The Kenwood Press
: 12/15/2013

Lessons from the vineyard

Jim Shere

Living life well here in the Valley of the Moon is really neither an easy nor a simple pursuit – but it is immensely, continually satisfying. The delights of the good life here are nourishing, and yet they can also be the source of an unconscious danger. And so we remain aware – not apprehensive, but alert. Happy, yet thoughtful.

I can think of two examples of the extreme complexity that we face here in paradise: the ever-present danger of addiction – alcoholism – that always lurks in the wine country, and the equivalent danger of the commercial exploitation of our generous and mellow lifestyle. Either way, living life well here means promoting and sharing something that is essentially nourishing, while avoiding the potentially damaging side effects of going too far, and indulging ourselves.

It’s useful to remember that substance abuse is not about abusing a substance: it’s about abusing ourselves by means of a substance. This asks that as we seek pleasure we remain responsible, so that we are enhanced rather than numbed by our pleasures. Our thoughts are responsible when they are informed by feelings that express our most fundamental values – otherwise the mind is hijacked by more primitive, selfish reactions. Fundamental values are blurred and lost when appetite gives way to addiction, and when generosity gives way to prostitution.

Because tourism is perhaps our most significant industry, and because we enjoy as well as need the visitors that we invite into our valley, it would be wise to become intelligent hosts. This would mean not only making our hospitality industry increasingly successful in the way that we serve and satisfy our guests’ expectations, but also in helping them to appreciate the reasons that they came to visit us in the first place. And if our celebrated lifestyle and our historic legacy are the reasons that they come, then we should know and appreciate these qualities well enough ourselves to demonstrate them, and to help them be understood.

Our lifestyle here is essentially one of vitality and good health. This was known by the original people of the valley, who had welcomed the Franciscan padres that recognized this place as a paradise and established their mission here, in a healthier climate than the one they had suffered in San Francisco. Ever since then, people have come to enjoy their leisure at our spas and resorts – long before the railroads began bringing thousands of them each weekend – and long after the highways replaced those trains – right down to today.

And our legacy here is essentially one handed down to us by visionaries, people who recognized possibilities and nourished them into something actual. Stories of the colorful figures who built the world we enjoy today are inspirational – and motivational. To comprehend our own potential, we must learn about and understand what was meant by such people as Mariano Vallejo, Andrs Hppner, Charles Stuart, goston Haraszthy, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Jack London, and MFK Fisher.

Another such figure I’d like to introduce is Joe Miami. Joe was a midcentury Italian viticulturist, who labored quietly in the vineyards of our valley. Although not well known by most of us, he is remembered with deep respect by a great number of our more seasoned winemakers. He was built solid, and emanated cleanliness, integrity, and enthusiasm. He was comfortable in his skin and – nobody’s fool – said what needed to be said.

Joe was among those that shepherded the transition from bulk generic jug wines to the great variety of quality varietals that now come from specific vineyards, and certain vintages. He understood and taught winemakers what was taking place in the vineyard, and that fine wine really originates there, before the fruit is crushed and transformed by the alchemy of fermentation – and long before the cellar is reached for the blending and aging of what we enjoy.

But Joe also taught something even more fundamental – how to recognize and encourage what nature intends, how to participate with life rather than manipulate and exploit it, and how to be carefully concerned about every step of the journey toward its eventual goal. And for things to work he taught we must work together, knowing the steps taken along the way are best taken in a collaborative companionship.

Conversations this coming year will continue to define who we are and where we live. Discussions will increasingly focus upon a right relationship to the land, and to the community – and they will deeply involve our lifestyle and our legacy. As Joe would say, the decisions that must be made are best reached by agreement rather than by argument – and in recognition of what is possible and natural along the way. I look forward to thoughtfully enjoying this next year, and to sharing its conversations with you.