Of Independence and Freedom

I decided that today would be the most fitting one to start my venture into my own head and palate via this website, and hopefully into yours hearts and minds as well.

070911-N-4007G-008As our great nation celebrates the Day of Independence I can’t help but think how ridiculously blessed we are as Americans, and as Californians.

Many died to secure our many Freedoms, among them the Freedom I cherish the most, perhaps. That is the Freedom of Choice, freedom from arbitrary and forced way of existence. While most of the world is living out the agenda evil few who hijacked the very freedoms we speak of (for personal gain in their never-ending quest for power and control over others, the bottomless pit that maims and destroys bodies and souls), we enjoy an equal opportunity for all of us to make personal, informed, intelligent and heartfelt choices at any time we so desire.

I would like to speak about one of those choices… esoteric to some, second nature to others and my own life’s passion  – that is the choice of Wine.

I don’t find it coincidental that the Last Supper not only included bread and wine but both became powerful symbols of recognition of the path to salvation as well as came to represent an intimate gathering of kindred souls. Wine has always been a powerful binding agent of sharing time and thought and a faithful companion to breaking bread and honoring others and ourselves. It is a special elixir capable of social magic unlike any other, which facilitates surprising bonds between those who otherwise would have never connected, as witnessed by yours truly on many, many occasions.

For that matter, our founding fathers were no strangers to wine… Thomas Jefferson, for one, is still making headlines!

They say that God created man in his own image (and if that is the case, boy, do we manage to screw it up, for most of us rehabilitating said image would take an untold number of highly skilled professionals, we are talking Tom Cruise PR team:).

I actually often feel that God created nature in his image…

It is particularly evident to me in the coastal areas of this amazing state as well as hills and valleys of Napa and Sonoma, the raw beauty of the Central Coast (not to overlook Paso Robles area), as I drive the corridors between these magnificent corners of my wine universe I fall in love all over again.

However I want to start this journey where it all began for me.

I call him the “Crusher” and he has been my boyfriend for the last 14 years… so I am pretty sure that it’s love. I visit him regularly and we share a special smile as I pass by his bronze frame and slow down long enough to peek at his huge foot about to show some grapes its might and fury.

There is a special group of stewards of the Land that feel closer to God’s image to me, the people whose company I was privileged to be in on many occasions in my last dozen+ years… vintners, winemakers, gentlemen (and ladies) farmers, vineyard managers and many other hybrid/cross-over professional versions of individuals who somehow made the Mighty Grape part of their daily lives in one meaningful capacity or another.

Many of them share common traits, and over the years I had developed a lot of appreciation for those traits… they include deep love and respect for the land they tend to, passion for their craft, reverence for the powers of Nature and respect for you and me, the consumers of their offerings.

They are a special kind, indeed, and once introduced to their mindset and “heart-set” it’s pretty hard to walk away… I have not been successful at it. I am drawn back to them, their vineyards, wine-tastings, cellars and barrels with fierce, hurricane level 3 force that I’ve stopped battling long ago. Most of them live in a different universe than you and I, by that I mean amongst other things, they measure their successes and failures very differently.  They value time and being “present” in different terms and for them a relationship with their chosen career more closely resembles a marriage, a union of souls rather than a profession.

Man-Made Magic

Come to think of it, I have always regarded grape growing and winemaking as more of a state of mind rather than merely a skill set. It is certainly a way of life and perhaps more importantly a way of being. Only those of us who are living out daily our real nature and true values are capable of authenticity and it just so happens the winemaking environment lends itself very successfully to those lifestyle choices.

Conversely, authentic wines, (not just varietally correct and qualitatively acceptable) are often crafted by those who are in sync with themselves.

Some of us are born into greatness, some achieve it… neither one is better than the other. One’s natural ability is an important tool but just like any other, without usage, the tool is obsolete. Those that not only practice their craft, but take chances and not limit themselves are in a much better position to make magic.

Those wine creations that inspire conversation and create bonds, the kind with capacity to heal and soothe, the kind that you cannot bear to walk away from and crave desperately when you do.

These creators bring tremendous value. Some of them gave up successful stable carriers for the chance to wake up next to a vineyard and see something through to fruition, from start to finish, to partake in ever-evolving and indefinable but oh so stunning when gotten right.

For the elusive chance of all stars lining up, capturing that proverbial Firebird by the tail, even in a volatile and unpredictable vintage. For the sake of us drinking better next year than we did the year before. These people not just dare dream, they honor their dreams with action and our palates are the lucky recipients of the fruits of their never-ending labor (of love) in the process…

My Pledge to You

I don’t know about you but I started out as a timid twenty-something with a knowledge of wine that could fit in one short sentence – “I like it” (or conversely, “I don’t like it”), and all these years later it came full circle. The difference between then and now is that this large circle that I traced around the wine world includes many fantastic experiences that helped me understand and, most importantly, relate to what is it that I “like” so much.

It started as an instinct but turned into a lifestyle. It started as an audition at a community theater and turned into a Broadway show that has been running successfully for decades with no end in sight that watches anew every time, with new elements revealing themselves in every act.

In the theater of wine, sadly, most audiences only experience the last act, as in they are finding themselves in front of a bottle (soon to be opened) and miss out on all the acts that brought it about…

We are here to offer you an opportunity to take a look at what happens behind the scenes and peek at various aspects of that world, from barrels and corks to all sorts of personalities who help create that liquid miracle we call wine.

My stories of the vineyards and winemaking isn’t about the soil, it is about the soul.

It isn’t about the clonal selections, it is about clonal wars (yes, it is a Star Wars reference), the battles that take place in the vineyard, on a store shelf, behind the closed doors of a mega-distributor, or what is really behind a restaurant wine list. It is a battle against shaping public perceptions on mediocrity vs quality, clarity vs confusion, facts vs spins.

It isn’t about rootstock, it is about the roots (as in genesis and depth of a given project).

It isn’t about the scores, it is about the stamina (as in unwavering commitment on behalf of vintner to stick with it and improve year in and year out).

It isn’t about wine tasting notes, it is about tasting wine.

(Sharing technical data is important and has its place but tasting notes consisting of recital of flavors and textures as a sole means of getting to know the wine has never held much appeal to me.)

This journey is about… itself, the process of it, and decidedly not the destination, and if there were to be one, I would never want to get there as I don’t want it to end… It fed my mind and nurtured my heart in good times and in bad and I would never voluntarily give up these special pathways that lead me in many wonderfully unexpected directions and that enriched my life in unquantifiable ways.

My wine freedom is defined by the choices I am afforded by those who fight and strive to produce only the finest offerings in any vintage whether Mother Nature is inclined to make it easy or next to impossible. Those whose hearts and souls is firmly planted in the vineyard and who would not have it any other way.

I am honored to invite you on a wine journey of discovery that is immensely gratifying and fascinating on many levels, that mimics our own personal journey, the journey of life. I look forward to walking with you.

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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