Last week a blogger friend came to visit. At one point she said, “There’s no award for busy.” And she’s so right. I detest the adulation of “busy.” First, it’s generally a sign that you don’t know how to manage your time. In addition, busy usually equates with distracted. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about having a lot to do or many commitments. I’m talking about the veneration of chaos. I’m grumbling about excuses to flake. And about a trend toward selfishness and a lack of selflessness. If you haven’t guessed, Ana’s statement was something I’ve thought myself.
Back in my past life: if you weren’t busy, you weren’t worthy. This is literal: if you were not working yourself toward actual death, harried and having traversed hundred of miles in the car in a week, you weren’t doing it right. It was confusing. First, you’d be told, “Take care of yourself.” Then, when you tried, you were sliced with the knife of, “Must be nice,” by the same colleagues telling you to take time to breathe (read: to survive). Success equated with scars. Solitude was more important than solidarity. Fuck that we were working toward the same goal, asking for help meant weakness.
If this makes you cringe and wish for a time and place when and where nurturing relationships is revered, have hope. There is a magical place where drive, passion, perseverance and hard work are at the forefront. But, they share equal footing with kindness and collaboration. That place, is Walla Walla Wine Country.
Walla Walla Wineries: A “Culture of Class & Kindness”
The 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference kicked off with a panel focusing on “Why this place?” and while terroir was, of course, important, the conversation went far beyond the traditional talk of climate, soil and slope.
Taste the wine of Walla Walla wineries and you’ll fall in love with their exceptional product. The Rhône varietals grown in the area are perfectly suited for the climate and soil and the winemakers know what they’re doing. The wine is incredibly high quality and terroir driven. But what drew me in, and is bringing me back spring 2019, is the humanity of the region. It makes me want to empty my wallet: knowing that my dollars are supporting things I believe in, people and really good wine (seriously, the wine is superb).
Winemaker Ashley Trout of Brook & Bull Cellars believes the thing that makes the region what it is is its “culture of class and kindness”. She would know: she embodies both of these. Trout is also winemaker for the nonprofit Vital Wines. Vital Wines uses donated grapes to produce exceptional wines with all profits going to SOS clinic. Trout believes that health care is a human right. SOS is open to everyone, making sure that healthcare is accessible. Trout’s dedication to getting health care for all is only one example of the class and kindness found throughout the region.
The Importance of Relationships
A common thread running through the wine folk of the region was the importance of fostering authentic relationships.
Muriel Kenyon of Otis Kenyon Wine values all of the relationships that come with working in wine. Despite it being harvest she was at WBC 100%. And she didn’t harp on the fact that it was harvest. And that she has a lot to do as the owner of a successful brand. Instead, she was hyper-engaged during the panel and any other time I ran into her. Kenyon believes in being fully engaged. Her focus during WBC was on her brand and the bloggers. From her engaging way of telling the story of the Otis Kenyon label, it’s obvious that Kenyon is a vital part of the community she lauds.
Kenyon planned on a career as a school psychologist. After deferring her admission to grad school a few times she says it was the community that made her stay. She values the tremendous collaboration and how the folks of the many Walla Walla wineries and those of the surrounding area want to be there. They have chosen the Northwest despite it being a tough climb. The area has not always been taken seriously as a wine region but it a special place. It’s got a terroir that rivals some of the best in the world.
But it is the kindness, the warmth and the humanity that push the area over the edge.
Move Over, Jim Croce
Nina Buty, founder and president of Buty Winery summed up the Walla Walla wineries’ approach to everything. When starting her endeavor she knew that the most important decision was which vineyards and people she’d partner with. She makes every decision and approaches every relationship with intention. She called her wines “relationships in a bottle.”
Buty’s official bio exemplifies the feeling of Walla Walla. “‘Buty is a small, family winery’, says Nina. “My children play in the vineyards, and our growers and customers have become our friends. There is a wonderful flow and rhythm between life and work. With so few hard edges between the two, I try to be very aware of the interconnectedess of all the elements that contribute to Buty. All of the decisions that shape Buty are very intentional. Whether we are farming organically, creating wines using natural winemaking, or making decisions about pricing, we strive for balance and a sense of service and fairness.'”
Buty Winery is involved in several charitable organizations with strong focuses on healthcare, education, environmental issues and the arts.
The Lessons of Walla Walla
In the short time I was in the region, I was filled with peace and joy. People are warm and calm in Walla Walla wine country. They focus entirely on what they are doing and refuse to lose their heads either in the wake of all that is going on in the world (crazy times!) or amongst their vines. Instead, they stay true to their core values of collaboration, kindness, hard work and strong ethics. They engage fully when teaching, talking and making wine. And they take wine to a place where it’s not a scene but a collaboration of love and living. That is the terroir of Walla Walla.
…try keeping heart in mind.”
**Disclaimer: I received a reduced price registration for the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference in return for writing three blogs about my experience.