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Wakawaka Chronicles

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

 

The Architecture of the Everyday

Lyeta Elaine

It was summer on Montmarte. The cobbled streets felt cool and round in the heat. I appreciated the texture of walking the artists’ neighborhood of the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The hillside was dotted with little boutiques–a woman that hand-painted textiles, then cut them into baguette shaped handbags; a twosome that hammered pastel leather shoes hunched over a pointed toe wooden foot; another woman that had worked for Yves Saint Laurent’s design team then quit in order to create clothing made from antique silk neck ties she lifted from friends’ closets around town. The expressions of these people fascinated me.

I’d arrived in Paris on a student scholarship. During my undergraduate degree I focused on poetry writing, while also studying philosophy and literature. That year I won entry into two summer programs working with poet-teachers for writing, alongside studying literature of the regions–one in St Petersburg, the other in Prague. My scholarships covered the cost of me getting to Europe, the programs’ fees and housing, both of which included breakfast. For the two months I was abroad, breakfast was most of what I’d eat.

Between locations I was on my own for nine days. It turned out the price of getting from Russia to Prague was actually cheaper routed through Paris, so I’d chosen my break be spent there, nine days on the side of Montmarte. I arrived having pre-paid for a dorm style hostel that fed me coffee and baguette in the morning. For nine days I walked the city unable to afford the metro.

To visit Paris was such a gift in the midst of everything I didn’t mind how poor it also felt. My daughter and I barely covered our expenses through my three years of undergrad, so to find myself in Europe was stunning. I couldn’t believe I’d made my way to Paris in the midst of time in Russia (my childhood dream country. At the age of 9, my long term goal had been to make it to the Soviet Union someday.) and Czech Republic. Day 7 the feeling changed. I’d walk 9 hours a day tearing off baguette a little at a time as I went. For the week I had 5 Euro to spend.

Walking up Montmarte my body felt bedraggled. I’d woken up depressed, and spent the morning berating my attitude. To go without food in Paris in the midst of a summer of poetry was too symbolically perfect not to laugh. I was angry for feeling sucked into the negative feeling of the moment. Part of me kept saying I just needed a chocolate bar, a double chocolate ice cream bar sold from a little cart below the Sacré Cœur–the Sacred Heart Cathedral at the top of the hill. The thought was ridiculous though as the treat cost $4.25 and buying one would mean most of my money for the week. After several hours I finally gave in, gave my money away for chocolate. The seduction of suffering was too strong to convince myself I should be saving my money. I was to get another small student payment after arriving in Prague.

Half way into the ice cream I caught myself beaming as I walked. I was happy again. I was in Paris, on Montmarte, my favorite part of town, and the woman with neck ties had created a new vest from the stash she found in her boyfriend’s closet. She let me try it on. A bit down the road a local bartender offered me a glass of wine if I would fill a seat at the bar.

That evening I returned to my dorm and a new roommate had appeared. We’d actually met my first night but she’d moved out for a time, then come back. Her travels took her all the way from Australia, where she’d worked two jobs for two years, one at a pizza joint in Perth, to save money for half a years travels. She asked if I’d like to make dinner with her. My money gone, she took me across the street and bought a jar of tomato sauce, some dried noodles, and a bottle of red wine that cost two Euro. We boiled water, drank wine, and ate. The next day she took me across town to a poetry reading along the Seine. Another roommate had given her a handful of extra Metro tickets before he left Paris.

The day after that I flew to Prague. She sent me emails about getting lost on a hillside in Corsica at dark, finally sleeping in bushes till sunrise rather than hurt herself stumbling down hill. She WWOOFed in Southern France to subsidize her travels. I walked Prague, and sweated through concentration camp side trips I could barely handle visiting.

Six years later, she visited me in Arizona. It was absurdly cold that week and I gave her wool hat and gloves to travel with. We made homemade noodles and sauce in my home, and walked all over my little town. She cooked me vegetarian meals. I introduced her to new white wines. (She’s allergic now to red.)

We’d kept in contact emailing an update every few months for six years. I watched as she completed an undergraduate degree, fell in love and moved East across Australia, then closed that relationship and started a new career. She saw me advance from my undergrad, into grad school, move to Canada, and then back again to the United States, and through pictures watched Jr grow.

I’ve spent time with her in person only twice. Most of the nine days in Paris, and another ten in Arizona. Still, there is a camaraderie we share that overlaps into similar perspectives on curiosity, passion, and compassion. We’ve shared insight on friendship, spirituality, and personal growth. She’s taught me about developing community sustainability programs through her work. Even from the Southern hemisphere, she’s part of the architecture of my life. It’s a friendship made possible by a chance meeting at a hostel in Montmarte.

It didn’t occur to me in advance, but wine blogging turns out to carry a similar treasure. People like Dan Fredman, Alfonso Cevola, and Jeremy Parzen reached out and in differing ways encouraged me to keep writing. Their blogs served too as differing insights into how people engage with wine, and the way wine enriches the larger aspects of their lives–family, friends, travel, the everyday.

Fredric Koppel, Ron Washam, Christopher Watkins appeared as enthusiasts, again with outrageously different approaches but each talented and sincere in their style. Gwendolyn Alley bolsters my enthusiasm through her own. Lisa Shara Hall, and Amy Cleary (writers and professionals in other avenues that happen to also blog) I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with. I’ve been lucky enough too to connect with other blog-writers, and to learn from them about the craft of writing, the value of the everyday, and yes, too, wine. Writers that also blog, like Janice Cable, and Alice Feiring deepen the threads of information.

(All of this to speak only of other blog keepers, not to even mention the blog readers, and the people I write about that have been met and befriended along the way.)

Connecting to people through their stories online has enriched the decor on that same architecture of my life. These are a few examples of connections made through this weird practice of blogging while following other bloggers.

The experience is a lot like that Montmarte hostel. By chance, we all ended up in the same metaphorical dorm room, and now choose to keep in touch. We ended up there because we’re broke, or cheap, or just looking to meet more people. But through noodles and a bottle of wine we just might share our life.

***

Congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Awards. I’m so grateful to have been included among the finalists, and so happy for each of the winners.

Cheers!

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

2

A Strange Reflection on Mother’s Day

Rachel and I on her second birthday

Jr and I on her second birthday. We had just started living life on our own.

Poet Wislawa Szymborska writes “A Few Words on the Soul” as a reflection of our richest moments, when the soul visits us in pure feeling. She comments too, our soul is not always with us, though we need it and it needs us too. Life distracts us from our full connection, then comes rushing back in with force. In one line that carries strong resonance for me she remarks on the interconnection of joy and sorrow:

Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

Greeting cards often treat joy and sorrow as separate events, striking us at different times defined only by one or the other. Szymborska reminds us the richest moments, the fullest times of heart are when the two are necessary to each other.

In 2005 my dear friend Gita died jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The grief it caused in me was unbearable for over a year, and then merely painful for long after. A year and a half later I still struggled to feel “up” emotions. Knowing she’d suffered to the point of complete sacrifice, and that I had lost with her over a decade of sharing could not be reconciled for me. It still lives unreconciled. Suicide finds no home in the heart.

In summer 2007 I lived in Toronto for 6-weeks sweating through the heat wave with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. I was at the end of my second year of a PhD program. At night after hours on end reading, transcribing, and annotating a paragraph at a time from the text, I would stumble across the street for street meat. I joked recovery from Hegel was like a hang over. You needed salt, water, and a long walk. At night I would visit the annual Jazz festival’s small venues dotted around town.

One Monday about half way through July a pack of us descended on a beer spilled pub that housed a weekly Jazz Standards band. The repetition of songs week after week had become comforting. That night, pitchers of beer in, my friends erupted suddenly into dance. I don’t know what triggered it since the song played was the same they’d heard weekly all summer. But that night I watched through the dark bar as my friends smiled bigger than their faces, and shook their limbs about. The song was fast and they went with it.

The moment was so beautiful, everyone ecstatic in jazz, and in the midst of my grief I almost couldn’t bear the happiness. This was an experience Gita had given up. She had left our world because the weight of it was too great, and she’d sacrificed joy along with her. With my friends all dancing, I found myself weeping with laughter. The two feelings coming simultaneously. I couldn’t bear that we can suffer such pain, and yet couldn’t sacrifice that we can revel in so much joy. The two inform each other, and make the other both more bitter and more sweet. Both too are feelings bigger than any one of us alone. We can only live them by letting them wash through as they will.

On Mother’s Day, I write this to say two things.

Raising a daughter on my own all these years has brought me the heart that can almost bear its soul. To be her mother makes my life both more bitter and more sweet. I cannot explain how to persist in the challenge of being an only parent. Many times the struggle has been unbearable–facing fears with her, or making ends meet. I can only answer it to say, I love her, and that makes me more able to love me too.

But, more than this, I thank my mom. Being a mother myself has given me the gift of loving my mom more clearly. It is thanks to her I have this heart at all. Her love, and my father’s, was given to me first.

Blessings to every mother on Mother’s Day. May you have a day that brings you tender joy. Amen.

***
To read Symborska’s poem: http://www.bu.edu/agni/poetry/print/2002/56-szymborska.html

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

The following is part 2 of a talk I gave to UC Davis Viticulture & Enology students on Monday.

To read part 1: on Freedom, Paul Draper, and Camus: UCDavis Talk, Part 1: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Here is part 2

***

Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking
by Elaine Chukan Brown, aka. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka

Me

Part 2: Expression: Pneumonia and Technique

For the second part of my talk, I want to consider the idea of this expression, but I want to reflect on it by telling you a story from my own life that few people know. For all the personal confessions that exist in my writing about wine, this is a story I haven’t written. It’s how or why I left my academic career.

In 2010, I was awarded a research fellowship with Dartmouth College. I had already been teaching philosophy full-time in Northern Arizona for several years at that point. The fellowship I won is given to one person a year for someone whose research is seen as a positive resource for the Dartmouth community, and academia at large. The winner is funded to live on campus and simply do the work they were already doing. I arrived, then, in summer 2010 as a philosopher in residence working on questions of Indigenous Identity.

While there, I was also asked to give the response to a keynote address at a conference occurring in Montreal, Quebec, where I had also done graduate coursework at McGill. To prepare for the response, I’d of course thoroughly considered the article itself, but also read each of the books and articles written by the keynote speaker. The day I was to respond I woke up severely ill. I was used to toughing out sickness, however, and made plans to clear my schedule until the keynote that evening so I could rest until I needed to get up for my response. Two hours prior, I discovered I was still too sick to get out of bed. In the end, though, I had to be convinced by the conference organizer that it was acceptable for me to stay in bed and let someone else read my pre-written response.

The person who wrote the keynote was one of the leaders in my field, and the occasion had been designed partially to give us the chance to meet, so as to facilitate the possibility of her acting as an ongoing mentor—it is common for younger faculty to be guided by more experienced professors. It turned out I was sick the entire week and I never met her. Finally, by the weekend, a friend took me to the emergency room, as I was having trouble breathing. I was diagnosed with pneumonia that ultimately sent me to the emergency room three times over the course of almost two months, and demanded three rounds of antibiotics.

I actually suffered a poor reaction to the first set of antibiotics that included severe headaches lasting for several hours after taking the pills. The pain was intense enough I could not do anything for the hours they peaked besides meditate through them. It was unbearable but I had no choice but simply get through it. Fighting the headaches made them worse. Stopping the antibiotics would only make the pneumonia worse. The headaches were also severe enough I couldn’t do any other work. There was no way out. You might say the illness was my boulder during this period.

In the midst of this time I made a surprise discovery. At the best of it, I would clear my thoughts entirely. But often uncontrolled thoughts would come through mind. After a little while, I recognized that when I thought about something that lined up with my preferences, the pain would subside slightly, and I would feel better. If I thought about something that did not agree with me, I would feel worse.

When I recognized this pattern I decided to test it. I would intentionally think about things I already knew my preferences on: over extracted Australian Shiraz—immediately bad; over-oaked Chardonnay—even worse; champagne—ah, better; coffee—better still. I continued testing it until I was confident the pattern was consistent. Then, I began testing things I wasn’t so clear on to see if they made me feel better or worse. During my meditations through the headaches I would treat my body as a kind of i ching making small insights into aspects of my life I hadn’t been sure about before. Over time, what I came to recognize was that when I thought about anything relating to my career in academia, I felt immediately worse. The sensation was utterly consistent, and in fact became stronger through my headaches. By the time I finished that round of antibiotics, the idea of continuing in academia in the way I had been before immediately triggered migraines.

As I recovered my health, I decided I had to change my life. I had committed so completely to philosophy, and pursuing it through an academic career I had no idea what else I could do for work. Even so, the message of my health was too clear. So, I made a different commitment. I would give myself one year to extract myself from my career in academia. By the time I finished that year, I still had no idea what I would do instead. I only had images of what I wanted—I wanted to write. I wanted my life to be full of sunlight. I needed alone time. I liked listening to people that really meant what they were doing. I had no idea what it would look like to make all those elements come together. I only knew I’d made myself a promise, and I had to act on faith that my promise was worth something.

Around the time I had planned to give my resignation I worried that my decision was crazy. By this point I had returned to Arizona to complete my last year of teaching with an ongoing contract from the university. The same moment I questioned whether I should stick to my plan of leaving, or stay another year, I got asked to a meeting with my department chair and was told that due to severe budget cuts across the state I should expect my teaching load to increase one class per term without any raise in pay. It was the only confirmation I needed, and I submitted my formal resignation that same week. I understood that I was still a philosopher. But the success I’d cultivated in academia I left behind. Though I recognized myself as a philosopher still, there was no guarantee it would ever be recognized by anyone else outside a formal philosophy program. I walked away from any guarantee of being recognized for my work by others.

Here is what I want you to know about that story: everything in me knows that I made the right decision pursuing a career in philosophy. The personal clarity I gained from suffering through the rigorous demands of advanced training in careful thinking is irreplaceable. It has shaped who I am. I am endlessly grateful. Everything in me also knows I did the right thing in leaving my career in academia. This is not to deny the benefits of academic life. It is an excellent career to consider. It was simply not the right career for me to stay within. So while I am grateful I chose philosophy, I am also grateful I left academia.

My point, however, is this: advanced training in philosophy gave me decisive access to a wealth of tools. What it did not tell me was precisely how I must use those tools. It gave me a range of possible models I could follow, but it also did not expose me to others that were also possible. An academic career in the discipline is one framework through which I could exercise my training. But through faith, and a lot of luck, and now continued hard work, I bumbled my way into an entirely different form of expressing those same tools.

When I meet with people in wine, what I am doing is listening to what they say, as well as what they don’t, listening for their values, their beliefs, and their principles not only through how they overtly express them, but also through the implications of what they do and do not say. While listening, I track the form of their expression, to ask myself who it is in front of me. I ask questions to make sure I understand where someone is coming from. In a strange way, I do something parallel to this when tasting and drinking wine.

What I have learned from this approach is that the more willing, and more often I am willing to take people, and wine this seriously, the better at hearing what each has to offer I get. Then, once I am comfortable that I do recognize the actual person, or beverage in front of me, I write about them. What I am practicing, then, is another expression of my philosophical training. I chose to leave one form of philosophical practice to instead pursue another.

What I want to suggest is that each of you have a similar choice. Most likely, and hopefully, it won’t be as dramatic as headaches and pneumonia that helps you make your decision. But you are still in a similar situation as I just described for myself. This is true in two senses. First, it is up to you to decide how open, and how systematic you want to be in approaching your practice with wine, and with people. This point connects to the second.

Here at UC Davis what you have been given, or what you are gathering, is a collection of tools. If you do choose to continue in vineyard management, or in winemaking, eventually that choice will become the rock you are committed to, but you will still have the question of how you will apply the tools you have gained here. In what way do you want to express yourself as a vineyard manager, or winemaker? To put it more simply, you have an incredible opportunity to ask yourself, what kind of wine do you want to make.

In the world of wine, it can be easy to assume sometimes that we have been handed a preset model of what is good—that Burgundy is the model for terroir, as an example. It is one of the oldest. Sometimes we assume that most established is equal to the best. Or, we might think that over oaked Chardonnay is always bad. Today, common models of wine include the idea that natural wine is best, or that it is crap; or, that only low alcohol wines are balanced. But each of these approaches to wine are actually methods developed over time by a series of tasters, and winemakers, and, just like Sisyphus’s rock, these ideas are in a sense arbitrary.

We still have to choose our views. They are what give shape to our life. But if you recognize your own ideas here about what counts as the right kind of wine, I want to ask you to consider, what is the source of that opinion? Is it what you want to commit yourself to?

From the peak of Mt Olympus these distinctions in wine do not mean much. It is us, with our face right beside the boulder, that decide they are meaningful. We get to ask ourselves which approaches we want to invest our time in.

***

Tomorrow: Part 3: Love: Paul Draper and Principles

Part 3: UC Davis Talk, Part 3: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Thank you to Dr. Boulton. Thank you to all of the students that attended.

Thank you to Kate MacKay.

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

Visiting Flagstaff in March: Mixed Signs of the Season

Jr and I are back in Flagstaff, Arizona visiting friends for her Spring Break. Though I’m born and raised in Alaska, I grew up in Flagstaff. Our lives here included more than seven years with me going from being simply a graduate student of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, to becoming a professional philosopher teaching at Northern Arizona University here. It’s been over a year now since I resigned from my position in academia, about nine months since we moved from the Southwest. The thing about Flagstaff? It stays much the same. Nice most of all to be back here with friends.

Per request from some friends and a few readers, tomorrow we’ll be driving South to Cottonwood to taste with AZ Stronghold, and Pillsbury Wines.

Here’s a few photos from walking around town that give you a feel for the place.

Classic AZ-Drive Thru Liquor

Classic Arizona: All Signs Point to the Inessential Drive-Thru Liquor Store

Buds not yet open

March offers conflicted signs of the season: buds not yet open

Multi-colored leaves

Leaves of the bush in colors still turned from Winter frost

Fir and Sky

What kept me in Flagstaff so long: sky sky blue blue sky. The clarity and high contrast colors of life at elevation

Birch and Sky

Winter Birch cut against the blue blue sky

Pizzicletta

Stopping by my friend’s place for an afternoon chat: Caleb Schiff’s Pizzicletta

Caleb Delivering Bread to the CSA

Walking with Caleb to deliver Pizzicletta’s bread to the local CSA

A town still ready for snow

A town with no snow still ready for winter: it’ll come again soon. It always does.

Sugar Mamas Bakery

Visiting another friend’s, Lisa Born, bakery, Sugar Mamas

Some of the Sugar Mamas goods

Their first day open two years ago I bought out all the cupcakes and brought them to campus for the Existentialism class. Sisyphus’s rock is easier with frosting

The town defined--Route 66, the Mountain, 4x4 truck, and the tracks

Flagstaff defined: old shops on Route 66 in view of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks, with a 4×4 truck crossing the trans-continental Railroad line

***

Cheers!

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