“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” ― Ernest Hemingway
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #64
Did you know that the first and arguably one of the most successful Oregon vineyards to make pinot noir wines almost never did? Eyrie Vineyards (EYE-ree), which is nestled in the Red Hills of Dundee, approximately 30 miles southwest of Portland, was founded in 1966 by David and Diana Lett. And it was on their honeymoon that the vines which still produce their award-winning grapes-turned-wine were planted.
Listening to a 2008 interview on The Splendid Table, David and his son share their stories and successes, and as I was listening, I began to realize that so much of what is beloved about wine and vineyards is very much an analogy for living a fulfilling life.
1.Impossible Never Really Is
As was the fact in 1966, there was not a vineyard in Oregon that produced pinot noir, but David Lett knew the untapped potential as well as how to make great wine. Discouraged and told it was impossible, he defied the naysayers and after producing the first vintage in 1970, it was just five years later in 1975 that he and his wife produced the first American pinot noir to compete successfully in Paris at the Spurrier tasting (1979 and in 1980).
Simply because others say something is impossible, doesn’t make it so. While proceeding ignorantly into any situation is never advisable, if you do your homework and know what you are capable of, trusting your instinct, your discipline and perseverance is often a priceless piece of the puzzle that must be taken in to the greatest of consideration. Is there something you know you can pursue, achieve, create, but others don’t have confidence? While they may have their reasons, see past the words and to their experience. Do their words hold any weight? Do you know something they don’t? Do you have confidence in yourself?
You see, impossible never really is impossible to those of us who have a sincere love and passion for what we pursue. The path may be crooked at times toward our goal, but trust yourself to make your dreams a reality.
2. What Surrounds Us Affects Us
Many lovers of wine and wine-making speak to this brilliant analogy when it comes to life and wine. As someone who came to appreciate wine fewer than 10 years ago, but has since had the spoils of more than 100 wineries in my backyard (Walla Walla Valley), I will attest that the label nor the type of grape primarily used will be the determining factor in the quality of the wine. Rather it will be the environment and the wine-maker.
Concurrently, you and the community in which you choose to live your life will play a tremendous role in the quality of your life. Do you know how to successfully pursue a life that is fulfilling just as an expert wine maker knows how to extract the gift of their grapes?
When asked by Lynne Rossetto Kasper the secret to great wine, David Lett simply stated, “Do as little as possible.” Meaning, allow the grapes to work their magic; don’t get in the way of what they are capable of. Similarly, if we choose the best place to live the life we wish to live, regarding the size, values, urban or rural, educational opportunities, culture, etc., we need not strain to make the moments magical. They are likely happening regularly, and we simply need to choose to participate and appreciate.
3. Adhere to What Comes Natural
Every grape considered for making wine performs best in a particular environment: soil, weather patterns, etc. For a luscious cabernet, visit Napa Valley, for an ideal sangiovese, stop by the rocky hills of Tuscany and for bountiful and beautiful Bordeaux go to, well, you guessed it, Bordeaux, France.
How does this correlate with each of us? Well, first we must get to know ourselves. And when we begin to realize what our innate talents are, what our predilections are, what we naturally gravitate towards, we will have a far easier time of just letting go and living, rather than fighting who were meant to be.
Understanding our personality: Are you an extrovert, an introvert or somewhere in between? Are you a leader, a creator, a soother? Sometimes we don’t realize what our strengths are until we set out into the world. But once we know that we can work a room with our comedic talents or concoct a recipe without opening a book, perhaps the world is trying to nudge into a field where we are needed. Listen to yourself, listen to what life is telling you and then let go of improving your weaknesses and rather foster your talents.
4. Some Years will be Better Than Others, But There Will Always Be Next Year
Simply because a particular winery produced a beloved bottle of wine for a special occasion years ago, doesn’t mean each year will be equally as great. Vintage matters. Perhaps the weather was agreeable or unexpectedly fraught for ideal wine making, or perhaps an early freeze came. On a different front, perhaps the wine-maker is someone new and the wine suddenly has improved. All the more reason to try wine from different wineries than you have in the past. The good and the bad news is that the wine industry isn’t a static business just as our lives are never static as well.
There will be years that upon reflection, you are blown away by how blessed you were, only to be dragged to the bottom of your emotional limit the next. But I believe there is a blessing in never knowing because when we are in the middle of our lives, truly living, we cannot know how it will all work out, we simply must keep going. We must appreciate the good moments, charge through the frustrating ones refusing to let them hold us down and realize the life truth that there will always be another year to do it better.
5. The Journey Toward the Destination is What Refines Who We Become
From being pressed to the separation of the skins and stems, grapes go through an arduous process to become the wine we enjoy with our favorite meals and cheeses. And in order to become wine, time must be given and patience must be had. So too is the case with curating a fulfilling life for ourselves. We must be patient, we must accept that we will have moments of struggle, frustration and worry, but we must never give up. For when we refuse to give up, we are recognizing that stress of life, the tests life puts us through will leave us all the more appreciative and well-honed to live the life we have always wanted, but weren’t ready to embrace until we proved to ourselves we could handle it.
6. Quality Surpasses Quantity
Part of the interview with The Splendid Table included a portion where Jason Lett (Jason because the winemaker and vineyard manager in 2005), David’s son, gives Lynne Rossetto Kasper a tour of the vines. And he made an intriguing and thought-provoking comment.
He stated, much like people, as the vines age, they will still produce grapes, but they will produce fewer of them however of better quality.
As we journey through life, if we are paying attention, if we are seeking a path that is in alignment with our passions, talents and values, we will eventually find it. And when we do, the longer we work and are a part of a particular career field, involved in a committed relationship, it becomes easier to make decisions. Decisions that will reap the most rewards and provide fewer pushback and hiccups. As we become experts in how to live life well, we don’t waste time on the unnecessary, but when we do participate, produce or involve ourselves, we are better able to offer the best of ourselves.
7. Simultaneously Remain in the Present While Tending to the Future
Just as the wine-maker must pay close attention to the weather cycles when deciding to harvest the grapes and pay particular attention to the wine making process each year, they too are looking ahead, ensuring they are making wine that will be able to be savored years and years down the road. It is a requirement to be present all the while planning for something to be enjoyed far removed into the future.
And while there are many life maxims floating around that contradict which should be our focal point – living in the moment or saving for a rainy day, the truth is we can and should do both.
One of the gifts of wine is that if we recognize that it is meant to be savored and paired to bring out its best flavor, it also grants us the opportunity to enjoy the present moment fully. At the same time, the best red wines do indeed become more delicious with age, and if like wine, we invest in our future whether it be with a retirement savings, real estate investments or realizing which relationships are worth holding on to even when times get tough, our lives will be all the richer for it. A delicious feast for today as well as tomorrow.
As the fall season begins, autumn release tastings and barrel tastings are just around the corner as we prepare for the holidays. Whether you enjoy wine or not, there are clearly many life lessons that the treasured ritual of turning grapes into wine can teach us.
“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” ― Andre Simon
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