Asking for What You Want

I never knew how to ask for what I wanted in life unless I was drunk. 

We are told, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, that you shouldn’t ask for what you want. Sometimes they say it’s because you don’t deserve it. Sometimes they say you should renounce all desires, quoting some bible verse or religious text. They say, be simple, there is something righteous about being poor. 

There is nothing further from the truth. 

You deserve what you desire, so you better get good at asking for what you want. 

If you don’t ask, how can the universe know to give it to you? 

For most of my life I didn’t know how to ask for what I truly wanted.

When I was drunk I could tell someone I thought they were attractive.

After a few cocktails at a work party I could ask for a raise or promotion.

After smoking a lot of cannabis I could figure out that I wanted a better career or a different path.

Only when I removed my inhibitions with substances (pick one, I’ve probably taken it), I could express my true desires, but the rest of the time I hid them. I felt undeserving. I felt unworthy. I thought that by getting what I wanted I would be taking from others. 

There is unlimited abundance in this world, but you have to learn how to ask. Sort through all of the things, people, experiences, and pleasures of this world and figure out what you want. 

And then ask for it. Ask for it with confidence. Ask for it with a clear head and a heart full of love. 

Oh...and make sure you are ready to receive it, because you will!

As a wise person once said of winning the lottery: “if you win a million dollars one day, you better figure out real quick how to become a millionaire, otherwise you won’t hang onto that money for long”. 

Oh, and if you want to get ready to receive, Sober October is a great place to start. 31 days free of intoxication, drugs, etc. Clear the head, cleanse the body, allow yourself to listen to your heart, and align yourself with your true desires. You can have whatever you want, just ask and receive.

That one thing...

There is power in abstinence. There is no difficult middle ground. When I made the commitment to saying no for 1 year, I freed up all of that energy to focus on other things. I didn’t have to chew on the idea, I didn’t have to consider, and weigh options. I just said no. Now I can channel that into my work, my family, my friends, my healing, and myself.

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I am...

I am not a pescatarian, but I eat a pescatarian diet.

I am not a liberal, but I resonate with some liberal ideas

I am not a dog person, but I do love dogs.

I am not a sommelier, but I have a certification

I am not sober, but I am taking a year off of drinking alcohol.

I spent a lot of my life defining myself. Assigning myself very simple definitions, thinking that it would help me to understand who I am. This made things complicated.

I called myself a Sommelier, but that’s just a job title. Then I quit that job, so what did I become?

I called myself a wine lover, and then I took a break from alcohol. Was I still me?

We get so fixed on these definitions; we convince ourselves that it is so important to label, to wear that nametag with that job title or that certification we hold. Then things change. Our focus shifts. Our passions change. Our relationships change. 

The harder we hold on to these titles, the harder they are to let go. I had defined myself as a sommelier, a wine lover, a wine educator, but when I decided to take a year off of drinking wine, what did that make me? 

I am still me. In fact, I feel more me than before, so what does that mean?

"I am" is a powerful statement, be very careful what you put after it.

I am confident.

I am strong.

I am intelligent.

I am patient.

I am dedicated.

I am generous.

I am creative.

I am respectful.

I am unlimited.

I am free.

I am beautiful.

I am loved.

 

Taking it To-Go

I have had several friends from foreign countries point out to me something funny about the modern American culture: we are always going somewhere with a beverage.

The to-go cup of coffee is seen everywhere. We carry sodas, smoothies, teas, and protein shakes in travel cups, tightly sealed so that we can enjoy them on the go. 

Are we really enjoying them though? If we are moving about the world in such a rush, how can we focus our attention on the drink in hand? Enjoyment requires attention. In order to really appreciate something we must give it our attention. Do we truly enjoy the cup of coffee if we cannot smell it? So much of flavor and aroma are linked to our sense of smell, but our to-go cups place a barrier between us and the coffee, so how can we really get a sense of what it is really like?

What are we really looking for in these moments? Are we there to appreciate the coffee, or do we just want caffeine? Are we sipping on a soda in the car for the pleasure of it, or are we just looking to distract from the drive? Do we really appreciate the taste of the smoothie, or do we just want food without having to dedicate our attention?  

Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy. A good cup of coffee can completely change your day (and not just thanks to the caffeine). Take a moment to enjoy the aroma. Think about the people who were involved in the planting, tending, and harvesting of the beans. Express gratitude to those that fermented, dried, and roasted the coffee. Take a sip and listen to what your senses are telling you. Even if you’re in a rush, you can still take 30 seconds to appreciate, savor, indulge, and be grateful. I promise you it will be worth it.

 

The Poison is in the Dose

As humans, we are constantly consuming. Many of the things we consume we could not live without. Without air we would quickly die. Without water our body would not function properly. Without food we would not have the energy to work, build, create, heal, or procreate. Life would be unable to continue.

Many things that we consume we could live without: television, news, candy, coffee, alcohol, drugs, and tea. These are not life or death necessities in our lives. 

There is, however, a tremendous amount of joy, beauty, and pleasure that can be obtained from the consumption of these things. One could certainly go on living by drinking only water and eating a complex, nutritious sludge (soylent green anyone?). Given the proper balance of nutrients, one could certainly live, grow, and maintain their health.

Would that life be worth living? Pleasure is good for us. There is a tremendous amount of value to be had in enjoying a beautifully prepared meal with a glass of well-made wine. I enjoy a cup of coffee for the boost in energy and concentration, as well as for the simple fact that it tastes good. 

There is a simple, elegant concept in toxicology that one can apply to consumption: the poison is in the dose. The difference between a medicine and a poison is in the quantity we consume. 

A cup of coffee can be a pleasurable way to improve your productivity. Ten cups of coffee could put a tremendous strain on your nervous system and prevent you from sleeping.

A glass of wine elegantly paired with a beautiful meal can be nutritious for the body and the soul. Three bottles of wine and several trips to an all you can eat buffet will harm your body, and will eventually kill you.

Many of the things in life that bring pleasure also tempt us. Our brain and body evolved in a very different world than the one we currently live in. Food is all around us. Alcohol is offered in almost every restaurant. Coffee shops are on every corner. Marijuana is now legal in many states. 

There is almost no limit to the temptation, so how do we control the dose?

Intention. 

Why are you consuming? Why are you eating? Why are you drinking? Is it because you’re hungry? Is it because you’re sad? Is it because you’re stressed?

Attention.

Listen to your body and your emotions. Pay attention to how what you are consuming makes you feel? Do you feel uplifted? Nourished? Or do you feel heavy, drunk, and sluggish?

Pay attention to your senses. If you take your time and enjoy one glass of wine, observing it, smelling it, engaging sense one by one as you enjoy it, you will certainly obtain more pleasure than chugging a whole bottle. 

Slow down. It helps us to consume better. It makes us better, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It allows us to show up better for those around us. 

 

Native vs. Noble

Wine at its best is a representation of a place and a time. A bottle of wine captures the essence of a single harvest of fruit, the place it was grown, and the people that made it. Time is an inescapable topic when discussing wine. We are always talking about vintages, determining how much time a wine needs to age until it is ready to consume, discussing the age of a vineyard, and learning about traditions old and new. Much like anything in this world, there is a debate about which is better: old or new, tradition or innovation, the past or the future.

During the latter half of the 20th century we saw a trend toward an familiar, easy to drink, international style of wine. Consumers were educated to prefer wines made from recognizable noble varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. We saw a focus on modern, interventionist winemaking, with wines being created in laboratory-like wineries. There was greater access to tools like temperature control, extended oak aging, cultivated yeast strands, filtration, and stabilization. Robust reds, oaky whites, easy drinking styles, and familiar varietals dominated.

Modern equipment used at Bodega Aranjuez in Tarija, Bolivia. Access to modern winemaking technology has allowed small producers to drastically improve quality, consistency, and increase scale. The challenge is to create wines of character that are clean and well crafted that wil appeal to the international market. Photo Credit Alexandra Whitney: IG @alexandrawhitney

Modern equipment used at Bodega Aranjuez in Tarija, Bolivia. Access to modern winemaking technology has allowed small producers to drastically improve quality, consistency, and increase scale. The challenge is to create wines of character that are clean and well crafted that wil appeal to the international market. Photo Credit Alexandra Whitney: IG @alexandrawhitney

Damajuanas, large glass vessels packed in wooden boxexs, were originally used to bring Hydrochloric and Sulfuric Acid to the silver and tin mines of Bolivia. They eventually were repurposed for centuries as fermentation and aging vessels for wines and Singani. Some small winemakers are stil utilizing these vessels out of both convenience and tradition. Large scale wineries forgoe traditional equipment for temperature controlled, easy to clean, stainless steel or concrete tanks.

Damajuanas, large glass vessels packed in wooden boxexs, were originally used to bring Hydrochloric and Sulfuric Acid to the silver and tin mines of Bolivia. They eventually were repurposed for centuries as fermentation and aging vessels for wines and Singani. Some small winemakers are stil utilizing these vessels out of both convenience and tradition. Large scale wineries forgoe traditional equipment for temperature controlled, easy to clean, stainless steel or concrete tanks.

Undoubtedly winemaking was improving. Products were more consistent. Quality was increasing. Consumers could have confidence that a bottle from unheard of countries would be drinkable. We saw a decrease in wine faults and funky bottles. We also saw the physical landscape of the vineyard changing. Small, traditional winemaking regions were now gaining access to international markets. Finally they could sell to more than just local consumers or tourist, but because consumers were demanding these Noble Varietals (Cabernet, Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc.), these producers felt the financial pressure to plant these varieties. Traditional varietals were losing their space in the vineyard.

Vines with challenging names like Schioppettino, Xinomarvo, and Pošip were hard to sell on the global market. These varieties adapted to their surroundings over countless generations, evolving slowly to thrive in their terroir. The grapevine is capable of adapting to local climate and terroir, becoming more resistant to local pests, diseases, and extreme weather. Indigenous grapevines may not have the mass appeal of an oaky Cabernet or a silky Pinot Noir, but they thrive in challenging years while showcasing different flavors and aromas.

Is different good? That depends on whom you ask. Talk to some consumers and they say they want familiar. Others prefer new and exciting. There is a big shift occurring as a new generation of wine consumers is coming of age. They don’t have preconceived notions about what good wine is. They did not grow up drinking classic wines like Bordeaux, Chianti, or Chablis. Most likely they had a Chilean or American wine long before they were ever exposed to a ‘classic’ wine. They certainly have heard of Cabernet Sauvignon, but they may not have learned that Cabernet is King.  

In this shifting demographic we are seeing an embrace of wine that tastes different. Winemakers have access to so many different markets, that they no longer have to make wine that tastes like every other wine in order to make a sale. Small growers are rescuing traditional, indigenous grape varietals, and making wine that tastes like it did generations ago. They are embracing traditional winemaking techniques like skin-contact whites, aging in clay, and native yeast fermentation. Through a glass of wine made from traditional varietals a consumer can get a sense of the place from which it comes.

Traditional Clay Pots (Amphora) in the Cinti Valley, Bolivia awaiting reconditioning.

Traditional Clay Pots (Amphora) in the Cinti Valley, Bolivia awaiting reconditioning.

Ribolla Nera, or Schioppettino, was rescued by winemaker Paolo Rapuzzi and is an elegant, expressive, and unique representation of small production Italian wine. This smells so much like peppercorn it is like cutting into a steak au poivre.

Ribolla Nera, or Schioppettino, was rescued by winemaker Paolo Rapuzzi and is an elegant, expressive, and unique representation of small production Italian wine. This smells so much like peppercorn it is like cutting into a steak au poivre.

Let’s take the example of the Schioppettino grape variety, traditionally found in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of northeast Italy. The grape has a long history in the region, being referenced in documents dating back to the 13th century. In the 1970s it was hard to find many of these vines after suffering epidemics of powdery mildew and phylloxera. Local growers were seeing the local and global market change and were hesitant to replant this traditional varietal, known for its dominating peppercorn flavor, floral aromas and notes of green vegetation. This is not the flavor profile the market was searching for, so growers planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other noble varietals, nearly wiping out the Schioppettino vine. 

One winemaker, Paolo Rapuzzi, founder of Ronchi di Cialla, was determined to create wines of native varietals, but he saw that Schioppettino wasn’t even recognized by local wine authorities. It was thought extinct, so it hadn’t been registered. He was able to locate 70 vines in the region, propagate new plants from cuttings, and revive the vine in the face of resistance from local authorities and international pressure. As he and other winemakers became more familiar with the peculiar personality of the grapes, they recognized that it required a specific terroir, and requiring different winemaking techniques. Now Schioppettino is sought out as a true representation of Italy’s native character, showing high acid, subtle fruit character, and big pop of black peppercorn. 

Jaime Rivera, 3rd generation winemaker at Bodega Cepa de Oro shows off his Mission Grapes early in the summer.

Jaime Rivera, 3rd generation winemaker at Bodega Cepa de Oro shows off his Mission Grapes early in the summer.

This story is not unique to Italy or Schioppettino. South America is a continent with no truly native varietals (all vines were brought by Europeans), but it has over 450 years of grape growing history, and lots of old vines to prove it. During the colonization of South America, the Spanish planted Muscat of Alexandria and Mission (aka Negra Criolla, País, Misionera). These varietals were resilient, easy to propagate, and are still found in vineyards throughout the continent. Muscat of Alexandria is notoriously aromatic, though it is often thought of as being less elegant than other Muscat grapes. The Mission vine produces big yields and adapts well to many environments, but if not made with care it can lack the character or finesse desired for fine wines.  

Even though South America is not home to native grape varietals, over time vines crossed and created unique varietals that can be called uniquely South American. Muscat of Alexandria and Mission create several similar crossings all known by the name Torrontés, a grapevine that is planted widely in Argentina and even in Bolivia. This variety is intense in aroma, and when grown in altitude finds a balancing acidity. Vischoqueña, a think-skinned, aromatic, red varietal is yet another grape that calls South America its home, having roots in Vicchoca, a town not far from Bolivia’s traditional Cinti Valley growing region. There are a few theories about the provenance of this grape that still need to be investigated, but the most likely story is that Vischoqueña is a red mutation or crossing of Muscat of Alexandria. This grape is being planted in small vineyards throughout the Cinti Valley, the ancestral home of Bolivian wine. In the hands of small growers and winemakers like Tierra Roja and Cepa de Oro, this grape is finding its voice, creating red wines of a pale ruby color with an expressive berry and floral aroma. This is a sharp contrast to the rich, dark fruit and intense earthy aromas of the Tannat wines (a vine brought in from France) that have gained recognition in Bolivia in recent years. 

Old vine Muscat of Alexandria, traditionally trained up a Pink Peppercorn (Molle) tree. This method was pioneered by the Spanish settlers and only a small quantity of these vines are left. The age of these vines is unknown, but some are thought to be up to 200 years old.

Old vine Muscat of Alexandria, traditionally trained up a Pink Peppercorn (Molle) tree. This method was pioneered by the Spanish settlers and only a small quantity of these vines are left. The age of these vines is unknown, but some are thought to be up to 200 years old.

Chile is also home to large plantings of Mission and Muscat of Alexandria, and many vineyards escaped destruction during the influx of Noble Varietals that occurred during the later part of the 20th century. Though Merlot, Carménère, and Cabernet Sauvignon dominated the landscape, many old vineyards have been resurrected, showing the complexity and elegance of old vine Muscat and Mission (known locally as País). One such example, Cacique Maravilla, where Manuel Humberto Moraga Guitérrez, 7th generation owner of some seriously old vineyards in the Bío Bío valley is making wines that blend the old and new. His wines include orange, methode ancestral sparkling, and 1-liter bottles of Pipeño, a local, rustic style of wine made to be refreshing and easy to drink.

So in the end, who wins, Native or Noble? The beauty of the modern wine industry, and the rise in wine consumption, is that there is space for everyone. There is a great joy in getting to know a favorite grape like Cabernet Sauvignon by tasting one from each of the dozens of countries in which it is grown. There is, however, also great potential in getting to understand the centuries of tradition hidden inside of a bottle made from a unique, local varietal. Ask your wine steward or sommelier what they recommend, and keep an open mind. By stretching your comfort zone and trying some of these little recognized, traditional varietals, you may open yourself to a new experience that you may never forget.

 

Tannat in Uruguay

Tannat was brought to Urugay in 1870, though winemakers there are still learning exactly how to tame this intense thick-skinned grape. This small and eccentric country has been working hard on creating a name for Tannat outside of France, and I am excited to see more and more wines arrive to our markets.

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