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Dear Readers,

I have not written in an eternity.  For a while, I knew it was the right decision.  Life was overwhelming, so much so, that keeping up a blog was becoming more of a guilty burden than an outlet for self-expression and the exchange of ideas.  However, the last few months revealed an interesting symptom: my facebook and twitter status updates became longer, more complex, resembling compositions, carefully, artfully, lovingly crafted. Word art in 140 characters or less. A clear sign I needed to actually do some real writing.  The potential subject matters have also become overwhelming – what to write about?  Where should I start?  So I’m going to jump.  Bear with me, dear reader.

Riojan Revelations

I took myself on vacation to Spain in September.  I won’t go into details except to say – visit Basque Country.  The best food, gorgeous landscape, and the kindest people you’d ever want to meet.  You wouldn’t think it – it’s not a sexy place – but there is a subtle grandeur, an old world Europe elegance, with a fascinating and often sad history, that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself.  Besides, Riojan wine country is literally next door (and culturally related), there are Europe’s loveliest beaches, and you can even go surfing if you dare to face those cold waters.

I always keep a journal when I travel extensively.  I buy a leather bound volume or two and invest in a good pen.  As I travel alone, it keeps me sane, gives me purpose, gives me distraction when needed.  It’s not easy just being with yourself and only with yourself without a routine – travel for me is a kind of meditation – extremely difficult at first, but when you get into the rhythm, the benefits are infinite.  By the end of the trip, I felt more like myself in years.  

My main revelation: who I am.  I never had a calling, never knew I had to be a surgeon or a ballerina.  And that practicality in college or slightly after never kicked in – I didn’t enlist in law school or business school or find an interesting sector to devote my life to some sort of desk.  I am not unique in this.  Whatever the decisions of the people in my generation, there is an clear sense of ennui.  Books and research and articles about “the quarterlife crisis” and the downfalls of having too many choices leading to major anxiety and crippling indecision, abounded.  In many ways, I have been a leaf.  That image of Forrest Gump’s leaf has remained ingrained in my memory.  Though I’ve had a stable job for a year and a half, in a sector I devoted 4 years to in some semblance or another, my mind, heart, “soul,” self, is not that professional person.  I love so much of what I do.  I threw all of my energy, sacrificing my health sometimes, to the company, to the mission, for the benefit of wine culture in Israel.  I’m very lucky to have this in my life.  But this is not my raison d’etre.  This is not my life.  It is not worth my health or the majority of hours in the week.  The time has come to go back to “me.”  It probably won’t make me money.  But I’m dying inside sometimes from the lack of time and attention to who it really is that I am.

(Goodness doesn’t this sound like the introduction to some sappy self-help novel! Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy-go-luck person…)

This will sound stupid, and I even felt it to be so stupid as I wrote in my journal on my last day in San Sebastian while drinking a too-sweet cafe con leche and nibbling on a tortilla pintxo (a Spanish omelet placed on top of a too-small slice of baguette, speared with a toothpick), that I wrote down that this was embarrassingly stupid to be writing.  It’s so far-fetched. It’s such a grandiose word, that I feel I’m being an arrogant sophist for thinking such a thought.  But the word felt right, and it wouldn’t go away.  Words are powerful.  Now I’ve always felt kind of OK calling myself a thinker, or a person who likes to think, who often (or at best occasionally these days) wrote.  What I am, what I have always been, is a philosopher.  When I wrote that down, I felt good.  I am in such awe at that word – pictures of brilliant pipe-smoking tweed-clad professors and long-dead robe-wrapped Greeks come to mind.  So you can understand how silly I feel calling myself such a word.  

On a daily basis, I have all-encompassing “thinking spells.” I am an incurable daydreamer.  When seen in children it seems sweet and creative and fanciful until or unless it interrupts schoolwork or other such responsible tasks.  In adults, it’s perceived as a wishy-washy hippie impractical waste of a thing to do.  I can’t help it.  Overpowering ideas flow, and I stop, and I let them wash into me.  For minutes, for hours, on and off over the course of days sometimes.  It gives me great pleasure to think.  To roll thoughts and facts and theories over and over in my mind, connecting the dots, creating fascinating conclusions.  For example, yesterday, I entertained an imaginary conversation with an old acquaintance from college about the earliest origins of marriage, land-ownership, violence and the current socioeconomic state.  My greatest pain – that I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things.  Perhaps it’s why so many of my mental wanderings take the form of dialogues, either with people I have known, or people I respect, whether they be perfect strangers or even long-dead.  I’ve been labeled strange, an oddity, and I don’t mind that. But not to be listened to.  Not fun.  And I fear that my wits have dulled without this practice. I feel that I sometimes reject the thought pattern building up, and distract myself with television, games, food, alcohol, cleaning, gardening, and most of all – work – not entirely unhealthy, but it borders on it.  It’s why it was particularly heartbreaking not to have been accepted into a doctoral program a couple years ago.  I knew my application was hurried and weakly presented, but I still had hoped it would be enough.  

My conclusion in Spain: let it be.  It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Like meditating.  Like anything worth doing in life – it takes discipline in order to build a healthy habit.  My goal is to begin writing these thoughts down, as I have in the past.  Beyond that, I feel I need to at least try to publish something formally.  It won’t take the place of a regular discourse, but it will affirm I’m not crazy.  There’s a particular treatise on ecology, the environment, and economics that I’ve been meaning to get out of my system for over three years.  Perhaps sending these ideas into the world will negate my new self-identity – there is a danger that I will discover I’ve never had an even slightly original idea in my life.  But I need to take that chance. Exploring the writing of others, extensively, in order to better informed, is never bad. It’s always fruitful.  Thinking is always better than not thinking.  I need not be ashamed of that.  I need to embrace it, whether or not anyone understands me or cares.

I will leave you with a treat! Photos of some incredible home-libraries that have been popping up on my facebook stream all week.  I am desperate for something like this in my home.  A respite for the soul.  It’s ever so much easier to be productive and comfortable in one’s own skin when surrounded by a beautiful, functional environment. Squishy armchair required.  Fireplace optional.  Thank you for reading.

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Stating the obvious: I have not blogged in a long while.  Life caught up with me.  You know how they say that if you’re so busy trying to record your life, you’re missing it?  I certainly can understand that sentiment.  On the contrary, writing down thoughts, impressions, memories, contributes wholeheartedly to living  of an examined life (a la Socrates: “the life which is unexamined is not worth living”).  So, I’m in both camps.  I’ve been living a lot – not that it has been overly exciting, some very bad spots, some quite interesting and good – and it felt good most of the time not running to record every moment.  That said, there were some moments when I wished I had my camera, when I was dying to share.  All in moderation.  As always.  Sometimes it’s good to keep a diary, and sometimes it gets in the way.

Here are some photo highlights of the last months.  Enjoy!

New wine bar in my neighborhood. Cute, huh?

Yemenite restaurant in the HaTikva neighborhood shuk (market). That is lachoch (yes, throat clearing sound times two), a Yemeni-style bread which resembles a crumpet; the other bread with the egg on top is malawach, flaky, crisp, oodles of layers of goodness and fat; and the two sauces are chilbeh (yes, clear your throat) – a dip made mainly from fresh Fenugreek, and then raw tomato (tradtionally eaten with malawach).

My first cup of Kopi Luwak. Yup, most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Worth it to say I drank coffee that was eaten and excreted by a civet. Lovely and smooth.

It’s not a good photo, but this is the impressive, beautiful barrel aging room at the Domaine du Castel winery – one of Israel’s oldest and best boutique wineries.

Cured beef, horseradish, and Rioja at a happening joint just outside the shuk on market day.

Chateau Lynch Bages – a Bordeaux – shared by the participants at a wine seminar I was at. The Irish have a strange history in Bordeaux – worth looking up…

Sushi, Sashimi, and Nigiri at the “Al HaMayim” restaurant in Herzliya, right on the beach. Amazing place. Phenomenal sushi – and not just for Israel. Fish comes in fresh every day, and is thrown out if not used by the end of the day. Simply done, beautifully cut. The most creative one was an eel with scallop nigiri covered with a small slab of foie gras.

A photo of me taking a photo. On a Jerusalem Hills winery-hopping day. We visited Clos de Gat, Flam, and Domaine du Castel.

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Respite

Latin for “storm tossed but not sunk.” Approximately.  More elegantly translated (via Wikipedia), “He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it.” This was the motto of the school I attended in Paris, France during middle school – and I later learned, this is also the motto of the city of Paris.  Figures.  It also quite possibly fits as the motto of my life – recently and otherwise – or perhaps a motto I must keep in mind, one to which to aspire.  I try to avoid thinking of the tragic sea-related stories that cross my thoughts – The Old Man and the Sea, the horrible shipwrecks of recent weeks, my lack of kayaking activity due to huge storms and sewage spills on alternating weekends.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while.  I’m busy. I  just survived Israel’s biggest, most important wine expo, and holiday wine tasting season is huge and right in front of me.  I’m often overwhelmed.  And despite this, I find my calmer moments to be lonely ones, yet because of complete mental, emotional, and bodily depletion, I find I can do nothing but watch TV like a zombie, and in my better moments, read quality science fiction.  I wonder, in the few more lucid minutes, how I have entered a less “examined” phase in life.  My ideas feel fuzzy and buried deep within my brain.  In these few brighter times, I yearn to write a few words – yet although I have started once or twice – I just couldn’t spit out anything even remotely coherent.  Lists.

This post is a small attempt to force myself to take a break, to be me (I have literally 2.5 business hours left before the weekend, I had been frantic, but this post is helping).  Fluctuat neg mergitur feels quite like a motto of coping, of getting by.  It implies triumph over adversity, sure, but there is a darker flip side of this view, a hanging on by the skin of one’s teeth.  Living, somehow, under the constant threat of defeat.  Life hanging by a delicate thread.  I need to focus on the aspects of my life over which I do have control.  It will make rising with the waves easier.

Without further ado, here are some great articles I’d like to share

 

Blithe Spirit: the story of the unique English-aged “early-landed” Cognac.  Fascinating.

Dirty Words of 1811: add some true gems to your vocabulary, impress your friends and enemies alike, and swear like an erudite sailor.  My personal favorite: “Born under a threepenny halfpenny planet, never to be worth a groat” – a remarkably unsuccessful person.  And I love the word groat.  Feels nice in the mouth.

Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret: An oddity.  I had been unaware of Jerry Seinfeld’s method of getting things done, but this article is weirdly inspiring.

How to move to Paris with no money: this post is exactly what it says – a step by step guide to getting by and settling in Paris with absolutely nothing.  A dream of mine.  Very cool to think about.

My sister bungee jumping new New Zealand: so brave.

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LOOT! The extreme smörgåsbord brought to me by my father on his current visit. An odd variety of smoked salmon, gourmet pancake & scone mixes, and a "limited edition" Christmas pudding from Harrod's, made with vintage Port and contained in a velvet box - it cost more than many of my monthly bills

Today, the last day of 2011, is a Saturday.  What a year.  I’ve not blogged in a while, as has been the recent trend, not that I’ve not been collecting material.  So, it’s a great time to share a review of recent, and not so recent events, as some of them are quite awesome.  As for the year to come?  Well… that’s for another post, but I suspect I’ll be reading more classic literature, traveling more, and studying for a wine certification…I hope.  Enjoy the photos!

March - June: Alkalai Wine Bar, I lived in Bourgogne-wine-land every day

WINE: I transformed my career, somehow, with luck, with some concrete planning, with hard work. I went from an online marketing/editing/PR drifter and hopeless fiction writer, who worked part-time doing wine tastings, to a wine bar sommelier and cook, to an invitee representing the winery in a French exhibition, to a full-fledged winery employee.  I’m proud of myself for going for something I wanted and succeeding.  You never know what was entirely based on chance, but I know that whatever had happened, I would be working full-time in wine at this moment, whether at the winery or a restaurant or a hotel.  I learned how to leave a job I hated, work hard, ask for help (which was not easy), and ask for what I wanted (which may have been even harder).  I love my new job.

Christmas Day: Katzrin, Israel. Visit to the winery. I'm pouring our Yarden Heights Wine 2009, a Gewurtztraminer ice-wine-style dessert wine. Yummy.

Christmas: Yonatan vineyard, Golan Heights. Organic Cabernet Sauv.

TRAVEL: Hmm… where did I go…  Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny (in Normandie), Chicago, Kauai… I changed planes in Amsterdam, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – though those aren’t supposed to count… and that’s it.  Fantastic adventures…but not as far and wide a selection of places as in years past.  I was very privileged in these, however.  They really were incredible trips.  Wine, food, laughter, hard work, hard play, art, beautiful weather – always – and especially the interesting people that I traveled with and met along the way. (on an interesting side note – after having been featured on an American Travel Channel television show, I was recognized all over the world, by random people, some of who plotzed and took photos with me and my sister).

June: the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop, Paris. Incredible book reading, and I met and spoke with author Nathan Englander, who graciously signed my book, in Hebrew and English. Extraordinary last day in Paris

April & June, Tel Aviv & Bordeaux: OYSTERS! Huitres!

FOOD: I cooked less this year, but ate just as heartily.  Perhaps too heartily.  The most typical New Year’s resolution may be in order for me this year.  From scrummy wine bar fare like prosciutto & Parmesan, fatty French cheese platters, and freshly steamed Thai dumplings; to oysters, foie gras, chestnut creme crepes,  Armagnac ice cream, crisp lemon squid, a simple Chateaubriand steak I’ll remember for a long time, more hearty soups than I can remember, and much much more.

March: squashing tomatoes with my bare hands for shakshuka at the wine bar

KAYAKING: an odd adventure sport I picked up and stuck with.  I suppose I needed some more exotic expensive exercise-induced adrenaline in my life.  Begun as a crazy lark in Hawaii (the Na Pali coast is rated the #2 adventure to take part in by National Geographic), I was thrilled and proud I survived the craziness, I decided to roll with the momentum and immediately join a kayak club in Tel Aviv.  It’s been interesting, and terribly challenging.  It has added another dimension to this ever-changing life.  It has also added  painful dark bruises to my legs and arms every week, and taken a large chunk out of my paycheck for water-tight clothing.  Oh well.  Life.  Better to go for it than to sit on the sidelines.

August: Kauai, Hawaii - kayaking the Na Pali coast

December: Rosh HaNikra, Israel - border of Lebanon - inside the deep caves

December: my kayak club with the Israeli navy

AND let’s end the year with some videos!  Going along with the title of this post, Tom Lehrer wrote some excellent songs that still ring true today.  In honor of all of the revolutions this year, in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya. In remembering all of the precarious situations that remain, Iran, North Korea, the Euro-zone crisis, the upcoming American elections, the environment going to hell, flu, honeybees dying out, and Israel practically becoming a misogynist theocracy, and of course the future of my physical, mental, and especially social fitness.  Let us hope, but more importantly, let us work hard for a better year and a safer, happier world.  And here’s some laughs and satire for us all.

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I am sometimes privileged enough to get to participate in days and evenings that many people would die to experience, or have a hidden camera along with them.  As a writer, I don’t need one.  And believe me, I’d be a fool not to use my experiences as fodder for something extraordinary one day.  I won’t disclose direct details and names are omitted (don’t worry, nothing as sordid as you’d think).  The last 3 days of my life have simply been surreal – nothing short of it at all.  Billed as a combination “giving back and coming together,” the winery created a three-day program for every single worker – yes, we shut down for three days.  Included in this adventure:

  •  Community service – I spent most of the day breathing in ungodly amounts of sawdust and varnish fumes in an enclosed greenhouse for about 6 hours for the benefit of a community center for the mentally challenged – the folks came down to help us, and I ended up getting sprayed by said varnish for several minutes.  Ah well.  All for good.  I did get to commune with donkeys, ducks, and chickens that day in their petting zoo – always a plus in my book – and it was amazing to see what 6 hours’ hard work by 100+ people actually can accomplish.  It was great – although the sawdust ring and piles of sediment in the bathtub that night (I kid you not) were a cause of some concern to me.
  • A romantic tour of the old city of Jerusalem.  Great fun.  Churches, ramparts, architecture.  I’ve done it at least half a dozen times, and even led unofficial versions of it for friends.  But I loved it.  Towards the end I got tired, and when we got to the incredible Austrian Hospice, I simply disappeared into the cafe-garden with a lovely creamy Meinl cappuccino while the group went up to the roof for another half-hour of pointing-at-buildings.  It’s a rose garden, quiet, and two foreign gentlemen smoked cigars next to me.  At that moment I was happy.  I loved my employer, my colleagues, the retreat, the weather, the location.  It was a great day.
  • Ridiculous performances — I hate using ridiculous to describe performance art, as artists try hard and need to earn a living.  There just happens to be a lot I cannot tolerate, and I was subjected to some extremely…well…difficult work.  Folksy mediocre sort of stuff — the fact that many, perhaps not most, but not a few, of my work colleagues enjoyed some if not all of the two evenings’ entertainment, puzzled me.  But let me leave it at that. To each his own.  A fantastic exercise in anthropology, one could say.
  • A scavenger hunt.  A big fat three-hour frantic massive-list hunt, 21st-century-style (all evidence photographed, video’ed, and internet research often required).  We were broken up into groups and I knew almost nobody in mine.  Running all over Jerusalem, climbing the YMCA tower (450 steps up) to count carillon bells, taking photographs while sitting inside random people’s cars, teaching tourists to speak a sentence in Hebrew about our company, archery in the park, and on and on.  It was exhausting.  We didn’t win, but now I have 7 new friends at the winery, most of whom I never would have met, approached, or sat with at a meal.  The fact that I enjoyed this is a huge credit to the HR people at the winery.  They know their stuff.  It could have been cheesy-city, but almost every group participated with gusto.  It was great.
  • Raucous late-night adventures in the shuk — my favorite part of the trip — reminded me of my adventures in Bordeaux.  A small group (12 or so) of people from almost every walk of life (department) of the winery decided to head out for some post-cheesy-art living it up on the town.  We found ourselves at the Casino de Paris – a hip new bar-eatery in the middle of Machaneh Yehuda shuk (market).  Yes, hidden among the vegetable stalls is quite a chic place, bright, friendly, excellent booze, people spilling out the door on a Monday night.  We drank, ate, drank, told stories, drank, made merry, and drank under the stars beside the covered stalls outside the warm little bar.  Then we made our way to the famous Machaneh Yehuda restaurant a couple blocks away.  We drank, ate, drank, and made merry all over again, to a much higher and stranger degree.  With stranger foods (shellfish after midnight).  Stranger objects (wearing tea towels somehow became part of this segment of the evening). Stranger liquors (we started the evening with high-end Cognac and single malt Scotch, and somehow ended up finishing it off with cheap Arak).  So it goes.  Interesting taxi-back-to-hotel arrangements.  And lots and lots of ibuprofen.  I’m quite proud of myself, really.  I can really hold my liquor, or so it seems to me.  I didn’t tell any bad sex jokes, I didn’t vomit, I didn’t fall down, and I hardly cried at all.  I think it was a well-maintained buzz through and through.  In the course of 6 hours (with food) I think I consumed 3 glasses of wine, 2 whiskys, three sips of beer (one ale, two stout – a knowledgeable person told me to try stout with whisky and it was an excellent combination), one tiny sip of Arak, and a glass of bubbly.  It was a fantastic evening.  Had it occurred at the American Colony as I’d wanted, it would have been better.  It’ll have to wait for the next adventure.  But it was very good as it was.

It doesn’t often occur to people that they live interesting lives — but on this particular occasion, it occurred to me that I do.  I don’t make wine, but I get to work with people who do.  People who make world-class amazing wine.  And that counts for something.  It’s amazing when you know you’re working with and for good people, for a good cause.  Wine is a luxury product, I suppose, but it’s far more essential than a Lexus or foie gras or an Xbox, I think.  It’s a connection to land, to history, to religion, to people, to experience.  What’s a wedding without wine?  New Years?  Anniversaries?  Birthdays? Beuf Bourgignon? Coq au Vin?  I’m back to stressed out life — and even if it doesn’t seem charmed 99% of the time — it is a charmed existence in many ways.  There’s always that after-work glass of wine waiting.

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Fabulous clothing and shoes, wine stains and crushed toes.  So the game goes.

Talking to wine writers at the Golan Heights Winery stand at Sommelier 2011

Israel and wine, newsworthy topics both, best when paired.

The Sommelier Exhibition 2011 has come and gone, and it was fast, busy, exciting, exhausting, and over as soon as it began.  We at the Golan Heights Winery featured the 2008 Vintage – including 3 new single vineyard wines that were released this week, timed with the event: the Merlot from the Kela vineyard; the Syrah from the Tel Phares vineyard; and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed El Rom vineyard.  We also introduced the Gamla Syrah 2009 (English),  the newest addition to the Gamla series, a long time in the works – brilliant magenta color, vibrant fruity aroma bordering on the confectionary (and I mean in the best possible way), and such a fun wine it is.   The jazzy new 2008 Yarden 2T, a blend of two Portuguese varietals Turiga Nacional and Tinta Cao, was also a huge hit – lighter bodied yet complex, something we Israelis are not used to… and should be a great pleasure to get to know.

In other fascinating wine news, I read this interesting piece on 8 Budget-Friendly Destination for Wine Lovers. Ever thought of going to Thailand for a tour of wine country?  Umm… never.  But for $50 a tour, $5 a bottle, and a hotel for $15, your plane ticket is your largest expenditure (which frankly, is not small potatoes, but we’ll ignore that).  Apparently it’s brilliant fun to see Thailand’s 3 wine-growing regions that are able to harvest twice annually because of the wet and hot climate.  All the others I’d heard of and have actually considered.  Hungary (Tokaj – now why in the world wouldn’t I?) and Cyprus (fascinated by Greek-Turkish wines – millenia-old traditions) especially.

OK – on the bizarre, awesome, I-never-would-have-thunk-it, front, a Japanese comic book (the genre is known as Manga), all about wine – “Drops of God.”  First published in 2004, it’s been translated into English, and it’s brilliant and fascinating.  Wine Manga.  Wow.  It was a smash hit in France, a sensation in South Korea, and it introduced wine culture to large parts of Asia.  Check out the article and the Wikipedia page.  I’m buying this.

Otherwise – I’ve been working and kayaking and that’s about it.  Mostly working.  And consuming junk food, cucumbers, and tuna fish sandwiches.  Ah life.  And wine, don’t forget the wine.  My teeth turned an absurd shade of nasty smeared blackish purple over the past two days at the exhibition (not because I drank, god forbid while I work, at least not much) but because I was designated taster for most of the time – testing for oxidized and corked wines.  Thank goodness for baking soda.

And to close, a beautiful Ernest Hemingway quotation I stumbled upon today:

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.

 

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This is a real “Rose of Sharon,” as referenced in the bible in the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as we know it in Hebrew – “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.”  The real rose is, as seen, I kind of lily.  This year I saw them for the first time, or at least was introduced to them, and acknowledged them as the real deal. They bloom in the autumn on the sea coast, springing forth from the sandy rocks.  So beautiful a fragrance, such delicate thin white petals, spread out along the cliffs they blow gently in the breeze, dancing.

My name in Hebrew is Sharon – it’s what everyone calls me in Israel.  Irène is reserved for my English and French language identity.  It took me a long time to like my name. Irène Sharon – “peace” (from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, protector of Plenty, and revered by Athenians), and the forested plain region of Israel – often identified with this lily.  Now that I know that this unique flower blooms only in the fall, only here, and that I learned these things at a time when I was in such crisis, so tested, means all the more to me.  I love my name.  I want to work harder.  I want to be worthy of such a powerful, important, and beautiful name.

A test of survival – this last month was the most difficult one I have known in years.  It rivals studying for 5 AP exams while acting in a play while applying for college.  It rivals writing half a dozen final papers in two weeks.  It rivals the last week of sleepless nights finishing an honors thesis.  Yes, all academic references – but these were some of my roughest periods.  The task I was given did not require months and years of research in libraries.  It was kind of an opposite task – not cerebral – but practical.  A job job.  Logistics – coordinating the actions of 50+ people, scheduling 200+ wine tastings within a 2-week period, training 100+ people within a week, monitoring and assessing the success of these events, and troubleshooting at a moment’s notice – it was a kind of mad dance – the highest usage of email, telephone calls, text messages, and meetings – long drives, rushed taxi hops, running to train stations, and constantly being called, always fixing problems.  It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  10-16 hour days for a month, playing Sudoku with the largest spreadsheet I’ve known (as my bosses refer to it), moving people around like chess pieces, around the country, from day to day, hour to hour.  All this to sell wine, aggressively, on a large scale, during the holiday rush.  Now that I think about it, it really was like chess – strategic moves in a sales war.  It’s no wonder my bosses refer to this mad task as “hunkering down in the bunker.”

And I survived.  And I’m so happy.  And I love my job.  And I’m a sappy sappy sod, but I don’t care.  It feels good to work hard.  It feels good to have finished an arduous task.  How did I survive?  Sadly, or not so much, with a lot of single malt, chocolate, club soda (I love club soda), coffee and early morning news (BBC or France 24 at 6 am – not kidding) to feel connected to the world like a real grown up with a routine, and KAYAKING.  I kept at it.  Yes I did.  6:30 am once or twice per week, dragging myself to the beach for the greatest physically exhausting high – paddling kilometers during lessons with a professional, learning the techniques of the craft, to master control of the vessel.  Me versus the sea and wind.

And it was my kayak instructor, a typical gruff wiry leathery sort of sportsman, who pointed out the lilies, the delicate חבצלת חשרון, and bent one down from a high cliff for me to smell.  It a special sort of thing – that this flower blooms at the end of the Jewish new year.  Well, it actually crosses over – end of the year is also the beginning of the next.  It ushers out the old and brings in the new.  Kind of like my life.  A very new and different phase.  It’s much more like physical labor than mental labor.  Maybe it’s good for me.  For now.  It may make reading books and relaxing with friends more – more – fun?  Thinking for pleasure?

What is certain is that wine goes with food, and food will never leave my life.

Shana tova. שנה טובה ומתוקה.  A sweet and good new year to you all.

Second-to-last day of madness. Yes, that's a bottle of Gamla Sangiovese.

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So much to tell, so little time!

I am flying to the USofA today!  But I will be spending less than 35 hours of it (cumulatively) on the contiguous 48.  That’s right.  My family and I are off to the gorgeous lush relaxing island of Kauai, the northernmost (and slightly less touristic) in Hawaii.  It’s hard to believe.  I’ve been working 18 hour days for a week now preparing for leaving, and now I’m leaving in about 10 hours, and I’m still working, and I haven’t started packing or cleaning or anything.  I’m going to end up on a beach, completely strung out after 2 days of endless flights, and not know how I friggin got there.  Oh well.  C’est la vie.  And I must say, I’m liking my vie very very much these days.  Now if I could only catch some more zzz’s and do better catching up on work and studies.  But I’m lucky.  Quite.

Some things to report:

The Golan Heights Winery stand being built at the Jerusalem Wine Fest

Last 2 days of the Jerusalem Wine Festival!  It’s at the Israel Museum tonight (17/8) and tomorrow (18/8) from 7pm-midnight.  You pay about 70 nis at the door, get a lovely Riedel glass (that you get to take home with you if you haven’t broken it yet), and drink endlessly from your choice of 30+ Israeli wineries.  With Jacob’s fresh cheeses and locally made gourmet chocolate also at hand, it’s a fun time.  I managed our stand the last two days, and all I have to say is GAMLA NEBBIOLO.  If you’re reading my blog, which hardly anyone does, but if you do, and you go, ASK FOR THE NEBBIOLO at the Golan Heights stand.  It’s under the counter.  And it’s incredible.

The Jewish High Holy Days are coming up.  If you like wine at all (and I’m assuming you do if you’re reading this), it’s the best time of year to taste almost every wine you’ve been curious about.  Pesach and Rosh Hashana are the biggest wine sales events – so the week before you’ll find free tastings at almost every wine store and supermarket in the country.  So go!  Explore!  Drink!  This is everyone’s chance to expand their horizons without having to leave their own neighborhoods.

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Vinexpo entrance

As I’m trying to focus more on wine, I feel obligated to devote a post to my Vinexpo experience.  As I’m tired, working, it’s August, hot as hell, and I’m typing away outside today as there’s no room inside at the cafe I stopped at because I could walk no longer – this is difficult.  But I’m going for it because sooner is better than later (and it’s been – my god – over a month since the event).  Without further ado, I give you…

VINEXPO 2011

Overview: Founded in 1981 by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bordeaux, the Vinexpo has emerged over the years as the great meeting place for global operators of wines and spirits. The expo takes place every other year in Bordeaux at the fairgrounds. It takes place during one week in June every odd year and welcomes some 50,000 visitors, and hosts 2400 exhibitors from 47 countries. The main exhibitors are French and Italian.   In 2011, one out of three non-French exhibitor was from Asia, and recorded 48,122 visitors from 148 countries, up 3.22% compared to 2009.

ISRAELI WINERIES

The GHW and GMW booth at Vinexpo with Head Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld and Director of Sales and Marketing Arnon Harel.

I was honored with an invitation to come and work at the expo by the Golan Heights Winery.  They have been exhibiting at Vinexpo for at least 20 years, as far as I know, the only winery – at least this year – from Israel.  This year, we also brought wines from our daughter winery, The Galil Mountain Winery.  I speak French fairly fluently (I lived in Paris as a child, grew up in a loosely tri-lingual household, and continued my studies through high school and university – where I focused heavily on French literature), but needless to say, my wine vocabulary was lacking.  I spent the two months before attempting to brush up – listening to French news radio on the internet, and I found some Skype-pals, for lack of a better term, through a free service that pairs up people wanting to improve their foreign language speaking skills through an exchange with native speakers, online.  A fantastic idea.  I also created lists of wine vocabulary, watched wine-making videos on YouTube, and I did some research on wine websites and wine regions in France, simply to read about these topics in French.  It all helped.  I was a bit overzealous in my preparation and overly nervous about my ability to perform, but I think I did well.  The first day I felt I was a bit shaky – but after a glass or two of wine and hours on end of speaking just French, it came very easily.  I was there to pour wine, explain about our wines in detail, and introduce whoever was interested to what Israeli wines really are.  A great fun very professional exhibition.  I met wonderful people, and I learned a lot, too.

FEATURED WINES

The Golan Heights Winery Big Wigs (and the 7 wines we served)

Golan: Yarden Gamla Brut 2005; Yarden Gewurtztraminer 2010; Yarden Chardonnay Odem Organ Vineyard 2009; Yarden Syrah 2006; Yarden Merlot 2007; Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2007; and Yarden Heights Wine 2009.  We also brought a hodge-podge selection of 2-3 bottles of various other wines to share with journalists, specialists, and international distributors, if the moment arose – from the Golan range, through Gamla, and a few special single vineyards and top limited-edition wines like the Rom and Katzrin.

Galil: Sauvignon Blanc 2010; Viognier 2010; Avivim 2009; Pinot Noir 2009; Meron 2007/2008; Yiron 2007.  There were also some random bottles opened on occasion, if memory serves, perhaps some of the younger reds.

MY EXPERIENCE

As the only French speaker, I found myself at the stand so much that I didn’t see much of the rest of the expo.  Frankly, that was OK by me.  Victor, the head winemaker, worked extremely hard, too, as well as some of the others, and when you get into a rhythm, adrenaline kicks in, and it’s extremely fun work.  A real team effort.  We had “Wine ID Cards,” as we call them, with all the stats on the company, the numbers, and the geography, complete with map, as we used as a starting point to explain about the location of the vineyards and the specific terroir.   What I found surprising was the people were incredibly open-minded.  I think that a number of them simply came out of curiosity, the novelty of an Israeli winery, but the fact that we’ve been winning very important awards, especially as of late went a long way, too.  People loved our wines.  The most “negative” comment I got was that it was very different than what they make in France.  Perhaps they were being polite.  However, the rave reviews some people offered up, who came back for seconds, who finished their glasses instead of using the spittoons, were not uncommon, and it was energizing.  I was so happy to be there.  Honestly, I was so proud to be there.  And to be spouting off facts, figures, agricultural specifics, aging techniques, standing right next to the winemakers – hopefully getting it all right (I certainly prepped enough) – was something else.   I feel I proved something to myself.  I’ve come very far in just two+ years in the trade.  I’m actually able to teach things, and in some ways also to inspire.  I love these wines, and I love the people I get to work with even more.

And enough drippy drippy sap I’m spouting.  Of the OTHER world wines I got to taste:

  • Lebanese wines: SO different from Israeli wines, and such a small distance away, it’s surprising (almost all of the wines are made in the Beqaa Valley).  I found them sharper somehow.  Very different layering.  A lot of the wine wasn’t amazing, I have to admit, as younger wines always are.  However, among the young wines, there was a lot of creativity – fresh and bright.  The vines in Lebanon are older than ours, at least some of them.  Because Lebanon is not a dominantly Muslim country, there have always been Christians there – I met a lot of people who had vines that were decades and decades old.  A big positive factor in the quality of the grapes.  Of course, there are also a lot of new ventures.  I met French winemakers who were hired by Lebanese and Syrian businessmen who wanted to build up wineries as an investment in recent years.  The wines I tasted that I remembered most were from Chateau Ksara and Château Kefraya.
  • Japanese wine: no, I’m not talking sake.  I’m talking real true blue wine from grapes of the authentic Vitis vinifera.  They don’t yet have a website, the wine is in such limited production, and for the life on me I cannot remember the name.  Crazy.  I will find out, though, as I know some people who know some people and I will update soon.  Perhaps I’ll write a post on it.  What I remember is this:  it was distinctive as hell.  I don’t know whether I loved it or hated it.  Not kidding.  There were two wines, one younger, one more aged – premiere, both white, very fresh and sharp.  What was distinctive first was the smell.  It was like stinky bleu cheese and fresh green melon.  Weird.  I mean so weird, I felt like my facial expression might have insulted the women representing the winery.  They served sushi with it.  The taste was so contrary to the smell, that was the next oddity.  Very floral and green.  They were saying that the specific grape varietal was native to Japan and had been evident in records for over 1,000 years.  How this fruit came to Japan that long ago is a mystery.  On the wings of a bird?  On a rare random trade ship?  Because it is the real deal species.  Not a different fruit.  I will find the name, promise.
  • Chablis: I tasted the whole lineup of wines from the Durup family’s winery.  It’s good solid decent Chablis.  I liked the Chablis 1er cru Vau de Vey very much, although I must say that their Petit Chablis was just as lovely and drinkable.  For people who want a fun summery wine, and aren’t wanting to break the bank, it’s a great choice.
  • Sicilian wines: I tasted a big-commercial-winery’s wine from Sicily two years ago and was blown away.  Since then I’ve kept my eyes open for Sicilian wines in Israel.  This wine was so rich and deeply fragrant, reminiscent of cassis (black current), that I was kind of in heaven.  Cassis reminds me of France and England and childhood and fruits from other-parts-of-the-world, not the standard everyday variety. Needless to say, there aren’t many Sicilian wines available in Israel.  I got a chance to taste many many Sicilian wines at the expo.  In short, there are volcanic regions on the island, and surprisingly enough, non-volcanic regions, too.  The wines are dramatically different.  The dominant local varietals are Nero D’Avola (red) and Inzolia (white).  I was pleasantly surprised by the whites, as I hadn’t tasted them before.  Because of the sort of “transparency” of flavor inherent in white wines (for even the beginner, it’s easier to detect differences between white varietals than red ones, at least in my opinion, and they are easier on the nose, if that makes any sense) – I felt I was tasting something so new yet so ancient.  I don’t have my notes in front of me, unfortunately, but maybe I’ll do a separate post on it, too.
  • Burgundy: Tasted some, people were pretentious, the wines weren’t at the correct temperatures, by a long shot , and I didn’t have a good time.  I moved on quickly.  So I can say I drank a glass of grand cru.  OK.  My notes are elsewhere, and that’s OK by me.
  • Bordeaux: Besides the two stands I stopped at, we drank Bordeaux wines all week at dinner.  There is a reason that these are the kings of world wines.  Even the youngest wines are so distinctive of this region.  The layers and complexity are fascinating and at the end of the day, delicious.  At one of the stands, a young man took me through a very interesting tasting.  I got to taste, albeit two simple wines, ones that were made a few meters from each other, from the same vintage, made in the same method, by the same winemaker.  And the differences were dramatic.  An exceptional lesson on terroir, for sure!

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  • The number of teeth in a full set. Including wisdom teeth. Which I have.
  • The international telephone code of Belgium. To which I’ve been.
  • The number of traditional counties of Ireland. The majority of which I’ve driven through.

The age I will be tomorrow.

Coming to a cake near you!

Or now, depending on when I publish this post.  Yes.  I share a birthday with Harry Potter,  and I may go out tomorrow to watch the final film on the big screen.  Such an interesting feeling.  I’m not as emotional about birthdays as I’ve been in the past.  For good reason?   Hm.  I still feel like a child so often – bills and taxes and chores, all so baffling.  But here are some great things to think about (stuff you dig up as you do do on milestone days):

  • Women feel most attractive at 32. Good for me.  Excellent for me, actually. Goodbye ugly duckling syndrome!  I did wear a brand new bikini today on the beach, all day, and didn’t bat an eye.  Shame be gone!
  • Women become their mothers at age 32.  Not so good for me.  I’m seeing signs of it all the time.  However, seeing as I’m supposed to be becoming my mother, and as my mother will most definitely be reading this post, I choose to see the positive in this: she worked hard at interesting things, traveled the world, had three kids and earned a PhD in the process, and had a fascinating, creative life.  She still does, in fact.  Not too shabby.  Now if I start chewing with my mouth open, applying blood red lipstick, and start wearing hot pink hot pants, someone shoot me.  Love you, mom 😉
  • The eternal singleton?

    My 32nd Year of Being Single. A blog I just discovered.  I don’t read it, but it’s a cute concept.  The book Bridget Jones’s Diary begins in her 32nd year of being single.  I read this book when I was 21.  Didn’t think it would be me.  Seeing as I’ve now been single for 32 years, maybe I should start reading this blog as a show of solidarity.

  • And in the newsEx-Louisiana Governor, 82, marries prison pen-pal, aged 32.  Read the story.  Big shot popular politician in the slammer 8 years for extortion and bribery marries this woman who somehow chose him as a pen pal.  Lord.  Hope for me yet?
  • In photographs – in searching “32 years old,” I came across these haunting photos of women, all in their 20’s and early 30’s, all of whom had had breast cancer.  The image that brought me there was of  “Nikki, 32 years old.”  The project is called SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Exposed.  Take a look.  My mother and both grandmothers had breast cancer.  This, my 32nd year, was the first year my doctors found it necessary for me to start having twice-annual ultrasounds.  Scary real.  In short – women are getting this disease earlier.  I don’t want to die of this.  So preventable.  Check yourselves out every month.
  • WINE – finally – had to check 1979 out.  It seems my birth year was pretty crap.  Well, not total crap, but very mediocre.  All around the world.  Even the best chateaux in France didn’t make wines in 1979 that could be drunk any more than 30 years.  Doesn’t bode well.  The best wine of ’79, as this website proclaims, is the Chateau Lafleur.  It goes for around $1,600 per bottle, if you can find it.  The same vintage of the Cheval Blanc and the Mouton Rothschild 1ere Grand Cru Classe go for $325 and $365 respectively.  Must say something about the Lafleur.

There you have it.  32.  I plan to work hard.  Meditate.  Do yoga.  And be social.  Not try to do these things.  I will do these things.  Things will move and grow and change and take shape according to my will this year.  Because even though my house is a sty, it’s because I say so, and I am a grownup.  Now on to watching Harry Potter!

Irene being silly.

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