conscious lens. The Gen X generation was one of a small population, if it was not for immigrants during those decades, our economy could have had a worse crash from the lack of consumers in the population. Today we have Millennials doing most of the dining. They are making dining choices in a different fashion. They want to try something new, they are not loyal to brands and are willing to experiment. This generation is looking for personalized experiences when going out to eat.

In order for restaurants to stay competitive in today’s market, it is no longer enough to have good product, good cocktail programs, inexpensive prices or great ambiance. A restaurant today cannot open the doors without hitting all those points. They now have to go one step further, and that is create a personalized experience for the guest. Now these experiences come from not just the owner’s concept but from the employees they hire. Owners and managers need to make sure that they have a happy, energetic and hospitality driven work force. It is the employees that know how to provide an experience, it is the employee that needs to go to the next level. When a restaurant can build a strong team, then the restaurant will succeed.

Key to success is investing in the staff. Restaurants need to create an environment where employees are excited to come to work. They need avenues to make money, whether it be empowering them to create specials for the night, provide special dining experiences or allow them to show off their personalities. People go to eat in places where the staff is engaged and has a sense of ownership. In this day in age, managers and owners are bogged down with cost of labor and forget to invest back into that labor. The goal is to have a labor force that finds it easy to make money. They are then motivated to promote the restaurant and its brand.

The video above goes more into detail about myself and what I hope to accomplish with my teams.


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WINE LIST POLL: What is the Perfect Wine List?

Posted on May 23, 2018

Wine List Poll



The budget watcher list is the list which lists the wine by price point.  The least expensive wines are at the top and the most expensive at the bottom.  I guess this sort of list is great for those people going out on a blind date, because you can watch your date’s eyes and see just how important this date to them?  If their eyes are at the top of the menu, then you know your date has no interest in a second date.  If their eyes go straight to the bottom, then “good on you”, they are interested.

The budget watcher wine list is classic, but a bit boring.  It reminds me of a wine list for a Chinese restaurant, a list where a restaurant does not put too much thought into its list. However, as a consumer, the list lets you shop by price.  And let’s be honest, wines can get ridiculously expensive.  NOTES: CLASSIC, CONSUMER FRIENDLY, LACKS INGENUITY

Budget wine list


This is similar to the wine list which lists by prices. However it is different in that there are only three price categories.  The wine is either $20/btl, $30/btl or over $40/btl.  Here the restaurant would rather get rid of all those different dollar amounts and sell the wine in groups of value. We had a restaurant with this format, it is close today. The issue was people had many options in the low end section that they did not want to upgrade. This is really meant for the value seeking people. NOTES: CONSUMER FRIENDLY, BRINGS IN THE CHEAP SCAPES



Seems pretty straight forward, but is it best to alphabetize by grape, region or producer? This makes  a lot of since especially for the servers. Listed in some sort of alphabetical order allows the server to easily find their favorite wines on the list more easily.  It is also easy for the guest especially if they now what they want.  NOTES: PRACTICAL, NOT CREATIVE


There are lists which list every detail of the wine. They tell you the region, the aspect of the vineyard, where the winemaker went to school and then they tell you how it tastes. Way too much info. This is great for IPAD wine lists, because you can get that in info by clicking on the wine of interest, but on a printed menu it is way too much. NOTE: INTERESTING, SAVE IT FOR THE LIBRARY


Not sure why I do not like these lists. I guess I don’t want people telling me how something tastes, since taste is so subjective. I just don’t like to read people’s descriptions. Many people like this, but I think it also turns off people who may not like a flavor the author writes down. Many a times I have heard people refuse a wine because the aroma descriptor said cherries, and they don’t like cherries. Come on people, wines are made of grapes!  *NOTE: WINE LISTS DON’T NEED TRAINING WHEELS

*FOOTNOTE: Maybe I would be keen on this kind of list if it read:

Sauvignon Blanc, Spy Valley, Marlborough, NZ  42

Intense aroma, High acidity, Medium Alcohol


Many lists are formatted so that you have a white wine section, then a sub section of Chardonnay with the list of Chardonnays listed by price or alphabetical order. Some lists may break it down into sections, and instead group the Chardonnays by weight or style. They may start with un-oaked, to neutral barrel all the way to 100% new oak and 100% full malo. This sort of list takes a lot work and requires a dedicated sommelier to group and regroup as new wines are added. This too, is excellent for servers. However, probably best for guests who are looking to find something new in a style they like. NOTE: DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN, EASY TO NAVIGATE



I like listing wines by region. It makes sense for people who know wine. They look at the region and know the style of wine that region produces. The only problem is when we get to new vs old world wines. If you have California wines, the region may not be as important as the grape. Listing all Napa wines in one section can get pretty confusing. However, it seems to work for the old world wines. Listing Barolo, Barbaresco, Rioja, Bordeaux etc… makes sense. But what do you do when you get to non DO/DOC/AOP wines? How do you list a Chardonnay from Vin de Pays or a Grenache from the South of France? You don’t want to put the IGT, but rather the grape, correct?  It doesn’t make sense to read a list that has Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Rioja, Priorat and Vin de Pays. NOTE: YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR WINE IS FROM, MAY NOT READ WITH CONSISTENCY


Some lists create sections based on intensity. Beginning with light bodied crisp wines of low intensity such as Muscadet and Pinot Grigio then moving to medium bodied wines with more intensity all the way to higher ABV whites with high intensity.  My main issue is when management wrongly lists wines to make way for aesthetics.  These lists require a well-trained somm to keep it organized. Many times a somm may start the list, that somm moves on to another job and the list is taken over by another manager with less experience. NOTES: AS LONG AS IT IS ACCURATE, MAKES FOR A GOOD WAY OF SELECTING YOUR WINE


What about writing the list like a beer menu?  Beer lists show producer, region, style, abv, ibus and price. It allows the guest to know what their beer is going to taste like. Why not do the same with wine list. Here is an example:

White: Chardonnay

Ferrari Carano | Sonoma | 2015 |100% New Oak | 3.4 PH | RS .5  $60

Liquid Farm | Santa Barbara | 2015 | Used/Partial New | 3.2 PH | RS .04  $65

Morgan “Steel” | Santa Lucia Highlands | 2016 | Steel | 3.3 PH | RS .15  $45

I have not tried this yet, but may be worth a try.



Let’s take the beer menu idea even further, and strip the wine list down to the bare bones. What do you think about a wine list which looks like this? Just the type of wine; red, white, sparkling. No brand name, just the grape or region. I have seen these in pubs, but not in restaurants. Maybe it would work. Take all the pretentiousness and expectations out of wine and just say what it is. Imagine a list like this I removed the name of the wineries and regions of an already bare bones list to give you an example.




Here is a fun and cool wine list for a small restaurant. You can make your list into an infographic. I borrowed the image below from Wine Folly, but imagine using something like this with the name of dishes you serve at the top and in each bottle you write the wines on your menu. Could be cool. NOTE: VERY MILLENIAL

I guess at the end of the day what really matters is what is on the list rather than how it is listed. That being said, how do you prefer to read a wine list? I’d love to hear your comments.

Mark your favorite wine list format




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Full Disclosure: Additives in Wine

Posted on May 9, 2017

additives in wine

I have taught at San Diego State University’s Business of Wine Program for several years. During my California Wine Intensive course, I always talk about reading the back label of a wine to have a better understanding of how involved in the production was the winery.  Was it “cellared and bottled by”, “produced and bottled by” or “estate grown, produced & bottled by”?  They get a kick out of seeing how many labels we see in the market place which have very little to do with growing grapes or even making the wine.  The TTB mandates that the front label displays the type of grapes, where they come from, when harvested and the alcohol level. On the back label they tell us how much involvement the winery had in the production process.  However, the back label omits something very important; what was added during production.

Why is wine so different from other consumer goods? Why isn’t wine held to the same requirements other packaged goods must adhere?  There are two sides to this argument.  Wine makers would have to change labels every vintage.  The additives and additions change from vintage to vintage. Most of the additives added are harmless. Stricter labeling laws would result in higher priced wines. On the other side of the argument, people want to know what is in the bottle. Were there any additives or flavorings added to the product?  In the mind of most people, wine is a natural product and it is what it is, fermented grape juice aged in oak.  Only if that was the truth.  Unfortunately, most wines are full of additives.  Granted most additives are there to improve the wine.

In 1987 wineries were forced to mention the use of sulfites, people magically developed headaches and allergies and blamed sulfites.  Sulfites have always been in wine to prevent bacteria growth. Amounts used vary from region to region and producer to producer.  When it became required to list on the label, people’s buying habits changed. Most did not care, but others whom were more sensitive, started to look at bottles to see if the wine contained sulfites. I guess we can say they became wiser consumers. Of course we know that the headaches are alcohol related and not so much from sulfites.  Funny thing is even though alcohol level is on the label, most do not read it. They would rather blame chemicals for their discomfort.

Consumers are very worried about ingesting non conventional chemicals.  Most consumers have no idea what goes into a bottle of wine. Just when they were trying to get our heads around sulfites, here are some other additives we may see in wine: yeasts, tannins, bentonite, dried fish bladder, gelatins, egg whites, sugar, tartaric acid, malic acid, lactic acid, calcium carbonate, acetaldehyde, dimethyl dicarbonate, mega purple, oak chips, pvpp, potassium sorbate and the list goes on. Many of these additives might seem familiar since they are in a lot of our packaged foods.  We have become used to reading the back of labels and are okay when we see the word “calcium” or “potassium”, we don’t bat an eye.  But mega purple? This is why I don’t buy Velveta cheese it has apocarotenal coloring. Some of these additives help stabilize wines and are an important part of wine making.  However, others are there to modify wine or rather, improve poor quality wines. Kind of like the coloring added to Velveta, used to improve the color of poor quality cheese stuff.

Worst case scenario is when the two buck chucks of the world use fining agents that release arsenic into the wines.  How many people would still buy a $2 wine if the label said “some ingredients are known to cause cancer” and in bold letters arsenic. Safe or unsafe, consumers have the right to know what is in the bottle. I think its time for full disclosure in the wine industry.  Let people make wiser decisions when buying wines. Hold wine companies accountable for trying to sell us swill by modifying with additives and slapping on an eye-catching label. It would also make producers of expensive wines focus on production in the vineyards and not the laboratory.

In my opinion if it is served in a package, then let us know what is in the package.  We have a right to know. I don’t care if you modify the wine so that it fits a certain flavor profile, but let us know you are doing it. Otherwise we will think that Pinot Noir is supposed to be purple.  Hopefully one day we can read the back label and know who, when, where and how the wine was produced. Where do you stand on this?



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The Immigration of Alcohol

Posted on March 30, 2017

 Immigration and what we drink

Immigration is a hot topic in the media today.  My entire family were immigrants and look at us today, well integrated and contributing to society.  I cannot stand aside and keep quite when I hear the rhetoric of how immigrants are destroying America.  I will prove to you that without immigration we would not be enjoying what we enjoy most, alcoholic drinks.  Here is a quick look at the history of alcohol and immigration and how it influenced our society, politics and  traditions.

It is believed that the first alcoholic beverage was discovered by monkeys when they drank fermented date palms. Those monkeys soon realized that the world was a much better place to live in once they chewed on those dates. Ever since then humans have used alcohol for similar reasons, to improve the quality of life. At first it was essential, water was not palatable and fermented grain water and grape juice was. It also supplied carbohydrates, antibiotics (as discovered in the bones of mummies in Egypt) and of course made us happy. The first sign of fermented beverages were in the Caucasus mountains (where the Caucasian people came from), today known as the area of Georgia just north of  Turkey and Iran. Mesopotamia eventually had the first city states which arrived from agriculture which was linked to farming grains for beer and bread.

caucasus Mtn

As centuries went on, migrants from Phoenicia, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece Carthage and Rome passed through these areas changing alcohol forever.  The Greeks were immigrants from the isle of Greece and brought wine to the Mediterranean regions of Italy, Spain and France. The Romans immigrated to northern Italy and learned wine making from the Etruscan, they went on to migrate throughout the European continent spreading vines, oak barrels and roads on which to spread more juice. They also learned from the Northern barbarians how to brew beer, mead and cider. They introduced wine to the Germanic tribes and Gauls.

Distillation was first discovered in Pakistan. It was perfected in Arabia buy Muslims. The Moors migrated to Spain and with them brought distillation. Celtic immigrants in Northern Spain were booted from the country and pushed north to Whales and Scotland where they invented whiskey. The English migrated to Portugal and Spain where they found sherry and Madeira. Madeira became the staple for England’s major migration throughout India, Caribbean and America. The wine lasted long voyages and traveled well, it kept the English alive and drinking.

east india co

What about illegal immigration? What I mean is slavery. This is really the only real illegal immigration that ever existed. Africans pulled away from their lands and brought against their will to the islands of Barbados to make Rum. Rum became the spirit which changed the world. English plantation owners planted sugar cane, sold the sugar to England (eventually destroying the massive Madeira sugar trade by under pricing sugar) and with sugar’s waste, known as molasses created rum. Plantation owners of Barbados became the first Tycoons. Those tycoons returned to England and built porter breweries, forever changing beer. Rum made it’s way to the Americas where immigrants known as pilgrims were trying to make a go of it with beer and whiskey. Unfortunately grains were difficult to grow, rum was easy to produce and it became the drink of the colonists. England’s taxation on sugar, molasses and rum eventually led to the War of Independence.


Following the War of Independence, Americans stopped drinking rum.  They turned to those Scottish and Irish immigrants who were producing whiskey in the back woods. Whiskey eventually became the American spirit. However, there was a temperance movement starting up in the early 1800’s which outlawed the sale of liquor. It did not last long, immigrants were smart and found loop holes. For example, instead of selling liquor they would sell a show and serve liquor for free. The temperance movement did not last long. There were more immigrants on the way to put an end to it.


The US was hit by massive German immigration known as the 48ers. These German immigrants brought with them the lager. The beer that changed the world. No longer were people drinking heavy stale ales, but fresh light low ABV lagers. These Germans became barons and the first lobbyist. They used their wealth to help change laws. They created the income tax, allowing them to win favor from the government. The US Government did not impede on there business and left them alone to produce beer, it was handsomely rewarded through taxation. The Germans brought with them the beer garden, a place for families to get together and spend Sunday afternoons. As the Barons become wealthier, beer gardens became theme parks. If it weren’t for immigrants we would not have America’s favorite past time, roller coasters and carnivals.

beer barons

The down side was the temperance movement had almost a century to organize and latched on to anti immigration mantras as scare tactics. WWI gave rise to this new movement and with it came anti-German sentiments. Whiskey was a problem. The beginning of the industrial revolution brought stress to family life. The poor working conditions and low wages combined with the abuse of men drinking whiskey, led to a lot of spousal and child abuse. Rather than demonizing whiskey, it was easier to demonize beer since it was made by Germans. It was easier to get people to hate the German’s than it was to hate American whiskey. This anti immigration scare tactics led to the darkest times in our lives, PROHIBITION. No alcohol for 13 years.


It took another immigrant force to make a change. The Cuban and Italian immigrants. Cuba became the place for wealthy Americans to go and have a drink. Cubans saw that there was a need for liquor in the US. Most of the US distilleries closed and those that remained opened were forced to produce alcohol for medicinal use.  Their limited production was not enough to feed the rise of many speakeasies and under ground drinking joints.  Rum was easy to bring from Cuba. The Italian immigrants being wise business people, took the lead with bootlegging. Hence the rise of the Mafia’s power. This bootlegging led to the resurgence of Rum in America. after prohibition, whiskies still needed to age, and rum was readily available. And so was the only drink that prospered from prohibition, Coca Cola. It was a no-brainer, the Cuba Libre. We later saw Hollywood jump on the rum wagon and Tiki became they thing. Cocktail bars pooped up, Elvis goes to Hawaii and Gilligan gets stranded on an island.

tiki era

Prohibition ends, and WWII begins. Instead of being able to produce grains for beer and whisky we had to produce grain for the war effort. Not only was rum an obvious choice, but so were grapes. However, WWII brought its own discrimination against immigrants. This time the Asians. The fact that we were at war with Japan, meant that at home we were at war with the yellow people. Up to this time, the grunt work force were the Chinese. We needed a new grunt worker. So we opened the doors to Mexico and invited a new worker through the Bracero program. These Mexican workers were temporary workers. Eventually Mexicans from southern Mexico made there way north and gave rise to to our border towns. This work force also gave rise to wine in America. Without the Mexican we would not be able to enjoy Napa Cabs.

bracero program

These immigrants also brought with them a new spirit, Tequila. Tequila was easy to get. Whiskeys need time to mature and whiskey was not readily available. Tequila was ideal. It soon became the drink of colleges and fraternities. And to this day everyone has a tequila story. The tequilas of this time were pretty awful. This is why people bit in to a lime and licked salt so that they could cover up the taste. Tequila has changed drastically, so please, do not ruin today’s Tequilas with lime and salt. And the only reason you have a tequila story is because you shot it, so please take your time when drinking Tequila and sip it.

Although Vodka is really not directly related to Russian immigrants, it is today’s most order spirit. It came to fashion during the cold war when Americans took an interest to the taboo. Wasn’t it strange that we were allies in the two World Wars, and immediately following them we became mortal enemies. Then there was all this anti-communism banter, which only made us more inquisitive. Our best marketing firms new how to sell vodka. They sold it as the “breathless” spirit, meaning that you can go on your lunch break shoot back a few martinis and return to work without anyone noticing it on your breath.


Okay, it might not be related to immigration but it does make me think that whenever America has an enemy in the world, it might be good to see what they drink. So far all our enemies and unwanted immigrants have given us something to drink which I would never want to return. Today we are back where we started, political leaders preaching anti-Muslim rhetoric. Let me remind you that if it was not for these non-drinking people, we would not have liquor today.

muslim distillation

This brief look at the history of  alcohol brings to light the importance of immigration. Immigrants are looking to better themselves. When a person’s frame of mind is one of improvement and forward thinking, only good things can come. It is rather those that feel that they are entitled to something with out working for it that effect us in a negative way. Be aware of anti immigration rhetoric and look back through history and see what immigrants have accomplished. America not a melting pot where we melt into one sticky gooey homogenized fondue. America is but a punch bowl.  Some of us are limes, some of us sugar, others water, and the rest of us are different fruits; each ingredient makes the drink more complex and delicious.

 “Our national drug is alcohol. We tend to regard any other drug with extreme horror” – William Burroughs

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Frankin D. Roosevelt

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