Meeting Grace: Beginning a Life in Grenache with Angela Osborne
In the story Life Water for Chocolate, the young woman, Tita, channels her passion for life, and love through her cooking. The meals she makes for the ranch on which she lives become expressions of her feeling, received and experienced by those that eat. In this way, the dining table operates as a vessel for the elixirs that Tita generates–potions to reveal feelings of true love, and genuine grief, or to guide the recipient to the next stage of unfoldment on their life path. It is Tita’s devotion to the meals’ own fullest expression that generates such magic. Through Tita’s story, the reader witnesses the power that one woman’s attention may bring to the simple art of food; how an otherwise everyday process is opened into a case of fuller living.
So too Angela Osborne dedicates herself to cultivating the surroundings and conditions of the wine she helps bring to fruition. Her devotion is channeled through a grape she fell in love with in the United States–Grenache. Having been raised in New Zealand by a single mother, with the help of her grandmother, Osborne also traveled to the United States regularly to visit her father. However, it was not until into her 20s, after moving to California to live, that she witnessed the grape she fell in love with for the first time. Grenache does not grow in New Zealand.
In 2006 Osborne moved to California to shift from the rather citified life she’d had in London, England and instead get closer to more natural conditions along the California coast. The movie Like Water for Chocolate served as one of her inspirations–seeing the women living their passionate lives on a ranch made Angela ask what she was doing in such an urban environment. It was a lifestyle that did not so readily suit her. She’d worked at a wine retail shop in the southern portion of California several years prior and so, in moving back to the state, stepped in to help during their Christmas rush. The job was meant to simply be a short term jaunt while she readjusted to life in the States. Two weeks into her stint, they hosted a wine tasting celebrating the work of several small production Santa Barbara Grenache producers.
Osborne had tasted Grenache from Dry Creek Valley a few years before and was enthralled by the grape then, devising a long term goal for herself of making similar wine. At the time, she’d been unclear about how wine making operated in the United States, believing there to be far more necessary infrastructure than is actually required. As such, she’d expected that the idea of making Grenache really would be a life long project to pursue.
In 2006, while tasting Grenache in the wine tasting, Osborne took up a conversation with Russell P From, wine maker of Herman Story wines. In talking with From, Osborne discovered that much of California wine production actually occurs through what is called a Custom Crush facility–a wine making warehouse through which people essentially rent the space and equipment necessary to make wine. Additionally, she discovered that people rarely own their own vineyards, and instead contract a portion of grapes from which to then custom crush their wine. The information was an epiphany for her. Even better, however, From took to Osborne’s passion for Grenache and invited her to step in and try a vintage piggy backing, initially, on his already established vineyard and crush contracts. Within a few months of arriving back to the United States, then, Osborne was already taking the first steps to fulfilling her dream of making Grenache like she’d tasted from Dry Creek Valley, and starting her label A Tribute to Grace.
Cultivating Grace: Making Grenache
In making Grenache, Osborne dedicates herself to developing, and holding a conscious awareness of the wine’s surroundings, and also the wines particular needs. From this perspective, the wine is more than simply a chemical process arising out of grapes. It is also a sort of conduit through which expression and experience can be passed. More than simply a vehicle for the wine maker’s devotion, however, the wine carries its own presentation, larger than what the wine maker can predict or control. To honor the sort of life that the wine has, ultimately independent of the wine maker, depends on striking a delicate balance of making choices as a wine maker, on the one hand, while surrendering to forces beyond one’s control at exactly the same time. Osborne brings into her wine making practices a balance of this sort of surrender to the wine’s own processes, alongside her own grounded intuition for what the wine may need to come to fruition. Each vintage, as a result, has offered its own opportunity for Osborne to experiment and learn new techniques in wine making, while carrying a familial resemblance in the wine across vintages at the same time.
2008, for example, was a riper year. A wine maker friend and mentor checked the grapes with Osborne after she picked them. He warned her that she was going to need to use additives to control the juice or the resulting wine would simply be too alcoholic, and undrinkable. Osborne steers clear of chemical interventions with her wine, but his suggestion that she could add distilled water to the grapes did catch her attention. Panicked that she may lose her work for that year she rushed to the hardware store at the end of an already long day, looking for 42 gallons of distilled water to pour in with the grapes. The local shop of the small town, however, only had one gallon. Unsure of what to do, Osborne returned home to sleep, and find her solution in the morning. But, before going to sleep, she surrendered her worries to the powers that be. To find the answer to what she needed, Osborne said a kind of prayer. Aloud she announced the trouble she had–she needed to figure out how to deal with the problem of the potential alcohol levels in the wine, and with no distilled water in the area there were no apparent answers to her trouble. In admitting she didn’t know what to do, she also surrendered the concern, saying she gave the solution over to higher good–that whatever is for the best here be what happens. Then she went to sleep. In the middle of the night, Osborne woke up. The skies had opened up and a massive rainstorm was coming down through the entire region. She realized she’d left her freshly picked grapes outside in their foot stomping bins covered only with mesh. In the morning, when she went to check the fruit, about a foot of rain water had filled each bin. Having found what she needed, she pressed the rain water into the wine with the grapes. The resulting wine holds an alcohol level consistent with each of the other vintages Osborne has produced.
Osborne’s wine making also includes a great degree of sharing and celebration. She regularly invites friends to foot stomp the grapes with her (2008 the foot stomp even occurred on Halloween in costume), and she generally tends to the wine playing her music of that vintage. In addition to incorporating her friendships and musical tastes into her wine making process, Osborne also pays close attention to biodynamic practices, respecting lunar effects on the fruit when she harvests, presses, racks, or bottles. (We tasted the wines with her and Jason on a fruit day, for those of you wondering, and each of the wines was lovely–more on the tasting tomorrow.) While being closely involved in these aspects of the conditions that surround the wine as it is produced, at the same time Osborne seems to allow the wine its privacy in the barrel, refusing to impose techniques that would otherwise push the wine, rather than allow it to unfold on its own. This is not to say that she is entirely low-fi in her choices. Osborne generally incorporates two new oak barrels into her regime each year, thereby maintaining a low level of spice and tannin influence in the wine from oak. She also utilizes very low levels of sulfur to help the wine maintain stability at bottling.
Living Grace: Angela and Jason Osborne
Completing a degree in Film from the University of Auckland, Angela worked in a wine shop in the same city just to pay the bills. Though the space happened to be one of the best shops in Auckland, Angela’s interest with the work did not extend beyond a job at the time. She enjoyed selling wine, but it wasn’t a long term interest.
When she announced that she was leaving her job to seek out work making documentary films, Brent Maris, a wine maker from Marlborough paid Angela a visit. Disappointed she was leaving work in wine, he told her that the industry needed her. Passion like hers is rare, he said. To prove he meant it, he offered to help Angela find a job working for a winery over seas–perhaps she simply needed time out of New Zealand. Determined instead to pursue her film career, Angela put a deadline on the offer, and told Maris that if she hadn’t found a film job within six months she’d take him up on the suggestion. A week before the deadline was up Maris had found Angela a job with a winery in the United States working harvest, and she’d found a film job running errands for a filming crew. Putting the two offers side by side, she realized the wine opportunity made more sense, and so began what, without realizing it, would be a career in wine .
Prior to leaving New Zealand, another wine maker that Angela knew from the shop invited her to meet a friend of his on a blind date. Angela and the wine maker had talked often enough that he had a feeling his friend would suit Angela quite well romantically. Willing to take the leap, Angela agreed to the date and found herself happily involved in a relationship. She’d already decided to leave New Zealand with other plans, however, and so after two months of dating, Angela moved from the island, leaving her boyfriend to continue his already well established life there. After, they were able too to remain in loose contact as friends.
Five and a half years later, Angela returned to the island to accompany her mother during her mom’s wedding ceremony. Living in California at that time, Angela arrived in New Zealand without a date to the celebration, and so her mother offered to secure Angela a ‘plus-one’ with one of her old friends. Angela decided to go ahead and take her mom up on the offer. Arriving in New Zealand, Angela discovered, her old boyfriend, Jason, the blind date, was the person her mom had set her up with for the ceremony. Finding themselves happy to reconnect in person, Angela and Jason spent their time together during Angela’s visit in New Zealand. Within a year, their dating developed into them marrying, and Jason moving back to California. Now they work together in California in wine, where Jason also continues his cranio-sacral body work practice.
I asked Jason about the experience. He tells me that he’d known since the first time they dated that Angela was who he wished to spend his life with but that his only opportunity to be with her would come through his willingness to wait until they were both ready. The way he describes this, I have to say, I believe him.
Together, Jason and Angela now dedicate themselves to their Tribute to Grace. Their ultimate goals include continuing to cultivate their Grenache varietal from the Santa Barbara Highlands, while also taking advantage of the alternating harvest times between California and New Zealand. Their intention is to bring Jason’s cranio-sacral body work to a vineyard location to combine their life in wine and the healing arts with a space that people can visit and do retreat. In doing so, they’d like to begin to make a New Zealand wine, while continuing to make their Santa Barbara Highlands Grenache.
Katherine and I were lucky enough to share an evening with Jason and Angela that included the first full vertical tasting of A Tribute to Grace that they’ve hosted. I am so grateful. Tomorrow I’ll post a write-up of the wines.
If you’re interested in seeing the previous post on Angela as the Wine Maker Superhero Justice VIII, you can view the post here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/06/30/wine-maker-superhero-angela-osborne-as-viii-strength-tarots-major-arcana-woman-in-tune/
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