Category Wine Reflection

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine: Drinking Raveneau

Reflections on Beauty and Strangeness in Wine

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” -Charles Baudelaire

A particular explanation of philosophy remarks that the philosopher’s work is to notice the strangeness of the ordinary. Such a view forms a sort of paradox. That is, the ordinary is in its nature strange, in other words, not really ordinary at all.

Last night in the midst of a Paris Popup dinner at Penrose in Oakland I unexpectedly found my nose in a glass of Domaine Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre Chablis. The profundity of the experience proved quite simple. In the grapefruit, forest musk of the glass I smelled only joy.

In what are known as the Kallias Letters, German poet-historian-philosopher Friedrich Schiller gives an account of beauty. “A form is beautiful, one might say, if it demands no explanation, or if it explains itself without a concept.” Within Schiller’s idea of the beautiful is the point that it transcends us — what is truly beautiful is not a matter of our own personal preferences (our preferences are fickle), but instead a characteristic of the beautiful thing itself. In saying that the beautiful needs no explanation, Schiller is pointing out that what is beautiful is simply complete — it needs no supplement. It is beautiful. A kind of straightforward aesthetic truth.

Schiller’s account of the beautiful seems to present an example of the very thing it works to define. It too needs no further explanation. That is, for any of us that have encountered moments of beauty in wine, his definition of beauty feels right. In the nose of Raveneau, there was nothing to say. I could try to describe aromas for the wine but the truer point was that the wine smelled of joy. It had no other explanation.

It must be said too, that for those of us that haven’t witnessed a moment like this of the beautiful (whether through wine or anywhere else), there is nothing to understand in Schiller’s point either. He can give no explanation because there isn’t one. You’ve either seen beauty, and so recognize the simplicity of it, or you haven’t.

Schiller’s account of beauty forms a sort of paradox as well. In his account, he shows that beauty is not a matter of personal preference. There is nothing fickle about the beautiful. Our tastes may change, but a beautiful form is in itself a beautiful form. Our recognition of it (or not) does not impact the truth of the object. Yet, there is a kind of problem.

The idea of beauty is an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is, by definition, a study of the principles behind beauty, but it is also a study of our sensory experiences, or that which we can witness about the world. The point is that, something like Raveneau may be beautiful in itself, but it can only be recognized or exist as beautiful because as humans we have the capacity to witness it. This point is tricky, and almost circular, so let me restate it.

Because beauty is an aesthetic concept, it is necessarily subjective — we are the sensual creatures that seek it — and yet, the beautiful thing exists in and of itself as beautiful, whether we recognize its beauty or not. We are the creatures that generate the very concept (beauty) that we then find in the world regardless of us.

It is here, then, that we discover the gift and strangeness of encountering beauty. We are struck dumb by the beautiful. In encountering beauty, we in a sense escape ourselves. Yet, we are always implicated in its form. Precisely because beauty is an aesthetic notion, it links necessarily to our senses. The experience of sensing something beyond ourselves at the same time gives us strength — we have the capacity to access, witness, and experience something beyond our own limits. Here, the intertwined nature of beauty — that it transcends us and yet we are implicated in it — reveals part of its power. The thing that transcends us roots us more fully in ourselves, precisely by its pulling us beyond ourselves, another paradox. In doing so, beauty reveals to us how much more is possible. It becomes a kind of motivation for us to be more than we thought we were.

Beauty reminds us how much more is the world than any of our self-involved analysis of it, and also of our ability to live more fully in it. In his book, The Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller goes on to develop an account in which he treats the beautiful as an example for improving ourselves as people. There he tells us that we can strive to achieve in ourselves a sense of the completeness we witness through the beautiful. That is, when we are good there is no explanation, we simply are good. Yet, for us as humans, such goodness feels more tenuous than those moments with the beautiful, precisely because goodness for us must be an ongoing process. We must always strive for such balance without an ability to permanently arrive at it. In its parallel to goodness, beauty becomes a motivator to find comfort in our own uncertainty.

In smelling my Raveneau last night, I had no words and only smiling. The wine changed remarkably over the course of the evening, yet always carried that initial experience of my being struck. In as much as I gave myself to the wine, there was little I could say about it. To write any sense of typical wine description, I would have had to take a stance of analysis that necessarily would remove me from the very thing I sought to describe. As a result, what I find to say is this. (It is both utterly inadequate, and in itself complete. Forgive me. I can only hope the people for whom it’s meant will recognize the statement for its intended truth.)

Last night I drank Raveneau. All I can say emphatically is, Thank you.

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More later on Paris Popups.

Thank you to Anthony Lynch. Thank you to Laura Vidal.

Thank you to John of Penrose.

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

Variety, Place, Technique, A Life in Wine: Mac Forbes, Yarra Valley, Australia

Tasting Place with Mac Forbes

Mike Bennie, Mac Forbes, Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Australia

Mike Bennie and Mac Forbes, in the Woori Yallock Vineyard, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, February 2013

It’s February the first time Mac Forbes and I meet. Wine writer Mike Bennie has generously included me on a trip around Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, and we’re spending the second half of a day with Forbes, and his vineyard partner, Dylan Grigg.

We focus the visit on a favorite site of Grigg and Forbes in the Woori Yallock area walking a South facing slope to see the changes of Pinot at various parts of the hill. They’ve worked with the site for several years now. Forbes tells me when they started, the deep siltstone soils created grapes so tannic the fruit couldn’t stand up to the structure. The vines now reach around twenty years old and their expression has seemed to find itself — the fruit-tannin balance gives more easily. Later, we taste several vintages of the wine. It carries a lithe tension and energy that renews my previously challenged faith in Pinot Noir.

Departing from Australia, Forbes’ wines keep returning to mind so I decide to contact him. After several re-tastings, and emails back and forth, we’re able finally to talk in early November on, what I find out later, is Forbes birthday. He’s just returning from a visit to Austria, where he spent several years as a winemaking and vineyard consultant. The trip allowed him time with long-term friends.

When I ask Forbes how his Australian winter has been, he surprises me. “Since I’ve seen you I feel like I’ve grown enormously in a humbling way,” he responds. Forbes’ wines are already well-regarded among his winemaking peers, and his experience with heritage wineries in Australia, Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and consulting in Austria, are impressive, not to mention harvest work through France and elsewhere. I ask Forbes to explain. Eventually, his answer humbles me.

The Vineyard as an Educative Force
Mac Forbes

Mac Forbes, February 2013

Forbes begins speaking about his vineyard sites, all (small) sections of land with unique soil conditions throughout the Yarra Valley. He describes a previously abandoned collection of vines in the Wesburn region that was almost pulled until the current owner asked if Forbes and Grigg wanted to try and restore it. The project demanded several years of wrestling blackberry bushes, and tackling trees before it gave any grapes, that first fruit mainly various whites. More recently they were also able to make Pinot.

I ask Forbes what about his vineyards challenged his way of thinking. “Wesburn definitely precipitated this school of thought evolving,” he tells me. “The big thing that dawned on me in the last twelve months,” he starts, then pauses, and starts again. “So much of what I was doing has been to be outcome focused, yet I was committed to making wines of place.”

Winemakers around the world recite these days how they make wines focused on site expression. Many such examples, however, are winemakers with little contact with the site itself, simply buying fruit at the end of the season. Considering what little interaction with a location such a model affords, how they could be making terroir driven wines remains unclear. Recognizing something more in Forbes’ claim, I push him to explain. Instead of naming site features, he describes the vineyard itself as an educative force.

Looking at his example, Forbes makes wine from the Wesburn site (among others), but perhaps more importantly, he works with other winemakers that also purchase fruit from he and Grigg. The community that’s arisen from the experience has changed him.

“Wesburn fruit has a unique structure totally at odds with other sites we’ve got,” he explains. “It’s quite humbling to watch. People put on a hat ready to taste Pinot, then something else happens.” The collection of winemakers that work with Wesburn fruit come from varied schools of thought. One is more inclined towards conventional uses of apparent oak, and sulfur regimes. Another tends to push on reducing (or eliminating) sulfur additions while increasing skin contact. Over a few years, however, winemaking from Wesburn fruit put in sharp relief for all of them the impact of technique.

Listening for the Voice of a Site

In circling around our discussion, Forbes speaks about the difference between what he quickly calls a shy versus a dull site. He means the names more descriptively than critically. A dull site, as he understands it, might give quality fruit but will readily take up whatever winemaking technique you ascribe to it. The fruit itself is dull when compared to the winemaking, which shows up more in comparison.

“A shy site,” on the other hand, “might just need some space to shine.” A shy vineyard, then, could have sophisticated character but need the room to show what it has without being suffocated. Such a subtle distinction emphasizes the need for a winemaker to listen.

In offering the example, what Forbes wants to discuss is how the contrast changes the attention from outcome to place. When a winemaker’s focus is on listening, he or she has turned away from an outcome question that could otherwise seem as basic as what kind of wine to make–Pinot, for example–instead to asking how he or she will make the wine. In working with vineyards in the Yarra Valley, “I used to be looking for Pinot sites. Now I’m looking for great sites. Variety has to factor in, but it is secondary,” he says.

Education from the vineyard turns the attention away from the goal of a particular wine style or type, to the process of how to approach it, driven by what the site itself needs or wants. “Making wine in relation to benchmark examples of wine,” like Burgundy for Pinot Noir, for example, Forbes explains, “can make lovely wine, but likely suffocates the fruit a little bit.” That is, with such an approach, your attention is focused on somewhere, or something else, rather than the grapes you have.

When dealing with a shy site, “you end up having to ask how to best capture the character of the vineyard and help it come to the surface,” he tells me. “With Wesburn, we were confronted with the edge of going too far in technique.” Part of what is remarkable about the example is that it brought winemaker’s with hugely different philosophies on winemaking much closer in understanding. “This site brought people together, beyond being dogmatic, to a more similar place in approach. We all found the site wanted less sulfur, and less skin contact both. It’s been fascinating to watch.”

Fascinated by Wesburn

Forbes 2012 Pinots

Tasting early release samples with Forbes

Fascinated, by Forbes point, I ask him to talk through details. The vines at Wesburn were originally planted in 1981. The site rides the edge of potential for the Yarra Valley, as one of the team’s most expensive to run, giving incredibly low vigor from compacted mudstone and clay. Five years ago, Forbes planted Blaufrankisch believing the variety would suit the characteristics of the area. It has still to produce fruit for wine. Everything moves slowly at Wesburn. There is, in other words, low incentive for growing in the location but Forbes sees something valuable and so persists.

Moving slowly “is part of the site. It doesn’t help to push it,” Forbes explains. Trying to rush the vines won’t actually grow the fruit faster. The Pinot Noir of Wesburn, even from established vines, also took time to come back from neglect he reminds me. “I believed it would get there. I didn’t realize it would take so long.” The site is unique in Yarra Valley, protected from hot North winds blowing down from the desert, and as far East as one can go in the Yarra. It receives long morning shade, and cool air, so it shows a very specific side of the Valley. It’s the specificity of the site that has Forbes engaged.

Forbes History with the Yarra Valley

Dedicated to winemaking, Forbes spent years working in wine internationally. In 2004, however, he spent a summer with Dirk Niepoort studying vineyard sites first in Portugal, then in Austria. As Forbes explains, Niepoort tends towards vineyards other winemakers overlook as too barren, or neglected for production. The wines Niepoort makes, however, are vibrantly expressive and elegant. The experience with Niepoort made Forbes reconsider the potential of his home region.

What Yarra Valley has in abundance is ready fruit assertion. By trusting the region will give fruit character, winemakers can turn away from concerns of ripeness to search instead for what will make that fruit interesting. For Forbes, the focus falls on texture, and site expression.

After his experience with Niepoort, then, Forbes returned to Yarra Valley with a thirst for studying sub-regionality, to explore the unique, and multiple voices of the Yarra Valley. “If I am going to stay in this caper, it’s got to be to get to know what is unique about our little patch of dirt,” he explains. “If you can’t find out what is unique about your dirt, then why are you doing it?” Forbes asks. It is in this question that the humility Forbes exudes becomes clear.

Mac Forbes winemaking project is not about fulfilling or showcasing his own goals in wine as much as it is based in trying to find (with his winemaking community too) a voice that is bigger than his own to contribute to. Forbes’ wines do renew my faith in Pinot Noir, but interestingly they shed light on the grape itself less than they do the character of the Yarra Valley, and what it means to make wines of place.

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Thank you to Mac Forbes.

Thank you to Mike Bennie, Jay Latham, and Lisa McGovern.

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

Jacques Lardiere: A Life in Wine (and life in wine)

In summer 2012, I was able to meet Jacques Lardière during the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in Willamette Valley. As part of the event program, Lardière presented, alongside Alder Yarrow, a retrospective of his work with Maison Louis Jadot. The primary focus of the tasting, however, turned out not to be the wines themselves as much as Lardière’s vivid, while difficult, views on biodynamics.

His talk was intensely challenging. Having studied biodynamics, and specialized too in metaphysics in philosophy, I was asked by several people to outline what I thought Lardière was saying. The following post is my response to that request.

This post originally appeared here on July 28, 2012 as part of a series on IPNC.

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Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this write-up in the July 31, 2012 edition of The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading.”

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Meeting Jacques Lardiere, Understanding Biodynamics

“We never have the same number of wines every year. Some vintages are less. We reduce the amounts to focus only on the very good villages. We think for our customers to have only the best.” –Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot

Yesterday afforded the opportunity to listen to Jacques Lardière discuss his philosophy of wine making, as it connects to an entire system of understanding about the differences between Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village wines, via the metaphysical forces Lardière recognizes through biodynamic principles. Following is my understanding of Lardière’s discussion.

Jacques Lardiere

“On a good vintage, you work less because it matches you. It matches your stomach, it matches you.” –Jacques Lardière

Lardière explains that at Maison Louis Jadot the goal is to focus on a broad range of areas within Burgundy. The focus includes varying places to grow grapes and make wine from as a way to both support the house financially, but also to understand the life of the vine, and making of the wine from different locations. Towards these ends, then, Jadot depends upon two levels of wine making practices. First, the house farm harvests and makes wine from their own land in Burgundy. Second, however, and Lardière emphasizes the importance of this, they also have contracts with vineyards throughout the region.

As Lardière explains, Grand Cru and Premier Cru are very small portions of the area. Besides making these more developed styles of wine, he states that it is important also to “make simple wine.” One of the primary reasons includes that in being able to sell it quickly for more immediate consumption, you can support the financial base of the winery. But the reasons are greater. The other sites also offer, what for Lardière is not just a learning experience but also a spiritual opportunity. As he puts it, “we can work on it. It can reveal the mother form.”

Repetition of the word power is at the center of Lardière’s discussion of what wine can do, and where it comes from. In considering where the distinctions between Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, etc levels of wine distinction arise, Lardière describes what he calls “lines of power” present throughout the planet. The lines of power seem to fall along geologically important intersection zones, sometimes volcanic, sometimes from tectonic plates rubbing together, or from other forms of land movement and development.

As Lardière explains, in such activities the rocks warm, and more mineral molecules are released, thereby being available to the plants in a fuller way. But he says too that there is a sense in which people can feel these lines of power. As he describes it, there are times when you may be walking along a line of power feel its benefit, then as you walk away the positive effect becomes less and less, as you go back, more and more until you are on top of it, like an energetic version of the children’s game Hot/Cold/Warmer.

Jacques Lardiere

In Lardière’s view, the Grand Cru sites are directly along these lines of power. The vines are able to work less along these zones to simply receive the benefits of this energetic line, and thereby produce wine that has less undesirable flavor or sediment. But in Lardière’s view the flavor potentials of Grand Cru wine should not be seen as held only at that high level of quality. Instead, his approach to making wine is to study how Grand Cru wine best shows its potential, and from that insight to then turn to less elevated classes of wine. “We start by understanding the top, and then go to the other ones to work with them.” He explains.

In describing how Grand Cru can reveal the potential of other classes of wine, Lardière first describes his view of what impacts a wine’s potential. The place is the first most important aspect of what goes into the wine, as Lardière understands it. But what he also knows is that Burgundy itself is one terroir.

The region as a whole offers a similar sense of place. The different villages within Burgundy all live within this terroir, this unique place, but then offer their own differing potentials for aging. The Village is a fine tuning of the terroir as a whole. Then, third, there is the climate that impacts the quality of the wine from year to year. Finally, there are the Grand Cru and Premier Cru sites, which are the most subtle shifts in the development, and potential of the wine.

What happens in the growth of the vine, as Lardière describes it, is the movement of molecules from the ground, up into the plant, and finally out in the flowering. All of life is vibration, he says, as we know from physics. Vibration is how the plants grow, how they exist, what they are, how we receive from them, and what we are, as well.

“If you plant the flower, you move the star,” quoting an unreferenced poet to illustrate. The ground, as we know, is full of minerals, but in planting we release the minerality (which Lardière continually references as the power itself). Minerals, Lardière explains, are the life. The quality of the mineral that the plant is able to receive and grow from is what determines how much life the wine will have–both in terms of age-ability in the bottle, and in terms of how well the wine does after the bottle is opened. This is a distinction to be found between the wines of the Grand Cru, and those Village wines, but it is also an insight that can be taken in the handling of making Village wines.

The Grand Cru sites, according to Lardière, “match” the plants better. They simply receive what they need, and so grow with this life. Then, the wine, in turn, matches us, as humans, and we receive what we need too. Wine, in general, he reminds us, has medicinal properties. When he was growing up, he says, if a child fell and hurt themselves the parents would give them a small glass of wine. This is true of all wines, but Grand Cru helps us to better recognize it, and so then to know how to make all wines better.

As Lardière describes, it used to be that people only planted in the right places, where plants were best served by the ground. But now people plant in zones that offer not only the purer power of the minerals but also in places where the plants take up aspects that are not healthy for them or for us. What is absorbed in these areas is a denser matter that weighs the expression of the wine down in the glass. What you taste is more of a heaviness, rather than the freedom of the wine. Here one must allow the wine more time before it can be ready to show what it has to offer and, as he puts it, to release the life–the most beautiful wine.

The flavors and quality possible from a wine are the life, according to Lardière. Not all wine is treated in a way that allows this life to be released. It is easier, as he says, to make a wine that has only a couple hundred flavoral components, rather than to take the risk of allowing a wine to have four thousand.

It takes time “for the molecules in the wine to be digested, to become mature and deliver the life” of the wine. But to give the wine this time is a genuine risk. To allow it to happen depends on letting the wine close in the barrel, to turn in on itself and hide, in a way. In letting the wine close down, it has the opportunity to work through what is in it and to release the sediment that is denser and not part of the pure expression of what the wine can be. In giving the wine time to work on itself, so to speak, you are taking the risk of having to wait, of losing the wine for a time without knowledge of what it will be when it comes back after. But it will come back, Lardière claims, it will come back having found its freedom by releasing the sediment that had weighed it down. The wine’s freedom is its fuller expression–its life with four thousand flavors.

Jacques Lardiere

The process of allowing the wine to transform itself reveals to us, Lardière says, important aspects of our own mortality, and potential. We are almost entirely minerals. “When I pass away” he says, “I will be only minerals, (laughing) oh, and a few other small things. It is important to remember that.” The wine making, it is “a process of transmutation, and it could also be a process of transfiguration,” when you allow it the time to find its freedom and its full expression.

The process of the ground growing the vines, the vines then giving the fruit, the fruit then turning into wine–these are all processes of transformation, of one thing turning into something else. But our own involvement in wine making is actually a kind of spiritual training for us as well. In the earliest stages of our spiritual development we are there as the grapes turn in to wine. In this moment, Lardière tells us, “you forget the grapes.” They are no longer there as fruit, we recognize them now as wine. But this is no small thing, he says.

In forgetting the grapes, “you become something that has a name.” We recognize the beverage in front of us as a particular type of thing. But our doing so also reflects a stage of our identifying the world around us, and so too ourselves. We are no longer just beings having experiences, we are also interpreting the world around us, that is, naming those experiences. But, this, according to Lardière, is an early stage in our development. It is necessary, but we come to see it is early in our own process of finding our own freedom.

Wine, when allowed to truly go through its process of closing down, so that it can come back later opened up again in its fuller expression, points us to the greater reality of our lives. When the wine is given the opportunity to go through its full process it comes back from its stage of closing down, and has changed its molecules–sediment has settled out, and above it is a purer wine.

In Lardière’s view this is when the wine is beginning to deliver its power, and to give the life. It has become something more than we could make. We began the process but to be witness to this greater expression, we had to, in a sense, let the wine go beyond us. In doing so, the wine comes back to show us the insight of the process–it becomes something greater than merely what we have named it to be. It becomes a thing that can out live us, and that carries with it a power that extends beyond whether we, as the wine maker, or any particular individual, are even present. In Lardière’s view, this is when the wine has become even more than us.

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Thank you to Alder Yarrow for hosting Lardière’s presentation.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

What to Drink When the Holidays Stress You Out: A Chart

Stress Drinks in the Holidays

Truth? The beautiful, perfect, glow of love and light that is the holidays stresses most of us out. I can barely get through Thanksgiving, hide on Christmas, and then finally want to sparkle up for New Year’s but that is largely because the year we just went through is FINALLY OVER. It’s a NEW one! Yay!

A couple years ago I did a comic called, “The Precise Gift Buying Guide for the Wine Lover: Whites and Reds.” I felt like reprising the idea but instead of thinking about what to buy everyone else, I thought we could all use a reminder to make sure we have the stock we need on hand.

I sent out a tweet and a message on Facebook asking people what stresses them out on the holidays. The most horrifying response alluded to a world in which only Yellow Tail existed to drink. Please! Do not let that happen to you! Use the bubbled scenarios below to determine your optimal beverage.

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What To Drink When the Holidays Stress You Out: A Decision Flow Chart

Holiday Stress Drink Chart 1 Holiday Stress Drink Chart 2Holiday Stress Drink Chart 3 Holiday Stress Drink Chart 4click on any of the pages to enlarge

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Thanks for the help everyone! It was a lot of fun to come up with solutions for your stressful scenarios.

Cheers!

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Thank you to Katherine Yelle, Meredith Miller Elliott, Lenn Thompson, Ashley Copper Quinn, Geoffrey Stauffer, Dale Tanigawa, Laura Anglin, Shawn Swagerty, Fredric Koppel, Michael Alberty, Don Beith, Andrew Hummel-Schluger, Chris Scanlan, Jeannette Montgomery, Marita Dachsel.

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

The Glimmer of a Life: Briefly, why I write about wine

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.

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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

 

Sommelier Superhero: Carla Rzeszewski is Faith

As some of you know, I have an ongoing series that has rested dormant for several months drawing Winemaker Superheroes. Abe Schoener opened the genre as Thor. Jason Lett stepped in as Dr Who (Matt Smith’s rendition, to be specific). Angela Osborne appeared as the 8th Major Arcana from Tarot, Justice. Steve Clifton was clearly Superman. In the midst of the series I also drew one Superhero Wine Writer, Jeremy Parzen, of Do Bianchi. Only a few have been drawn in the Winemaker Superhero Series (one because it takes a lot of work but also) because not just anyone can be a superhero. There must be something iconic in the person, a character that exemplifies archetypal traits and symbolism. Recently I had an epiphany for a Superhero Sommelier, and finally have had the time to draw her.

Carla Rzeszewski as the First of the Tarot Major Arcana: 0 – Faith

Carla Rzeszewski as Faithclick on comic to enlarge

Quickly Explaining Symbolism of the Tarot: The Major Arcana

In Tarot, the Major Arcana represent large themes and lessons through a person’s life. There are 21 Major Arcana, each symbolizing a crucial turning point in an individual’s life path. The Minor Arcana (which resemble the cards of a traditional card deck with four suits, numbers 1-10, and royal suites), by contrast, represent decisions that must be made, but of a more everyday nature. Major Arcana are life changing. However, prior to the start of the count of these major lesson cards there is a card marked 0, which represents the pure soul setting out guided only by intuition and good intention to journey forth on the right path whatever it may offer. The card for this journeyer is traditionally called “The Fool,” with the idea of the fool here understood to mean the pure soul, the one that is not muddied by preconceived ideas, or strict knowledge. Instead, the fool travels forth in faith not knowing what the path will bring, instead knowing only that they will face the lessons with open heart and determined foot. The fool is the person guided by synchronicity, assisted by their own commitment to follow what is right for them. With such a figure in mind, the card is occasionally called instead “Faith.”

The deepest lessons from Faith are these. The path is only ever your own–you have been hand chosen to walk it and so it belongs to you. Though you are the only one that can take the particular journey, and you will gain in doing so, it is when you walk it in dedication to something bigger than yourself you receive the greatest gain.

The card also always shows an animal of some sort that brings warning and instinct to the traveler when needed. In most decks the animal appears as a small dog.

Carla Rzeszewski as Faith

In recognizing an interest in wine, Carla Rzeszewski dove into wine study while working as a bartender, finding herself with a sort of special attention for sherry and champagne. Soon after finding her love for the beverage, she was offered the opportunity to become wine director for several new restaurants in New York City. As I understand the story, the reality of stepping directly from bartender into director of a wine program intimidated her mightily. However, one of Rzeszewski’s beliefs is that if you decide you want something, you had better be prepared to embrace it and act for it when it presents itself to you. She accepted the position. Since, Rzeszewski has not only sculpted the direction of multiple wine programs in New York, but also continued her studies in wine by traveling directly to focal point regions, tasting widely, and working with other committed individuals in wine. She has served as a member of tasting panels for the New York Times, been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and spoken at the Inaugural Women in Wine Leadership Conference held last year in New York. She has also consistently offered encouragement to others to hunt and follow their beloved goals.

Rzeszewski represents the figure of Faith from the Tarot in her hunt-the-path patience-determination combo, her open to the life-that-comes passion, her heart that flows in love and exuberance. She is guided here by a bird of creative vision, the symbol of timelessness. In flying highest, with widest wing, this bird offers insight into the full arc of life’s path from the start of flight, all the way into its transformation at times end. It is this broad vision that allows Faith to face any adventure without having to know in advance what will be. In such flight comes clarity and calm. Through her openness, the path she walks is vibrant and rich, represented by the colors shown here throughout.

In her work with wine, Rzeszewski’s choices reflect this same creativity and exploration, a playfulness grounded in dedication to her work. Her love for her work, and the people around her is infectious. It is her friendship that most readily showcases her enthusiasm.

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Thank you to Carla Rzeszewski for your good heart. With much love.

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To read more about, and hear more from Carla Rzeszewski:

In a recent episode of In the Drink with Joe Campanale: http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/episodes/4248-In-the-Drink-Carla-Rzeszewski

Sporting her own damn trading card on Eater NY with Levi Dalton:
http://ny.eater.com/archives/2013/05/the_spotted_pigs_carla_rzeszewski_on_her_googamooga_experience.php

Getting into Why Sherry? in the Village Voice with Lauren Mowry: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2013/04/carla_rzeszewsk_queen_sherry.php

An interview with Maggie Hoffman on which wines age well: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/07/what-wines-age-well-buying-wine-tips-ask-a-sommelier-carla-rzeszewski-spotted-pig.html

A interview on I’ll Drink to That with Levi Dalton: http://soyouwanttobeasommelier.blogspot.com/2012/11/carla-rzeszewski-is-on-ill-drink-to-that.html

Super fun Lady Somm Style with Whitney Adams: http://www.brunelloshavemorefun.com/2012/04/lady-somm-style-carla-rzeszewski/

Super star in the Wall Street Journal with Jay McInernery: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204909104577237530327096346.html

There is so much more great stuff online with Carla. These are just a few of my favorites.

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

The Lazy Winemaker: Patience, Terroir, and Vine Age, a conversation with Stéphane Vivier

Wine with Stéphane Vivier

Stephane Vivier

Stéphane and Dana Vivier started their Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir label, Vivier, in 2009 with credit cards, and 30 cases of wine. By 2011, they jumped to 150 cases. Their wines draw on small lots from vineyards in Sonoma County, each of which Stéphane works with hands on. Originally from Burgundy, Stéphane has also served as winemaker for HdV for 12 years. I fell in love with Vivier Pinots last summer, and was lucky enough to meet with Stéphane multiple times to discuss his winemaking philosophy, which he describes as “being a lazy winemaker.” Following is a transcript of his story from our conversations.

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“My wine, Dana, and I married in 2009. I was already with HdV but my wife suggested I make Pinot Noir. She thought I was missing something. I grew up in Burgundy on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. She said to me, “to be complete, there is something else you need here. You need to make Pinot Noir.” I asked her, “where will the money come from.” She told me, “don’t worry. This is America.”

“I grew up with rosé of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. I would come home and sit outside with my parents. My mom would bring in things from the garden, and my dad wine from the cellar. We would talk about the day, and most everyday have a bottle of rosé.

“I grew up with wine of perfume. The nose is very important. But it is important too to focus on the texture of the wine, really important. I like restrained, elegant wine that changes in the glass. I want it to change in the glass, and go with food. I like it when people have trouble describing, or deconstructing a wine. It’s a sign that the wine is complex. Wine is about pairing with food, about pleasure and enjoyment. Alcohol is a form of enjoyment. Wine is for making and consuming.

“Being a lazy winemaker is all about being patient, letting the place talk, and being gentle with the grapes. Making it simple. I like a long [slow] press, and a long, slow fermentation, not too long but clean, and long enough so the perfume develops. The idea of balance in wine is an extensive subject. It is about what is best from the site, letting the wine speak the site. There is a lot of feeling in winemaking, a lot of following what you learn.

“I spent time listening to old men and how they compare wine to old vintages, wines that are 14 or 15 years old. It puts everything in perspective. That wine is about being patient, and building a strong foundation.

“Acidity is the foundation of every wine, of good wine, just like the pyramids that have a broad base and so they lasted. If you want wine you can drink early, perfume is important. If you also want wines that can age, acidity.

“I have been at HdV for more than 10 years. People asked me in the last decade what my next job would be. I want to grow with a vineyard, to start young and grow up with the vines. Wine is like life. You start young, and the older you get, the wiser as well. It is the same with vineyards. I have a young daughter, and I can see it’s exactly the same. Some things you have to train for to get in certain ways, to learn how to do. With growing a vineyard too, there is a lot of training, and you can train in a way that is best for the site, and also for types of wine. It is important to know vineyards very well.

Stephane walking in one of his sections of Sonoma vineyards

Stéphane walking in the vineyard, Sonoma, July 2012

“It is difficult to be simple, [to make something that is simple, while also rich, and not boring. When you are able to make something simple,] it is a work of experience. Winemaking is a work of experience, vineyards, and age.

“Balance is very difficult to define. So is stability in wine. It is hard to say stability is an energy, but it is in a way.

“Wine gives you this ability to grow on the same roots, and not necessarily make the same wine, always trying to make better wine every year from whatever it is you have. That is why we are looking to start with young vineyards and to get older with the vineyards. I couldn’t do this in Burgundy. You can feel this in Australia. You can feel the history of vineyards there from the 1880s being established. You don’t get that sense of history in the United States. Most vineyards here are young.

“Making wine with the same vineyard again and again, it is like Monet painting churches. He went back and painted the same church at different points in the day for different points of light over two weeks. Each vintage is the light. You capture that moment in the vintage. But Monet was also commenting on tradition, asking, what can I contribute to it? His work in paint was a recognition of tradition and the importance of time both. Monet could go back and paint that spot any time, winter even. But the winemaker can only go back once in the same year. Still, there is always something to discover while always working with the same vines.

“I want to give myself to time. These are the constraints in which I operate, and make choices. Pre-deciding in advance what the wine, grapes, vine health should be sounds cool and innovative, but is actually deciding in advance what the wine should be. It is adapting the grapes to himself, instead of adapting himself to the grapes. But you can adapt yourself to the place, and then make the wine of what you are. This way, like Monet, you can have innovation from within tradition. That is why you want knowledge of established vineyards, or vineyard practices, and to grow in age with the vineyard. Terroir needs to be farmed, and needs to be respected. If you respect it, you are in that top 15%.”

***
Thank you to Stéphane and Dana Vivier.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

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

The Life in Wine, a conversation with Randall Grahm

Meeting Randall Grahm

Barrel tasting with Randall Grahm

The first time I met Randall Grahm, he began discussing chi within a few minutes of my arrival. We’d stepped into Bonny Doon‘s winery cellar in the Mission district of Santa Cruz. “The ability to tolerate oxygen is the chi of a wine.” He went on, “wine needs oxygen, but it is also affected by oxygen.”

We were standing next to the upright wooden tanks for the label’s signature red blend, Le Cigare Volant, and he wanted to explain the connection between a wine’s chi and it’s contact with lees. The puncheons Grahm uses for aging his blend contain multiple levels of shelving, creating what Grahm calls “a lees hotel.” The wine’s lees settle on different levels, giving “more surface area for the lees to get digested.” As the wine breaks down the lees, they produce savoriness, but the also give the wine a greater ability to withstand the negative effects of air.

But it isn’t lees that Grahm is focused on. The discussion is meant to raise a different point. “One of the main mysteries of wine,” Grahm tells me, “is why some wines live and some wines die. Like good Burgundy, that wine is good for a week.” Asking him to explain further what he means, Grahm refers to the liveliness of a wine after it’s been opened, the way some wines resist oxidation and stay beautiful for days after opening. “We should all be focusing on answering one question, what are things we can do to give wine life, to help wines live?” Grahm says.

The Life of a Wine: The Role of Minerality

DSC_0469

Half a year later, Grahm and I are talking over the phone for an article I wrote on the idea of minerality. In the article, I was able to reference Grahm’s point that a useful place to start would be to simply assay mineral levels in wines themselves. But his discussion went further. He offered a unique account of minerality I didn’t have the word count to share.

In the phone conversation, Grahm returns again to the question of oxidation. “What is the mechanism that leads some wines to resist oxidation?” Neither of us had referenced our previous conversation at this point. The question of a wine’s life is simply central for Grahm. “There are wines whose phenolics,” he tells me, “are not off the charts and yet they don’t oxidize.”

To put it another way, there are wines with obvious characteristics that we know resist oxidation–they are high in sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative; they are low in pH, or rich in tannin. “But subtract these factors out,” Grahm emphasizes, “and there is still a class of wines that do not oxidize, and that is not explained by those physical variables. What is at work there?” It’s the same question Grahm called wine’s greatest mystery as we tasted his signature blend.

Wine’s Mystery Class

Randall Grahm

For Grahm, the class of wine’s that do not oxidize and yet do not carry the understood mechanisms–excess sulfur dioxide, low pH, rich tannin (or perhaps have only one of them in a non-explanatory way)–are the mystery class. He lists examples that seem to produce a higher number of such wines–Haut-Brion, wines from the Saar or Mt. Etna, Chablis, many Rieslings, but his paradigm case is Lesona (an Italian wine incredibly hard to find information on). “Lesona,” he tells me, “you could leave those wines open for a month and they don’t oxidize.”

I ask Grahm if he finds anything in common between the wines he listed as examples, and he does. “Lesona wine, this appellation in Italy, is textbook mineral city.” For Grahm, it is a very particular account of minerality that the mystery class shares. In his experience, Grahm tells me, wines that stay alive after opening always also carry “a sort of experience on the palate.” He describes that experience for me.

“There is a persistence on the palate.” He says. “A savoriness, or saltiness, and,” he pauses to think. “What I call dimensionality to the wine.” He trails off for a second then returns. “Forgive the lapse into synthesia. The wine just seems to have some sort of multi-dimensionality, a non-linearity.” We discuss the shape of it for a while, and I recognize the sensation as a kind of echo on the palate.

“Yes,” he responds. “there is a doubling of the sensation, a kind of secondary aspect to it” as if you catch a scent or flavor in the wine “and then immediately after follows a relief, or accompaniment in the wine,” not another flavor exactly, but an echo of the initial flavoral experience.

The description from Grahm seems to resemble the French account of minerality from Master of Wine, John Atkinson, I discussed in the article. As Atkinson explains his understanding of the French notion, minerality operates as a kind of “organoleptic action of mineral-bitter-salts element” that hinges flavors and structure together. Minerality operates, then, in this account as not just a flavor but a link between taste and acid or tannin, as well as a physical response from the mouth itself. As Grahm describes it, the echo seems to correlate with a kind of overall tension on the palate, as if the wine is directed and the mouth must follow.

Soil and Vinification Correlation

Talking with Randall Grahm

Beyond the sensory commonality Grahm sees in his wines of interest, there is also a correlation with mineral rich ground. He recognizes that current science denies a direct line from the mineral ions in earth to literal mineral content in wine, but the point is moot. Even if the ions don’t literally appear in the wine itself, who cares if such ground so often does generate quality wines? The calcium rich marl of Colli Orientali del Friuli, and Collio I add to the list. He agrees, but he wants to discuss a more ready example in limestone.

What Grahm notices is that the kind of experience he described occurs very often with wines from limestone soils, but most especially in whites. “White wines from limestone soils are more transparent,” he explains. “It can be easier to blind limestone soils on whites because they’re simply less encumbered.” There are fewer elements, such as tannin or anthocyanins, to block the palate expression of the soil. But Grahm points something else out. With limestone soils, such wines “are often very closed when [the bottle is] first opened up, both in whites and reds.”

But the source of a wine’s life doesn’t rest only in its soils, the role of vineyard care, and the winemaker is also clear. I ask Grahm what he’d recommend to winemakers wanting to create wines full of minerality, that last after opening. The answer is straightforward. “Buy some land in a mineral rich area, find soils rich in minerals, then farm in a way that is maximally expressive of those qualities.” For Grahm much of what that means is inspired by the work of Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, who emphasize the importance of micro fauna, and micro floral life in the earth. Supporting the longevity of old vines is also important.

The role of reduction early in the winemaking process also seems relevant. By giving wine a shot of oxygen early on, it seems to become more resistant to its negative impacts later. In Grahm’s view such an approach also adds an additional layer of complexity ultimately to the wine. “The reduction aroma initially occludes things present in how you farm. But as it dissipates, it adds another dimension,” giving room too for the terroir to show again. This process of reduction is another way in which a wine closes, then opens up over time.

Atkinson too describes a correlation between this sort of reductive fermentation process in making champagne (though not in the sulfidic sense) and the experience of minerality in both the vin clair and final sparkling wine, as he has studied for years at the shoulder of Billecart-Salmon‘s Chef de Cave Francois Domi. Current thought suggests a likely correlation between this sense of reduction, and the later presentation of minerality in wine. Hildegaard Heymann, of UC Davis, and winemaker Clark Smith are both examples of people that have shared such an account in interviews, or written on it.

Finding the Life of Wine with Air

Bonny Doon wines

It is this point about certain wines beginning closed, then opening up with time that finally makes Grahm’s point. “These wines are changeable.” For Grahm, the idea gets to the heart of appeal for his mystery class. “They move. They start out closed, and then they move and change in the glass.” The description of wine’s movement circles us back finally to an idea Grahm shared when we first met. “A wine that lives,” he tells me, “is responsive to oxygen. It breathes.”

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

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

The following is part 3, the finish, 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

To read part 2: UC Davis Talk, Part 2: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Here is part 3

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Freedom, Expression, and Love: An Exploration of Choice in Winemaking
By Elaine Chukan Brown, aka. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka

Blind tasting trials of the 2011 blends

just after blind trials of Ridge Monte Bello (A), and Ridge Estate (B & C) blends

Part 3: Love: Paul Draper and Principles

The first time I interviewed Paul Draper he wanted to talk with me about philosophy. What he told me was this: philosophy was what got him, and Ridge Wine, the brand and the business, to where it is today. He considers it the basis of his success. We talked about what that statement meant, and by the end what I understood was that philosophy gave him the clarity of long term vision, long term commitment, and balance. Integral to Draper’s work with Ridge, is the goal that it surpasses him. It has done well for 50-years, he has developed it to last at least another 50. The team, and company seem well equipped to accomplish that goal.

I assume most of you don’t have thoroughgoing backgrounds in philosophy. I’m not trying to suggest you have to have one. Instead, I am pointing out that what Paul Draper has that UC Davis in itself cannot give you is his own long term vision, and the clarity to follow through—his own commitment to the kind of wine he believes is good, the care to plan for the sake of long term persistence as well as brilliance, and the willingness to experiment in a thoughtful manner to ensure he makes that wine. My view is that this combination—commitment, care, and willingness—amount to what must be understood as love. And it is love that defines Draper’s work and his success. I recognize this could sound too precious, so let me give you one last example. It will be brief.

Paul Draper began making Ridge wine at the end of the 1960s. The core portfolio has remained recognizably clear—quality soils, older vines, simple techniques, a focus on structure, American oak—even with the foray into White Zinfandel in the 1980s, or the occasional trouble with brett. I was able to blind taste the 2011 Monte Bello and Estate blends with Paul recently. He and his winemaking team had already selected their Monte Bello assemblage, but they were deciding between two possible assemblages for the final bottling of the Estate blend. One version resembled a blend with the lots that had traditionally been included for the Estate bottling. The other they just had a feeling about early on. It struck them as interesting, so they decided to keep it out and follow it through the year. By the end of the tasting they’d selected the second option—the assemblage that was less traditional showed better that vintage. By being open to something connected to what they made there—it was still a Bordeaux blend from the Monte Bello estate—but different than what they traditionally did—a blend from different lots than those used in previous years for that bottling—Draper was free to choose the wine he loved to make.

Conclusion

What I want to say finally is this. UC Davis offers you the very best tools of your industry. Knowing I am standing here among you and this quality of education you are receiving honestly makes me swell with pride. But what you have the chance to gain from UC Davis itself is not enough. You are free right now to ask yourself how are you going to exercise your strengths? How do you want to apply these tools? What is it you want to love?

Thank you.

***

Thank you to UC Davis for inviting, and hosting me.

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

 

UC Davis Talk, Part 2: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

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

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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.

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