When I started my first restaurant shift in New York City, I didn’t know Chardonnay was a grape. Now, thousands of bottles and many conversations later, I can say that wine has changed my outlook on life. Someone once told me that perfection is not an end result, but rather a state of being. It's a commitment to aligning with and pursuing something bigger than yourself. I think this is true of a good relationship with wine. Rather than a place to own knowledge, wine is one of the many spaces that you can pursue it — it can be an avenue for geographical study, personal improvement, and cultural exploration. There’s always more to learn. As soon as you have a grasp on something, there’s a region you haven’t heard of, a grape you can’t pronounce, and, inevitably, a new vintage. There’s the whole world and it’s changing every day. When I first started this journey, I didn’t know Chardonnay was a grape. Someone taught me that, and it was a start. There’s a whole lot more to soak up.
I’ll be leaving the shop in less than two weeks to participate in the 2021 harvest at a small winery called Clos Saron
, located in the Sierra Foothills in California. I tasted the Clos Saron wines for the first time six years ago — at my first restaurant job, before I knew anything about wine — and they set me down the path I’m on today. The winemaker, Gideon Bienstock, is equally farmer, craftsman and philosopher. He has spent the last thirty years making wines from a wine region that doesn’t exist on many wine maps, and the wines are singular. They rank among my absolute favorites in the world. Historically, many of his best wines were made from a vineyard called Renaissance
— a vineyard planted almost 50 years ago, owned by a collective called The Fellowship of Friends. The others come from his front yard, where a few hundred rows of Pinot Noir vines struggle to ripen grapes. The wines move me, but they definitely aren’t for everyone. Like so many of the wines that keep me up at night, I’m not drawn to them because they are simply delicious — it’s that they taught me or challenged me or resurfaced something I’d forgotten. Aren’t the most impactful experiences the ones that change your outlook rather than reinforcing what you think is true?
Wine isn’t the same thing to all people — nor is it the same thing to the same person at all times — but it has the power to speak to, summarize and exemplify some profound and simple truths about life. I won’t attempt to draw out those truths here… this is all painful enough. But here’s an example: a few weeks ago, I drank a half bottle of riesling from my birth year, made from one of the vineyards I’ll be working in this fall. All I could think about was the fact that both this wine (11%, sappy, sweet) and me (frail bag of bones) have both been around the sun thirty times. And the wine — which I can’t describe, an effort like dancing about architecture — had more life ahead than behind. It moved me. It made me want to take care of myself better. To remain open to new things. To relish in the beauty of life; to respect the fraught nature of it. I laughed, I cried. I definitely freaked out the couple who were on their first date sitting next to me at the restaurant. To put it simply, the wine made me as excited for the future as I am grateful for the past. Again and again, we have a chance to learn and grow.
What follows are my final picks for the VWM Wine Club. The members of the Two Bottle Club are getting a bottle of Clos Saron and a bottle made by two people who learned to make wine from Gideon. The members of the Four Bottle Club are receiving wines that were formative bottles for me. Some are from winemakers that taught me something specific, some resurface specific memories from my time in NY. All are the types of wines that I would like to make: surprising, unique, balanced. These wines are made by people, not companies. They are agricultural products, not scientific ones. These are natural expressions of land and climate, not the result of recipes. I admire these wines like I admire the people who grew the grapes, like I admire the hands that picked them.
Finally, I hope that these wines can serve as reminders that wine is an agricultural product. It sounds dumb, but I want to repeat it over and over. Whether you drink it for pleasure or status or education or escape, there’s a whole lot behind the bottle you drink. As the climate emergency continues to reveal itself, we are being forced to recognize that we are all individually part of something much larger, and that what we buy and consume has consequences. If eating is a political act, drinking is too. It’s important to seek out those who are doing it the right way, and to support them, however we are able.
I’m truly grateful for this shop, for these wines, and for you. The wine clubs will continue under the direction of my incredible colleagues, who teach me things about wine every single day. It's only going to get better, and I hope you're already excited for what's coming in June! My last day will be on May 10th — swing by the shop, and bring a glass.
Onward, and cheers!