Published Work: A Master Turned Apprentice at Domaine Dujac


(This is a piece that was written for Opening a Bottle, recounting my experience at Domaine Dujac for Harvest.)

“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

didn’t spill Clos de la Roche all over the winery floor.

That was the reoccurring nightmare I had before my harvest in Burgundy at Domaine Dujac in Morey-Saint-Denis, France. In this dream, I would absent-mindedly open the valve, thinking it was securely hooked up to a hose, and whoosh! I wouldn’t be able to stop it. Gallons of their iconic Pinot Noir splashing up to my ankles. I had ruined an entire year’s worth of Grand Cru wine.

While my first ‘vintage’ (as seasoned traveling winemakers refer to harvest) included its fair share of blunders, thankfully no one died, no (substantial) amount of wine hit the floor, and overall it was an incredible — albeit humbling — experience…

(To continue reading, click here to be redirected to Opening a Bottle.)



Just Being… in Burgundy.

Burgundy, french wine, French Wine Travel, Uncategorized

“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” – Anais Nin

It’s a nearly perfect summer evening. The patio door is open wide, the dronesome sound of cicadas compete with one another, punctuated by occasional abrupt silences they uniformly feel compelled to observe. The light is throwing that ever so hushed tone that tells one the season is coming to an end. The harvest is upon us. I drink it in, the view and a stunning glass of Collier Saumur Chenin, as I try to imagine what’s to come in just a matter of hours.

I have only had the opportunity to play at harvest here an there for days at a time– some more hands on than others. Never have I followed it from start to finish at one winery, though. Never could I have imagined ten years ago, a fledgling student in the world of wine, that I would find myself booking train tickets from Paris to Morey-Saint-Denis via Dijon and Gevrey-Chambertin to work a full harvest season at Domaine Dujac.

But… here I am.

To articulate this moment– the ‘just before’ kind of moment I hold inside like a long, meditative breath– well, words come and go, as the unwritten and unknowable are perhaps the most complex (and invigorating) of all the emotions we get to feel. The imagination is so rich. It naturally reaches for any data it can– the times I have stepped on Burgundy soil, the countless bottles I have treasured, the  maps I have pored, the harvests I have experienced however brief and the thousands of hours of study that have given me a general idea what goes on from vine to barrel. Though, if I have learned anything, it’s that winemakers are like snowflakes– each one’s approach different than the next, however nuanced. But none of it will prepare me for what I will take in… I am sure of that. And I embrace these moments in life where mystery has an actual pulse and they really make me feel I am living when I relish them.

These punctuated points in my life have come to signal growth and evolution in a very short time–a space where I just know I am hovering on the threshold of becoming more than I am as myself today. I felt this way the night before my mom died when I was ten years old. I felt this the day before I moved to New York City in 2007– alone without any contacts, and my only plan was to live at the YMCA in Greenpoint until I found something more permanent. I felt it the day before my marriage. And again before my marriage ended. All these moments had my heart beating hard with nervous anticipation– in full awareness of not knowing what might come next. All involved courage. None were without fear. I had no idea who I could be on the other side. But, as Nin so beautifully explains, it’s less a ‘new’ self on the other side, rather an adding to– a manifestation of old and new selves. A sentiment of multitudes that echo Whitman.

Perhaps a harvest doesn’t (or shouldn’t) compare to some of these other life-changing transitions. But the same sensations are stirring (perhaps with a bit more excitement balancing my nerves), and I realize that this is more than just a little adventure. It has recently occurred to me that I am standing in and staring at my mid-life crisis. Really! I didn’t quite recognize it for what it was at first. Images of ridiculous sports cars, Las Vegas benders and twenty-something lovers on the side seemed to fit the symptoms fit for a mid-life crisis diagnosis. But that’s not really what it’s about at all. In fact, seems a lot of friends in their thirties and forties are in a similar place. We wake up one day and mortality is a real thing. It sets in for the first time, really. We take stock. We ask ourselves the hard questions. We answer them with honesty. We contemplate choices–those that are safe with those that involve risk.

My reasons for going have taken so many shapes over the past couple years. When I first learned this was a possibility, I wanted the challenge– what might it feel like to rise each morning and live as a vigneron? Could I do it? Could this be a path for me? My life took turns I rather didn’t anticipate shortly thereafter, and this opportunity began to feel like an escape– a brief interlude from day-to-day real life to answer questions about who I am, what I want, where I am going. I am grateful, though, the past couple years brought a lot of self work, and I have answered many of the unsettling questions, and I can go now with a whole heart, clearer mind and really very few expectations. Just a willingness to do the best I can, ask a ton of questions and revel in being part of it all. Just being.

To press pause, just for a few weeks. To live differently. People talk a lot about being ‘present’ as the anecdote to daily anxiety, our frenetic lives. It’s hard to be present in the grind, which is so filled with ruminations on yesterday and worries and plans for tomorrow. I’d like to stop that churning for a bit and have my mind and my body in the same place, doing the same things, at the same time. Rising with the sun and closing each day with a few well earned delicious aches in my bones. To reflect on what it means to create. To relish curiosity. To savor learning. These are the reasons I am so eager to board that plane this Friday to France, where I have always felt a little closer to myself.

the art of studying the sip.

french wine, French Wine Travel, Kermit Lynch, Wine Education, wine news, Wine Travel

Lately, I have been catching up on my wine literature. Right now, by the bed stand, I have been picking away at Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route, a light, humorous, yet incredibly informative account of his tales and tastings around France in his early years as an importer. He doesn’t speak above or below… he speaks from experience, as a human being who simply wants to tell stories about where wine has taken him and why he finds it so fascinating.

One place he returns to incessantly is Bandol, a quaint village tucked away in the heart of Provence. Particularly, he speaks of Domaine Tempier. Though he holds the wines of Tempier above all others in Provence, what he seems fixated on isn’t even so much the wine itself as what and whom the wine represents. Domaine Tempier is a family, a tradition, and a woman named Lulu.

You may remember me discussing Lulu a while back when I wrote on Bedrock Winery’s ‘Ode to Lulu’ rosé out of California—one of my favorite domestic rosés, which is made of 100% old vine Mourvedre (as is the rosé from Domaine Tempier). Well, back then, and up until the other night, I had tasted Domaine Tempier’s wine, but I didn’t really understand the allure. Don’t get me wrong, they were terrific… but I just felt like I wasn’t getting what some other people tripped over themselves describing in Lucien Peyraud’s wines.

I then read Lynch’s chapter on Provence. Two days later, I tasted a 2005 Domaine Tempier Blanc. And it clicked.

This wine presented itself in the most curious way, displaying notes of mushrooms, salt water, but above all… age. I love that smell. On the palate, white flowers could be located amongst baking spice and a generous dollop of almond paste. Yes, it almost marzipan in character. It was exquisite.

I have tasted many great wines in my short career, from Clos d’Estournel to Haut-Brion, Giacosa to d’Yquem. But the ones that really made an impression on me—the ones that transcended the mere olfactory, sight, and tasting senses—were the ones I got to know outside the bottle. As corny as it sounds, it was the story that really pulled it all together for me in a memorable way.

Reading Lynch’s account of Tempier, the festive meals, the conversations, and the lovely Lulu who drew so many to the estate for her cooking and hospitality, reminded me of Lopez de Heredia wines, I have obsessively recounted in past postings. Having gotten the chance to know Maria Lopez de Heredia herself, her steadfast respect for tradition and passion for olives, made the wine taste even better. Same goes for Steve Doerner at Cristom, Mike Etzel at Beaux Frerer, Diana Seysses at Domaine Dujac and Domaine Triennes, Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind Humbrecht, and Chrystal Clifton of Palmina.  I had the fortunate opportunity to get to know all these winemakers a little more face to face.  Learning more about the winery, their philosophies, and the decisions that go into each bottle, makes every sip that much more complex.

So my suggestion, if you know you are about to experience something extraordinary, take it a step further, and do your research. Consider yourself lucky to taste the greats. It doesn’t happen often, even for those in the biz. Be sure to get as much as you can from each sip. It is so much harder to remember, when drinking wine has no context. For then, it is merely drinking wine.