Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Family & Tradition, Random Wine Encounter, Winery & Vineyards | Tags: Adriatico, Bastianich, Croatian Wine, Italian Wine, Malvasia, Ribolla, Slovenian Wine, Tocai Friuliano | 2 Comments »
I have a soft spot for Slavic wines. My surname is Bohemian (which most people think is just a term for hippies and artists that lived in Paris circa 1900.) No, actually they are considered “West” Slavs and have been around for centuries. The Bohemian Kingdom began in 1189, under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, and has been part of most European political empires ever since. But wine? What kind of “cultura del vino” do the Slavs have and why should anyone care?
Well, it is really just simple geography and a lesson in the flexibility of our current and past geo-political borders. You see, most of our current 2011 map used to look very different 15, 20, 40, 100, 125 years ago. National borders like river banks always seem to change year to year. The current border between the Czech Republic and Austria used to not exist, as is the case of the border between Italy and Austria or Italy and Slovenia. These borders have shifted multiple times, sometimes even within generations.
So, what about the vines? Well, they just stayed right there. Vines are not political. They only care about soil composition, water, sunlight, and who is tending to them. National borders? To the vines this is meaningless. Some of the most exciting wines these days are coming from former CSS, Soviet, Eastern Bloc, Communist (or whatever you wish to call them) states. I’m talking about wines from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Yes, for centuries these areas have been making wines, and in recent years, places like Croatia, Georgia, and Slovenia have blasted on the wine scene with some stand out wines made from traditional grapes such as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Rkatsiteli, and Refosco grapes.
I visit the winebusiness.com wine news aggregate every day. Reading and researching all of the current wine news that is out there. I remember seeing an article by the Palate Press that was titled “Re-Unifying a Wine Region That Now Spans Three Countries.” I remember thinking that I should read this, as it must have something to do with these borderless wines. Indeed it did. It wasn’t until about a month later, while posting on the Terroirists wine blog, did I notice a comment by someone named Wayne Young. Normally, there are only about 3 other people besides me that post on this blog (wine blogs have so far to go), so this name stuck out. The name had a website attached to it, so I clicked on it and it brought me to the Bastianich blog. Well, I knew that they were the winery that launched the “Adriatico” brand, so I posted a comment to Wayne’s comment asking what his thoughts were on the wines. He was very excited that I heard of the new wines and emailed me privately. Wine is a Conduit.
The “Adriatico” lineup of wines is the inventive and historically accurate creation of the Bastianich winery. This new line up of white wines paid homage to indigenous grape varieties grown in Friuli (Italy), Goriška Brda (Slovenia), and the Istrian Peninsula (Croatia). So, who in their right mind would create a wine brand around three obscure white grape varietals from a mystical place called “Adriatico?” These are not household names. So, what is it really about? This brand is certainly about sharing amazing wines, but they aim bigger than just that. It’s more about breaking down misconceptions about whole wine regions, about varieties, about unknown winemakers. Most importantly, they aim to create a ‘real’ place while simultaneously destroying invisible boundaries that limit our choices and pleasures. For the Bastianich family, it is about being proper stewards to the total wine region that unifies the commonalities of these three wine cultures and peoples.
Well, first, let me just say how much I respect this endeavor. For me, the “Adriatico” line is such an important gift to the wine world, and we have the Bastianich family to thank for this. Here we have in one brand the three most important white wine varieties of the three most important wine regions along the Adriatic Sea:
Tocai Friuliano (Italy), Ribolla (Slovenia), and Malvasia (Croatia)…all under one brand, united as they were centuries ago.
I received these samples right before Christmas (thanks Santa Wayne) and I’ve let them rest in my wine cellar undisturbed. Knowing that the wines had arrived in the USA in November then shipped across the country in December, I had a feeling that they would be a bit travel shocked. So, after enough rest, I just had to open these Christmas presents and try them out. I knew that I needed to pay my own homage to the Bastianich family and Wayne for these wines, so I invited a few close friends of mine over for dinner. To accomplish this feat, I had to make a dish that would compliment all the wines and feed 4 hungry people. To go with the Bastianich wines, we must have a Bastianich recipe! It was my first attempt at making Lidia Bastianich’s Vermicelli with Clam Sauce and it went over very well and complimented the wines beautifully. My friend Jesse brought over some fatty and briny Hama Hama Oysters (delicious) to pair with as well.
The wines showed beautifully, the Tocai had amazing acidity and a freshness that really held up to the extra pinch of red pepper flakes that I put in the pasta (it was a cold and rainy day). The Ribolla has a generous mouth feel and great citrus zest combined with a briny minerality that really elevated the clams and the oysters on the half shell. The Malvasia was probably my favorite, only because I could not stop smelling it. Hands down, it had the most complex aromatics, very floral, very delicate. I remember all of us commenting at one point or another about it during the evening, so I curiously looked up what day it was on the biodynamic calendar and sure enough it was a flower day. Damn, Wine is a Conduit. All in all, we were left fat and happy, my friends and I were honored to have had the opportunity to try the wines and expand our own palates. Most importantly, it was the wines that brought us together, people with different backgrounds, and different histories, all united for one meal under one banner, “Adriatico”.
I strongly suggest that you go out and find these wines, buy all three, open them up together with friends and family and share in the exploration of this historically rich wine region. You too can become a citizen of “Adriatico.”
Posted: February 5th, 2011 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Biodynamics, Natural Wine, Random Wine Encounter, Travel, Wine Shop & Wine Ailse, Winery & Vineyards | Tags: Biodynamics, Esquin Wine Merchants, Fausse Piste, New Zealand, Pinot Blanc, Pyramid Valley, Riesling, Seattle, Shiro's, Sushi, Wine is a Conduit | 3 Comments »
January 21st, 2011
This date will live on in wine and food infamy for me. It was a day filled with memories and purpose. As I continue down this life/career path in wine, things happen that remind me of why I love what I do and why I wanted to start this blog.
The day began at 6am, cellphone alarm blaring, me scrabbling to get ready as I needed to be at Jesse’s by 7am. Neither of us could remember the last time we had to be up this early,
Thanks PKT Wines!
probably harvest last year. What the hell are we doing up this early? Oh yeah, we’re following our passions. I had the pleasure of tagging along with my friend Jesse Skiles of Fausse Piste fame on a day trip to Seattle. Jesse had a business meeting with a potential distributor for his wines in Seattle. Jesse poured six of his wines to a couple of wine industry veterans, who taste thousands of wines every year from around the world, not to mention the amount of the local wines that they get to taste. So, they don’t BS with tasting wine. They’ve been around the block. It was great fun watching these guys really sit up and take notice of Jesse’s wines. It was his 2009 l’ortolan Roussanne (SOLD OUT) that absolutely hooked them, and this was BEFORE he got to his stunning reds. After the tasting, they worked out a handshake deal with Jesse right there on the spot. I can’t emphasize how rare that is, especially in these economic times. Distributors are just not taking on new ‘unproven’ brands. Clearly, they see what a jewel Jesse’s wines are. Smart choice, gentlemen.
A celebration was in order.
We decided to check out some of Seattle’s better known wine shops to see where Jesse could send people when his wines are eventually available in Washington. On our second stop, we came to be in the depths of Esquin Wine Merchants (visit here). I had always wanted to visit to Esquin as I had heard of it through various wine channels. Sometimes, in these massive wine shops, it is easy to be confused by all of the options. Where to begin? What is it that I am actually looking for? Did I even want to buy anything? I should look for something obscure. There was this crazy orange wine from Georgia (the country, not state) that I still have found memories of. [Special thanks to Germain at the Amelia Wine Bar in San Francisco for introducing me to the "Phesants Tears" Unfiltered Rkatsiteli (the grape) wine.] I wonder if they have it here? No, they didn’t. Damn.
OK, I must rewind the story a bit:
The drive from Portland to Seattle is about 3.5 hours depending on the weather and traffic. It was raining cats and dogs, so this was going to be a slug of a drive. It was a great time to catch up with Jesse. Lots of talk about wine, food, travel, and always music. Jesse had asked me if I had been up to Walla Walla lately and asked when the last time I had talked with Tom Glase (owner/winemaker at Balboa Winery) was. I had mentioned that Tom and I talked in early fall just before harvest kicked in. So, we had verbalized the words “Tom Glase”. The universe would remind us of her eternal powers, by producing Tom Glase in the flesh at the end of our meeting with the distributor (Tom and Jesse now share a distributor in Seattle.) I remember Jesse and I looking at each other with shocked expressions. We talked about Tom, and then , BAM, Tom appears hours later. Spooky. Of all the people that could have shown up as we had literally just finished the tasting/meeting, it was Tom that walks into the conference room. He looks at us all, grabs a glass, takes a big gulp of Jesse’s wines, and says “Wow, that’s good.” Wine is a Conduit….this is all I could say to myself.
When Jesse and I arrived at the Distributor’s warehouse, we had to take the stairs to the offices upstairs. There was a shelf of wine right next to it and I remember looking at this group of wines each time I was coming up or down. It was as if the wine gods were sending me a “LOOK HERE” message. I mentioned this to Jesse after the meeting and that this producer was one that I had been dying to try for many years, I just never came across it. The wines are tough to find and I have never seen them anywhere here in Oregon. Jesse hadn’t seem them before either and he only vaguely remembers hearing about them. The name of the producer was now verbalized and sent out into the universe…………..Pyramid Valley. Surely, the universe must have been satisfied by just producing Tom Glase for us, but apparently not, the joke was still on us.
OK. Now back to Esquin Wine Merchants.
So we really weren’t there to buy anything, just look around and see what they had to offer, where Jesse’s wines might be placed. I kept being attracted to the Chile, Argentina, New Zealand row of wines for some reason, and there at the end of the aisle, right near the entrance to the store, were those same Pyramid Valley wines I had seen at the Distributors just hours before. So, I had to pick one up, touch it, read it, get to know that bottle. I mean, here it is Jeff, you’ve always wanted to try this, you’ve never even SEEN a bottle before. Could a purchase be more obvious? Jesse came over and we discussed the Pyramid Valley wines again, recalling our earlier conversation. Thank you, Wine Gods. Now which one to buy? I was in a white wine mood (odd, since it was all grey and gloomy outside) so we were looking at the 2008 Riverbrook Riesling and the 2007 Kerner Estate Pinot Blanc they had. Neither of us had ever tried a Riesling or Pinot Blanc from New Zealand, so we really couldn’t loose. Besides, this was Pyramid Valley, does it really matter which wine you start with? At about this time, a very attractive redhead (who’s name I failed to get) asked us if we needed any help. I said “No, I think we’ve decided on one.” In hindsight, I should have said “Yes, we’re a couple of idiots, can you help us?” Stupid me. I decided I wanted to try the Riesling, in part, because we had talked about Oregon Riesling in the car on the ride up. I went to pay for the wine and thankfully, the attractive redhead was there at the check-out (double entendre) counter. She made some glowing comments about the Riesling and the producer, but mentioned that she preferred the Pinot Blanc. Touche! I looked up and saw Jesse scramble over to grab the Pinot Blanc. Nice move, well played, my friend. We left Esquin with two bottles of Pyramid Valley wines, both ga-ga for the redhead and wondering what the hell were we doing back there, not getting a name? Now what? Well, we’re in Seattle, Jesse landed a distributor for Washington state, we’re armed with two Pyramid Valley wines, it is getting late, we are hungry, so let’s stay in town and grab dinner to celebrate. The decision of what to have was easy. I think we said “sushi” at the same time. After deciding on sushi the “where to go” was even easier: Shiro’s.
For you sushi lovers out there, I defy you to tell me of any better sushi restaurant in the USA.
So, we arrived at Shiro’s and we were trying to decide which wine to bring in, the Riesling or the Pinot Blanc? I decided on the Riesling, as it was my way of contributing to the celebration, and because I had envisioned a spicy albacore tuna hand roll in my future. As we walked in, there were only 4 customers in the entire restaurant and they were at the bar (which IS the best place to sit at Shiro’s.) It was only 5:30pm, so we felt pretty lucky to grab two seats at the end of the sushi bar. The menu’s arrived and after a quick glace Jesse had mentioned that we should just go for the “Chef’s Choice Sushi Platter”. This is one of the many things I appreciate about Jesse. He has great instincts for food and wine.
The young sushi chef was surprised that we had made such a quick decision, but he was ELATED that we wanted the chef’s choice. His first words were: “Do you eat everything?” Jesse let out an emfatic “Yes”, as if the sushi couldn’t come out fast enough. I should mention, that Jesse is also a very accomplished chef in his own right. I don’t think I have seen him so filled with anticipation over a meal. We finally had a moment to look around and we could see two very large (softball size) fresh sea urchins on top of the sushi counter. The chef (who’s name we didn’t get, apparently a theme of the day) placed a half of sea urchin shell (spikes and all) on our plate and arranged 6 of the fattiest, tastiest, most delicate slices of uni that I have ever had in my life, inside. Arranged around the rest of the plate were neatly cut and fanned cucumbers, lemon peel, pacific albacore, fresh salmon, red snapper, and yellow fin tuna sashimi that was all fresh from the sea that day. Here is one of the best things about Seattle. Fresh seafood.
We opened up the Riesling and were imediately impressed. The aromatics hit with wet stone and delicate flowers. But which ones? Now, part of the fun of drinking wine is finding the right descriptors (which are very individual in context) to the wine. Really, there are certain wines that I feel compelled/challenged to describe. So, after we bounced some ideas off of each other, it hit me: cover crop. If you have ever walked through a Bio/Organic vineyard in the summertime, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This Riesling literally smelled like cover crop (Dandelion, Horsetail, Chamomile.) Stunning. On the palate, the wine enters clean, like fresh spring water, then you taste the flora, then there is a well integrated level of exotic citrus. Exotic citrus? Ok, I have never been to New Zeland, but I would venture to guess, that there is a specific type of citrus fruit that they have down there that this wine tastes like. I do not have the life experience (never been to NZ) to accurately describe what I am tasting here. This is also one of the wonders of wine. The new flavors from around the world. Wine unlike any other beverage really should taste like a ‘place’….a bottle of wine should transport you there. There is something about the use of indigenious yeast that allows these flavors to reveal themselves. For me, being able to smell (and sometimes taste) elements of the specific parcel of land is one of the beauties of wine. This Riesling is continued proof that with proper agricultural and cellar practices, this can be achieved. So can visiting a place without actually being there.
So, after about 15 pieces of the most lip smacking sushi I have ever eaten and one empty bottle of Pyramid Valley Riesling, we were in a conundrum. What to do? Well, we all were hitting our stride (chef included), so instictually, Jesse just grabbed his keys, stood up, and declared, “We need the Pinot Blanc now.” YES!
Upon his return, the worrisome look on the chef’s face was replaced by beams of light. I don’t think he heard our exchange, so he was puzzled as to why Jesse had gotten up and left the restaurant so fast. To see Jesse walk back into the restaurant with another bottle of wine fired up our chef again. Clearly, at this point he realized that it was, GAME ON. Here is where wine becomes the international language. Our chef bounced into action, before Jesse even sat down.
This is where the meal and evening was elevated from amazing to sublime.
Pinot Blanc doesn’t get enough respect. I won’t bore you with historical context as to ‘why’ it doesn’t, instead I want to offer you a wine as an example of what ‘can be’ great about Pinot Blanc. The 2007 Pyramid Valley Kerner Estate Pinot Blanc. Really, go out and find this wine. It will challenge you on many levels. First, being the color. When you pour this wine into your glass it is cloudy, that’s because it is unfined and unfiltered. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THESE WINES.
We both impatiently swirled and sniffed, we knew what the cloudy wine meant. It meant this was gonna be a show stopper of a wine. We are about to travel to New Zealand. Immediately, you could smell this wine. My nose is about 2 feet from the glass and I can already smell it. WOW! As I dove into the wine, I was picking up ruby red grapefruit, white peach, wild flowers, cover-crop (yahoo), minerality, and saline. It was a wine that completely changed the next time I raised it to my nose. I LOVE these “shape-shifter” wines. So generous. They’re wardrobe changing supermodels. This wine is killing it for us. Holy Mackrel (Spanish “Aji” to be percise!) We dove into about 10 more sushi combinations, most of which were roe inspired. Roe (fish eggs) are pungent, potent, and can be difficult to drink delicate white wines with. This Pinot Blanc had the balls to hold up to all of the different sushi combinations, but it also had the dexterity to compliment them. This was due to the unfined and unfiltered nature of the wine.
Towards the end of the meal, Jesse and I were feeling a bit guilty, we offered up the last glass to our hero chef. All I could say was “Oishii” (おいしい)
He smiled victoriously and accepted the last remaining glass of wine. After we left and were walking back to the car, it dawned on the both of us that one glass of wine didn’t really show enough appreciation. Jesse had a few bottles of his wine in the truck of his car and wanted to give the chef a few bottles. A gift from one culinary artist to another. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to our meal. A gift for a gift.
I wish I knew enough Japanese to put into proper words what those 3 HOURS were like sitting there at the sushi bar eating and learning about all of the complexities of the artistry of sushi preparation, presentation, and of course gastronomic enjoyment. It would be borderline gluttunous to describe in detail each piece of sushi, each flavor, each unique sensory experience. I tried foods that I had never eaten or heard of before, never knew were even sushi options. Like wine, sushi is a much bigger world, it’s not just about Salmon and Tuna. But, to be in the company and mercy of a passionate sushi chef, was really an honor, and a education. Like wine, sushi is about the art of sharing. Our personal chef that night couldn’t have been more gracious. He gave us a very special evening, one that will go down in food and wine experience lore. We agreed that it was the best sushi we had ever had and that the Pyramid Valley Pinot Blanc was the greatest Pinot Blanc that we had ever had. We do not throw out the words ‘greatest’ too often. But, the sushi and the Pinot Blanc were deserving of such accolades.
We finally got back to Portland around 11:30pm.
17 hours filled with reminders of why we came to be in this business.
Posted: January 25th, 2011 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Family & Tradition, Music, Travel, Winery & Vineyards | Tags: Australia, Ha Makom Wines, James Busby, Roy Meyer | No Comments »
Michael Penn is just getting started as a winemaker, and is looking forward to releasing his 2009 Alisos Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley Syrah and Grenache this coming summer. He is a co-founder of Ha Makom Wines, which seeks to produce terroir-driven wines that reflect a vintage and a vineyard. He has a B.S. in Physics from the Colorado College, and is grateful everyday that he discovered the Wine World. He has since completed an A.S. in Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla CC in 2009, worked vintages in Australia, New Zealand, California, Washington State, and sometimes finds time to contribute to the wineblog terroirists.net. He looks forward to continue to travel the world with his wife, Dana, and one day settle down on a vineyard he can call home.
Many thanks to Jeff Vejr for pushing forward with this website. His recognition of the passion and commitment that unites us as wine folk, will continue to bring together people and ideas for years to come.
My own story starts in Australia, that distant continent that was so receptive of the foresight of a true wine pioneer, James Busby. I come from a good Jewish family of mostly doctors, mixed with a smattering of kind-hearted entrepreneurs, and thrown in with a hard-working American spirit. I am very lucky in the sense that education is important in my family, as well as the autonomy to make one’s own path. Upon completion of my first college experience in 2004, I stumbled into the real world and realized I didn’t quite know what that path was.
My Grandpa Bill, a retired Lt. Colonel of the U.S. Army, veteran of three wars, had found a peaceful retirement on a small cattle ranch in the Hunter Valley, NSW, called Wallaby Gully. He was happily living his final years married to my Grandma Bindy, and passing the time by watching the cows from the front porch. Indirectly, it was a visit to my grandparents that brought me to the wine world.
Ryo, Roy, and Michael
I spent two months in the Hunter Valley in the early spring of 2004. To pass my own time, I came to work at a nearby 20-acre vineyard and winery called the Louis-Laval Winery. The name comes from the maiden name of the proprietor’s mother. The proprietor would become my first wine mentor, Roy Meyer.
Roy Meyer is one of those men who come along and bring a certain lightness to life. I can remember my first day on the job so clearly. It was a pruning lesson, and he was going to allow me to me mutilate his 15-year old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. There was a certain earnestness in that lesson. Budbreak was only a few weeks away, but inevitably, we only had a few hours before his friends arrived, and then it would be time to pop open some bottles.
We went over the ABC’s of spur-pruning; after about a dozen vines, I was thinking that I was starting to get it. Spur pruning isn’t exactly rocket science. Snip a few here, thin a few there, then count and see how many are left. Nevertheless, it soon became time to prepare the winery for a tasting. After setting up a table, sanitizing a thief, and polishing a few glasses, Roy figured we might as well get started before company came.
Here lies one of those rare moments in time that remind you of exactly where you need to get back to, so please allow me to describe this scene in a little detail. The aluminum-sided winery was full of barrels, pallets of dusty bottles laid on their sides, a few odds and ends of winemaking apparatus, and packages and sacks of chemicals strewn in different areas. Nothing seemed to be in the place it was supposed to be. I remember the distinct smell of oak and wine, mixed with that pungent sweet/eggy odor I would soon learn as KMBS, sulfites. There was a slight breeze in the air on that sunny, November afternoon.
A grove of orange trees lay behind the winery. A windbreak of Eucalyptus trees wrestled in the breeze beyond the oranges. On the front side of the aluminum-sided barrel room were those vines, about 100 rows of them. A dusty, dirt driveway led up to the winery, traveled beyond it to the old equipment shed, ascended the hill, and traversed the length of the vineyard rows on its way to the water tank, and finally back to the road into town. The dusty road separated the winery from those barren, dancing figurines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Semillon, and an unforgettably aromatic block of Moscato.
I remember Roy drawing a barrel sample, filling up my unpolished stemware, filling up his own, and then wrinkling his nose as he drew in a deep whiff with his moustache-brimmed nose.
“Ahhh…tell me, what do you think?” he asked me in his unforgetably playful tone.
“Well, I don’t know. It smells…good.”
“Is this your first time, with a winemaker?”
“Umm…yeah. I’ve been drinking wine for a few years now, but never, well, like this.”
“Oh wonderful, let’s see what we can find in this glass…”
Roy Meyer was 62 years old at this time, and had lived a remarkable life. I suppose this story will be just as much about him as it is my story. He was raised on a sugar-cane farm in western Queensland, far from what the world knows as civilization. At a young age, he came to train as a ballet dancer. As to how a young boy living a rugged life on a sugar-cane farm in the Outback in Australia learns ballet, I do not know. Nonetheless, like many young Australians who also aspire to venture to the center of civiliation, Roy became a Principal Dancer for the London Ballet.
Roy lived out his career in the ballet as long as his body would allow, and eventually went on to the world of international finance, as a banker for CitiBank. After putting away a little nest egg, he returned home to Australia, planted the Louis-Laval vineyard, and whittled away his time making austere reds, fresh whites, limoncellos, and aged Moscatos.
What did I find in that first glass of Cabernet? As I leaned against a barrel, I remember now; the scents of blackberries and raspberries, currants and eucalyptus; a young and supple wine that was delicate on the palate. It was earthy, and it was organic.
I didn’t know all those terms then, but the flavors and aromas still linger in my memory. Roy had told me that he became an organic grower because he wanted to share the wine with his family, and he didn’t like the idea of poisoning them, or himself.
We tried a few more barrels before his friends arrived, and before long, the early afternoon became evening. A certain inebriated joy connected that place and time; the hilled vineyard overlooking the Broke/Fordwich Valley, and that blustery and sunny spring afternoon. It was the time and place where I found my passion and my career.
The next day, we went over to one of Roy’s friend’s house to pick mulberries. Sweet and tart, mulberries stain your hands and shirt worse than grapes. I remember climbing the tree with a small basket, which I handed down to Roy as I filled it. I remember him calling up to me, “Now you have to whistle while you pick, because I want these mulberries to end up in the basket, not your mouth!”
That afternoon while making mulberry jam and discussing the upcoming Australian elections, we sampled some of his other preserved foods. Jams and jellies, chutneys and marmalades with the lace of spider-webs, lined the shelves of the shed. Let me remind you that this is Australia, where nature went on a venomous toxin arms race; thinking about who had laid those webs never really comforted me. The flavor of his pickled olives did however.
One of Roy’s friends down the road grew olives, and Roy pickled some every year. Garlic, peppers, herbs, and olives went into those jars, and out came the fleshiest, spiciest olives I can remember.
Since returning home Stateside from Australia, I have found jobs in vineyards, wineries, and even a brewery. I’ve seen some ups, some downs, furthered my education, and am truly grateful for the experience I had at Louis-Laval Winery.
I had the chance to return to Broke, Australia in 2007 to help out with the harvest. As fate would have it, the drought had been severe that year, and the 20-acre vineyard would only yield about 4 barrels of wine. When I arrived, Roy had already finished the vintage, and had just returned from dancing and participating in the Pride parade in Sydney, and was jubilant and silly as ever.
During my time there, I believe it was the day after we drank heartily and played accordion late into the night, Roy told me that he had developed terminal bone-marrow cancer. The winery was up for sale, and he was going to move in with his cousin who had devoted her life to learning about aboriginal culture. It’s been almost a year since I’ve heard from Roy, it might be time to sit down and write him a letter.
Wine is a medium for the expression of life and being human. As we follow its journey from vine to glass; we find joy and the bonds of friendship. As in life, we also find heartache and tragedy. Wine is a beverage that imprints its flavor and aroma into our memory for years. With those memories come the images of the time, the occasion, the people, the emotions, and the place.
Posted: November 23rd, 2010 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Family & Tradition, Travel, Winery & Vineyards | 2 Comments »
It’s easy to bash California and her wines. Having lived in Oregon for the past two decades, I’ve heard a joke or two about the wines. Shoot, I’ve probably joined in on the jokes and bashing. About a month ago I ran across a good one. It was a bumper sticker created by some of my winemaker friends up in Washington. It read: “Napa makes auto parts, Washington makes wine.” It’s a version taken from the same slogan some winemakers in Sonoma came up with a few years back. So even within their state, Napa takes a beating.
Now, some background. When I was just starting to get into wine, I cut my teeth on many a Napa Cabernet. It was a bottle of the 1996 Chimney Rock Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon that hooked me. For about two solid years I was in love with the Stags Leap District wines. Pine Ridge, Darioush, S. Anderson (RIP), Robert Sinskey, and Signorello were my “go-to” wines. My family and I joined the wine clubs, drank them during the holidays and special occasions. We all revered those wines. As my palate changed and my wine world expanded, those Napa wines just sat in our cellar. Wine, like music, is something that you can come back to and revisit and rediscover again.
I’ve just spent the past two weeks down here in the Napa/Sonoma/Mendocino areas visiting, exploring, tasting, talking, and taking the temperature of the current wine market down here. What strikes me is the extreme fractured nature of the wine business. Sometimes when you’ve reached the top of the mountain, it is covered in clouds. Sometimes the view from that clearing on the middle of the mountain is much, much better.
Below are some highlights from my self-guided tour of St. Helena and Rutherford. These all come highly recommended. Next time you are planning a trip to ‘Napa’, I encourage you to visit these wineries. You will find people, places, and wines that truly reflect this much maligned area.
Tres Sabores (1620 S. Whitehall Lane, St. Helena, CA)
*Please call and make an appointment
Nestled at the base of the Mayacamas Range, lies a special vineyard, winery, retreat, and home of owner & winemaker, Julie Johnson. I’ve visited Tres Sabores on two other occasions and each time without fail, Julie is there knee deep in work. Authentic, soulful, and passionate are words that are conjured up when I think of Julie and her wines. It is rare in these parts of Rutherford to actually meet a winery owner who gets their hands dirty on a daily basis. The vineyard is dry-farmed (another rarity in these parts) and is surrounded by old olive trees, pomegranate, and a wide variety of flora and fauna. They have done such a great job of using cover crops to maintain the nutrient balance in the vineyard and the guinea hens and sheep are best at managing the insects and weeds. The care and attentiveness that guides their vineyard management is showcased in the wines.
2009 ‘Farina Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc ($22) – Finally, a Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma that has balanced acidity, freshness, and laden with minerality. This is NOT your NZ style passion fruit, guava, pineapple bomb. Tasting this was a relief from many overly sweet Sauvignon Blancs made here in Napa. (Native Fermentation)
2008 ‘Por que no? Red Blend ($25) – One of the more exciting blends in the Napa area. A unique blend (why not?) of mostly, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, and Petit Verdot, this wine is a crowd pleaser. To say it’s a BBQ wine I think is a disservice. This wine is very generous, in that it has layers and layers of flavors. Certainly, there is lots of pride in this blend as this is the 9th vintage of this wine. (Native Fermentation)
2007 ‘Estate’ Rutherford Zinfandel ($35) – Honestly, one of the best Zinfandel’s from the Napa area, this wine was produced from 35 year old, dry farmed, organic grapes. This wine has the ‘terroir ‘which the native ferment expresses. This is NOT a Zinfandel that looks and tastes like molasses. If you want to get an idea of why Zinfandel is the ‘heritage’ grape down here, look no further than Julie’s example.
2006 ‘Estate’ Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Perspective’ ($80) – Aptly named wine as this Cabernet Sauvignon gives you a better ‘perspective’ of what tasting a wine that has a sense of place really means. The 35 year old, dry farmed, organically grown grapes showcase that legendary Rutherford Dust. I tasted this wine in the rows where it was grown and as I look out into the valley floor, I can see BV from here. Man, these wines are so far from each other. (Native Fermentation)
2007 Calistoga Petit Sirah ($45) – Here is a massively delicate wine. If you are a fan of a ‘bigger’ style wine, this Petit Sirah will make you very happy. The depth of this wine is what is so haunting. Cedar box, tar, blackberries dipped in dark chocolate. This is a wine of decadence, but yet is still restrained. Another lesson here is the well integrated use of American Oak. Admittedly, I’m usually not a fan, but this wine is integrated beautifully. All dry farmed and native fermentation.
Corison Winery (987 St. Helena Highway St. Helena, CA)
*Please call to make an appointment
If you have driven up and down highway 29, then without knowing it you have passed this gem of a winery. Cathy Corison (who I don’t know) has been making wine for over 30 years, in a more ‘traditional’ style (emphasis hers). I had read great things about the wines, so I was excited when I was able to book and appointment (thank you, Sean). The old converted barn was a great setting for these surprises.
2007 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) – Clearly, Cathy and I share similarities in what we want out of Cabernet Sauvignon. The power and elegance in her wines is extraordinary, especially coming from a region that is really just known (as of late) for over oaked/highly concentrated Cabernets. In tasting the wine and then seeing the price, I was struck by what an amazing QPR (quality to price ratio) this wine has. Aged Cabernet Sauvignon is a treasure and Cathy makes her wines to age. I would put up her wines against many of the ‘trophy’ wines that are 3x’s this price and I bet you hers will survive father time. Her wines have that acid backbone that is CRITICAL in successfully aging wine. Certainly, you could drink this wine now (after decanting) but those with patience will be rewarded. How can I be so sure? Read about the next wine.
1999 Acappella Petit Sirah ($50) – Wow, I love it when I winery finds a “couple of cases” of a wine that was previous thought as SOLD OUT. I was lucky enough to be at the winery when they were pouring it. Right place, right time. The wine was irresistible. Just around a decade old, this wine poured out of the bottle as if it were free run juice. I could not notice ANY color degradation. Plums, All Spice and boysenberry were all enveloped in a dense package of earth and sky. If ever the joys and rewards of aging wine were ever in doubt, this wine brings it all home. This wine is completely unfined and unfiltered, so there is a lot of sediment. Ladies and Gentlemen, that is where the life is, that is where the goodness comes from. Slowly decant and serve with your favorite meat dish, preferably rare.
El Molino (3781 Silverado Trail Calistoga, CA)
*please call for an appointment
Here is a winery that I knew very little about, but it was on my radar and I’m so pleased that I got a chance to visit. Jon & Lily Berlin are doing an amazing job of continuing the legacy of this winery that has been around in one shape or another since 1871. You would think that in that amount of time, that there would be drastic changes and that the place would have turned into a caracture of itself. But Lily’s family has done an amazing job of keeping things simple and very authentic. The winery is extremely efficient, using a genius gravity flow system and a three tiered winery that leads to the original wine cellar. Approximately 2/3 of the winery is underground. The wine offering consists of two wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Jon was a fantastic tour guide; his intimacy to the place and the wines was obvious. The tour and wines reminded me again how individual this beverage is and how ‘styles’ can be misunderstood.
2008 Rutherford Chardonnay ($50) – This is what I mean about a wine being ‘misunderstood’. Here we have the complete antithesis of what a ‘typical’ Napa Chardonnay is. I love this Chardonnay because it has something that most Chardonnay’s down here don’t have and that is acid. Acid is the cargo plane. It carries everything with it, the fruit, the minerality, the tannins, and terroir. This Chardonnay is only going to get better with age. It reminds me of a Grand Cru Chablis right now. I bought a bottle to cellar and enjoy in a year or two.
2007 Rutherford Pinot Noir ($60) – Again, a misunderstood wine. First, you can count how many Pinot’s are made in Rutherford on one hand. Jon is clearly a fan of the grape as evidence by the empty bottles of Burgundy that I saw in the winery. This is a big boy Pinot Noir, mostly due to the 2007 vintage which Jon states as one of the best he has seen. A taster that was on the same tour described it as “haunting”, I would have to agree. The depth of this wine comes from the fruit and the gentle winemaking techniques. The oak profile is beautifully integrated as is the acid. Again, the wines of El Molino are very ageable and generous. These wines will have long lives.
So, the next time you are traveling to the Napa Valley and you want to visit places that are less “Disney” and more authentic, give these three wineries a visit.
Just don’t forget to call ahead.
Posted: October 12th, 2010 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Biodynamics, Family & Tradition, Natural Wine, Winery & Vineyards | Tags: Biodynamics, Oregon Pinot Noir | No Comments »
Toasting a life with the 'Life'
Wine, like music, attracts a very fervent bunch. I’ll admit, I’m a rabble-rouser in both camps. Hey, I’m a passionate guy. Those new bands or new wineries that you ‘think’ you discover create such an impression on you. There is a sense of ownership (misguided, I know) that one feels. So, I was filled with conflicting emotions when I read an article by our local (and globally recognized) wine critic.
Bitterness. Jealousy. Total Elation.
So it was after I read Matt Kramer’s article on Cooper Mountain Vineyards in the September 12th, 2010 issue of the Oregonian.
It was posted online here on September 11th, 2010.
I have been screaming from the rafters about the wines at Cooper Mountain Vineyards for about 4 years now (that seems like forever to me). Typically, in Portland (30min drive from the vineyards) you didn’t get much love for Cooper Mountain Vineyards by the local wine buyers. Why? Great question. I’ve been asking myself that for years.
Maybe they’re just not the winery ‘du jour’.
Maybe because Cooper Mountain is one of the ‘older’ estates in the Willamette Valley.
Maybe it is because they are located so close to Portland that they become an oversight.
Maybe it is because they are not located by any other wineries.
Maybe people don’t want to have to talk about Biodynamics.
The reasons for the lack of attention and admiration have confused me for years. I get many, many, many funny looks by my fellow compatriots (see: most wine buyers in the Portland Metropolitan area) for my ardent stance on Cooper Mountain Vineyards.
So, when I read Mr. Kramer’s article, it felt like someone stole my discovery. I was Leif Erikkson to Mr. Kramer’s Columbus. However, after some soul searching, I’ll admit, I did feel a little vindicated. I’m not going to lie. Validation in any form is very pleasing. Mr. Kramer moved from “stealing my thunder” to comrade. When debating the merits of the wines at Cooper Mountain Vineyards, I now have the “Kramer Card” in my arsenal.
Matt had my back, and it felt great. I wanted everyone to know. Validation can make you do crazy things.
I linked that article to my Facebook profile.
I sent an email out to many of my wine industry brethren who thought I was crazy.
I texted people.
I made phone calls.
Mr. Kramer keeps a very low profile here in Portland. He lives here, yes, but he doesn’t make himself a fixture in the wine community. I get that. Portland is the type of town that you can enjoy a sense of privacy and anonymity. The ‘mystery’ is extended to his wine reviews as well. Week-to-week it could be an Italian wine (something Portland craves, in part because of Mr. Kramer, so much so, that Portland is the 2nd largest wine market for Italian wines in the country, yes really), could be French (I wish he would review more of these), and the occasional Oregon wine. You can imagine the ‘buzz’ that happens locally when Mr. Kramer reviews an Oregon wine. We call it the “Kramer Effect” in the wine business.
Famous Wine Critic reviews local wine = Local wine must be frickin’ amazing. Go out and buy now!
I was so happy for Cooper Mountain Vineyards. It was long overdue.
At Cooper Mountain Vineyards, I consider Barbara (GM) and Giles (Vigneron) friends. They have always been so gracious with their time with me and support of all of my wine business dealings. Each time I stop by, we always seem to get into some deep discussions about the wine industry, life, and biodynamics. I’m grateful for their friendships. It was during one of these meetings where Giles gave me a bottle of his limited release 2009 ‘LIFE’ Pinot Noir. The ‘LIFE’ wine is what could be called a ‘natural’ wine. Zero added sulfites (SO2), no added yeast, no enzymes, no finning, no filtering, no nothing. It’s the purest expression of Oregon Pinot Noir that I have ever had. It’s a palate stumper and a wine that really makes you slow down and think.
Marcel & LIFE
Marcel Lapierre, one of the worlds renowned ‘Natural’ wine Vigneron’s, passed away yesterday. Without hesitation, I fetched that bottle of ‘LIFE’ that Gile’s gave me and cracked it open. I toasted Marcel and his life with the only Oregon wine that is produced in a similar manner as Mr. Lapierre’s. There were obvious connections between both vignerons, the name of the wine, the style of wine, and the thoughts the wine provoked. I bet Marcel would have enjoyed experiencing our Oregon terroir.
So, when you see a Cooper Mountain wine on the shelves, buy it and drink it slowly. If you are planning a trip to the Willamette Valley, make sure Cooper Mountain makes it on your itinerary. If you live in the Portland Metro area and you haven’t been to Cooper Mountain yet, what is your problem? Go visit, taste through their wines and tell them that Jeff sent you.
Mr. Kramer gets enough attention.
Posted: September 15th, 2010 | Author: Tahmiene | Filed under: Biodynamics, Family & Tradition, Winery & Vineyards | Tags: Biodynamics, Maysara, Oregon Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Vineyard Life | No Comments »
Momtazi Vineyard after Harvest 2009
Tahmiene Momtazi – Winemaker – Maysara Winery & Momtazi Vineyard
She has been the winemaker at Maysara since the 2007 vintage, but has been an instrumental part of the winery since 2001. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Technology (Fermentation Science) with a minor in Chemistry from Oregon State University. In addition to her experience from school and at Maysara, she has worked with wineries including Belle Valle (Corvallis, OR), Kim Crawford (Marlborough, New Zealand) and Toluca Lane (Newberg, OR). She has enjoyed much critical acclaim for her wines from many notable wine publications.
Unlike most people, a good bottle of wine did not spark my interest in joining the wine industry. Being a biodynamic® grower and producer, you have to believe in destiny and faith. These two things have played a significant role in both my own life and the life of family as well. I have been very lucky in the sense that my parents wanted my siblings and me to experience different cultures and see different things in the world. Born in Madrid, Spain and raised in United States with Persian parents made for a very interesting and diverse upbringing. Since I was young, my father always loved farming and he always practiced a natural way of farming and never wanted to use chemicals. Our family understands that there is a difference in the taste and quality in food that is made naturally. The quality of land of where things are being grown is very important. In today’s society in particular, we are realizing the green movement in life is very important for mother earth and to all of us as humans.
So, here is my story and how I came to be where I am today. I was in a student at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon studying pre-med. While growing up, my family never influenced us on what to study, only emphasizing that we will attend college and that was the end of the discussion. My passion at the time was to study medicine to help others or do medical research. You could say I like being a mad scientist seeing things under the microscope and wanting to know how everything works. Even today, I still ask ‘why?’ on even the most random things. I tell myself to remember when you think you know all the answers you really don’t. We are ‘grasshoppers’ in this world.
My third year in college, I was studying for a class that I could not get my head wrapped around it because the professor and I apparently were not speaking the same language. My youngest sister Hanna came in my room and she started to talk to me about the medical field route. Well, the short version of the story is that she made me think, if what I was doing in pursuing the medical profession was indeed the choice for me. To this day, I think she knew that was destined to be the winemaker that I am going to be. One thing I have to mention to be ready to see things in a different light or think outside of the box. I was 19 years old not even legal to drink in public. In my house, I would drink in front of my parents and I did appreciate a good glass of wine.
For several months, I did not say anything to my family that I wanted to quit school or changing majors. I spoke with my advisor at Linfield and told him what was going on with me and wanted to hear another person’s opinion. To anyone that is reading this that is in college or you’re in the quest for answers, “there is no formula in life but live life the fullest.” I remember him asking me, why I don’t get in the wine industry because my parents have the connections and maybe I would enjoy it. Then he asked me, “If I knew what love is?” That is when I started to think about what I love (except eating and sleeping).
When I was younger I remember that I loved being with my father on his farm and seeing life happening in front of your eyes. The smell of fresh air and aromatics that you cannot describe always will remind me of my childhood. During those several months I started to hang out with my father and saw what he did. I love working with my father. We might not always see eye-to-eye on everything at Maysara but at the end of the day we are trying better ourselves and the brand.
During those three months when I was trying to find out what I love to do, I went to my parent’s vineyard and walked around for a while. Just imagine a girl that is 19 year old talking to herself, roaming around the vineyard. That is what I was doing. Everything was pointing me back to my family and my roots. I secretly loved the vineyard. Everyone was telling me that when I get into the real world I have to love what I do and be excited to be at work. I loved being in the vineyard seeing life growing around me and all of the changes we witness from vintage to vintage. Life is never dull when you get a chance to help the wines to reveal themselves. It’s the beauty in the bottle that I explain to people all the time. The vineyard and the wine are like a story from a book. That is when I fell in love with wine. The connection between my family, the vineyard, our winery, and our collective love for each other is evident in each of our wines.
It was the vineyard that spoke to me that day. I am reminded of that old saying that “Everything comes from the land, and everything eventually is given back to the land”. I do not care that I spend 20 hours each day at the winery or stay up for two straight days. I am deeply in love with my job and I feel such tremendous responsibility to my family, our land, and my wines.
So, my advice is to go and visit a vineyard and see firsthand something so inspiring and beautiful.
Posted: August 24th, 2010 | Author: Jeff | Filed under: Random Wine Encounter, Travel | Tags: Ah-Ha Moment, Domaine Ostertag, France, Love, Sylvaner, Wine | 2 Comments »
Welcome to the inaugural post of the “Wine is a Conduit” website and wine blog!
This blog was created as a platform for wine professionals to share their stories about what was that wine or wine moment changed their lives. We all have an “Ah-Ha!” moment. That moment in time where we KNEW we were hooked on fermented grape juice. What wine was it that made us; quit our jobs, travel to foreign lands, research weather and soil data, read every wine publication or book, what made us spend great sums of money on collecting bottles, choosing to take wine courses in college, or keeping with family tradition.
“Wine is a Conduit”
Since this whole thing was my idea, it is only fair that I start things off. I have always enjoyed hearing individual stories of how people came to love wine. Maybe I was so interested because my own story was so undefined until recently. I guess it was my way of trying to better understand how I got to be in the wine industry. So, without further ado, here is my story:
Jeff Vejr, Your Host & Creator of the “Wine is a Conduit” website and blog. Jeff has been working in the wine business for the past 7 years and has been collecting wine for the past 14 years. In the wine industry he has imported, exported, owned retail stores, owned a wine bar, he’s worked harvest, worked a bottling line, and he is constantly consulting. He is a rabid fan of Syrah from around the world and is currently obsessed with Biodynamics® and the ‘natural’ wine movement. Is he a Wine Geek? Yes, I suppose sometimes he is, but he is respectful of each individual’s palate and their own personal wine journey. Stemware Freak? Absolutely, and unapologetically so. You will find Jeff roaming wine regions around the world with his Riedel’s, meeting people who share a similar calling and learning about their wine beginnings.
I was a poor 23 year old college student in need of a break from my job and that last year of school. More importantly, I was following my heart and sense of adventure by heading to Lyon, France to meet an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was just finishing up a year of studying abroad in Lyon and wanted to travel with me across Europe. I was all set to be reunited and experience the classic “backpack through Europe” cliché. I arrived in Lyon around 5pm, without luggage (it seemed to miss the connection in Amsterdam) and a spirit full of energy. I remember seeing her again for the first time, my heart raced, I was so happy, so filled with excitement and the tension of the unknown. I still see the automatic doors (that’s so 20th century) opening after I had passed through customs and seeing her standing against a cement pillar. That moment is still a barometer for how profound I’m feeling in matters of the heart. I have had many ‘love’ moments since that have overtaken that moment in time, but it still is a guide. The power of young love.
I was starving and pumped up to see her and experience France and Europe. What better way to see this country than to start by eating, right? It’s France! So bagless, we took a bus to the center of town to find a meal and start to catch up. She knew of a little bistro in this nondescript alley that she wanted to take me to. At the bistro, my “ex” ordered a bottle of white wine and a selection of food items. She is fluent in French, and knowing the peculiar nature of the French towards non-French speakers, she spoke for me that night and the entire trip. The waitress brought two clunky glasses that seemed to have been washed with S.O.S. pads and that bottle of wine. I can still see the elongated green bottle on the table to this day, but the label is turned away from me. I would from time to time remember bits and pieces of that meal and the wine. I was always struggling to define “what” that wine was. The meal, conversation, and my “ex” have long left my memory and life. I suppose that is because it wasn’t as interesting to me as the mystery behind what that wine was. I knew it was a white, but what varietal was it? Who was the producer? What region was the wine from? What vintage was it? I had all of these questions and when you don’t have immediate answers, you dream, you create your own story in your mind. You rightly or wrongly fill in the blanks with your own fantasy. So, I had created my own story of what was my “ah-ha!” moment, but I never could fully buy into it. My story still seemed unwritten and unresolved and the mystery would frequently creep into my mind while drinking a wine that really moved me.
It was only about fourteen years later, having uncovered my journal from that trip, in an old box of collectibles that I had stored at my folks house, that I knew what THAT ONE WINE was. My “ah-ha!” moment. The mystery was finally solved.
Really? A simple little Sylvaner from Alsace got me into wine? I remember reading “Sylvaner” in my beat up journal and feeling like all of my wine credentials had just been flushed down the toilet. I felt dejected at first and embarrassed. As if the wine KGB were going to find me and out me. Why couldn’t it have been a Chardonnay from Burgundy? A Viognier from the Rhone? These would have been plausible examples given that I was in Lyon. I had been hopeful that geography was on my side. But it wasn’t. What was on my side however, was a heavy dose of humility. It was a lesson that I thought I knew about wine. Reading those words recently reminded me of what is so important about wine. The critical factor in accepting wine in your life. It’s really about the moments, stupid. It’s not the label, the score or even the contents within. That may seem like a strange statement coming from a non-official wine geek, but you know, we all start somewhere, and you can never force that moment. Some of the greatest wines that I have ever tasted where in the company of others. This is true for many people. It has been this way for millennia.
I suppose my connection to that wine could have been the excitement of being in France for the first time or being reunited with an “ex” after 11 months. It could have been the first “authentic” wine that passed by my lips. It could have been the wines combination with our food that night. Could it have been the heartbreak I felt when I caught her kissing another man on the train platform as I waited inside? Did wine become my defacto companion on that trip? Whatever the reasons were, that wine memory is still burned into my psyche. It was my beginning, and I am so thankful for it.
The most powerful and profound wines are always those wines that transport you for, wines that make you feel, wines that embed a memory. That little Sylvaner (probably €7 at the time) set my life on a whole new journey. I was so hooked, so beautifully confused about wine that I spent the rest of my trip in France and then in Spain trying different wines with different foods and asking questions all along the way. Everything was new, each wine, each new town, each new country, and each new moment with my “ex”. Every bottle seemed like that wardrobe in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Lucy. I understand the allure.
So, Sylvaner it is, my gateway wine, my introduction into the world of wine.
Beginning each year, I will buy a case of Domaine Ostertag ‘Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner’ as a reminder of my wine beginnings. It wasn’t André Ostertag’s wine that I had that night, but his is the greatest example of Sylvaner that I have ever tasted since that night 14 years ago. I got a chance to meet André recently, but I didn’t get a chance to share this story with him. Someday I will and I know that he will understand how we both came to be in this moment.
“Wine is a Conduit” and it is so fulfilling.