Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fighting Cancer with Wine

( The lineup for the first event this year. )

Well, not literally of course. And that’s only because I’m not a doctor and have no scientific information that suggests cancer can be fought with the direct application of wine. Interesting thought for a winemaker though…

Back in 2006 or 2007, and anyone in the know correct me, the Survivors Rule! team held our first wine tasting. My brother setup the first floor of his condo to accommodate a whole bunch of people and we put out snacks and a flight of homemade wines. We asked for a donation at the door and had several prizes to draw that tickets could be purchased for with an additional donation. I don’t recall how much money we raised through that event, it doesn’t really matter, but we did realize we had something.

( Guests at our first event listening to a presentation about what their support means. )

In the years since we have held one or two tastings, generally at the homes of friends, with pretty much the same format. Because we are serving homemade wines we can’t blow this event up and go big with a public facility and lots of tickets. You need to have a liquor license for that and no state in the union is in the business of granting them so that alcohol made free of taxes and without health department certification can be served to the public. To go big we would have to switch gears and serve only commercial wine, get a permit or host the event where tasting is already permitted, and depending on how big we wanted to go also manage the expenses of the wine and food out of the donations. Not for us. We don’t care because our small, intimate events are designed for a different purpose; to make people feel like they are part of something special.

Nine years ago this month I was a few short weeks out of cancer treatment and hoping for a strong recovery so I could get on or back to my life. At the time getting back to what I had previously was a natural consideration, I hadn’t thought how anything should be different just because I had had cancer; not yet at least.

( Margot talking to our friend Wayne over a glass of wine. )

The first shift in thinking came when the itch to get involved peaked. Cancer walks, donations, Lance Armstrong kicks ass, giving back, helping others. All these thoughts were swirling around my head. So we got involved.The story how the team got started and our efforts in the battle against cancer can be found in the first four parts of this series of giving back. Check out installments onetwothree and four.

Later in 2003 Margot got around to asking me a question that has been the best fork in the road I’ve come across. “What would you rather do than work all the time now that you are well again?” was offered up in casual conversation. My response, “make my own beer.” I had at least one friend who had done it and the idea intrigued me. I was digging craft beer at the time and being able to make my own beer with some drinkability to it (Bud, Miller, Coors all suck in my opinion) seemed like a great way to spend more time at home doing something fun. My Christmas gift that year was the equipment to make my own beer. A few extra pieces of equipment to make “chick wine” was also included at Margot’s request.

From there things took off on both the activism and the beer/wine making fronts. If you search around my blog a bit you will find lots of stories of making, pairing and travelling all in the spirit of better beverages.

( Amy, Nacny and friends working away in the kitchen at the second event. )

As the years passed my education about the fight against cancer grew new opportunities were set in front of me. As an outspoken advocate I found myself standing in front of the NH House Budget Committee, the assembled participants of the Relay For Life of Greater Derry & Londonderry, quite a few rooms of volunteers and fundraisers and also on the business end of the interview pen of several local media outlets. The people I was running with were inspiration to me, and it felt like we were soldiers. I was told that I spoke with passion and conviction and that my ability to wield the facts to help people understand what they were part of was captivating. It was also said that my energy was an inspiration to people. Coming and walking all night at Relay after raising lots of money made people want to get involved. What, me? This was all new and you must understand it all just sort of happened. I was making the choices to do it, but the drive was very basic and partly unconscious.

( My mother talking about what we are doing and why. )

All the while I was toiling away at home learning to make beer, wine, cider and mead. Each year they kept getting better as my experience and expenses grew. Sharing them with friends provided unending warmth and payback as I saw people enjoying my craft. I started entering competitions and early successes drove this even more. At last count Margot and I have collected 45 medals for a range of homemade beverages!

And that’s when my two worlds really collided. With both activism and wine we have created something that has become the premiere way the Survivors Rule! team engages donors to educate them on how their support makes a difference and why it is so important to get involved in your community.

This year we have hosted two Relay For Life wine tastings, with a third planned to benefit Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in the Fall.

So how do they work? Once guests have arrived and we have reached critical mass I generally offer a short presentation on how the money is used and where it goes after it leaves my hot little hands. At the most recent event I shared the facts and figures from my last post in this series, How Your SupportMakes Difference, which are largely focused on the very local impact funds raised through the Relay For Life have. In a rather telling moment the host of the event had to prompt me to share that I was a cancer survivor. How could I have forgotten that? Well, it was where this trip started which has since taken me and everyone else to so many places that I got tripped up in all the sights!

( People socializing over a glass of wine. A great day in my opinion. )

From there Margot and I typically start pouring the wines and sharing the stories of making them and our many tasting trips to different parts of the world to learn about foods and beverages. Being able to share our personal journey and how cancer has been transformative for us makes our events special. Guests open up and ask all sorts of questions. Other cancer survivors in the room share their own personal stories and lots of hugs. Families who struggle with cancer are given support and can take a few minutes to celebrate getting this far. For a few hours a community of people who know why they are there put their support on the line in the battle against cancer. This year I’ve said something new about the people who honor us with their support. “I’d go off to war for and with any of these people in heartbeat. They are real people living their lives with purpose. What isn’t worth defending in that?”

(Lots of friends and laughing is a cure for many ills. )

And we always have a lot of people to thank from these events. This year our gratitude goes out to Tom & Marilyn Baziak for hosting the first tasting. They have hosted a tasting event several years in a row now and we are so thankful for their efforts at organizing the guest list from the many circles in their lives. We also have to thank Ed Paul and Jim Riehl for hosting our second tasting. The organizing, food preparation (thank you Nancy & Amy as well) and killer drawing table made for a great event, the first of many if we are so lucky! Additional thanks go out to Donna and Bob (my parents), Tim & Abby (brother & sister-in-law) and Margot for all of the organizing, donations, food prep and generally dealing with me to put on these events. Finally, thank you to all of our donors and friends who come out each year to support us. We will never be able to thank you enough for taking this trip with us, we just hope one day we will all have to pick a different destination because we sent cancer packing!

This year we raised over $1500 from the two events, which tracks pretty consistently as the guest lists have fluctuated year to year. We feel like these events buck the larger economic trend and are a solid investment in the race for a cure. We are supporting two Relays this year with part of the funds raised from the first event benefitting the Relay For Life of North Central Connecticut. Our team has branched out and has a bigger footprint than when we started, a true testament to the journey cancer has put us all on. If that isn’t special I don’t what is.

If you would like to be part of this special story with a donation to the Relay For Life please use this link to make a donation online.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Portland, Ho!

( Hand laid stone walkways at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, OR)

With a little under four months to go until the 2012 North American WineBloggers Conference (#WBC12) in Portland, Oregon I’ve only begun thinking about any expectations and my usual research into options for post-conference touring into wine country and beyond.

I’ve only been to Portland once and it was for all of about four hours. It was 2010 and my wife and I were on a post-WineMaker Magazine conference vacation to Seattle. The conference had been in Stevenson, WA and the trip to Seattle would take us through Portland so we planned a short side trip to take in a little of the city.

It was a cloudy, rainy day and while that wasn’t a positive facet of the jaunt, we made the best of it as we always do. We found a Sunday market and craft fair down the along the river and wandered through the stalls to get a sense of the place. With coffees in hand we powered our way through the business district which was justifiably quiet for a weekend day. What little of the city we saw was friendly, walkable and full of vendors offering all manner of food and drink that could keep gastro-explorers like us busy. Coming back has always been on the short list.

( Lan Su Chinese Garden )

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden. Nestled in between blocks of commercial buildings the Lan Su garden is an incredible oasis from the bustle of the city. The high walls ringing the garden and tea house remove visitors from most of the city, although the taller buildings on the adjoining streets are visible and the sounds of traffic do creep in. Margot and I spent the remainder of our time in Portland taking in the flowers and ornate decorations of the garden, finishing our visit with tea and dim sum. By the time we left we had properly transitioned to vacation mode (from conference mode which feels like work sometimes) and were sporting big smiles with the expectations of a few days in Seattle at the fore.

I got thinking about Portland and Oregon wine this week from #winechat, hosted by Frank Morgan and Tamara Belgard, that was focussed on Oregon wines as a bit of pre-gaming for #WBC12. There was a diverse selection of wines being tasted from broadly known names like Sokol Blosser, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Domaine Serene to many smaller labels, R. Stuart, WillaKenzie and Helioterra to name a couple, that I and others had and have yet to experience firsthand.

I went with the Domaine Serene 2007 Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir. My experience with Oregon Pinot (only a little mind you) is that it typically straddles two worlds. The presentation of the fruit is soundly New World, but it is often restrained from what people may be used to in say Sonoma or Santa Barbara Pinot. For the earthy component, which is typically fully accessible, it channels more of the Old World. Is this experience legitimate? Until I taste through a few more labels and sub-regions I can only say that I’ve had confirmation of this offered by a few folks with more exposure to the wines, so I think I’ve got a decent context.

The Serene Yamhill Cuvee fit my experience well. Ruby red with no hints of purple or youthful color. The nose on the wine is moderate and a blend of fruit and earth. Dark red cherries and raspberries were my immediate fruit notes. I then picked up graphite (minerality in a specific form I think), some spices and a bit of dry earth, leaves and maybe even some tobacco. The oak was there, but not abundant. This wine is very smooth with cleansing acidity. This is definitely a Pinot that will shine on the dinner table and as yet I haven’t considered how I might pair it to better understand its character.

Beyond Pinot Noir most of my Oregon wine experience is with Pinot Gris. I reviewed a few wines from the state in a trip report from the2010 vacation. I didn’t make it into OR wine country on that trip so I have no visual context for what it might look like from any other wine-making area I’ve been.

So my limited experience and desire to better understand what I think I know about Oregon wine sets up a few expectations for the upcoming trip to Portland and the Willamette Valley.
  • I need to taste many more wines, both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris
  • I need to explore the other styles that are made there that aren't on my radar
  • I need to get a feel for the food and other local beverages including the beer and distilled spirits
  • I need to get out into wine country and learn more about the geography, soil, climate, grape growing methods and winemaking practices
  • And I need to have fun doing all of that so I will be sure to want to come back and delve even further

My wife and I have a couple extra days after the conference on the calendar and while we plan to hit wine country one of the days we are also hoping to go see the Oregon coast, visit the Rogue Brewery and go on a self-guided tour of Portland hitting some of the food and beverage hotspots like Distillery Row, Voodoo Donuts and the Urban Wine Trail.

Now that I’ve gotten started thinking about #WBC12 I have realized there is a healthy task list out in front of me. One of the first items is to put together my Twitter list of attendees so I can get to know some of the other folks who will be in town for the conference. I’m sure I will get plenty of recommendations from locals and folks with regional experience to fill in some of my “what to do” slots.

With this trip to look forward to getting through the circus at the office and the manual labor in the garden at home will be just that much easier. If you will be in Portland for #WBC12 I look forward to meeting you, seeing you again and spending some quality time getting to better know the wines or Oregon.



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Prone to Experiment

( Pinot Noir fermenting.)

I get asked all the time “when are you going to open your own winery?” Well, I’m not sure, and maybe never.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, launching your own winery is capital intensive, weather dependent with dynamic cash flows. You start (and start over if you work in another industry like me) poor and can’t expect to do better than be comfortable in the long run. Oh, and you work all the time. Those are the truths and realities that every small winery owner has shared with me when I ask about it. There are options in bringing investors on or ramping up production of average quality plonk and trying to grab market share with it, but neither offer the owner anymore true benefits and of course come with their own headaches. All of this amounts to a potentially scary leap, but one that I would take when and if the time was right.

The bigger reason, and it is one I have come to more recently, that I haven’t made this leap yet is because I tend to be very “creative” in my beverage making. I am prone to experiment, and that isn’t as bankable as developing a line of products that you can make consistently and develop a following for. That’s not to say my tendencies aren't bankable, but the path to growth is more difficult when you are mixing it up all the time. Right or wrong many potential customers want to become familiar with your products so that they may return to them frequently, and distribution channels are going to look to place orders for successful products consistently. With my experimental bent that isn’t going to be so easy.

( The krausen on a Wit beer. )

I’m not bothered by any of this. Why? Because I have fun doing what I do without the commercial hangups. Here is a perfect example. Every Spring I pick dandelions in Vermont. This year I have two experimental batches going, one a wine and the other a mead. Both batches were made with new or modified recipes so they are by no means sure things. The safety of the small batch is on my side, and I learn a lot this way; so I keep doing it. It is worth noting that dandelion wine isn’t as commercially viable as other types of both standard and non-standard wines due to labor intensive processes, and it isn’t a fan favorite either.

This wide open experimentation is simply me riffing on the inspiration I get form a variety of sources. Commercial tastings are great source of inspiration; new styles and flavors tend to stick with me. Any time spent with the homebrew club I joined in 2011 is guaranteed to expose me to new techniques, styles and provide lots of opportunity for feedback on my own creations. Tastings held at home or at friend’s houses provide even more opportunity to engage new people on what they like to drink and how they go about discovering new beverages. I am particularly excited for the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference in a few weeks. We can drive this year which means we can cart along a whole lot of bottles to share. The feedback I will get, much of it brutally objective from people who are more talented than I, will be worth much more than the wine I will see disappear from my cellar.

( Dry Creek Chardonnay undergoing lees aging and battonage. )

This year will be littered with experiments, meads made with tea, hops and herbs, new styles of beer that we’ve (my wife is on the beer tangent with me) never made before and some wine, but what exactly hasn’t even been considered. Another great example can be found in the preceding sentence. I will make more beer and mead in 2012 than wine. My experimentation is taking me away from wine for a bit, something I couldn’t do as easily in a commercial setting. I am finding significant learning opportunities in these projects, both in the process of making them but also about how they are perceived when I share them. That learning is just too good to pass up by making the same things as I did last year.

( A room full of fermenters. More experiments that need attention! )

My thanks go out to all the people who ask me about going pro, and when this is the immediate reaction to tasting my wines it really does feel good, but I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon. What I can tell you is that I am developing a treasure trove of information on how to successfully make good beverages at home, how to use them in your dining and entertaining and a lot about what people like and don’t like in a beverage. No matter what I end up doing I expect the knowledge I can develop from all of that will be a huge asset.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How Your Support Makes a Difference

( Education is a big part of engaging people to fight back against cancer. )

One person can make a difference. It helps if that person has lots of other people backing and supporting them, but fighting back starts with a single individual and the hope of being able to make an impact. This is the fifth part in an ongoing series about fighting back against cancer. Check out installments one, two, three and four.

Last week I thanked a lot of people for supporting me. I always get a huge shot in the arm from the support I get each year when I go around banging on doors for donations to Relay and Making Strides. Without that support I would not have been able to accomplish even a small part of what has been attributed to me in my Mass General One Hundred profile (the last week reference for new readers). It started with me and my personal story, but now there is an army of us fighting back.

( Just some of the people who deserve my thanks. )

I want to help others make a difference, and to know exactly how they are doing that. Have you ever wondered where your donations go? I don’t often get asked how the American Cancer Society uses the funds we raise, but in fairness I frequently include information about where the money goes when I request support. I want people to know what they are part of and exactly how their support is making a difference.

The basic facts I try to lay out for supporters are these:
  • 79 cents of every dollar raised supports the mission (programs, services, research) of the American Cancer Society (ACS). The remaining 21 cents goes to cover event expenses and administration for the ACS at large. It takes money to raise money, and 79 cents out of every dollar ain’t bad. (See below for thoughts on charitable accountability and choosing who to support)
  • The Relay For Life is a big event, raising over $350 million dollars annually.
  • Second only to the Federal Government, the ACS is the largest funding source of cancer research.
  • The majority of the money raised in the New England region where I live stays in the region. These funds are used to pay for programs and services available to my family, friends and neighbors. Making an impact, and a local one at that, feels really good.
  • The organizers of local Relay For Life events try as hard as they can to procure donations of goods, services and cash from sponsors to keep the event costs as low as possible.
( While we are celebrating, remembering and fighting back we also honor those who risk their lives to defend the freedoms we enjoy. Marines get cancer too and being their for them is a way to pay them back. )

How we doing so far? Do you feel like your dollars are in good hands? Let’s take a close look at how some of the money raised in New Hampshire in 2011 was used:
  • Look Good, Feel Better - 310 attendees. This program provides female cancer survivors with information and instruction pertaining to issues of physical appearance during and after treatment. The value of looking in the mirror and not seeing all the damage from treatment can’t be understated.
  • Wig Bank - 225 wigs from the wig bank were provided to survivors who had lost their hair due to treatment. 
  • Road to Recovery - 5957 rides for 311 different people were provided. This program matches volunteer drivers with patients needing transportation to treatment. The following quote was passed along to me from my local ACS staff partner. “Even the best treatment is useless unless patients can get to it....”  Road to Recovery is the most utilized ACS program in New Hampshire. On a personal note I dream of the day when I have enough free time to volunteer to drive. I’ve met drivers who have shared stories of the friends they have made through their service. That’s really living!
  • Hope Lodge - 141 nights for 37 different people were provided at no cost to the participants. The Hope Lodges (there are 3 in NewEngland) provide comfortable accommodations for families who do not live near the facility where family members are being treated. Eliminating transportation costs and ensuring the support of family is near is huge.
  • Overall, 1630 newly diagnosed cancer patients (and 3072 people total) were provided information, programs, and or services in NH in FY11.
Are you still with me? Those are some pretty incredible stats. And that is just in NH, and just for one year.  If you think about the states in New England with larger populations and more funds raised annually it is quite clear that our efforts are making a significant impact throughout the region.

( Organizing a Relay takes a lot of volunteers. I help setup every year! )

From all of New England Relay For Life events we raised nearly $24 million dollars in 2011! Some quick math on the back of the envelope says that as a region we raised over 6% of the total raised through Relay nationwide each year. That 5% is from six little New England states. We roll, and we roll hard! Hey cancer, we’re coming for you!

( Margot clowning around in the morning. Her mix of business 
and fun is a great example of how to make a difference. )

I need to get serious and a little less lively for a moment. There are organizations that get better ratings (and many with much worse to be fair) than the ACS on how they spend their money, their affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry, assets in the bank, etc, etc. I’m not ignorant of any of that and won’t argue the points with anyone. The bottom line is that I want everyone to get involved in something and that means making a choice. The choice that I made (with the support of my family and friends) was to support the American Cancer Society. This choice was based on both how the money is spent AND the ability to get directly involved in our communities. We are making a difference and we are doing at home where we are best able to be involved for the long term. We made a reasoned and informed choice and that choice has allowed us to make a huge difference.

( Advocay is another big part of the fight. The ACS Cancer Action Network gets involved in shaping policy and holding government accountable for their obligation to fund this battle. It's our money and we have a right to see it go where we think it can make a difference. 

Research is the other area where funds raised by the American Cancer Society are used.

As of April 2012 the breakdown of active ACS research grants (140 grants to 31 institutions for a total of $60 million) in New England was:
  • 23 grants totaling $9.8 million in Connecticut
  • 1 grant totaling $720,000 in Maine
  • 102 grants totaling $41.5 million in Massachusetts
  • 6 grants totaling $2.9 million in New Hampshire
  • 6 grants totaling $4.1 million in Rhode Island
  • 2 grants totaling $865,000 $1 in Vermont 
New Hampshire sees a nice share of research funding and with good cause. Some of that funding goes to Dartmouth Hitchcock and the NorrisCotton Cancer Center, nationally recognized as leaders in cancer care and research. I am always proud to know that my support of the ACS funds jobs and research in my own state, and research that undoubtedly will result in breakthroughs that will reduce suffering and save lives.

( Two more people who deserve thanks for busting their asses in this fight year after year. )

May it not be said that one person raising one dollar at a time can’t make a difference. I know this isn’t true, because I’m doing it. And you are helping me. That makes you a hero. You may never meet the people who have been directly affected and feel that way, but trust me, they are out there. You should be proud of that. Tell your family, tell your friends, and then ask them if they would like to support the cause as well. I owe you a hug or a handshake and don’t be afraid to ask for it when you see me. I am truly grateful for the support and I would not be the person I am today without it.

( We celebrate, we remember but most of all we FIGHT BACK! )

I’d like to thank Brigit Ryan at the local American Cancer Society office for helping me with the information provided here. I met Brigit six years ago and she has been a vital partner for me, my team and many of the Relays in the state of New Hampshire. Fighting back is hard work and Brigit is always there to help figure out how to make the best use of the resources we have available to do that. Her tireless work in the battle against cancer is a key part of our mutual success. I asked Brigit to share something she thought new or potential supporters of the American Cancer Society should know about how their support can help. This is what she said:

“You really are going to be making a difference in someone's life. Whether it is to help a patient get to treatment or to get a mother a wig so that her children are not scared about her head being bald, your support makes a real difference. From information for a college student away from home after learning that her father has been diagnosed with cancer (accessed by calling 800-ACS-2345 24 hours a day) to dollars to fund a researcher who is just starting off and has an "idea" that leads to the cure! Your support will make a real difference. “

In closing I ask for your support. Every dollar counts. Whether it is $5, $20 or $50 we need every dollar we can muster in this fight. Your tax-free donation can be made directly from my event page online.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story and supporting the battle against cancer. We are here, we are fighting and we will win. WE MUST HAVE HOPE!



Friday, May 11, 2012

When Giving Back and Fighting Back Feels So Good

Yesterday was a pretty stellar day for me. The weather sucked, but this is New England and the weather has already changed to something much more palatable. The day was as great as it was because I had the pleasure of meeting people who hate cancer as much as I do, and are fighting it in their own way.

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) announced the 2012 edition of The One Hundred, an annual event that recognizes individuals whose “diligence and discoveries, philanthropy and passion have helped advance the fight against cancer.” And boy, some of these people are really fighting back!

The first group of people I introduced myself to included Adrienne Harrison, Laura Hencke, Beverly Snell and Cathleen Poliquin from MGH’s Bone Marrow Transplant Center. The efforts of these cancer fighting ladies directly save people’s lives. Patients who undergo hematopoetic stem cell transplants have a complex set of procedures, tests and appointments laid out in front of them. Adrienne, Laura, Beverly help patients  navigate that complexity with care and compassion. Cathleen is a nurse practitioner, and also a cancer survivor, who is being honored for her exemplary manner with patients, training of nurses in the unit and long-term volunteer efforts with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was an honor to meet them and spend a few minutes sharing our stories of how we are fighting back. Take a moment to read their full profiles at The One Hundred web site. Adrienne, Laura, BeverlyCathleen.

The One Hundred is a fundraiser, you can’t fight cancer without money afterall, and in the five years since it began it has raised over $3 million dollars to support programs and services at MGH. Recent and future funding is expected to support the installation of a second proton therapy machine, extending MGH’s world leadership in this type of treatment, allowing them to treat twice as many patients and save more lives. A new cancer care center with its own building is also envisioned. Funds from The One Hundred are being used to make these advancements possible. The inspirational work of the honorees is the lead story in the campaign to raise these funds, and after hearing just a few of the stories I have no doubt wallets will open.

In the last ten years I have come to realize that you can’t truly celebrate, remember or fight back against cancer without a few tears. I prefer tears of joy, but I’ve got plenty of people to remember and will let the emotions fly as needed. The next story that was shared with the reception attendees had a mix of loss and celebration in it, and I doubt there was a dry eye in the room.

India and Henry Claudy are 10 and 12 years of age, but don’t judge them for their age or size. These two have it all figured out and have a long life of giving back ahead of them. Their father passed away from colon cancer 5 years ago. Before I continue I should mention that they told their own story on stage in front of a couple hundred people for about five minutes. Anyone else want to try that at their age? Every year since their father’s passing they have organized an event called “Family 2 Family”. The Family 2 Family  program anonymously matches families who have loved ones in active treatment at MGH with families from India & Henry’s network of family & friends. Their friends purchase holiday gifts to bring cheer to the families who are going through difficult times during the holiday season. In 2011 they matched 55 families! These two are rock stars in my book. I introduced myself afterwards and could only say one thing, “Thank you.” I hope to meet them again in June at the Gala Event where all 100 of the honorees will be celebrated and thanked. If you do anything today you have to read their profile at The One Hundred web site. If you don’t tear up I’d have someone take your pulse!

In the last ten years I have done things in the fight against cancer that I would not have believed would be attributed to me before my own cancer battle changed my life. Cancer has been a gift. Yes I said that. That is one of the most sick and twisted thoughts I have ever had. I love fighting this thing I hate so much. It feels weird, but it gives me motivation.

I was also honored by MGH this year. And it is a huge honor. I do what I do because I want to make a difference. I’ve never chased after press or the limelight for my efforts, but I have been lucky enough to have had many opportunities to speak at events and share my story. My name has also raced through many of the local newspapers over the years, and with the success of the fundraising team I helped start we are always talked about with high esteem. We’ve always hoped it would inspire others to get involved. The picture to the right is of me and Jen Pitts having just finished our 2011 Relay with a sprinted lap. We were tired and sore from walking all night, but nothing could have been a better symbol of how we fight back than two cancer survivors booking it around the track as the event wound down.

First and foremost I have to thank my friend Marie Payton for thinking so much of my story to put the nomination in for me. When I was contacted about the nomination and selection I had no idea where it came from. A quick blast to friends and Marie raised her hand. This honor is rocking my world right now and I will be forever grateful to her for placing me in the path of this wonderful event.

Yesterday when the web site went live I sent messages via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter sharing my profile and thanking everyone who has supported me.  I’ll close with that message and the link to my profile. You can read it, but I will think so much more of everyone if they spend some time reading the other 99 profiles too. Those stories are at least as inspiring as mine, and the efforts of all of the honorees can teach us about the power of giving back and fighting back.

The MGH One Hundred for 2012 has been announced. I am immensely honored to have been nominated and selected for this incredible recognition. This is for all of you have supported me; I wouldn't have a story worth telling without your support. This belongs to Margot, Mom, Dad, Tim, Abby, Missi, Melissa, all of my family, all of my friends and the many donors who have offered their support over the years. We did this, and we should be really proud of it!



p.s. I wouldn't be keeping in the spirit of my profile if I didn't share the link to the current fundraising effort I am soliciting support for. My team is racing towards having raised over $100,000 since 2003. You can help us with that through a donation. Support Jason in the 2012 Relay For Life.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Magical and Mystical Wine Ride

I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of weeks about how drinking wine makes me feel. How does enjoying a glass of wine impact my mood and my emotions? What are the physiological effects and what mental images does it evoke? I’ve specifically gotten fixated on the transportative (not a word in the dictionary, but tell me you don’t get it) and transcendental aspects that follow from a sip of some wines. Where can a sip of wine take you?

I’ve concluded that based on my own reality there are two basic versions of this experience. The first is what happens when you are taken to back to a place where you previously enjoyed the same or similar wine, where the wine is made or any place from a prior experience with it. This feels somewhat like free word association to me, and isn’t at all surprising. There are so many connections made in our brains between different sensory stimuli. Our flavor and aroma memory is completely connected to our tactile, visual and auditory memories to form a composite picture (memory) that might be recalled by any of the different parts of the puzzle. These experiences are likely quite common and so much so that they are potentially easy to overlook. Pay attention people!

The second experience is when the taster is transported to a place defined by the harmony of the attributes of the wine, a place of pure fantasy, intense depth, color, passion, emotion, etc. I don’t think I’ve had this experience, but I will admit that without my attention properly focused at every occasion I’ve enjoyed a glass of wine I may have missed it. If this is the kind of experience I can expect to live the rest of my life searching for I am happier for it.

So how did a hitch a ride on this magic carpet? A book. More specifically, a graphic novel. I have to thank my friend Richard Auffrey (aka the Passionate Foodie) for his reviews of the Drops of God series. He’s a voracious reader and a very, very passionate wine & food lover creating a consistently winning combination. The Drops of God is a serial graphic novel about a wine journey, actually many wine journeys, from Japan. The first three volumes have been released and I have been fortunate enough (it really is that good) to have read through all three. Richard’s reviews of the first three segments (Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3) contain spot on summaries and his own ponderings on the messages contained with the their pages. Here is my one sentence summary. The main character’s father passes away, wills him his prized wine collection on the condition that he can identify thirteen wines from only the descriptions provided in the will, and the ensuing journey of experience and education offers lots of twists and turns. Please read Richard’s summaries and reviews for the rest of the pertinents. I just don’t feel the need to cover that ground with such a solid resource just a click away.

As Richard points out in his reviews of volumes 2 & 3, there are quite a few words written about scores, ratings and critics. At each offering there is clear counterpoint though. What about personal tastes and the imagination of the consumer? It is possible that this is exactly what the author hoped to stir up for reflection and conversation. At first it was hard to get through these sections because of the tacit pretention, it made me wonder what we might have lost in translation, but ultimately I found other aspects to focus on. I would wholeheartedly recommend these books for any wine lover. They are a quick read, yet dense with imagery and points to consider over a glass of wine or two.

What I was most taken with was the metaphysical journeys that the characters, and especially the main character Shizuku Kanzaki, are taken on when they taste the different wines presented in the story. These journeys begin a mere twenty-five pages into the first volume and continue repeatedly. Presenting this type of imagery in a graphic novel is potent. The illustrations are detailed, nuanced and transportative for the reader as well.

Both types of journeys (recall and fantasy) are represented in the books, from visions of the vines of French chateaux visited in childhood, to the richly nuanced images of a primeval forest as part of the picture of the first of the thirteen wines; and finally, varying scenes representing the five great wines of Bordeaux at the end of volume 3.

As I got to thinking about the images from the book a few of my own experiences came to mind.

Any time I drink Riesling I think of my wife. It was the first kind of wine we mutually enjoyed. We both drank Boone’s Farm in college but not together, and thus the Riesling memory stuck. A certain flutter in my gut is typical when I get the chance to try a new Riesling. I rarely miss an opportunity. Maybe I now know why I like Riesling so much. I love my wife, so I why shouldn’t I love the first wine we enjoyed together?

I’ve also experienced a form of projection (a variation on the recall experience) where a wine from one region brought me back to somewhere else where I enjoyed wines made from the same grapes. I visited Provence in February 2011 and had the distinct pleasure of standing next to the vines at the ruins of the Pope’s summer house northeast of Avignon. The earth there is covered with smooth, rounded stones colored in various shades of tan and light brown. The vines are craggy and old. In February the vines are dormant and pruned back. They look like little trees with no leaves, the trunks of bonsai trees come to mind. Plots of land that look like this were visible in all directions from where I stood. During that trip I tasted wines from Cote du Rhone, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Beaumes-de-Venise, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and others that currently escape me. The red wines from those areas are made with from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and several other grapes. On that trip I was visiting with friends (adopted family) for a wedding and the whole experience was rich and full of emotion. 

Later in 2011 I visited Santa Barbara and tasted several wines from the LaFond label. The wines were blends of Syrah and Grenache or 100% Syrah, with some bearing similarity to some of the wines from the Rhone. At the first sip of one of the Syrah/Grenache blends I had this weird feeling like I had been “somewhere” before. It was my first trip to Santa Barbara so the sensation made very little sense. My emotions were being tweaked in an odd way. Standing at the tasting bar in that urban winery I was feeling like I was surrounded by family. The feeling was pretty weird. I had a sense of being taken somewhere by the wines, but I didn’t give it enough thought then to work it out. Only now do I fully understand what was going on. I felt like I was back in Provence. The aromas and flavors of the wines had taken me back to that place and the wines and people. What a trip!

I love wine, I drink it often but don’t have a drinking problem perse, but I can see myself coming to love the experience of being taken somewhere even more. This could be addicting and cause all sorts of trouble I would guess. It is clear that I can’t expect these experiences to be frequent or conscious if I don’t pay attention to what I am drinking and slow my roll (Kid Rock is playing in the background) so that I can be fully receptive to my senses and not miss a moment of any potential journey. I doubt I will get this all sorted out today.

Does wine take you on a journey? Have you ever been transported somewhere by a sip of wine? Leave a comment about your experiences with wine imagery. I’d love to learn more about how others are experiencing wines they encounter.