Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, Likely in California

On the Western ridge overlooking Lake Sonoma stands the oldest known Madrone in Sonoma County, believed to be the oldest in all of California. The tree is over 300-years old and measures approximately 11 1/2 feet in diameter about the base. In such remarkable state, it’s registered a Heritage Tree, which means it stands as a protected growth, treated and maintained only by those certified by the county to handle treasured plants.

Madrone do not typically spread so wide at their base, instead usually growing up for a distance before then branching into an open canopy. But the heritage Madrone grows at a curve where the crest turns into the slope of a hill. It is believed that because of its position at the arc of a slope the structure of its trunk started differently than others might.

In 1995 I happened into a seminar on past life regressions being led by a woman skilled in what she called “Vibrational Healing.” Generally curious I decided to participate, and then found out she also needed someone to demonstrate her techniques on for the group. I volunteered. Though deeply skeptical that I even had past lives to explore, I was also quite willing to experience the process directly and share in the intimacies of what was discovered.

Since I’d practiced meditation before, the Vibrational Healer was able to bring me into a conscious trance state easy enough. After guiding me through the initial steps, the Healer began asking me questions to move me through the reality of my previous incarnation and discover together who I was.

During the question process I simply remember feeling a deep, grounded, incredible calm. The kind of consistent steadiness in the feeling persisted through the duration of the regression experience for me. The Healer would ask me questions about the life I was experiencing and within that steady calm I would answer. Every step of the way I felt an incredible ease. As we moved through the stages of the life I could also feel nuances of other lives around me–other beings alive near me–but the entire experience was marked by a lack of visual stimulation and little focus too on sound. At times I could see the color of things moving, but it was like I felt the movement more than saw it.

I found out later that this steady calm I was feeling was actually coupled with a long period of low level anxiety for the Healer, and a sense of uncertainty for those observing. It turned out the way I was responding to the session, both in terms of the slowness of my responses, and the kinds of answers I was giving, were unlike anything the Healer had experienced before, or read about, after more than 30-years “in the business.” While I was pleasantly relaxed in my steady state, others in the room were perplexed. I could feel a sense of their confusion from within the trance I was in but more than that was a clarity that it wasn’t something to worry about. The confusion would work itself out, and in the meantime all of us were quite okay. We could just continue as we were, okay. The overall feeling was carved by that combined sense of knowing my own state, while understanding at the same time we were all together. Whatever we happened to be doing both were true–I was simply me, and we were in it all together.

Finally, the Healer decided she had to ask me a direct question. None of the tricks she had to sorting out when in history, or what sort of person I was had worked. So, at last she simply asked if I was human. In my happy calm, I laughed and said, no. Still perplexed, she asked me if I was an animal (she told me later people often regress to animal past lives), again, I said no. Finally after some series of questions I told her that of course, yes, I knew who and what I was. I was a tree. It hadn’t occurred to me to worry or say such a thing until this point in the session. I also knew I wasn’t an oak, but I had a shape kind of like one, with bark like oak in places. There were berries instead of little nuts, and I’d helped grow many small ones [younger trees]. I told the Healer that because my human self didn’t know the name my kind of tree, I wouldn’t be able to name it for them then.

The Healer told me later she’d never had someone regress to a tree, nor even heard of anyone having a past life as a tree. By the end of the session, we also discovered that my life as a tree was actually still existing. Though my tree had started its life long before my human had, the two of us were coexisting. We were in our lives together, even if we hadn’t met. In that sense, my tree life wasn’t a past life at all, but a concurrent one. Whatever may happen through the rest of my life, there was always a tree-me out there somewhere.

The steady calm I felt during that session was a gift that stayed with me. Whatever else I may think of the idea of past lives, or past life regressions, that feeling is something I’ve always been grateful for. I have to admit too in some weird way I draw strength from imagining I could be living two lives simultaneously, and endless humor in thinking that while Shirley McClaine is lucky enough to have been Cleopatra, I get to be a Madrone near the California coast.

The Heritage Madrone resides on the Gustafson Estate about 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean, looking over the intersection point of the Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile AVAs. It’s one of the loveliest trees I’ve had the fortune to meet, a bonus in the midst of visiting vineyard sites and interviewing people in wine.

Folk viticultural knowledge tells us that Madrone are markers for a good place to grow grapes. In the right place Madrone grow deep and steady roots, but require good drainage in the midst of an available water table. That is, they grow where water is provided but doesn’t pool, much like what grape vines need.

A few weeks into November I’ll be doing a series on the Dry Creek Valley AVA. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a range of interesting sites, and to interview people important to the history of the AVA as well over these last few weeks. In the meantime, for Halloween, I thought I’d share a bit of silliness and good fortune–the haunt of a spirit older than any of us, the Heritage Madrone.

Cheers! Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

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It is Champagne Day, Everybody!

My favorite thing: champagne.

All over the world today there are events planned of people getting together to drink wines from that special chalky region of France that makes such lovely bubbles.

Ever wonder how they do it? Here’s a comic that goes over the basic steps of Methode Traditionnelle, or Champenoise.

click on comic to enlarge

There are also various requirements regarding time spent on lees to add richness of texture and flavor (residual yeast left after fermentation), and overall aging. But the comic gets at the big steps of the production process.

Following are a few graphic tasting notes of some favored champagnes.

Champagne Reviews

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Plans tonight?

Remarkably, I’ve never drawn reviews for some of my very favorite champagnes. I’ve made a point of drinking grower’s champagnes often (the wine itself is done by the person that also grows the grapes, something not all that common in the region, as most grapes are sold for wine made at a higher production level than grower’s champagne implies). My sister and I started the project years ago, and sharing in it with her has added to the rich sweetness of the experience.

Plans for tonight? If I had my way I’d share each of the Egly-Ouriet champagnes tonight with friends and loved ones.

I hope you enjoy your Champagne day!


Want to learn more about champagne–the region and the wine? You couldn’t do better than Peter Liem’s Champagne Guide. The site is well worth visiting, and subscribing to. Check it out here:

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Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine”

My copy of Eric Asimov’s How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto has already been filled with folded down corners and marks on pertinent sections. The pencil appears where he shares ideas I want to reflect on further–like his consideration that a great wine moves in “a fragile ambiguity” offering experiences of doubt and tension (48). The dog ears hover over moments of prose I find enticing and beautiful. There is a sort of almost incongruity in this, as Asimov’s writing here focuses on a central thesis–wine is for ease and pleasure. Along with that thesis, is a common refrain recommending we move away from the tasting note culture of wine, in which apparently objective analysis seems to bear down on bottles, and to instead drink wine as integral to a culture of enjoyment. For me to mark the text, then, as an academic would, with notes of professional analysis, might seem to avoid Asimov’s point. The ultimate conclusion Asimov offers, however, supports that there is no one right style of wine, and no one right answer on what should be enjoyed. (There are some recommendations on how to enjoy it–over time, with a meal, etc., but not a limitation on those possible ways.) It is instead, simply, that if we wish, we should feel free to go ahead and love wine.

Asimov’s book brings together the journalistic tone we know of him already from his regular writing in The New York Times, with personal stories in which he invites us into some of the intimate moments that changed his view of wine. I found myself charmed at the flow of these remembrances, feeling for the younger Asimov that revels in the joy of discovering the power of a meal, that is, “the sum total of the event” (107)–the place, the mood, the food, the place settings, the wine. And especially for the Asimov that celebrates sharing these moments with others, including a 30-year Bordeaux with his parents on their 30-year anniversary. And that I believe is part of the point of this book.

Let me explain.

There are times in this read when I question the contrast between the more spare manifesto tone, and the memoir approach. The book begins with the sense that it needs to convince us of something, and at first I resisted what felt to me an opening with a defensive stance. After the first couple chapters, however, we step into a more relaxed voice that wants to share stories with us, and invite us into a more familiar understanding of Asimov’s personal connections with wine. By the conclusion it is clear Asimov, as he puts it, does not wish to proselytize. The early chapters, then, must stand for some other purpose. At first the move from the earlier, into the narrative reflection felt disjointed to me. In moving through the book as a whole, however, I recognize these first chapters are there to do what might be important work–that is, help us to clear a space for ourselves from the heavy assumptions of a wine culture that demands infallible knowledge and analytic tasting notes. In stepping out from under such weight, we can instead simply breath, relax, and enjoy as we read. Not only for hedonistic pleasure, but also for the sense of complexity that comes with no longer expecting an expert to deliver packaged and memorizable answers for us. The responsibility of authority comes back to us. In purposefully helping to create this kind of space, I believe Asimov is doing something to be appreciated, and that he can be thanked for.

U.S. wine culture often appears as intimidating, pretentious, and alien. Novices and connoisseurs alike doubt their own ability to successfully select a bottle of wine, as if it is a test not only of ones knowledge, but perhaps too of ones value as a person, or as a professional. There is, in other words, a fear that when it comes to wine it is far too easy to screw up. Eric Asimov, with his job as the Wine Critic of The New York Times stands as one of the arbiters of taste for the nation, and the world of wine at large. With such a position, then, if there are people qualified for delivering the test results of appropriate wine knowledge and value, Asimov is one of them. From that position of authority, Asimov avoids announcing what wine it is right for us to drink, and instead invites us to relax and enjoy whatever we drink with greater ease and freedom of pleasure. In this way, the stories he tells us are not only wonderful anecdotes about a person I love to read. They are also invitations for us to see that he (and by implication, the other arbiters of taste in the wine world too) is simply a person. Any experts in wine have ample knowledge, yes (and that should no doubt be respected), but the knowledge they have arises from their own experience with wine over time. Wine knowledge, then, is dynamic, changing, and, at its root, personal. If we want to love wine, we can develop our relationship with it ourselves too, just as Asimov or any other expert has.

By sharing his memoir with us, Asimov accomplishes the manifesto portion of his text by example. In the midst of what might otherwise seem alien, or intimidating (the world of wine), what Asimov’s book does, is invite us in to the experience.


Eric Asimov‘s book How To Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto was officially released today, October 16, 2012. It is available in the United States from William Morrow.

Thank you to the William Morrow division of Harper Collins for sending me an advanced copy of this book.

Most importantly: Congratulations and thank you to Eric Asimov for this excellent book, and for all his important work. May we all strive to bring such humility, grace, and clarity in excellence.

To hear more on the book from Eric Asimov himself, check out this interview by Levi Dalton on his podcast series, I’ll Drink to That! “Episode 33”.

Asimov, Eric. How To Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto. ISBN: 9780061802522; ISBN10: 0061802522; Imprint: William Morrow ; On Sale: 10/16/2012; Format: Hardcover; Trimsize: 5 1/2 x 8 1/4; Pages: 272; $24.99

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Wakawaka Hits an Anniversary

Somewhere in the midst of spending time with friends, planning our move from Northern Arizona to Sonoma, and reflecting on the philosophical implications of a life in wine, I hit my one-year anniversary in wine comics.

Hawk Wakawaka’s First Posted Wine Comic

I knew the anniversary was coming up, but the truth is I was so immersed in the project I’d set out for myself–tasting wine, listening to people reflect on wine, writing about wine, drawing about wine, hanging out with friends in wine–that I missed the day itself when it happened.

Though the particular day has passed, I want to send my love and thanks to a few friends that pushed me into starting all this.

Thank you and Love to Paul

Paul and I in Memphis for New Year’s Eve

My dear friend Paul forced me into drawing the little zine that started it all. He’d come to visit us in Flagstaff, and during his visit I became cranky at some ridiculous national level political realities happening at the time. To express my irritation, I’d written him a sardonic, self-effacing-for-the-sake-of-making-a-political-point paragraph signed under a pen-name meant to capture the mouthy while loving, cranky though charming mood of the piece. Paul took a liking to the write-up and told me he thought I should turn it into a comic in the form of a handmade zine. I laughed and blew him off.

Over the course of his visit, Paul brought the idea up repeatedly. Each time, I nodded and ignored it. Finally, one afternoon Paul appeared in front of me with a bundle in his hand and said we were going to The Wine Loft for a glass of wine to hang out. Immediately accepting that idea, off we went. Then, when we sat down at the bar, Paul put paper, pen and my little paragraph transcribed in front of me, and told me I was going to sit there until I turned it into a comic. I stared at him, but seeing he was in earnest, drew stick-figures to illustrate the story, one waving on each page. Then, I handed it over.

Paul read the little zine, responded that he liked it and told me we were then going to go photocopy the thing. By the time the night had finished he’d pushed me step-by-step through first drawing, then copying, and finally packaging and mailing to everyone I knew, and some I didn’t, a little stick figure comic I’d made under the name Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka. The good Wakawaka name was born.

Love and Thank you to Susan

Susan and I together in Seattle for my birthday

A week or so later, a number of friends wrote, having received the little comic Paul and I had sent out. Among them was Susan, in Seattle, writing to tell me she’d neared collapse at her mailbox laughing and crying while reading the Wakawaka zine until her neighbor came over to check on her, then read the comic and did the same. She asked if I would please do more. Nodding, I thanked and then ignored her, not thinking of it again. That non-response on my part began a series of messages sent to me every few days from Susan, each time with more information and ideas from her on how I could keep doing comics, post webcomics, start a comics’ blog, read other comics to see how other people do them, and generally asking how my Starting-a-New-Project-of-Drawing-Comics lifestyle was going for me.

Susan persisted at me for well over a month until in exasperation I finally drew another comic, that time about the disasters of dating, and mailed it to her, and a few other friends, thinking that would make Susan stop. To that comic she responded again the same–pushing me to draw more. For weeks she kept at it, and I now, with thanks, call Susan the hand of God, she is so convincing and devoted.

Thank you and Love to Katherine

Katherine in Le Cigare Volant, Santa Cruz, on our California tour this June (I have pics of Katherine and I together, but I just love this pic of her so I post it)

Somewhere in here Katherine stepped in, and started asking me to make photocopies of the comics I was drawing so she could hand them out during the monthly Flagstaff Art Walk. A few people then asked where online they could find more and finally to keep them quiet, and get Susan to stop bugging me I started a comics’ blog.

It didn’t work. Dear Susan started sending me notes cheering for me drawing, while Katherine made sure I carried around a notebook to write down ideas, and Paul kept sending links to different people to get them to read what I was doing. In the midst of this, somehow I got obsessed and decided I was going to draw comics on everything.

The thing was, I was deep in the world of philosophy by that point, living a life as a philosophy professor, and as some of us know, philosophy is highly demanding. To succeed you have to give it everything. The best philosophers I know have their career and one hobby, not two. So, by the time I started drawing these silly little comics, I’d almost forgotten I knew how to do anything besides read, think, write and teach all mixed together. Once my friends pushed me hard enough, discovering I could do something besides the read-think-write-teach quadrumvirate was such a relief I really did feel like I wanted to go ahead and comic continuously.

Love and Thank you to Fred and Hillary

Hillary, Fred, and I in Flagstaff

In the midst of drawing comics of everything I came up with the idea of drawing comics of my experience with wine. The idea occurred to me simply as funny–I loved the contrast between people thinking of comics as low brow and cheeky, while wine culture is often taken as snooty and pretentious. Neither is exactly accurate, but the contrast of stereotypes amused me. So, I drew up the three wines I’d had for my birthday then took the comics to The Wine Loft to show my dear friend Fred, just to see what he thought. (We were each others first friends in Flagstaff.) His only response was to ask if I’d like to draw a comic a week for The Wine Loft to be posted on the Facebook fan page. I couldn’t believe it. So, once a week I started sending Fred a comic to showcase a new featured wine for his shop/winebar.

Immediately, Hillary further encouraged the idea, saying she hoped to color the images, and offering to taste wines with me for the project. She encouraged the comics, shared them with friends, brainstormed new ideas, and helped pick bottles I wanted to draw up for my own comic site. I started adding a different wine comic a week to my comics’ blog, then one a day, and the next thing I knew, the wine comics had been mentioned by Vitabella Wines in France, Peter Handzus in Slovakia, Kermit Lynch Wine in the states, and Brain Pickings in London.

To take advantage of my research and writing experience, I integrated writing paired with drawing into the site, and then started receiving emails about sample bottles, potential commissions, and going on wine trips. I’ve since also added photography. This journey from comics to now has brought me all the way to moving my life to Napa-Sonoma, California where I am now building a life writing and drawing about wine, developing an income in an entirely new career. The whole experience has led to so many wonderful connections and friendships, and I continue to travel for this life in wine. I am so grateful.

With Love

In her series on love and relationships, bell hooks shows us that love is a practice of freedom–that is by giving ourselves to each other, and to what we do we find ourselves anew, released from the ways we might have thought we were restricted, or defined before. By fully investing in our love for another, we can express ourselves in ways we hadn’t expected, and discover we are capable of more (and sometimes less), or different things than we had believed possible. We can discover, then, too we have the capacity to change.

In addition, we come to see how anything we do becomes something more than ourselves alone. This happens in at least two ways. First of all, in encouraging another person, our love makes something new possible for that person. My friends saw in me something I hadn’t imagined, and by pushing me to do it gave bloom to a whole new life for me and my daughter. Secondly, this shows us too that what we do becomes something with a life of its own. That is, the decision we make to reach our own goals–whether it is something as simple as convincing a friend to draw a comic, or comics in general; or, something more complex like me deciding to give up my life in Flagstaff and throw myself completely into writing and drawing about wine now here in Napa-Sonoma–is an act of love as well. By following through on what we care about, we act in and for our own freedom–creating a life for ourselves that could not exist otherwise.

Paul, Susan, Katherine, Fred, and Hillary are the roots of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. Through them I got to see myself in ways I never expected, and discover this path that I am now living–listening, tasting, writing, and drawing about wine. Thanks to them, I find myself now so invested in this good life that I missed my own one-year anniversary.

Dear friends,
Thank you for your love. All of this I do because of you.
-Yours, Elaine

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We’re Moving!

I am in the middle of packing up our house in Flagstaff, Arizona, to then drive our things to Sonoma County, California, where we will root down and make our good life. The slow down in posts is largely due to my making the adjustment to living in, and planning for living in a new place. I still have a lot of posts from my time in Oregon to update.

Meeting with Paul Draper

Last week I was lucky enough to spend several hours with Paul Draper, of Ridge Vineyards, tasting from barrel (Paul Draper himself pulled me barrel samples–have I mentioned that? I was standing there in the historic cellar caves in awe (getting choked up, and trying to hide it) as this year’s Monte Bello and Geyserville assemblage were handed to me by Mister Draper himself), tasting through part of their current portfolio, and most importantly listening.

Mister Draper was kind enough to talk through with me his views of how to recognize balance in wine and what it means for long term aging, the importance of terroir and how it does (and doesn’t) show itself in wine–plus how it takes patience for us to recognize it, and the long term vision of Ridge. We also, finally, fell into a reflection of how philosophy got him, and Ridge Wine to where he is today. As some of you know, I recently left a career in philosophy, teaching at a university. As I listened to Mister Draper explain that subject to me, I was again and again impressed, and grateful, for how thoroughly integrated into his way of life, and way of business philosophy really is for him. Mister Draper’s vision of wine, and sustaining the Ridge project for generations, arises from his investment in long term moral commitment, with the subtlety of aesthetic judgment, and more importantly his ability to enact those ideas.

I have been reflecting and thinking through our conversation, and can’t wait to write it up, but I am also taking time to reflect. His insights require due diligence on my part. In the meantime, here are pictures from the visit. I’m deeply humbled, and so grateful.

Thank you so much to Paul Draper for taking the time to meeting with me.

Thank you to Amy, Sue, and Sam.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, Dan Fredman, and Kyrsa Dixon.

Happy too to meet Mister Draper’s fantastic dog.

Write up coming soon!


on top of Monte Bello Ridge–2500 feet in elevation

Original vines at Monte Bello are head trained Cabernet–very unusual today

Bordeaux varieties planted on Monte Bello Ridge–Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc.

The Monte Bello site is all fractured limestone, with green rock on top (it turns red when exposed to oxygen). The site is considered an exotic terrain, in that it is unlike any of the areas surrounding it. Monte Bello Ridge is one of the few places in California (perhaps the only one?) that grows Cabernet vines in limestone. (look how wonderfully huge that trunk is)

pulling the second assemblage of Monte Bello 2011–this is likely the final blend, but there will be one more final consideration before bottling later in the Fall

Chardonnay had come in that morning from Monte Bello Estate–Ridge Chardonnay is done entirely whole cluster (and it’s wonderful)

Pulling the current assemblage of Geyserville 2011

Proudly telling me about the history of the Monte Bello caves, dug out of limestone in the 1880s (I love this picture)

Mister Draper’s very friendly (and cute) dog.

What I consistently find in Ridge wines, whether they are just released, from barrel, or older vintages, is an incredible integration of multiple elements–the flavors, and structure consistently work together, even when young and wanting greater age for softening of tannins, or opening up of flavors. I mention this to Mister Draper and then we begin an hour long conversation on balance…

Thank you again to Paul Draper. I am deeply grateful.

Thank you again too to Michelle McCue and Dan Fredman for helping me make the connection.

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