Wakawaka Chronicles

Pinot Noir NZ 2017

Every four years winemakers from across New Zealand put together a three day event celebrating Pinot Noir. This year, Pinot Noir NZ 2017 took place in its host city of Wellington bringing together around 1000 guests total from 20 countries, including top wine professionals from each of those 20 countries, the best winemakers from around New Zealand and eager wine lovers from all over the world as well. Morning sessions focused on a series of talks and seminars, and after lunch (each designed by one of the top chefs of New Zealand or Australia), afternoons brought well-focused regional walk around tastings. By the end of the three days we’d heard from speakers that included some of the brightest in the New Zealand wine industry and a number of the world’s top wine professionals as well. In the evenings top chefs from New Zealand and Australia would serve dinner.

Pinot Noir NZ was truly one of the best wine events I have ever attended. It was impressively designed around a central theme that allowed for both focused and dynamic discussion considering the value of wine from multiple angles. There were technical seminars as well as more philosophical ones; tasting panels meant to make us reconsider how we experience wine and others that asked us to explore our own views of wine quality. The three days were designed around the Maori notion of Tūrangawaewae, a concept that captures the importance of place in how we gain, recognize, and gather our strength. Each of the three days then took a different theme for better understanding the value of Tūrangawaewae. I’ll be writing more about Tūrangawaewae later this week.

Day 1 revolved around the theme of Explore and opened with a Maori welcoming ceremony. International speakers for Pinot Noir NZ were asked to be part of the group being received by the local Maori tribes, and so to also participate in the ceremony on stage with the Maori elders and other tribes people. I was a speaker in this year’s Pinot Noir NZ, and so was asked to be part of the opening ceremony, to be a delegate received and greeted by the local Maori. It was an overwhelming and special experience. It was hard to believe the honor, that I was being asked to be part of such a sacred ceremony. The rest of the first day focused on speeches about the meaning, import and relevance to our thinking of wine in Tūrangawaewae, and then turned to understanding the value of each of the country’s growing regions before we then went to the regional tastings.

Day 2 considered the notion of Embrace and focused on tasting panels that gave us the chance to continue the conversation with wines there to help deepen the conversation. An international panel of wine experts selected wines and shared their views of greatness. The diversity of perspectives thanks to the international nature of the panel was inspiring. We were then put to a sound tasting by Jo Burzynska where Pinot noir was matched to different types of music as we explored how the varying sound types had very real impact on our tasting ability.

On Day 3 the focus was on how to Evolve and included a series of talks that asked where we are headed as not only as members of the wine community but also more broadly (wine lovers are always also part of the world at large after all), and so with that in mind, how to move forward. I was asked to give the closing speech for day 3 speaking to the question of future communication while also tying together threads from across the three days.

A number of people asked that once it was available I share my speech and its transcript here. So, now that I have both I am posting them as requested. Thank you to all of you that asked for this. I very much appreciate it.

As I mentioned, my speech refers to the conversations from across all three days of the event. Much of what is referenced will make sense in context. But to clarify a few things – the speech names a number of speakers from earlier in day 3 and references points they raised – Maynard James Keenan, Sam Neill, and Jancis Robinson are all mentioned. A few of them had also been joking about the relevance of their astrological signs, which is why I begin with explaining mine. I also mention Marcel Giesen, who spoke as part of the panel on greatness on day 2, and Nick Mills who spoke as part of the opening consideration of Tūrangawaewae on day 1. Also, on day 1, Rachel Tualelei, Ropata Taylor, and Dame Anne Salmond spoke on the history of the Maori, which is referenced near the beginning of my speech without naming them. In the beginning I refer to First Nations peoples. I am using that phrase to address the idea of first people to any particular region more generally. Such people are often referred to as indigenous (which I do also say here) but in some cases, such as the Maori of New Zealand, the people are not indigenous to that land but nevertheless were the first people of that land. I am using the phrase in that sense. In Canada, for example, the term First Nations has a more specific reference to a particular group there in Canada so I mention that here to clarify I am using the phrase more broadly. It is apparent in the context of the speech.

The other speeches shared online are also worth watching. The people named above whose speeches are available online I have linked to  – click on their name and it will take you to the video of their talk. The link to all available speeches (including regional overview videos from the event) are available here: https://vimeo.com/pinotnoirnz 

Thank you most especially to the board of Pinot Noir NZ for inviting me to speak, and to Rachael Fletcher for so seamlessly guiding everything, to Mike Bennie for suggesting me, and to David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. Thank you to James Tidwell and David Keck for so patiently letting me talk through aspects of my talk before hand. Your friendship makes all the difference.

Here is the video of the speech. It’s transcript immediately follows it.

Day 3 Elaine Chukan Brown from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

Future Communication: Pinot Noir NZ
Elaine Chukan Brown

So I want to get out of the way right away that I am a Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. That’s the terrestrial parallel to Maynard’s Dragon – totally tenacious, claws the shit out of everything to get where it’s going, full commitment, looks good in stripes. Right?

I’m also a double Virgo. Virgos are known for devotion. They’re defined by love, and most especially service. So, whatever they do, they do out of love, and total commitment to excellence. But then I have a Sagittarius moon, which means that whatever I do, I do with my hair on my fire, and I thank my daughter for making sure that it looks like it is.

It is an incredible honor to be part of an event that so completely honors and speaks from the position of the First Nations people of the country that’s hosting it. As some of you know, I am Inuit from Alaska, and the terrible truth is that First Nations in the United States are barely even recognized for still existing. And so I live my daily life interacting with people unable to see who I am. And so to be here, and to have been asked to be part of the opening ceremony, finding connection, communion, companionship between the First Nations people of New Zealand and all of us that are here to speak about Pinot noir, and all of the other wonderful things we’ve been speaking about, was completely overwhelming.

But in acknowledgement of that, I wish to introduce myself to you as I would if I was speaking with my Native community in Alaska. I actually called my mother yesterday to ask for permission to speak today, and for permission to say my Native name, which in Alaskan communities is private, as a way of sort of preserving what’s most valued for us. Obviously, I’m not going to worry about it if I’m crying, so you’ll just all have to deal with it.

My maternal great-grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordon and Anisha McCormick. My paternal great-grandparents are Stephen and Amelia Ivanoff, of Norton Sound, Alaska. My grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown. My parents are Mel and Katherine Brown. I am Unangan and Iñupiaq. That is Aleut and Inuit from Alaska. My name is Elaine Chukan Arnaqiaq Brown. My daughter is Rachel Marie Williams.

For indigenous peoples across the planet, our ancestors, our people, define who we are. I am my ancestors. But also for indigenous peoples across the planet, what are ancestors are is our land, the place from which we come. So to speak with you today is overwhelming because I bring them with me.

My great-grandfather, I was lucky enough to know growing up, and he was born at a time, in a place so remote, that he saw the first waves of outside people enter his region. And he would tell me stories about the first time he saw someone from China, the first time he saw a black person, the first time he heard a radio, the first time electricity appeared in the region. When the wars came. His region was part of the front lines of World War II, which of course brought more outsiders.

As an indigenous person in Alaska, he was denied the rights of citizenship until the second half of the last century, when Alaska finally became a state. And especially in light of Jancis’s insight about recent global politics, what I would like to offer – I hadn’t expected to – but what I would like to offer is the recognition of the strength, the resilience, and the incredible transforming power that he took to every aspect of his life. And if you could imagine a life lived, to survive such radical transformation as I just mentioned …

As a quick side note, to get across how bad-ass this man I grew up with was – he actually killed a bear with a spruce tree that he cut down, cut the bows off, and made a sharp tip on because he lived in Alaska at a time before guns. Totally hardcore.

But anyway, my point being – imagine a person that could remain utterly true to himself, utterly clear in his values, utterly persistent and determined that in all of that change of which he had no control of, he would be the best version of himself, and he would do it for the sake of his people and his family, and generations of people he would never meet.

I want to speak briefly about a kind of indigenous ethics that’s implied in what I’m saying, because I think it really ties in to a lot of the values that have been expressed here: notions of sustainability; the wonderful talk we heard here on the first day from Nick at Rippon and that experience of trying to honor the land and instill value across generations. For indigenous peoples, for myself being here today, my most central project, regardless of anything else I am doing, my most central project is to act in a way that loves people I will never meet so that I may honor those that made my life possible.

Some of you have heard this in terms of thinking in seven generations. We thank seven generations back whose lives brought us here, by acting for the sake of seven generations forward, many of whom we’ll never know.

When I asked my mom permission to speak with you today, she emphasized the point that she can’t help but think of my great-grandfather, who raised her, and that there’s a sense in which I’ve brought him here – a man who grew up so differently than everyone here. He’s come to New Zealand now. And speaking to Sam’s point about the unlikely, how incredibly unlikely is it for all of you to have to listen to an Inuit woman from Alaska talk about her great-grandfather in the middle of a Pinot noir conference.

But the unlikelihood runs far deeper than that. It’s unlikely that he even lived long enough to make my life possible. We heard on the first day about the struggles of the Maori people. It’s a struggle that is utterly consistent with indigenous peoples all over the planet. And the idea that any First Nations are still alive and vibrantly breathing and clearly present here with all of you is a miracle. And so for me, in thinking how do I love my future descendants and honor those who came before me, that’s what I carry in everything I do. It is a miracle that I am here, and it is no thanks to me that that is true, and it is little thanks to me that anything I have done might have significance. It is totally, absolutely, because of the miracle of people that worked so hard to be resilient.

And what I want to offer is that this is a gift that any of us can have. I am profoundly aware of it because of my particular heritage and background and the way that I was raised, but part of what we’ve been talking about and part of what this whole program has so intensely tried to instill in each of us is that we have to fucking care about what we do, right? And what’s to come. And again, it’s because of caring for people that we will never meet. And the way that we can do that is to seek in every single step excellence in what we do.

Just like Marcel said yesterday, “Quality comes slowly over time, a step at a time.” And this morning we heard – I can’t remember now who said it – but the idea that perfection is a lot of little steps done well. That’s what I’m speaking to. We all have that opportunity.

In terms of how that shows up, I want to speak briefly – some of you heard yesterday, I apologize, but I am a recovering philosopher, and again, like alcoholism you deal with it every day. So, I wanted to use that as a background that I have to just very briefly speak about the idea of expertise because part of the struggle, I think, we face now in a world that is so full of uncertainty is this grief for the loss of the expert. Any of us in this room, because we’re of drinking age, were born into a time where the expert guided how the world moved, and decisions were made very much in a top-down model. People devoted themselves to intricate, thorough-going study, and that information would trickle out to the rest of us. So it was very much a top-down, triangular model.

And what’s happened now is the proliferation of information, thanks to the Internet and Jancis is largely to blame for us wine-lovers, right, through so many brilliant reference books. With that proliferation of information, that triangle has flattened and spread. And we’ve created a kind of horizontaling of information sharing. And, with that, it becomes very difficult to see where the expert remains.

This will tie back to the bear hunting and things like that, by the way, just so you know …

So in this grief of loss of the expert, it’s unclear what the expert’s role is anymore. And so briefly, I just wanted to ask – what is an expert? Clearly the accessed information, even the creation of information as we study the world and learn more about it is paramount there. But with this proliferation of information, there’s a way in which that’s kind of the part we’ve lost. Everyone has access to a database, so a lot of the questions you hear about the loss of the expert come back to, “Well why do I need that person? I can look it up on Google.”

But what remains is an intimacy with the information, an understanding – how do I interpret this? How do I recognize what’s valuable? How do I know it’s pertinent to now, to what I need to know now? And so that sense of intimacy we still desperately need from experts; we see all sorts of political bad decisions happening and it’s because people don’t know how to interpret properly the kind of information that they are being inundated with. We still need that kind of help. But part of what goes along with this – the way people become experts that are relevant is that we trust them. They’re reliable. We believe them. What they say makes sense. We feel a connection.

Now studies of Millennial consumer groups done recently have shown interesting buying patterns. And I’m actually not interested in talking about Millennials, except that I think because of when they were born, they come onto the scene as this shift from triangle to horizontal is happening. And so they’re, in a way, the purest expression of the impact of that change in information society.

So what we’ve seen studying Millennials’ consumer habits and interests is that advertising has almost no effect. Millennial populations, again, in these surveys, have said only one percent of the respondents actually make a purchase based on advertising that they see, whether it’s on television, or in print, or online. Instead, what they’re doing is turning to companions, to actual people around. And they’re doing this very much online, through various online sources – blogs, and various types of social media.

But when you dig deeper into this, and this links back to the other points I’ve been making – when you dig deeper into this, what you find is that what they’re searching for is intimacy and connection. And it is that that makes people respond. And it is from that that leads to people changing their minds, finding what they care about, learning to recognize who they are, and making purchases as well.

This obviously is relevant to a lot of the people in the room who are vintners, and are interested in figuring out how the heck to get people to buy a bottle of their wine. Well, it’s not advertising, which respondents said feels as if they’re being sold something. It’s too pat. It’s too formulaic. And it feels like being tricked or manipulated. And so instead what they’re responding to is someone they feel a connection to, that they can trust and believe, and think, “Oh, I recognize something of myself in them; if they like it, I must too.”

And so what’s happened is that we’ve come into a very peculiar time, where our own individual particularity, our very specific commitments, the exact thing we care about, and the ways that we express those things, are the most relevant in terms of how we recognize who we want to believe, what we want to buy, how we want to communicate.

Duncan actually asked me to speak on future communication. There is no one in this room that knows what this means, and so I worked through it in this way: what I want to suggest is that the future of communication starts in what I’m describing. We desperately still need people to risk the life of the expert; to commit so thoroughly to what they do that their life and its legacy, as Maynard referenced, reverberates beyond them to people they will never meet. Some currently alive now, and others that simply come down the road, generations away. We desperately need that.

But what I’m suggesting is that we all have the opportunity to do that now. Everyone in this room can choose that life. Nick is so fortunate, as he expressed on Tuesday, to have been born into a circumstance like his at Rippon, and he’s doing an incredible job at honoring that, and carrying that forward. And that is fantastic to see. But very many of us don’t have that situation, right. So what do we do? How do we translate that model into something we can claim?

And what I’m saying is that if we recognize that we’re all looking, now, in the midst of this chaotic world, with this mass proliferation of information that we all struggle to interpret, we recognize that we’re looking for communication, connection, and intimacy. And we seek to act in excellence, to cultivate that in very small ways, in every little moment that we do – and share that openly. We can’t expect that benefits of the old top-down model anymore; reverence doesn’t come in the way it used to, for those of us who give ourselves to lifelong projects. Many people get attention very quickly, right? But connection and intimacy is greater than that. And the satisfaction instead comes from knowing that in committing to that excellence and acting from service, our effect can reverberate out in ways we cannot even predict.

With that in mind, I really want to thank David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. It’s been a remarkable trip. I know Mike Bennie was kind enough to kind of pester Duncan and Ben about me, and I really appreciate that, too. But most of all, I thank Duncan and Ben for inviting me to speak today.

You have allowed me to bring my family here, and to make real something that my great-grandfather was open enough to know not in any specific way could happen, but that if he did well by his family, by his people, and in every act he took, that those that came after him could surpass anything he imagined, and arrive eventually, on a country he barely knew was real.

What I’m describing might seem a little alien, perhaps. But I just want to ask each of us to consider very simple questions, and to ask them of ourselves again and again and again, and even sometimes every step: what do you want to love? How can you be of service today? How will you exemplify excellence in any small thing you do?

Thank you.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

In Gratitude, For Tom, with thanks to Karen

“The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” – Ray Wylie Hubbard

Paul and Anna Chukan, my great grandparents

Paul and Anna Chukan, my maternal great grandparents. Photo by my sister, Melanie Brown

I’ve spoken before about my life change. In 2010 I won a year long research fellowship at Dartmouth College. I’d done doctoral work at McGill University in Montreal and had a professor position in philosophy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Dartmouth paid me to work in residence on the projects I already had in place. My presence there was meant to support my own work as much as it was to enlarge the already vibrant conversation occurring at Dartmouth through outside influence. While there I contracted pneumonia. At its worst I couldn’t stand and speak at the same time. I visited the emergency room three times, and went through three rounds of antibiotics before recovering two months later. In the midst of it I realized it was time for me to leave academia. I’d devoted my entire adult life and a doctoral program to that career but recognizing the need to leave, I gave myself a year to get out gracefully. I assumed I’d have a new career in place by the end of the year. I returned to Northern Arizona University to do one more year teaching in a town I loved.

The day I turned in the keys to my office and my final grades, thus closing my contract at Northern Arizona University, my daughter, Rachel, was in Alaska visiting our family. The house was empty. I returned home having left academia for the last time and sat on the couch. The house was silent. It was winter so the light was low. And I was alone with no plans before me. I had begun drawing my wine illustrations but did not yet know that would become the basis of a strange new career. At Dartmouth I recognized a path of academic life blazing before me clear and bright. I’d established myself in that profession in a way that delivered clear options before me. Now, it was as if I stood in an open field. No path or trail cut of direction reaching to the horizon. Nothing leading before me. No others standing beside me. No guidance. The terror of that moment was profound. I felt there was nothing to do but let the terror come. Everything in me felt still and quiet while the immeasurable mass of the unknown crashed over me and then crashed over me again. I had walked away from a career I’d devoted myself to and done well in, given up something I was good at simply because my intuition said it was time. It was clear the best thing for me to do was sleep. So I went to bed and slept 14 hour nights for a month.

Tom Wark posted yesterday about Karen MacNeil‘s recent keynote address at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in the Finger Lakes. Karen spoke at the Wine Writers’ Symposium here in Napa Valley in February. There she shared a story about the challenges of beginning her writing career – how long it took to have even one article accepted; how little money she had in the meantime. The contrast between her clear success now and the starkness of her writing roots then was inspiring. There is power in such perseverance. In telling the story of her path it was as if she shared that power with all of us.

In Tom’s article on Karen, he admires her resilience and then also considers a conundrum. How do we invest in a job that seems so unimportant as writing about wine? How do we find our inspiration?

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my great grandparents

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my paternal great grandparents. Photographer unknown

My work as a philosophy professor was something I believed in utterly. My doctoral dissertation investigated the question of what it means to be indigenous. The inspiration came entirely from my own family. I am an Aleut and Inupiat woman from Alaska that was lucky enough to be raised with extended family, our traditional foods, and a multi-generational blanket of family stories. During my doctoral program I discovered I was likely the first Aleut to pursue a doctorate in philosophy. The relevance of that was clear. In doing any of my work I felt my great grandparents, my grandparents, my late uncles, my distant cousins, and generations of ancestors I’d never met standing quiet and strong behind me. Their spirit was there to help push my work forward because I was there, in a sense, doing it for all of us. Any time I sat at my desk to write they were there. If I spoke in front of groups or when I was teaching they were there. Their presence gave me a power to do my work. The most difficult aspect of leaving my career rested there. I had, without meaning to, become a metaphorical conduit for my people. Whether I wrote about my family or not, my family in some way saw my work as about them. For me too, it was. They were a reason for me to invest completely in what I was doing. In leaving my career I was also choosing to leave that role as a sort of intellectual elder, and to risk losing that sense of all my ancestors beside me. When I closed my contract I walked away from work that was for all of them and for the first time stood in that open field alone.

It took time for me to recognize I’d begun a career in wine. In the meantime, it was simply something I was doing because I am a person built for projects, and wine gave me one. I poured all of my energy into building that project. For two years I visited as many vintners as possible for intensive one-on-one tastings and conversations at least five days a week without a break or pay, sharing much of what I was doing online. Posting my project online via this blog and social media was in its origin simply a means for me to circumscribe my own work. I wasn’t attempting to build an audience. Instead, I needed a way to recognize progress. In graduate school I’d developed a process of researching a subject then writing an in depth summary for my supervisors as a way of maintaining a conversation. Without a supervisor in wine, sharing an account of my vintner visits online gave me a way to imagine something like that conversation and see an accumulation of work. It was a way to hold myself accountable. Eventually I looked up and realized I’d built the start of a new profession. My blog writing eventually spread into writing for magazines both online and in print, as well as giving talks or leading panels. In a sense those aspects of the work I do look very much like what I’d done before in academia. My new career has depended very much on the online sharing I’d been doing initially only for a sense of perspective.

In responding to Karen’s key note address, Tom considered the idea of family and how they can serve as an inspiration for our work. In leaving my career one of the things I left behind was the weighty sense of obligation I’d carried for my extended family. I didn’t lose the dedication I have for them, and in a sense the drive I have for excellence (in whatever form) rests deeply in that dedication to them. What I let go of was the expectation that I could ever do something that would fulfill the path of my ancestors. I would no longer be the only Aleut in philosophy. I couldn’t carry my ancestors with me there. It’s hard for me to explain the sorrow of that for me except through that image of for the first time standing alone.

5 generations of my family, photo by my sister

Five generations of my family five days after the birth of my niece, photo by my sister Melanie Brown

Unexpectedly, it is precisely there, in the starkness of that change that I now find my inspiration. Leaving a career I’d invested everything into, including my imagined ancestors, was a moment of erasing all expectations. I could no longer rely on a prescribed path of a recognizable career, nor on the sense of feeling generations beside me. I had no promise of the future. Though my perspective on such change has continuously shifted, in a way that sense of standing in an open field without a promised future hasn’t. The gift of such bareness has been that every wine visit, every written article, every magazine connection has arrived as an unforeseen bonus, an unexpected delight found in an open field. For me, it is there I find a source of immeasurable gratitude. Still with most visits I count myself profoundly lucky to simply listen to their stories, as if they are sharing their ancestors with me and I can see those ancestors standing strong and quiet beside the person I am listening to. Sometimes their ancestors have as much to tell through what the person doesn’t quite say as the person through what they do.

Over time, I have also found a different source of power, one much like I felt in Karen sharing her story. Her being willing to share so honestly the challenges of her upbringing in wine stands as a way of sharing a new form of freedom. New because her path of challenge and success is one different than our own but reveals through its details new insights any of us might choose to continue forward ourselves. Freeing too because of the humanity witnessed through storytelling. In admitting to her own difficulties, Karen offers us a way to see we are like her. That someone we admire has challenges too, so our challenges perhaps are not so unusual or so insuperable.

In writing about Karen’s keynote, Tom concludes with the point that he found the story of her path inspiring, that it makes him want to do better work. I would say that what I find in Tom’s post is the sense that through Karen’s speech he has found a new strength. Ultimately, it is there too that I find my inspiration, the discovery that in persistence and vulnerability we have the opportunity to share strength with each other.

***

Karen MacNeil has just completed the 2nd edition of her groundbreaking book, The Wine Bible. The new edition will be available October, 2015. It reflects over five years of work traveling major regions throughout the world, tasting over 10,000 wines, and doing thorough research to then write a fully updated book. The new edition is an invaluable reference for any wine lover.

For more information on the new edition you can visit Karen’s site herehttp://www.karenmacneil.com/product/the-wine-bible-2nd-edition/

To read Tom Wark’s blog post on Karen’s talk: http://fermentationwineblog.com/2015/08/karen-macneil-inspiration-and-art-of-wine-blogging/

With thanks to Tom Wark.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

In Praise of Discomfort

I’m at my best uncomfortable. I blame my parents though it isn’t really their fault. They raised me commercial fishing for salmon from the age of 9, till I retired in my early 20s, and it’s shaped my life ever since. I’ve spent my adulthood retraining simple habits I picked up fishing like going without food, water, or the bathroom as some faulty testament of fortitude and strength. Even so, summers still I schedule myself for work past the point of fatigue and revel along the way in pulling it off semi-gracefully. Part of me still admires the capacity to work beyond apparent human limits, as if it isn’t really me that pulls it off. I just get to be part of it. This July, for example, I completed the first half day of a visit with a migraine and the producers never found out. The man that drove me that day graciously helped track questions during the interview, for which I am endlessly grateful. I could keep up with the conversation. I just needed help connecting a few of the dots. My notebook is still full with notes of their wines, the vineyard, and their story. It’s good fortune that gives me the opportunity to meet with so many producers and I want to give them that time when I travel. Had I cancelled  to recover I would have missed the chance for that meeting. It’s hard to explain how much joy I find in simply listening to other’s stories (though I don’t always just listen).

This summer I’ve posted little here because I’ve been so busy elsewhere. For those of you that don’t know, when I’m traveling I’ve taken to telling the story of the people and regions I visit via Instagram, where it also routes to Facebook. There you will find photos of some of the people I meet along the way along with insightful quotations from our visit, or a factual dig into their story. For example, Phillip Hart walked me through his Ambythe Vineyard in Paso Robles where we discussed his work as well as the effects of the drought. Ambythe began harvesting this week.

Phillip Hart in his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

from Instagram: Phillip Hart walking his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

Paso Robles is just one of the regions I was lucky enough to visit. May began in Long Island, and then Chicago; June took me to Walla Walla as well as the West Sonoma Coast (again); July dug into Paso and Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County as well as parts of Napa. This month I’m catching up on articles and illustrations.

I’ll be writing more from these travels here through the rest of the year, as well as at JancisRobinson.com, and elsewhere. I’m excited about work I’m doing for World of Fine Wine especially, as there I get to bring together my training in philosophy with my work in wine. It’s nice to recombine my professional worlds. In the meantime, here are a couple favorite photos from my travels looking at subjects I’ll be writing about more here.

Long Island

Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughter in The Hamptons, Long Island

Christopher Tracy, winemaker of Channing Daughters on the South Fork of Long Island, has some of the greatest creative latitude of any winemaker I’ve met. The winery sells the range of wines to prove it. He works too with soil scientist and viticulturist, Larry Perrine. Larry now directs Channing Daughters, but he arrived in Long Island at the start of the 1980s as a viticultural and winemaking consultant helping to solve nutritional problems suffered by the region’s vineyards. Together they offer a range of wines from classic chardonnays to Friuli-inspired white blends, to field blends made from the vines of Cornell’s Extension and Research Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork.

Walla Walla

Norm McKibbenNorm McKibben led vineyard plantings in Walla Walla (W2) helping to expand quality vineyards through the region as well as inspire and support the work of others. His dedication to the W2 industry has been pivotal in so quickly establishing it as a celebrated region in the world. He is the founder of Pepperbridge and Amavi Cellars in W2 and helped maintain and expand the Seven Hills Vineyard – Sevein planting into one of the most sought after in the state.

Paso Robles

Mark Adams, Ledge Vineyard

Ledge Vineyards founder Mark Adams returned to Paso Robles and wine growing after a life in music and sound effects editing for major producers in Los Angeles. Today he makes some of the most delicious and drinkable Rhone wines of Paso Robles while farming his home vineyard in one of the few sandy soil sites of the county. In the last few weeks he expanded his family’s Ledge Vineyard planting to grow more Rhone whites and reds. Mark also makes wine just across the street with one of his long time friends, Justin Smith at Saxum.

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg BrewerJohn Belfy (shown here center) has helped lead vineyard development and farming in Santa Barbara County‘s distinctive Ballard Canyon from its inception. His work established Jonata Vineyard and he planted and continues to farm Tierra Alta Vineyards as well, among others. Winemaker Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz (shown here left) is just one of the winemakers that sources fruit from his Ballard Canyon site and counts him as an inspiration. Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton and Melville (shown here right) makes wine from Sta Rita Hills but credits John for support and encouragement received earlier in Greg’s career.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Writing about American Wine for JancisRobinson.com

It is a pleasure to announce that I am now also writing for JancisRobinson.com as the American Specialist. There I will be writing in depth about wine regions throughout North America, while taking advantage of my location in California to dig deep with the state’s wines.

My first article posted Wednesday offering an introduction to how I approach wine. It appears free at JancisRobinson.com. My series on the West Sonoma Coast also started today, with an article that looks at the region as a whole. Next week the series will continue looking in depth at each of the subzones.

Here’s a glance at my introductory article from Wednesday.

Introducing Elaine Chukan Brown

Jancis writes Today we announce a major addition to our team. Although we often write about American wine (see yesterday’s two articles, for example), and Alder Yarrow files a monthly column for us from his base in San Francisco, from today we have a regular American wine reviewer in the form of Elaine Chukan Brown, pictured above. Based in Sonoma, she has won acclaim for her  Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews and contributions to Wine & Spirits and The World of Fine Wine. Earlier this year she was awarded the Frank Prial Fellowship by the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium. Below she introduces herself and her approach to wine. From Friday we will be publishing a major series by Elaine on the wines of the West Sonoma Coast. 

In April of 2012, a handful of wine writers travelled together on a tasting tour of Colli Orientali del Friuli in the north-east corner of Italy. Paolo (pictured below) and Dina Rapuzzi and their sons Pierpaolo and Ivan invited us into their home beside their winery Ronchi di Cialla to share a meal. As we ate, Paolo told us the story of how he and Dina started their winery.

Paolo at Ronci de Cialla

Friuli had been greatly affected by both world wars. Through the first half of the 20th century, wine growing in the region had essentially been abandoned. When wine production returned to the area, the cultivation of international varieties was strongly encouraged as they were seen as more marketable and, therefore, better for the region’s economy. Such a view was common throughout Italy. Wine made from indigenous varieties was essentially illegal. Friuli had changed hands multiple times, serving as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then Italy, then portions of it as Yugoslavia, then Italy again. It even enjoyed independence for a time. The result is that to this day, most people of the region feel that although their home is now Italian, their hearts remain Friulian.

To continue reading the rest of this article [which is available free at JancisRobinson.com]: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/introducing-elaine-chukan-brown

 

I believe that appreciation is a holy thing– that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at that moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred. – Fred Rogers

The moon came up tonight like fire behind the trees, almost full, carving a silhouette behind Northern firs of Willamette Valley. Still, it’s not quite visible.

I’ve spent the last two years devoting my self to a life I can barely describe. It came as a response to the realization that for my health it was time to leave a different career I gave everything to. The change in direction? Social media has enabled almost all of it.

I’d studied then taught philosophy, the latter for a university in Arizona. Somehow I found my way to wine. More than wine, though, I found lovers of wine also giving themselves to what they love.

Alder Yarrow now finishes his book, The Essence of Wine, an early culmination of his already impressive work writing about wine via his blog Vinography. He’ll surely not make money from the book. Print media doesn’t have it these days. Yet he devoted his time to ensuring the hard cover version be beautiful, the electronic version clickable.

Fredric Koppel just celebrated his thirtieth anniversary writing about wine, first for newspapers, now his site, Bigger Than Your Head. Mary Orlin launched her background in television and interest in fashion into writing about scents in wine (alongside scents of perfume). Richard Jennings keeps a full-time job while managing to travel near-full time to write about wine internationally. Fred Swan opened his education with a love for Egyptian archaeology, now teaches courses in wine, purposefully keeping up with wines of California.

This last week the annual Wine Bloggers Conference took place. It’s an event it’s easy to be critical of. The agenda sometimes reads, from the outside, unclear. The awards we’re always sure could be awarded differently. Yet, it calls devotees from around North America (and beyond) earnest to discover the region that hosts it, eager to connect with bloggers otherwise met only online. In its origins, Tom Wark hoped to draw attention to, and point out the substance of people writing about wine online.

But people’s lives extend beyond the screen. In leaving academia, I threw myself into, what turned out to be (at least until the last few months), an impoverished prosperity — time spent making almost no income while eating and tasting with some of the finest chefs, and chef de cave, winemakers, and viticulturists in the world. There have been days I’m unsure I can afford the gas to the ten-course meal I’ve been asked to attend. More than the seeming indulgence of the meals or wine though, it’s been the people that have risen from the glass.

Jason Lett in Oregon carrying on the torch of his father, David’s instigation of an entire Willamette industry, while simultaneously accomplishing more than merely a family enterprise. Steve and Jill Matthiasson turning their love for vines and peaches into their business. Even Charles Banks, the investor people love to doubt over the speed of his acquisitions, transforming success in athlete management into an interest in building small wine labels. Throughout these visits or interviews in wine there have been glimmers of a person’s every day life.

I’ve been critiqued recently, and perhaps otherwise, for being obsequious, too willing to thank the people that meet with me. My role, if I am critic, would seem to be to remain distant. Eric Asimov, in his work, makes clear the absurdity of such a view. Ethical limits can be kept, yes, but to be an effective writer, and astute taste-lover of wine, openness is demanded.

Vinny Eng, in his work with both wine and food, and his teaching of wine, or Gwendolyn Alley‘s cacophony of writing, teaching, and wine, both give example of people loving as hard as they can in the midst of their work. Or, there are Jameson Fink, and Jamie Goode, both writers that house the critical acuity to focus on flaws and failings but choose to write about success.

In the online wine community, it is hearts like these lit afire, carving, through their love for what they do, a light around the substance of wine. It is in gratitude I find myself among them.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Maya Angelou Rest in Peace

As a Native person in Alaska the first question is always, who’s your Grandma? There it’s your family, and the place you’re from that decides who you are.

My great grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordan and Anisha McCormick. My Grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown of Norton Sound, Alaska. My parents are Melvin and Katherine Brown. I am the youngest of three daughters. I am Elaine Chukan Brown.

***

I grew up a mixed race girl in Alaska. My mother’s family was Aleut. My father’s Inupiat. Because of World War II neither knew their fathers of European descent. Instead, both were simply raised Native. For Native families, blood quantum is less a question than how and with whom you grew up. As a result, my sisters and I were raised Native too. In my guts, my head, my understanding of myself, I am simply Native.

I also know growing up mixed meant much of the time we passed. My fully Native friends were often mistreated, called “muks” by other kids in school. At times, overhearing the slurs, I’d demand those same kids I’d thought were friends call me “muk” too. They’d be shocked by my insistence. The point for me being, what do you mean by such a dirty word that applies to people you also love? The difference was I had a choice my more clearly Native friends did not. They had no mixed kid ability to disappear.

In adulthood, I found philosophy, literature, and creative writing as refuges from the confusion of slipping between cultural or racial norms. They were for me expressions of the complexities of humanity that gave room for my experience as perhaps not normal, but surely acceptable.

Still, Native populations across the United States are small, most isolated on reservations away from more mainstream populations. Worse, knowledge of Native life, whether contemporary or historic, by citizens of the United States is even rarer than the Native population as a whole. Mainstream media somehow fails to recognize the existence of still-living Native groups even with pertinent news events occurring daily.

Searching for mentors, or models to guide me forward, then, proved difficult. In my struggle to find exemplars for success beyond Alaska, the women I found, besides those of my family, turned out to be the non-Native writers Lucille Clifton, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou. My undergraduate education was filled with their language. I was lucky enough too to work with Lucille Clifton in 2003 over a summer poets’ intensive.

Between the three of them, I was able to find voice for racialized womanhood. In a world where life as a woman of color proves an invisible struggle, Walker reminded that happiness must come from yourself even as others might deny it. Clifton celebrated the vibrant sensuality of survival in the midst of almost unbearable challenge. Angelou demanded we recognize our own phenomenal body, femininity, and lives.

Maya Angelou died last week. In high school, her work found me. It was my best friend at the time, Ginny Gallup, that introduced Angelou to me long before Clinton’s inauguration. Through it, Angelou demanded I see myself as not only valuable but beautiful, and vibrant. She also demanded that I must recognize such beauty because through it I could make others see themselves, not by pushing them, but by seeing them, by listening. In her work was the realization that by loving myself, I could better love others.

In 1993, for her to stand at the Inaugural celebration for a U.S. President was a revolution. This morning, the first African American First Lady of the United States gave one of Angelou’s eulogies, another sort of revolution.

Listening to the eulogy I find it hard to explain how much it moves me except to say, gratitude makes me who I am. Please listen. Amen.

With gratitude that family loves me, and mentors found me.

With gratitude too to Katherine.

Moments from 2013 in Photos

It’s overwhelming to look back through the mass of photos, and stack of wine interview/tasting notebooks I developed in the 2013 calendar year. I can’t say clearly enough how grateful I am.

I went through the photos I’ve taken, and picked a few images to highlight moments from the year. It reminded me how important it is to look back just for a sense of perspective. I didn’t realize how much I’d done until I took the time to consider it.

Here are a few photos. It was hard to choose.

Lagier Meredith

Visiting with Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier of Lagier-Meredith, aka SCIENTIST LEGEND and SYRAH MASTER (I’m realizing I should send them capes)

Santa Barbara, Pence Ranch

Touring the Sta Rita Hills as part of two weeks devoted to Santa Barbara County wine, here one of the dogs of Pence Ranch.

The Southern Ocean, Australia

Standing in front of the Southern Ocean while traveling Victoria, Australia

Napa Valley Marathon

Watching my brother-in-law run the Napa Valley Marathon. So proud of him.

Old Vines with Morgan Twain Peterson and Carla Rzewszewski

Visiting the iconic, old vine, elevation Monte Rosso Vineyard with Morgan Twain-Peterson and Carla Rzeszewski

Smith-Madrone

the aftermath of an excellent afternoon with Smith-Madrone

7 Percent Tasting

Ryan Glaab, Hardy Wallace, and Pax Mahle before the 7 Percent Solution Tasting

Santa Cruz Mountains

Spending time in the Santa Cruz Mountains, here with the gang at Fogarty Vineyards

Wine Label for Between Five Bells

My label for the Australian wine, Between Five Bells H-Cote Blend, shown here as it wraps the bottle–It was even selected as “Beautiful Thing for the Week” by Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. Custom wall pieces of my drawings also went up in the new wine room of the Villandry Restaurant in London, and in multiple homes and tasting rooms in the United States, and I got to illustrate for a few different magazines and wine programs, including Serious Eats, and Le Metro.

Lodi w Tegan Passalacqua

Visiting Lodi over several trips in both Summer and Fall, here in the Peninsula of Mokelumne River AVA with Tegan Passalacqua

Ron Silva, Lodi

Spending time in people’s homes sharing wine, heritage, and interviews, here with Ron Silva as he prepares Portuguese food for dinner, Alta Mesa AVA

The Perlegos Brothers, Lodi

Exploring old vine vineyards with the Perlegos brothers, Clements Hills AVA

Hank Beckmeyer, Sierra Foothills

Meeting the goats at La Clarine Farm with Hank Beckmeyer

Chris Pittenger and Hardy Wallace, Sierra Foothills

Touring through various El Dorado Vineyards with Chris Pittenger and Hardy Wallace

Willamette Valley, Remy and Lisa

Visiting with dear friends in Willamette Valley, Oregon, here Remy Drabkin and Lisa Shara Hall

50th Wedding Anniversary

Celebrating my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary

Evan Frazier

Tasting through the complete history of winemaking from newer labels of California, here Evan Frazier of Ferdinand

Matthew Rorick

Keeping up with ongoing stories in Napa wine, here Matthew Rorick harvesting his St Laurent from Carneros

Languedoc

Tasting and Touring the Languedoc, lunch floating the canal du Midi from Carcassonne

Valdobbiadene

Visiting Valdobbiadene, and the hills of the Prosecco DOCG, here with Silvia, Primo, and Annalisa Franco of Nino Franco

Venice

Traveling Northern Italy with friends, here with Jeremy Parzen in Venice

Chile

Tasting and Driving through Chilean wine from Santiago, the Holy Virgin at the top of San Cristobal Hill

Argentina

Studying and Touring Wines of Mendoza, Argentina along the foot of the Andes

***

I have so much to write still. My stack of notebooks from the last year is over 10 inches high. This month still I have a number of illustrations and wall pieces, plus a couple of labels to do, and freelance articles to write, along with tastings and interviews with winemakers. My plate is full. I am so grateful. I am also tired.

To celebrate I’ve decided to take the rest of the year off from posting on this blog. I’ll be catching up on tons of work off blog. Also, it’s time to rejuvenate through the dark month, and come back in the new year refreshed and excited again for work.

Looking forward to seeing you here just after the new year. In the meantime, feel free to email me, as always, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

Enjoy a wonderful remainder of December, and the holidays. Thankful with all my heart.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

 

I was raised in a multi-generational family in which the strongest tradition is sharing what we appreciate, and what we have learned through stories about the history of our own and our family’s lives. In thanks for the people with whom I was able to travel Chile and Argentina, I share this story. Thank you.

***

Travel from Alaska to Argentina

I was six the first time my maternal Great Grandmother, Umma, left the state of Alaska. As a full Aleut, she’d lived her life on the Western coast in first one fishing village, and then another. The area is Russian Orthodox.

Orthodox priests were assigned regions to lead, rather than individual churches. Every few months the priest would arrive in a village, and the people would quickly get married, buried, and baptized. And confess.

Confessions occurred in the small church cabin painted with holy pictures, and maintained by my Great Grandfather. Inside, the village would gather, most standing except for seats for the elder women. My Umma would sit through the service, as I stood behind her, my hands crossed on her right shoulder.

Villagers would wait through incense and prayers, blessings till time for confession, then stand in a line to speak to the priest. But first the priest would cross to the front to give communion to Umma where she sat, then return to the back to receive all the others.

Confessions in Orthodox tradition occur in full view, rather than to the side in a small box of a room. After the people proceeded past the priest at the back of the church they would continue in a circle around the sides, kissing holy pictures, till they met Umma. Then the villagers would stand and wait to greet and kiss her too. Sometimes they would also bless me. She was an elder of the community. As her great grandchild, I received honor from her too. It was a blessing I carried with me by being her relation.

My mother was the oldest of her family. She was raised by her grandparents, while also close to her parents. It was partially tradition of staying close to her elders, partially particulars of their own family.

As the story was told, when still young enough to walk to the back of the church, Umma met with the priest. My mom was still little. He said to my Great Grandmother, “someday this one will take you much farther than you’ve ever expected.” Our trip out-of-state was the journey.

Our entire family traveled together landing in Seattle, then driving to Oregon to my Aunty for Easter. I sat in the back, on the edge of the seat between my great grandparents on one side, my middle sister on the other. In the front, my parents and oldest sister rode. On the drive we would come around corners and discover another tall building, or a greater expanse through the trees. Umma would grab my back, squeeze, and whisper, Aling-na! her surprise for everything new that greeted her. On our arrival in Oregon we shared a bedroom. She told me the story for the first time of how the priest had predicted our travel.

She told me too how after I was born she would look at me and smile, then say to my mom, I don’t know where that one came from. It was her way to say too she didn’t know how far I would go.

My parents were both raised in coastal villages. My father, Inupiat, originates further North. Their home regions were small enough both chose to board elsewhere in the state for high school. For university they studied in Fairbanks, where finally they met and decided to marry. Both remained close to their extended families but in having children they made a choice to raise their daughters outside their villages. We spent winters in Anchorage attending a mainstream school, summers on the Western coast commercial fishing with our Native family.

My parents’ wish for their children was for us to be clearly based in our Native heritage while capable of asking only what it was we wanted to do, without question of if we could do it. A life migrating between Anchorage for school in the winters, and the coast for work in the summers was part of that.

Reflecting on my recent trip to South America, I find myself overwhelmed by generations of gift. I am the only member of my family, besides my daughter, that no longer lives in Alaska. My sisters are both quite accomplished but have chosen to live their lives there in the state of our birth. In this way, I stand both as a fulfillment of my parents’ wish that we succeed in the broader world, and as the one who suffers an effect of that gift without family near by. Family for Native people is integral to who we are, and part of any accomplishment we keep. It is me that must do my work, but my family that has made that possible.

We departed Argentina recently on their mother’s day, a celebration in recognition of the generations of women that are family. Before leaving we shared lunch with Nicolas and Elena Catena. They are two people that, like Robert Mondavi for California wine, helped carry Argentine wine into the greater international presence it has today. Spending time with them was an honor.

We were asked, each of us, to speak to what we learned in tasting wine in Argentina. Alyssa Vitrano began by realizing the parallels of her Italian heritage with that of many of the people in wine of Argentina. Mary Orlin, Kelly Magyarics, and Mary Gorman-McAdams spoke eloquently about the quality of the wines we’d tasted, and the intricacies of vineyards with landscape. We all mentioned the warmth of people that received us. When it came my turn to speak I was flooded with the voice of my Great Grandmother — her story from the priest and my birth. Sitting with such accomplished, warm-hearted people there in Argentina, my family’s wishes for me had sent me farther than I ever expected.

***
Thank you most especially to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus, Alyssa Vitrano, Kelly Magyarics, Mary Orlin, and Mary Gorman-McAdams.

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Life with FoodMy first day of school

my first day of school with Jr., age 2

For over a year I barely ate. My daughter’s father and I split when she was a year and a half. It was a difficult departure that included leaving our belongings, and taking no financial support from him. When the divorce was finalized he quit his high paying job making the court imposed child support irrelevant. I lived with my parents for eighteen months, then left Alaska and returned to school. In three years my degree was complete–a double major of Philosophy and Literature, with an honors degree and thesis.

Jr was two when I started classes. Having managed to afford the move, to win funding for college, to start with my daughter beside me, I was happy. I couldn’t afford to study full time, raise my daughter and also work so I applied for scholarships and grants continuously. Both my college and her preschool, as a result, were funded. The income for everything else would ebb and flow depending on the time of year but she got two meals through her preschool. I ate on my own in the day, with her at nights and on weekends.

Towards the end of my second year my funding was cut thanks to a reduction in state spending. We were living in Arizona. I knew we’d leave for Alaska and commercial fishing at the end of May, but it was March. At the start of each semester I’d purchase food staples that could last just in case. We started eating them. I’d give Rachel the canned goods with grains or pasta, while I ate just the rice or noodles.

It was something I didn’t talk about but for those three years my toddler and I lived below the poverty line in a house with a breeze through the living room (there were gaps in the wall). Towards the end of that second month of rice and noodles my best friend who lived in Seattle somehow realized I had no money. That same week a letter arrived with a $50 gift card for the grocery store. The simplicity of the gift was overwhelming, and still today, more than ten years later, makes my hands shake to think about.

At four, Rachel had never complained about her food, even with a bowl of only black olives and spaghetti noodles in front of her. So I’d assumed she hadn’t noticed. When we went to the grocery store together with the gift card I realized she had. She spent the twenty minutes in the grocery cart as I pushed naming all the things we could buy. For her it was mostly the fruit.

***

The United States government has shut down. I am uninterested in the federal politics behind it.

Many Head Start programs are almost immediately losing funding. WIC pregnancy and nutrition support for mothers and children will not be processed. Veteran benefits will not be processed. In some states, state processes will be able to temporarily over-step the federal aspects of a short term shut down.

Please consider sending grocery store gift cards to any families you know that may be affected. Please consider giving cash scholarships to any school food programs in your area. Please consider increasing your food bank donations. Real people need your simple gift.

***

To read more on the shut down:

A list of what is affected: http://wtvr.com/2013/09/30/government-shutdown-whats-closed-whats-open/

BBC coverage of the government shut down: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24343698

Coverage on how the shut down will affect everyday US Americans: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2437658/How-government-shutdown-affect-ordinary-Americans.html

***

To locate a food bank near you: http://feedingamerica.org/foodbank-results.aspx

To donate to a local school, call one near you, or the area school district, to ask how.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Winters ate more than half the year. In Spring, ice floats would form in the streets. I would play by making a leap in my silver moon boots from ice-island to ice-island the half mile walk from school to home. Across the street from the house there was a yard that grew pussy willows, a tree that bloomed fuzz blossoms with the first sun of spring. The rest of the world was wet from winter melt. Each day in March, I would stop the way home from school and pet the tiny bloom with my thumb, then return home.

Opening the front door, my mom would often be at the top of the stairs making food, the light still low that time of year. Sun would rush through the kitchen window and her silhouette would greet me, lit from behind with the light that would lift more for summer.

Growing up in Alaska offered a life of finding richness in deprivation. Produce in my childhood consisted only of dried up oranges, the firmest apples, and pears picked long before they were ripe. In summer, we lived on the western coast and survived mostly on canned mushrooms and frozen vegetables to accent fresh fish and wild meats. The salmon straight from water was so vibrant, its flavor made up for limp broccoli.

The ground of Alaska is barren. It offers open vistas of dramatic landscape, the tallest mountain in North America (Mt Denali) in the distance, but so far across the valley its size by contrast rests a comfortable peak, not so obviously the one that people fall from or freeze upon with regularity. The distances between such great objects make them smaller by perspective.

The earth there is made of tundra. Herbs, berry bushes, and tea grow in peat, bound together through miniaturized roots growing into miniaturized plants. In summer, walking across the tundra it is easy to overlook plantlife, leaving it unseen because of its tiny size until the leaves and bramble break beneath your feet and your world becomes awash in scents. Summers in Alaska for me were like the blind developing their other senses–walks across tundra are so rich in scent, so bare in visual appeal. It is this overwhelming flush of smells I now know drove me into wine. Leaving the Northern climes for anywhere else, I find myself in what might as well be (by comparison) city life. In such a life, there are no scents as rich as home except in a glass of wine.

The strongest lesson of growing up within Alaska, however, is the incredible mark one person makes. The land of Alaska, with all that tundra-peat, swallows history. What is built sinks into that moistened land. Untended, buildings disappear within a generation. My first trip to Boston, with all its Revolution era graveyards, and people buried four deep atop each other shook me to the core. Nothing stands so old in my frontier. That something could last so long, occur in layers and remain, moved me. In Alaska, a cut to the land shakes the landscape. Roadways appear as stark contrast to the raw earth surrounding. In a land that swallows buildings, your choices will be lost in a generation. But, because history does not own the landscape around you as it does in older cities, the choices of your generation echo much more strongly. One man’s choices change the world.

In Summer 2012, I came to Napa Valley only to meet a few men in wine. I had two days to give for a handful of meetings. In the midst of those meetings, however, I also connected unexpectedly with George Vare. He’s a man that now, in his final project — planting a small vineyard of Ribolla gialla in Napa Valley — has come to symbolize the pinnacle of wine geek accomplishment. After meeting a few Italian winemakers whose choices he believed in, he rescued cuttings of their vines in Italy and snuck them into the United States. From those he began what would be 2 1/2 acres in the town of Napa, leading now to plantings in Carneros, and the Russian River Valley. But he would also go on to impact a generation of winemakers younger than himself. How? to seek unusual varieties, to make wines under the influence of obscure talents from regions barely heard of, to experiment in wine making, measuring standards on a more global rather than simply market scale.

Interestingly, he planted his Ribolla vineyard at the same time he also dove deep into his practices of spiritual growth. The Ribolla was a commitment not of economic capital–he made no money from it–but of giving one self to a project bigger than yourself, to something you simply cannot predict and yet believe in.

Somehow in the midst of all of this, I was lucky enough to spend time with George Vare. He is only one man. He made simple, while brilliant choices. I write about wine because in the midst of all of this, if I pay enough attention, I am sometimes gifted with the glimmer of a life.

***

Inspired by Stevie Stacionis, Matthew Rorick, and Katherine Yelle; and as in all things, my mom.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com