The one word that changed my Holidays

My years of yoga and meditation studies have taught me the importance of gratitude, but bringing it into everyday life can be a challenge. What's easy on the mat or in quiet meditation can be a rough ride when out in the concrete jungle and cacophony of wants, needs, negotiation and expectations.  

The last few weeks have been a huge personal challenge, and I've found myself asking why life continued to throw me curveballs, side jabs, forehead slaps, stone walls and speed humps, as I moved like molasses through quick sand in my desires to move forward with life. For no matter how many steps forward, they were retraced, over and over, and I found myself getting mired in the frustration and futility of making the big changes I knew needed to be made.

So in a moment of complete exhausted surrender, I changed my attitude simply to "thanks". Literally, every time I had a conversation,  a retail purchase, navigating a topic I knew nothing about (hello Domain transfer) or trying to resolve an issue, I made the decision to simply come from a place of gratitude:

"Thanks for taking my call"

"Thanks for taking the time"

"Thanks for looking into this"

"Thanks for helping me resolve this"

"Thanks this is not my expertise"

"Thanks for making space for me"

Sometimes I had to force myself to find the gratitude, other times it was sincere from the outset, but at every turn, turning toward gratitude not only changed how I viewed the situation, but  also helped the other person engage, relax, and want to help. In some cases, I swear I could hear them smile down the customer service chatline.

Holidays are times when gratitude is more within reach than normal, so take the moment, make the eye contact and sincerely say thanks. I'm yet to meet someone who didn't appreciate it.

Thank you.

A Balanced Glass - pouring wellness & community into beverage alcohol

Since writing the first article on "Challenges of working with wine" for a European wine magazine, the support, enquiry, tales and anecdotes have uncovered the fact that we need to discuss this as an industry. So many people shared the same story, the same outcome, the same fears or reluctance to speak up, and yet for many of us we face the same challenges.

So it's time for me to take a leap and really start something that I hope people can get behind and support. A forum without judgement, naysaying, criticism or elitism; moreover somewhere to share, support, encourage and help. If we are truly a community in wine, beer and spirits, to me it's not just by sharing memorable bottles, great travel stories and memories, but being there for another if they fall, when they need help or simply guiding words of encouragement and advice to keep going. Nothing is worth losing a job or a career over so join the conversation:

Twitter: @abalancedglass

Instagram: @abalancedglass


Turn a winery story into effective marketing

This article also appears in Meininger Wine Business International here:

Wine is inherently a discovery category. And people want to unearth, uncover, and reveal a story, much as they do with wine. While select wine audiences may be interested in the facts, figures, and data, it is the story that draws people in, to become a part of the brand, and ideally a loyal customer.

However, in a cluttered US wine market of 380m case sales per annum – of which two-thirds are produced by the top ten companies – getting wine to the shelf is a major task, much less getting an effective story told. So how do you capture the hearts and minds of an audience through great stories?

American author John Steinbeck once said: “A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting – only the deeply personal and familiar.” For an audience to find a small part of themselves in a story and feel a sense of identity is critical. A compelling story must also be adaptable across multiple platforms.

It’s also important to note what a story is not – branding and storytelling are not the same thing. Marketing and branding connect the audience to the attributes of the product or place, while stories connect to the people behind the product. The former is often highly designed and dominated by one-way messaging, devised and delivered with the intent to make sales and support marketing, while storytelling offers an insight into the company’s or brand’s beliefs, values, and personalities.

Why Tell Tales?

Storytelling has long been a tool used by sales people who learned early on that having a good tale to tell could boost their results. Recent brain research has discovered the reason stories are so effective is they appeal to both logic and emotion, and are therefore more easily remembered than other types of marketing. For this reason, storytelling for marketing purposes is taking off, spawning seminars, articles, and books on how to do it for maximum impact.

But it’s not easy to do well, and few people are adept at telling their own stories. Often, they are so close to the experience of producing the product that they might not be able to see what aspects of their story might interest outsiders.

Discovering your story takes work, and much like therapy, it can be a good idea to have an experienced external person who can listen, identify key attributes, and help craft or refine it. People inside the company may be too close to notice untold nuances, or they may be too attached to an existing point of view. Spend time and resources to clearly identify and understand the unique aspects of what makes your story stand out, and why an audience should want to listen. In an extremely fragmented category, any increase in retaining consumers is worth investing in. It’s important to be aware that as storytelling rises in popularity, the stories told will need to be sharper, clearer, and more memorable, and less reliant on clichés. 

Take time to establish your individual story within the cluttered environment. Depending on the audience, this can be cultural, historical, or technical. Marilisa Allegrini, a sixth-generation Italian producer and CEO of her namesake winery, makes time in any professional discussion to put her wines into context. “I don’t only speak on myself or company. I give context on the location, the history, and areas of viticulture with a point of view on Valpolicella,” she says. “When you explain the history and context of our family, people want to know more.” She says she likes to explain the family story, as there are few families that have been in business for six generations.

But she’s also happy to tell people about the battle that she and her two siblings had when they inherited the winery, and how they had to come together to fight hard for their heritage – turning it into one of Italy’s top brands along the way. This is what makes her story so memorable, because if a story is too ‘clean’ and lacks shade as well as light, it will come across as public relations and be forgotten.

Apart from telling the story to distributors, clients, and consumers, it’s also important to remember that tasting rooms and hospitality facilities are some of the critical platforms for stories – and you must ensure every aspect of the story can be reinforced at the property, by every employee. Allegrini believes this is the most intimate way to connect her brands with consumers: “Marketing is quality, packaging, promotion, campaigns, and support, but hospitality is by far the most intimate space where people can experience our story.”

Once the elements of a great story have been identified, the challenge is how to sow and spread those story seeds.

Keep the story simple and consistent

A consistent story from the source is also easier to remember for those who are charged with narrating, or re-telling the story. An employee, distributor partner, retail supporter, or brand advocate should all be able to recall and accurately repeat your story. “I always speak of my father’s vision and entrepreneurial spirit every time,” says Allegrini. “It is what has inspired us to continue to build our business, even from the early days after my father’s passing when my brother Walter would comment we needed to fight like lions to continue. My father is an intrinsic part of our story.”

The act of storytelling is not only limited to employees, brand ambassadors, or owners. If your story is strong enough, it will also be told and re-told by trade customers, distributor sales representatives, wine critics, consumer media, and your consumer. Be mindful that although it may be the umpteenth time you have shared your story, there will be at least one audience member who is hearing it for the first time, so make sure your version is correct, congruent, and consistent.

The story must remain consistent when it comes to key points, language, and tone, whether using the story in conversation, or on back label copy, packaging, POS materials, brand websites, or social media channels.

Identify the platforms

Your story can be spread from simple personal conversations to written materials, brand website content, online video channels, or social and community channels. Not every storyline belongs on every communication platform, so adapt your story accordingly. Exploit the impact of powerful images, both still and moving. Simple and well-executed images can efficiently communicate more than words, and do not always need to be flawlessly produced. Sometimes the most emotive images are the raw, real, uncut, and authentic ones. The key point is that every picture should somehow relate to, or amplify, the story you are telling.

When it comes to which platforms to use, two still dominate: Facebook and Instagram. Time magazine’s March 13 cover story Snapchat Faces the Public puts Facebook’s weekly users at 70% of internet users; 36% of those users are between 18 to 34 years of age. For Instagram, the numbers are much lower at 32% of users, with 46% in the same age demographic, suggesting that Facebook is a more compelling target for older demographics. By design, Instagram is built for image-based narratives, whereas Facebook can drive engagement with community through a compelling written story that invites the audience to become part of the conversation.

Snapchat, once the province of young adults sharing intimate moments, has more than 158m users per day; while it represents only 25% of internet users, 53% are aged between 18 and 34, the demographic that many brands are looking to connect with. Its impermanent nature built on users following each other’s immediate experiences can be difficult to navigate, but it’s a platform to watch as its user base grows.

In the final corner is Twitter. Putting images in context for a tweet can be a challenge given the 140-character limit, but from Twitter’s own research, it can result in a 35% increase in engagement and retweets. Twitter has more application as a customer service and listening tool than a platform for narrative. Finally, be aware that some of your markets may have local social media platforms that are important to them: German users are more likely to use XING, while in China you need to be on Weibo.

In Practice

At small Priorat producer Vall Llach (this author represents the client in the US), owner and vigneron Albert Costa uses Instagram as the primary online mechanism to tell his story. Executed with his iPhone and minimal post- processing, the feed contains a narrative of life in Porrera. From close-up images of La Capitana, the 15-year-old mule who ploughs the steep vineyard slopes, to video interviews with 103-year-old Catalina regaling stories of her grape-growing life, the people and place come to life in the images portrayed. In capturing stories, Costa’s hope is that “people see in my pictures that our story is more a social study, working like our grandparents, and always thinking about our town.”

Ultimately, like great wines and emerging regions, stories need to be unearthed and discovered, and as audience attention spans shrink, the category fragments and competition for share of stomach proliferates, you must be courageous to uncover and tell a great story. The most memorable are authentic, grounded in truth, have elements of shadow and light, good and bad, and make the audience feel, engage, and respond.

Stories are ultimately like great wine – unique, memorable, and leaving you wanting just another sip.
Rebecca Hopkins

What’s the customer’s story?

South Australia McLaren Vale producer Wirra Wirra recently turned the storytelling tables and launched a marketing campaign in Australia to incentivise their community to share stories about their own connection with the company’s most famous wine – Church Block.

The campaign “Everyone Has a Church Block Story – What’s Yours?” is designed to elicit a response from current and lapsed fans: “For as long as I’ve travelled around the world, people have shared their stories with me,” says CEO Andrew Kay. He says the response to the campaign has been very strong, with stories “flooding in that reflect a genuine warmth for the brand. The most popular theme would be around romance!”

The campaign taps into drinkers’ fondness for the place and stories, and the casual nature of the campaign encourages drinkers to share on social media platforms, primarily Facebook and Instagram. While clearly a marketing campaign, putting the storytelling in the hands of the consumers demonstrates the brand’s understanding in the importance of engagement,

and while we cannot know how much real truth lies in the tales people tell, it builds upon a natural and authentic platform for the mid-sized producer.

Wirra Wirra is itself committed to storytelling, partly because its legendary owner Greg Trott was himself a master storyteller. The website has a section called ‘Tales Tall & True’, which uses both words and animations to give the background of different wines.

The challenges of working with wine - the responses

There can be too much of a good thing, according to the responses we received to the “Challenges of working with wine” article, which raised the question of how we stay healthy when we work with copious amounts of food, alcohol and socializing. The volume of response has been staggering, with winemakers, C-suite executives, presidents, importers, advocacy groups, distributors, tour leaders and journalists adding welcome voices to the conversation.

Read more here:

The challenges of working with wine

Two weeks ago I attended the third annual symposium of Women of the Vine & Spirits in Napa, California. An alliance that “empowers and equips women worldwide to advance their careers in the alcohol beverage industry”, it’s the vision of founder Deborah Brenner, an author and 20 year veteran of television and film production. Membership has grown exponentially in the past three years, and in 2016 the group expanded to include spirits.

A forum for career-minded women working in beverage alcohol is well overdue, if the time it took the recent event to reach capacity was any indication. Indeed the two and a half days were filled with inspirational stories of entrepreneurship, tenacity, challenge, failures, setbacks, triumphs, tools and tricks, and the forum gave career professionals an opportunity to listen to accomplished speakers and presenters.

Krug CEO Maggie Henriquez spoke of breaking the mould, being resourceful, tenacious, and managing time and conflict for success. Consultant Jeffery Tobias Halter presented the business case proving the value women bring to the workplace, and Dr Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela shared the difficulties of developing a wine business despite the assumed ‘head start’ that the legacy of a famous father and world leader might bring.

However, with the chapter about to launch in Europe, and Dr Mandela’s call to start a chapter for the Africas, it struck me that one important topic was not being broached – the demands that working with alcohol has on your health.

The health challenge

To stay well and healthy in this industry, particularly when travelling to markets where tasting and drinking is part of the job, is not easy, as it requires restraint, mindfulness of environment, body awareness, and knowledge of self. The conference made admirable efforts to provide much better quality food than I have experienced at other industry gatherings:  it was not uncommon to see salad and fruit bowls emptied before the sandwiches or bread/pastry baskets, and water was never short on offer.

Hats off to Frederick Wildman who sponsored a morning of “Yoga in the Cave”, where 70 people could gather and practice their breath, asana, and meditation practice, washed down with an optional glass of Cavicchioli U & Figli sparkling Italian wine mimosa. I joined the pre-dawn class and did not imbibe, but sincerely appreciated the mat and prop provisions, and opportunity afforded to start the day well. It sure beat meeting a colleague, or the CEO, on a sweaty grinding treadmill in a windowless room in a nameless hotel gym.

However, for all the great work and developments, we are still failing to discuss how we stay fit and healthy while working in this hedonistic and pleasure-filled industry, particularly for those who work in sales, marketing or promotional roles. This means more than just going for a run to stave off a morning after “wine flu”, getting solid sleep while on the road, taking a restorative vitamin concoction, or balancing family demands, but truly addressing and advancing the needs for mindfulness, health, nutrition and balance in what is an indulgent, competitive, alpha-male-biased commercial industry.

As someone who has studied and built a career in wine marketing since my late teens, I’ve had incredible mentors who have advanced and supported my development, yet I was never taught how to run the gamut of career development, self care, discipline, restraint and awareness. Now as I face my early forties, changing priorities and a desire for better long term health has me looking at my lifestyle very differently, and raises the question: How do I continue my career while staying healthy?

As I started to raise the subject with close professional friends in sales and marketing, themes began to emerge:

“I’m out four nights a week working eating the same meals people may only eat once a month, or once a year and my weight is constantly an issue.”

“If I don’t stay out and keep drinking with my colleagues then I’m not working hard”

 “My 20+ years of travel and wining and dining is catching up with me, and the health issues only now coming to the fore”

“I can’t NOT drink, even at home when my work day is done and a bottle is a quiet night.”

How do we teach up-and-coming professionals to know that the daily glass recommendation does not equal “two industry glasses” and that you can have a successful career in wine and spirits without excess, when some of those in the industry who are considered “successful” also demonstrate existing or developing issues, or unhealthy habits that may cause problems in the future? This is a problem for everybody, not just women in the business.

The spirits business is taking small steps in this direction with community networks dedicated to raising the importance of wellness. This includes “Barma”, a closed Facebook group of American bartenders and liquor industry professionals who courageously discuss and raise the challenges of industry demands, the expectations, and the toll the lifestyle can take. While the lifestyle may be considered by some wine insiders to be more extreme, this needs to be done for wine.

What can we do?

For the 2018 WOTV Symposium, heck even at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America event, I want to see a panel speaker series on wellness – a discussion around the topic so we can start to see and learn we are not alone. A perspective on the challenge that traveling for 100+ days can take on the body and how you can manage it; the medical information on metabolism and what actually happens to our bodies as we consume and we age; how to deal politely with the excess fine food we’re continually offered; the signs to look if we feel we are hitting a place of excess; and the tools and mechanisms we can use to bring mindfulness to our careers.

So let’s start this discussion. We need the courage to step forward and share stories, challenges, ideas, and tools, so we can ask for change that we need and deserve. Not only will we make better bosses, leaders, employees and contributors in the workplace, but also more balanced partners, friends and community members to help support an industry we all love so dearly, and plan to stay in for the long haul, in a manner that is healthy for mind, body and spirit.

This article appeared online here:



Just say “OM” - a lighter look at my yogi path

I originally penned this in 2008 as my yoga journey was unfolding. A lighter look at the practice.

As I have shared with many of you over the last few months, I have discovered the San Francisco past time of choice – yoga,  Scary but true, it even has me spending more time at the studio in downward dog and less time sabreing champagne bottles at bars.

And while my interest may be newly discovered, it seems the well known joke “how do you find a yoga studio in your area? Just follow the patchouli tracks!” is certainly alive and well, as countless windowless, wooden floored retail spaces are converted into zen spaces for meditation and practice; owned by people who are named Harmony and Ashtala... clearly San Francisco in the 60s was a place of free love and grass!

Growing up in a family where basketball and physical exercise was a regular part of life, reconciling myself how lying on a six-foot rubber mat with your arms wide and legs splayed open could be considered exercise, was always going to be a challenge to this young lass.

Needless to say, with six months of classes under my belt (or bolster) have me actually bending and twisting in newfound ways.  With pose names like “upward dog”, “baby cobra”, “crow” and “frog” sometimes it feels like you are more at home in a wildlife park than in an “OM” inspired studio.

So here’s a few tips for those of you inspired to channel your inner yogi:

The studio is a great way to meet new people, but being immersed in the LGBT community, my friends are primarily straight single gals, so guys, if you’re willing to don the shorts and can cope with a group of fit, hot chicks all breathing heavily for an hour dressed in tight fitting tops and short pants, this may well be the past time for you! (and it’s a heck of a lot easier to explain on your credit card bill than some other past times of the above-mentioned scenario).

For those of you even considering it? Turning up for yoga with a hangover is never EVER a good idea - not only do people not need to smell last night’s mohitos sweating from your skin, but more so, you tend to fall over in any position in which your head is lower than your elbows…

For those of you who have ever become hooked on a pastime or sport, you also know how the obsession to push harder, get faster, own the better or bigger equipment takes over – all of which goes against the yogic way of life; so don’t! 

My advice? Get yourself a good mat that’s super sticky, unravel it and drag it through numerous parks, gravel driveways, or maybe give it to the dog to chew to instill an immediate illusion of your tenure in the yogi world – that is, until you land in a face plant after failing to negociate your way out of Warrior 1 pose.

People don’t really drink alcohol (GASP!) and in fact, going to get a drink “after the game” normally consists of a choice between organic white tippy leaves, chai with soy or some other lassi-inspired beverage.  However there is nothing in the yogic way of life that says you can’t slip open a quiet beer as a reward when you land home – after all, you are rewarding yourself for doing the practice right!?

Finally, if it gets difficult, it is absolutely fine for you to stop.  Never in another sport has my instructor / coach / leader praised me for listening to my body or told me they think I’ve gone far enough, so “child’s pose” is a great way to get out of really hard positions – mind you, there’s almost have a sense of guilt as you lay there eyes closed dreaming about your dinner.

Like any good sport, don’t eat just before class – I have witnessed first hand the outcome of this experiment, and trust me, there is only one thing less desirable than being next to a hung-over person sweating hard liquor, and that’s someone who needs to dash to the restroom to re-live their curry dinner…

So there you go – six top tips to get you on the path to pretzel posing and hand standing your way through life.

And for those girls looking to improve their dating scenario?  Improved hip flexibility and inner leg strength are benefits they don’t tout in the booklets, which of course helps in all manner of intimate positions… So be warned if your significant other starts buying you 10 class cards!

Trust everyone is well, as we head into Summer (which really is Winter in San Francisco) I hope everyone is well and looking after the place in my absence!

180 days of yoga discovery

In August 2016 I was ready to give up my studio yoga practice. Rising personal expenses no longer allowed what seemed a luxury, and austerity measures were overdue. At that time an email arrived for a 14-day #YogaThon challenge - the prize being six months of unlimited practice at any YogaTree or YogaWorks. Existing work commitments had me scheduled to travel 50% of that time, so it was a long shot. Taking the leap, I decided to rearrange my schedule, raincheck social plans, and do anything to see what was possible.

With classes complete and ticket submitted, the email arrived a month later telling me I had won the “Grand Prize”. Clearly surprised, in the ensuing days my mind played over the outcomes this opportunity would provide. From jump backs to crow pose, a repaired shoulder injury and full wheel now all in reach I was ready. However with six months and unlimited access over, I can happily report NONE of the above happened, but so much more transpired.

Exploring new studios and teachers, I found new energy from immersing myself into unknown spaces. Becoming a more regular student means practicing with other students I recognize, and while it may only be in class, there’s a familiarity as we come together to breathe, share, find space and support each other’s journey.

My physical and mental strength is more than I believed, and my understanding of the structure, breath, reasoning and movement is strengthening. A frequent practice has also moved me to establish a home practice when getting to class is not possible.

The discipline of practice has brought me closer to being in my physical body. I now recognize signs in my body when I am feeling less than balanced, and can address it through mindful practice, yoga, or breath work, on or off the mat.

I’ve realized my favorite parts of a practice are pranayama, mantra, meditation and kirtan. Work travel has become less stressful, particularly on long haul trips or multiple days away. I find myself in simple asana or pranayama mid-flight to alleviate tight hips, an aching back or meddled mind.

Friendships have waned and others strengthened. Those who see and understand the importance I place on practice enquire more, share more about their lives, and I’ve led some of my closest confidants onto a mat for the first time.

The nagging shoulder injury has become part of my practice of self-care. Learning how to back off, listen to my body and understand the difference between pain, self-imposed limits, and the potential possible in a pose's full expression.

For teachers’ guidance I am incredibly thankful, and to Robin Duryea, Mike Richardson, Jackie Rowley and Brenna Geehan, you are all beaming lights in my life for whom sufficient words of gratitude fail. You have all given me strength, self-belief, guidance and love on this journey – even when frustration took over, or all I could do was lay in child’s pose and weep. I take comfort and peace in your wisdom.

Above all, there’s a newfound respect for myself, a deeper understanding of the philosophy of the practice, as I now explore the texts, wisdom and teachings of this ancient way of being.  While I still fall out of poses, admire advanced arm balances of teachers and texts, I know it’s all within reach in the decades to come, and unlike a forearm plank or pistol squat, it’s journey that I hope never ends.


The one laundry trip you look forward to

Voluminous reviews have been written on Yountville’s famed establishment, and while there are some aspects of the Wine Country that are considered overdone “Food and Wine Disneyland” this is the antithesis, so if you’re contemplating the marathon effort to book a table (MUST be made three months to the day in advance) and the trek to the unassuming property perched upon a rivulet, my advice is get dialing!! 

From the moment white gravel crushes underfoot, you are instantly transported to a place more at home in old school France than the West Coast of Krispy Crème-land.  Swinging open the solid timber door, you are greeted with the soft smile and hushed tones of the eminently professional maitre d’, as the staff whizz by in silence and with an air of reverence to their place of employ. 

Whisper quiet footsteps lead you to your table, as eyes of seated diners meet yours with a slight nod of the head and inaudible welcome, and as you position your handbag or jacket and settle into the luxuriously upholstered chairs, you sense your appetite’s anticipation of the courses ahead.

Clearly, one of the benefits of dining in the company of two fellow wine industry “professionals”, is, you know the wine selection will be made with great insight and wisdom, but as we agreed, (and you should follow suit) we handed appetites, vinous desires and wallets to the incredibly talented team to board the First Class cabin toward culinary “heaven”.

To read the wine list is to reacquaint oneself with the greatest names in the wine world – and are instantly reminded of why you work in the greatest Industry there is.  Bringing in bottles is not totally banned, however you’d best be sure the wine is not on the list in any capacity, and prepare to pay the deservedly hefty corkage fee. But really? Save that behavior for the neighborhood pizza joint.

So with pleasantries and enquiries on potential allergies complete (mine being “bad food”), the degustation began.   To me, there’s nothing more boring than reading an extended discourse of some other lucky soul’s dining experience, so let’s just say if it was seared, grilled, double baked, confit’d or stuffed we probably experienced it;  and if it was decadent, seasonal, flown-in, rare or endangered, we probably consumed it.

A couple of highlights which simply cannot go unspoken was the fifth course - white truffle custard with a ragout of black perigord truffles washed down with D'Oliveira, Verdelho, "Reserva" Madeira 1973.  A wine before my time and complexity of flavors that beguiled my palate.    

The other stand-out was course ten - moulard duck “foie gras en terrine” served with sunchoke glaze, asian pear, toasted hazelnuts, watercress and white honey.  Accompany that with a tasting glass of 1986 Sauterne from  Château Raymond-Lafon and you can pack me up in the box right now.

Needless to say, 16 courses plus sweet treats, and my tummy was full, expanded and sated.  

We drifted from the restaurant on a cloud of soporific joy, and as my thoughts turned to my impending birthday, I knew we had experienced a true master in action.  Not exactly a weekly occurrence, but surely something everyone who has the opportunity to do, really should take up. And yes, it really is worth the money. 

And then again? there are times when all you really crave is simplicity.   

That place where fluorescent lights, laminex tables and the incessant blaring of a Vietnamese pop song complements the clunking and clinking of spoons and chopsticks against ceramic white bowls of steaming noodle soup and bottomless pots of Chinese tea is strangely comforting.  

 Upon making the choice from the numbered bi-lingual menu, by the time you assemble the cutlery and accouterments from the array of smoked, preserved, dried and sweet sauce offerings, your meal has arrived and soon you have sipped, slurped and sucked your way through a steaming bowl of the most delicious Chicken Pho - all for $8.00 including tip!  

 It may not be French Laundry, but it’s a heck of a lot quicker than the $1 dryers across the road.



A chance Farmer's Market meeting

I have been developing a food project in my personal time for the last four years, looking at women and their relationship to food, from the farmers, to the cooks, those with abundance, deprivation, food security and cultural connection. On my last trip home to McLaren Vale earlier this year, I was headed to shoot video with my dear friend and renowned chef Karena Armstrong at her home in McLaren Vale as my first subject. (more on that in a noter post) My morning was running early, so I stopped by the Willunga Farmers Market -my old Saturday ritual when I lived in the area. Superb coffee in hand, I ran into Sharon Lambert and her daughter Jay Kimber – founder and owner of . Also check her out on Instagram at @GrowtoHealth. @thegardenfarmers. 

Their premise is simple: "We are young farmers passionately growing fresh, clean and tasty produce for our local community.", so over sips of green juice samples, I learned more about Jay’s business plans, tales of her upcoming relocation to Hawaii. and relentless love of farming, health and wellness. On a whim Jay kindly obliged to have her photo taken and we managed a couple of fun shots.

I meet so many people in the food business, but Jay stands out as someone with an incredible intuitive sense for health, wellness and I look forward to watching her success continuing to grow, just like the produce she is connected to. 

Independence Day - a celebration of all things Red, White & Blue

As we come to the close of another 4th July celebration, Friday’s National holiday meant many people took a long weekend for travel, leaving the city in the hands of the transient, a million tourists, and a few locals who took solace in the fact that you could find parking in the 7x7 city.

Bizarrely enough, three day weekends encourage people to do things they wouldn’t normally attempt.  Local television programming is overrun with adverts for replacing “that ol’ carpet”, or “renovating the kitchen” – both tasks normally left to professionals, or at least Summer break when the kids come home from boarding school.

Like any good Aussie long weekend, Independence Day wouldn’t be such without mega-plex chain stores selling barbeques you could roast a small dinosaur on, and bags of charcoal so huge, even BHP Directors look to invest. 

At hardware stores across the city, men of all sizes groaned under the weight of hardwood and fire lighters, while ladies of the city loaded their double-chassis supermarket carts scouting the aisles for the jumbo bags of corn chips and the “maxi value packs” of meat.  Anyone would have thought a natural disaster was upon the city, not a three day weekend.

It also appears 4th July is the day where the American tradition of grey-market trading hits pay-dirt, as parking lots are brimming with people scouting for deals, willing to part with hard earned cash in exchange for a potential pyromaniac bonanza.  Instruction manuals lay strewn across an array of opened boxes and small children jump in glee at the impending display, as police turn a blind eye to man’s long standing temptation to blow things up.

With city officials managing the “official” fireworks, it seems not even San Francisco’s signature Summer fog could deter those destined to test out their new fireworks’ setting skills.  For a city that proclaims harm minimization, environmental awareness and all things liberal, these values all go out the window for 40 minutes on July 4th when patriotism and spectacle replace any thoughts of sustainability or carbon footprint.  Oh, and the fact the California Fire Service is battling over 200 bushfires.

As the swarm gathered on the wharves across San Francisco preparing to celebrate another year of freedom, CBS 5 broadcast the Independence Day Festival, complete with Huey Lewis & the News, and everyone’s favourite washed up teen idol, Rick Springfield.  It seems recycled pop stars never die, they just do more Celebration gigs…

No gala event would be complete without a stirring rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” sung by a young starlet, backed up with an assembly of Marines which made even a newcomer Aussie become somewhat misty eyed.  Somehow Nicky Webster’s version of “Advance Australia Fair” didn’t quite have the same impact…

So with the 4th over, it seems America gathers its collective hangover and does what every good long weekend encourages – goes shopping! 

For those who have visited the U.S., you know that stores go on SALE more often than Lindsey Lohan goes into rehab, however this does not stop those with pockets stashed with cash to part with “must have” seasonal items.  I did have to laugh, when in true “freedom tradition”, most supermarkets and chain stores actually traded on the 4th – I guess someone has to get this economy out of recession!

Another bizarre past time of the weekend seems to be museum and gallery visiting.  Whether it is a lack of other activities, or people’s conscious desire to tap into creativity, (after all, those fireworks were VERY well timed) public spaces across San Francisco were overrun with people looking to get a bit of kultcha

With full disclosure, I too was one of the guilty, but reasoned that with so many locals out of town, maybe waiting times for the Frida Kahlo exhibition at MOMA would be short, or that Dale Chihouly’s glass exhibition at DeYoung could be seen up close.  How wrong I was…

Upon entering both museums it quickly dawned on me that this was where the rest of California came to vacation.  MOMA was overrun with eager museum goers – some of whom seemed more pre-occupied with giving their own narration of each exhibit rather than listening to the narrative.  A young girl with unfortunate fellow in tow, felt it necessary to shout out each installation’s title – as the 6 foot young lad was either hard of hearing, looking for the nearest exit, or both. 

The exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s work was interesting but somewhat disturbing.  I am sure not even a decade of therapy could go toward peeling the onion of emotion that lay within a woman who clearly was a retirement cheque for many a therapist.  Ironically, the comment of the day came from a young lass teetering on heels and weighed down by makeup, who asked “why didn’t she just wax?” Upon leaving the MOMA, it was also a weekend for a trip to the DeYoung museum set in picturesque Golden Gate Park.

For anyone who has seen Dale Chihouly’s work, it really is quite breathtaking in its scale and workmanship, but it seems colour still attracts the masses and the DeYoung museum was packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse of his mastery and maybe re-live the LSD inspired color hazes his work evokes. 

Crowds here were less frantic and a whole lot more gracious – was it the medium or the subject?   Cash registers chimed as Chihouly’s studio works were devoured at the end of the tour, and for just for one minute people forgot they lived in an earthquake prone city...

So another weekend over, San Franciscans return from Monterey, wine country or wherever their gas guzzlers have taken them, unload the people movers and prepare for another week ahead. 

Thanks to everyone who has come and visited me over the last month, either at conferences, quick coffee stops or fleeting dinner encounters and a very special thanks to Nina and Ann-Marie, both who both re-instated my faith that normal Aussie chicks really can drink most American men under the table…

Harvest 2015 - coming out of the shadows

Being "seen" was something I struggled with growing up. Mum tells stories of how in my early years we would go to a party or family gathering, and I would be the one standing back, wary of people and my surrounds, and seemingly preferring my own company than others. I never really considered myself an introvert, it was the only way I knew, but I did know that noisy people really drove me crazy.  

I chose not to be seen but millions of people don't have that option. I recently ended a relationship with someone who would tell me I didn't understand what it is like not to fit in, not to be accepted, seen for their talents, recognized for their individual being (not doing) and it frustrated me that this divide exists in what should be our  "evolved" first world country. I

Living in California and working in Napa Valley, the rich and poor divide is evident in daily life. Many local workers, predominantly migrant, many undocumented, cannot afford to live where they work, and travel for hours to be able to provide services to those few who own, develop or manage the properties that keep the economy turning and the Valley thriving.

In Napa Valley, harvest would simply not be possible without the local worker community who keep the viticulture and winemaking wheels turning.  Harvest this year started two to three weeks earlier than normal, and with a ton of travel taking me out of the region, I captured only a brief glimpse of the 2015 harvest. Between the fires, a long drought and somewhat early start, I missed much of the action, but did manage one morning at Atlas Peak to photograph the Michael Mondavi Familys 15-acre prized Cabernet Sauvignon being harvested.

The sun was still an hour from hitting the horizon, and yet when I arrived at the 15 acre vineyard site, 40+ men were already assembled at the end of the vine rows, huddling over thermoses of coffee, chatting in Spanish and ready to work. I spotted only one white picker in the sea of hispanic gents, ranging in age from 21 to 70+. Many crews are paid on time to quantity picked, so the more efficient, the better the pay. Thankfully this morning was very cool, a welcome reprieve for what is certainly hot, sweaty and relentless work. The physical intensity of picking cannot be underestimated. Endless hours, days and weeks of bending over rows less than 3 feet high to capture and secure the fruit, moving with deft hands an swift knives, always conscious not to damage the fruit, or cut themselves. They move quickly, clearing completing 500 meter rows in less than 10 minutes, emptying an endless sea of grey picking buckets to dump in tractor bins that will be soon loaded on a flat-bed truck to head to the winery for processing.

Boxes are kicked along the ground as the men move swiftly, the sounds of bunches dropping into buckets, intermittently interrupted by what sounds like Spanish show-tunes, or a joke. They pause only to allow another full bin to pass by, or to commence a new row.  The men smile and joke as they graciously let me take their photo or dart between the rows, jumping on the back of a moving tractor, or find myself on the ground, all in an attempt to capture some of the action; I often wondered what they thought of this strange lass laden with cameras, tripods and lenses.

At one point, one of the crew leaders jested to the group that every photo taken of him would cost me $100, as he was famous. The other team members laughed and as he made eye contact with me, he winked, dispelling any concern or confusion I may have harbored that the joke was on me. In fact he was delighted to see the crew being finally captured doing great precise, efficient and flawless work.

The enormity of the happiness in being seen didn't strike me until I returned home to process the images. Amid all the chaos, the bustle, hustle and noise of a vineyard being picked, arose these images of men smiling, poised, you can see the light in their eyes and the beauty in their soul. A beauty that deserves to be seen. To be celebrated. People with pride in their work, pride of their culture, and the life they were creating, simply by being who they were and doing the work. 

My harvest 2015 was a very humbling one. I am in the process of printing every man's photograph and give it to them to do with as they please. I secretly hope that one image will end up framed on a mantle piece, so that relatives, friends and loved ones can see the same beauty that I saw that morning. That would fill my heart more than any fancy bottle of 2015 vintage wine.



A welcome return to Champagne

My love affair with Champagne has spanned nearly 20 years. I first traveled to the region in 1996 as the inaugural Student winner of the Australian CIVC “Vin de Champagne Award”. My prize? 10 days exploring the Champagne region alongside a Professional and Non-Professional winner, each of whom were women 10+ years my senior. For two weeks, I ate, drank, listened, learned, scribbled and digested everything possible on all things Champagne, returning to Adelaide with notebooks crammed with notes and a mind stuffed with memories and a waistband irrevocably stretched.  

While many memories were certainly fond, one of my top two favorite visits was to Champagne Charles Heidsieck. Founded in 1853 by entrepreneur Charles Camille Heidsieck, his namesake House is the smallest of the Grand Marques and one only five producers whose underground cellars include crayeres - chalk pits dug by slaves in the Roman times. The cavernous spaces were more than 30 meters deep, housing hundreds of thousands of bottles of champagne, and snaking their damp, dark way underneath kilometers of the Reims city center and beyond. 

Venturing into these pits is still a 100+ step descent into the darkness, with hand carved stairs bearing the wear of teams of men, women and children who had taken the trek before me. The high humidity initially a refreshing respite from the 35+C tempeartres above, but a coldness that soon gets under your skin and chills your bones.  Standing in these damp, dark pits, you could feel the silence of the chalk surrounds, and as your eyes adjust to the yellow light, you begin to decipher the gouge marks of the workers’ picks, many who must have died creating these majestic architectural marvels. 

Throughout war times the pits were used as refuge, with some champenoise families calling them home as safety from the wars above. I was blown away by the silence, majesty and sheer scale of the pits. The stories they held, the history that had been survived and the lives that had lived below ground.

I returned to Charles in 2003 with a small group of fellow Australians to receive a “Dame Chevalier" medal for my services to the region, and again in 2014 with a larger group, also past winners, to celebrate 40 years of the uniquely Australian / CIVC Awards.

Returning last month I landed on Charles’ doorstep with my work colleagues, having signed a contract only a month earlier to be the official national importer for the House. I was excited to return and see how the House had changed over 19 year since my first visit, and the potential for great wine in the future…

The trip did not disappoint; so many familiar places and faces, it was like only months had passed. Our trip was only brief, but the memories of region remain as fresh today as they ever did.