Carving Substance: In gratitude for the lives behind

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.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. You do take the time to appreciate a lot of people in your writing. I appreciate you for that. It makes you real and accessible. I’m glad to know you and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.

  2. what an insightful and heartfelt reflection on what it means to be writing and connecting online through passion – not just in wine, though that is the topic at hand. i really enjoyed reading this. one of your most eloquent posts to date. xo

  3. Elaine,

    It’s truly an honor to be included in this list. After seeing you recently and getting to try some of the moose meat that you shared, I have been thinking about how lucky we are to be immersed in such an interesting world of food and wine, and the good folks that go along with that. Your post puts in words what was on my mind, and apparently, in the air.

    And I love that you quoted Fred Rogers; I actually grew up in his neighborhood!

    Steve and I feel lucky that you have become our neighbor.

    All the best, Jill

  4. Gratitude makes one stronger, makes one human, makes one easier to be around…something my importer friend (http://goo.gl/xhm0Qs) lost along the way – Good for you, Elaine, to still be bright and hopeful about these things – I’m with ya, sister!

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