Palate Passionism 12 min read

 Is this fish or fowl? I can’t tell!” – Russian Proverb

I have decided that it would be fitting to start my foray into the wonderful Wide World Web and hopefully into your hearts and minds with the concept that has mattered most to me over the years.

I am a Passionista at heart. I am passionate about passion, love and every expression thereof. Always was, always will be.

This article will give you a brief, albeit an honest and powerful snapshot of what I am about and what my message is, and conversely, what this venture is all about.

It took me many, many years of painful soul-searching and much agonizing doubt to stand before you, rather vulnerable, yet somehow wrapped in the warmth of my future like-minded and like-hearted friends. To those of you, I bow my head and offer a sincere “thank you” in advance.

Thank you for indulging me and spending time with me.

It means more to me than you’ll ever know.

My pastor gave a sermon on passion recently, on what it means to a be a passionate Christian and how many, as he characterized it, practice “lukewarmness” or lack of spiritual passion, a sort of “nowhere land”, apathetic, hollow and ornamental existence where one doesn’t extend him or herself and commit in any real way.

I believe that life unexamined isn’t worth living.

I also believe that life lived dispassionately isn’t a life at all.

I would qualify it as existence at best, which, by my definition, misses the very concept of life, as I understand it.

Passion…what a phenomenal concept. Here are a few thoughts:

Passion is hard

Chugging along is easy, non-committal, non-obligatory, gray and fuzzy statements won’t get you in trouble. Standing up, with passion, often does.

Passion is a committed way of life

Passion takes commitment.

If one isn’t truly passionate, they are simply a nebulous, “get by”, “let’s not rock the boat”, “good enough”, “play it safe”, sanitized/neutered passive followers (never leaders). (Some occasionally become a “one-hit wonder”, I am sure most of us recall running into those who after one too many beverages get on top of the soap box one fine evening, just to back pedal all the way come next morning.)

A true passionista lives his/her life in that mode.

Passion takes faith and practice

There are discouraging things all around us, every day something invariably goes wrong. We are constantly faced with tough personal, professional and spiritual choices and we have to decide daily which side of the fence we are on.

If you check your passion at the door, it will die.

Make it known and it will count. Your voice will be heard.

Just look at Tea Parties, as dismissed as they were by the mainstream media and our often ridiculous pseudo-leaders, what is actually happening? Their Passionate voice reverberates across this nation and is quietly changing the balance of power. How is that for a Passionate expression of a set of beliefs? It is changing a COUNTRY, and not just any country, but the Greatest One of all.

True Passion is Authentic

Authenticity is an interesting concept to explore. Often misunderstood, it is really more of a way of being in my book. One cannot simultaneously be authentic and a fake.

If you are a truly passionate person, your authentic passion will shine through and permeate everything you touch.

Passion is Incredibly Strong and Prominent but not necessarily loud

It comes in a form of thunder or… a mere whisper but the delivery never takes away from the message.

The Etymology of the word “passion as per Webster is Middle English, from Anglo-French/Late Latin “passion” or “passio” – suffering.


Upon closer examination, hardly.

We all remember the “Passion of the Christ” – the depiction of the suffering of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death, based on a pure Gospel interpretation?

By all accounts, religious and historic, Christ was a passionate minister and speaker. His passion was powerful and compelling and he always represented himself truthfully and authentically. Did that cost him dearly? I think we all know the answer.

Following your passion is not an easy journey and likely will cause suffering, discomfort and conflict. Stating your point of view passionately invites an avalanche of criticism, some due to the mere fact that you dared take a committed point view. It isn’t a convenient and safe way, but for some, the only way.

Passion is Open

Passionate messages are never dogmatic, rather they convey an invitation to an open, spirited discussion.  It is never exclusionary, and always embraces and invites ideas and opinions other than that of the speaker.

The antithesis of passion is passivity, the sort of laziness of the heart. Getting by on fumes. It is also defined by the selfishness of the heart and mind.

Real Passion is a selfless act, open, engaging and compelling. It is tantamount to putting yourself on the ledge, and exposing yourself to judgment. It is unsafe by definition and those of us that can appreciably be terrified by that and yet charge forward nevertheless… well, you are my kind.

Passion as Emotion

“…the emotions as distinguished from reason: intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction…ardent affection… love… a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept … sexual desire … an object of desire or deep interest” Webster

I am guessing that Joan of Arc was passionate, so is Richard Branson, so is Glen Beck, etc. Agree or disagree with their beliefs, there is no mistake on where they stand or how they convey their message.

I would venture an educated guess that any level of success was precipitated by an unbridled commitment paired with passion.

They say ½ of success is showing up.

I want to know more about the other ½. I do know it has a lot to do with passion.

Forest and the Trees

I watched a couple of little girls play at the park today. One of them had a “magic” stick  that she would touch the trees with, those beautiful old redwoods we have in Northern CA, and get the power from them… there were three, according to her – the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Love, the Tree of Happiness… when they say “out of the mouths of babes”, this couldn’t have been more true than that instant.

All the personalities we will explore together in the coming months are bound by a similar set of values and beliefs and traits they possess, they all have the Knowledge, they all Love deeply and they chose their vocation in order to be Happy. But the most important similarity that puts them in a category I want to explore – they are Passionate people, and you will get to know their passions, in word, in scent and taste of their creations and in the way they deliver their chosen venture.

Manfred Krankl said it best when he quoted a French winemaker suggesting that there are a lot of “good” ones but few “great” ones. He then coyly spoke of the difference laying in distinction.

I humbly submit to you that this distinction has a lot to do with Passion, that it is the driving force behind any Greatness, in wine or in any other aspects of life. The leaders who had the most profound impact on our lives, past and present, all had genuine, feverish Passion for what they believed in.

You can take this to the bank. Passion is Power. The Jedi kind.

How does this apply to wine, you ask?


Name a trip to the wine country or a wine tasting at your local favorite restaurant when you remembered the brix, alcohol levels, harvest time and cooperage or wood treatment of the wine you had? (Supergeeks, be quiet! I know some of you do.)

What did you remember, what actually stood out? Was it not the personality of wine and/or the one(s) behind the bottle? What if you applied the same criteria to your next wine adventure? Is the person behind the bottle passionate about their craft?

I have attended numerous tasting, seminars, shootouts and all sorts of varied debates, formal and informal, on terroir, alcohol levels, typicity and appellation assignation.

All of these things are important and have their place.

None of them help understand what makes for a great wine.

I am here to tell you what does.

Take my simple litmus test and use it. Screen your potential contenders (for your $$ and palate). Does this person possess true Passion? Or are they merely combining buzzwords with a checkbook and an ego?

A compliment that I was incredibly fortunate to have been a recipient of and was deeply touched by, was “when I hear you speak, I hear music”.

Do you hear music when you partake in that bottle?

I like uncomfortable words, such as “zealot”. I want a zealot fixing my car, my kidneys and my meal at fine restaurant, don’t you? I would rather entrust my body/car/yard, etc, to someone with maniacal dedication to their vocation, than a mere “good-enough-er”, wouldn’t you?

Why not wine?

Do you want someone with enthusiasm, fervor, madness even, fashioning a wine you are spending a pretty penny on? I thought so.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with some winemakers who are not shy about running around the vineyard in their pajamas and sing the vines lullabies and that is how I like them. Now I am not suggesting that in order to produce a great wine one has to be “nuts”. Just nuts about wanting to produce the best and nothing less will suffice. Soft-spoken or flamboyant, young or seasoned, emphatic or effervescent, they all must have the essence of what works in Life and in Wine. Passion.

One only has to read a single release letter from Sine Qua Non to know instantly that it is a Love Letter. Year in and year out, regardless of the particulars of the portfolio of that vintage, Manfred Krankl writes and creates yet another dimensional, stunning, and powerful visual and palatal message, and yet another way of professing his sincere, passionate, mad Love for his wife, his Land and everything he has and touches. His words shine with authenticity, emotion and a powerful, albeit at times eccentric, message of endless Love and boundaries-less Gratitude, destined to touch even the most jaded.

What can we learn from this sort of enormous, boundless talent? I know I learned one thing for sure – Manfred is one committed passionate true-blue wine dude. Not a sellout or a populist. His goal isn’t to please everyone, but merely to strive to achieve his own standards of excellence, which by any measure, makes most heads spin. I watched a video segment of him holding a young grape cluster… I have seen day-old infants held with far less care.

If you think he is not fanatical about what he does, I suggest you re-examine your point of view.

Do you think his decade-long waiting list is an accident? Think again. What does Manfred have that others do not? You won’t find it in his barrels, or in Robert Parker’s or any other critic’s reviews.

You will find it if you listen to his words. Spoken from pure heart.

I don’t know about you, but since I have fallen head over heels in love with the wine world, I have spent many years trying to figure out what makes that world the unique creature that it is. I have alternately gotten very enamored with Cab, Pinot, Chardonnay, etc. etc., and mistakenly thought that the variety of the moment would hold the keys, and give me some answers. I followed critics, signed up for mailing lists and abused credit cards. I drank some of the best juice squeezed out of the (mostly New World) grapes. None of it really worked.

Do I know what does? Yes.

Forget the experts, self professed and legitimate. Listen to yourself, your values, your palate and stick with those who honor them.

These days, as many of us are tightening our belts, we are also re-examining our values. What is really important to us? What are our real desires, demands and, most importantly, deeds? As our credit lines shrink and our budgets routinely come under our own severe scrutiny, I submit to you we are actually meant to live the opposite, with abundance. And abandon.

One of my favorite songs says: “If you get a choice to sit it out or dance… I hope you dance.”

Let’s make every bottle we drink count. Let’s make every meal we consume special. Get an In and Out burger and open a 1996 Rochioli.

I dare you. Go sideways, go nuts, go for it or don’t bother at all. Keep on sleep-living.

Wine is often associated with Cornucopia, it is viewed as a sign of luxury and wealth.

I say we are meant to live the best life and drink the best wine. We just don’t always know what best life is for us, and it sometimes may not be the one we think of in real time, but make no mistake, there is a REAL best life.

Some of us have figured it out. From a reasonably successful yet somehow deeply dissatisfied stockbroker in his posh yet dreary NY office to a 3rd generation vineyard owner who knew what “vertical trellising” and “canopy management” were before age 7, they all know their truth – they were born to do this.

How they get from bud to bottle varies, how they feel about their destiny does not.

Let’s listen to their voices. What do they know that we have not yet figured out? I will take you on a passionate quest for the Holy Grail and the pearls of wisdom that are scattered in the vineyards and cellars. Come, let’s live and drink passionately!

I promise you this, my future friends (and enemies), I will always speak with passion. You will always know where I stand and what I stand for.  I don’t know, nor do I want to know any other way.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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