A Lot of Talk about Listening

Everywhere I go these days someone is talking about the importance of listening. While I'm in full support of this, it does make me chuckle every time anyone talks a lot about listening- that, in and of itself, has some irony right?

We all intellectually understand what the word listening means, and many of you might even agree with me that things stand to improve if we do more of it, but that doesn't mean we know how to do it let alone do it well. 

I went to a yoga class for the first time in quite a long time and the instructor invited us to consider our hour and a half class as an opportunity to practice listening. This is not a foreign concept in yoga classes by any stretch, over the years I've heard many instructors offer guidance similar to what you'd expect in meditation--notice what's happening without indulging in the need to fix or change it, stay with yourself or your breath even when things get bumpy, etc.

Considering how much I've been exposed to this kind of instruction over the last fifteen years, it always takes me by surprise that it still affects me. On Sunday it was when the woman teaching said, "you know that thing that happens sometimes...when the thing that you want to have happen and what is actually happening aren't even like talking to each other?!" And then she mentioned that when those moments happen, our tendency is to rush through them and in doing so, we don't allow ourselves to experience the feelings we might have about that disconnect. Feelings like disappointment, sadness or disillusionment. 

Maybe it is the repetition of this teaching that led me to stop rushing through, to slow down and explore all the feelings I've felt about opening Cyril's, managing a group of people, and learning to listen--to others, and also to myself. I wrote an essay about many of these things here, for the Staff issue of Communal Table. I hope you get a chance to read it.

Listening is not the path to making things easier--in fact, often it looks like the opposite--and yet it does somehow feel better in the end (and also along the way). Try it, you'll see what I mean. 

Cookie Power

Cookie Power

A group of female chefs and bakers in Portland have been busy baking cookies this week. Eleven thousand, five hundred and fifty cookies to be precise. The Cookie Grab was conceived as a way for women in Portland's culinary industry to come together and use the skills we have to contribute to our community.

Over the next couple days, 550 people will collect beautiful pink boxes filled with cookies from some of their favorite Portland restaurants and bakeries, and Planned Parenthood will get a $27,500 donation. Totally amazing. Hooray!

But there's more...I believe that this experience confirmed something for many of us (and by us I mean the cookie makers, cookie consumers, and all the other behind-the-scenes contributors like volunteers who collected/packed/distributed cookies, designed posters, organized a gaggle of busy women, etc.), we now know for certain that it's true: we are the ones we've been waiting for.

Telling people about the project before it even happened, I could not help but notice that almost everyone I talked to wanted to participate. The trend continued when the project went live, I got emails from regular customers asking if I needed any help making the cookies, asking if it was possible to contribute even though the cookies were sold out, asking if we planned to do it again. My point is this: people want to contribute, and many are struggling to find a way into the world of civic participation that makes sense to them.

I know that the urge to participate is exactly what led me to sign up for a class called 'A Moment of Possibility' offered by the Portland Underground Graduate School that described it's aim in this way:

"This class is designed to help you clear your mind and clarify your personal and political priorities and actions for 2017. It's meant to help you strategize, so you can act more effectively without being discouraged or overwhelmed. There are many paths to take to activate, but getting clear and sticking to your plan will help you be focused and effective."

The day before my first class, I got a text message from Sarah Minnick asking me if I would be willing to make 550 cookies for an epic bake sale in support of our local Planned Parenthood. Of course the timing could be a coincidence and yet, the act of saying yes--even though I've never made 550 of anything--was absolutely because I had recently committed to figuring out how to participate more actively in my community. 

Given this spirit of participation we're feeling, if you have ideas you want to share with us about how we can help make our community stronger- please reach out (sasha@cyrilspdx.com).

One easy way to participate in your community this week...if you love a small business and you can safely get to it (online or in person), go spend some money there!





21 female owned business selling kick-ass pink boxes of beautiful, homemade cookies for $50.00. ALL proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood on Inauguration Day, January 20th. On the 21st, we march.

Our goal is to donate $25,000. in support of women, children and reproductive rights.


Buy a box or a poster (if you don't eat cookies) online here. Do this part NOW.

Pick up your box at your selected Pick Up Location (you'll select the location when you purchase) on January 18th (Weds) or 19th (Thurs).


All of the women contributing to this cause believe it is critical for us to put our raised voices forth together, in a compassionate protest rather than a nihilistic response to the unfolding political climate. This will be the first of many fundraising collaborations to be hatched in the coming years. 


Cookie Grab Businesses + Contributors are*:
Ayers Creek Farm
Baker and Spice
Bake Shop
Little Red Bake Shop
Lovely's Fifty Fifty
Milk Glass Market
P+ Q's
Sea Star Bakery
Two Tarts
Woodlawn Pastry
Miss Zumstein

*plus oodles of volunteers who will assist with baking, cookie-shuttling, and packing boxes*

A New Framework

On January 1, 2016 a wonderful person asked me if I had any resolutions for the year. When I replied that I didn't have a track record of sucess with resolutions so I had given up the practice of making them, she offered what I think is a kinder, gentler consideration for a year's beginning:

Can you think of anything you would like more of in 2016?

Ahhhh. That's what my entire body did in response to this question; it had itself a deeply relaxing, releasing sigh. My brow stopped the furrowing it does when I'm trying to figure out how to make my life better (aka the foundation for new year's resolutions), and I experienced a moment of open-minded wondering about what would make me feel better, in a more general way, in the coming year.

An answer came to me almost immediately: more free and easy wandering around time.
“To do what?” she asked.
I replied that I didn’t know what I would do if I had more unstructured time and that that was precisely the point, I wanted some space to discover what might draw me in.

Super loose, right? Very different from a resolution or goal, and I get that goals with specific measurable results have an appeal, I really do…but, sometimes goals can be overly reductive. As in, “If I lost 15 pounds, things would be different/better/etc.” That’s a lot to expect from 15 pounds, or a new city, or getting that job you know you’re made for, or whatever you would put in that sentence. I had this joke with a friend of mine in college about what life would be like if you did this with something that you really couldn’t change like your height, and every day you woke up mad as hell that you weren’t 5’10”? It’s funny, but it’s really funny if you know you’ve done something not too far from it.

While I have always liked reflecting on the year that just ended, I have discovered that I enjoy musing on the year to come much more since I was introduced to this new what-do-you-want-more-of framework. It encourages me to think about the feelings I’d like to experience rather than presuming that I know exactly what my problem is, can identify an implementable solution to the problem, and start fixing it immediately.

I will admit that I also like this framework because it is fun to think about the things I would like more of instead of mustering enthusiasm for tweaking broken things. I wonder if I had more of the things I’d like more of, might some of the broken things work themselves out without so muchefforting. Based on the results I had this past year, I am leaning towards a resounding YES.

With that I’ll share a few of the things I’m looking to have more of in my life this year.

I’d like to release myself from the burdens of mastery and have some time to explore topics, activities, hobbies, work, friends without the heaviness of commitment. I fear that we are at risk of losing and honing our flirting skills because we’ve decided that we should do/pursue things only if we’re good at them, and willing to commit to them for the long-term. I’d like to spend more time “just trying it on”.
Inspired by: My sister, a wise woman, and veteran elementary school teacher. Hearing her talk about watching kids respond to instructions from their parents on the first day of school to “just go over there and talk to them” and seeing the chasm between the kid and the other kids and wondering if she could conceive of a way they could baby-step their way across rather than taking a terrifying leap into the world of socializing/networking.
She also took me over to the kids’ section at Powell’s when I wanted to start a garden. I was offended until she explained that it’s a good idea to start at the beginning when that’s where you actually are, and also a great move to start where it’s designed to be fun in addition to being informative.
Like I said: she is a wise woman.

Tools are amazing and so many things can be tools—questions, hammers, phones, string, workshops. There are some areas in my life where I’d like to have tools and I haven’t found them yet so part of this “more” may include me making some tools.
Inspired by: I heard this story about a phone booth in the Fukushima Province of Japan that became a tool for people to communicate with loved ones they lost in the earthquake and tsunami and it had a profound affect on how I thought about tools and how they can help us. LISTEN TO IT. PLEASE!

Snacks are a balm for our bodies and for our brains. Whether it’s a fantastic granola (which I think I just discovered today), a magazine that contains a lot of advice we’ll never use, or a book that’s an “easy read”, I’d like more of these ‘more about pleasure, less about sustenance’ things in my life.
Inspired by: A conversation I had with two people on my staff where I found myself defending the act of buying magazines at the airport by explaining to the guy who likes candy bars that magazines do for me what candy bars do for him. And then I realized just how right I was and got really interested in having more snacks.

To me, this would mean I was following my curiosity more and calculating what I might be good at less. That’s the appeal.
Inspirations: I was listening to the radio on my way to work and heard that they were going to play a short snippet of an interview with the founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely--youngest female billionaire in the US btw--and I sort of internally rolled my eyes and wondered, “do they still even make those?” Then I listened to her and fell in love with her and wondered how it would be to go through life thinking about failure the way she was taught to do. (And she talks about so many other interesting things too—go listen!)

I think this looks like more listening, more groups, more meaningful sharing. At least that’s what it looks like to me.
Inspirations: Though sparked by a speech that was part of the thing I didn’t really want to bring up (the election), this statement by Reverend William Barber at the DNC keeps resurfacing in my awareness and demanding my attention in a way that is both inspiring and almost irritating in it’s persistence:
“The watchword of democracy and faith is we.”
I believe in democracy and faith equally—although my faith is not of religious leaning, I have a deep faith in both humanity and the natural world—and my interest in more “we” is my attempt to ensure that they persist and thrive out in the world.

Surprise, Surprise! I have some thoughts on cheese to share...

Surprise, Surprise! I have some thoughts on cheese to share...

It's always an honor when one of your favorites (people or companies) reaches out to ask you what you think about something important to them.

Everything about Vermont Creamery from its founders to its products and B-Corp status makes me proud and thankful to participate in the cheese industry here in the states.

When they reached out and invited me to be part of their campaign, offering various perspectives on cheese boards I jumped at the opportunity. Beautiful pics by @careynotcarrie!

Check it out!

Snow Day

Snow Day

As I read all the weather predictions last night I grew hopeful that we'd be closed today (we are!), that the weather would mean an entire day of tucking in with my pencils and my laptop and writing my heart out.

We got the snow day. Expectantly, I nestled into some blankets, got a glass of water, sat down to allow the magic to happen and then, ugh.

I pressed up against the dreaded wall of nothing.

When you encounter this wall, all of the ideas sound bad, all the hooks feel particularly schlocky, and you erase nine out of every ten sentences you can manage to write.

I worried. I wondered why. Was it because I've started to get a few compliments on my writing and that's creating a feeling of pressure? Or because yesterday I dropped off my first rent check for a desk (with the intent of it becoming a space for me to write!) in a shared workspace with a handful of women who inspire the dickens out of me? Was I about to find out that I didn't actually have anything to say?

Sometimes this line of questioning is the signal that it's time to back away from my desk, wander off and do something else, to see if taking my mind out for some fresh air can rekindle my sense of curiosity. Other times, beneath the questions, there is a gentle urging for me to sit still, to ride out the storm of thoughts. I know that there is a clearing after this kind of storm where I allow myself to gaze out the window, jot down seemingly unrelated thoughts and words, maybe even type a full sentence without needing to know exactly where it's headed.

So I sat with myself, breathing for a few moments. And then a few moments more.

I searched my memory about what's been on my mind for the past couple weeks, and then all the wants arose. I wanted to finish the laundry, I wanted to shop online for little shiny things for people I love, I wanted to trim the sharp edges of my fingernails, I wanted to open every promotional email in my inbox, I wanted to tick things off on my to-do list. You get the picture.

I sat just a bit longer and then began to write.

All of that stuff above, that’s the hallway I walk almost every time I want to get to the office I call writing. The hallway is filled with doors, infinite opportunities to bail.

My capacity to wait out the thought storm and subsequent distractions has grown only through practice. What do I mean by practice? A non-negotiable structure for spending time doing the thing you keep saying you want to do- whether it's a physical act like exercise, knitting, or writing, or a lifestyle adjustment like eating healthier, being more appreciative, or taking better care of your houseplants. It's not sexy, dramatic, or rife with inspiration rather it's a path to producing works and outcomes.

I heard an interview with author Jonathan Safran-Foer where he was talking about the inspired urgency and presence we tend to experience in life’s big moments; that sense that life is precious and we should always be doing something important and meaningful.

“You know, we have that thought life is precious maybe - what? - on a birthday on New Year's or when somebody, you know, falls ill.
But it's very, very hard to generate the thought on your own. And…it often comes with its companion which is I live in the world, so, you know, life is precious, so I ought to, you know, throw off the earphones I'm now wearing, push away the microphone, run into the street and proclaim whatever. Life is precious, so I ought to spend my days, you know, making sandwiches for homeless people and tending to the elderly in hospice care. Life is precious, so I should give everything away, except that I live in the world. And in the world, I actually have needs and wants, and I value my needs and wants. And I live in the world and I can't just go make sandwiches every day because I also have to take kids to school. I also have to, you know, write books because that's my livelihood.”

For me, practice is the 'and I live in the world' part. My writing practice-- 30 minutes a day Monday through Friday, btw-- is where my dreams and the realities of my day to day life intersect. This practice is the only thing (not two published books under my belt) that has made me feel like I can say, "I'm a writer," without shrugging my shoulders and crinkling my nose-- as if to indicate that I'm not one hundred percent sure that it's true and I'm happy to let someone else be the judge of that.

And so, my wish for you all on this snowy afternoon, as we march toward the end of 2016- a year that has felt longer than the sum of its 365 days- is that you have an experience of lived dreams in addition to imagined ones in the coming year.

Be safe out there, and please come and see at Cyril's soon.

Ask Questions. Have Conversations

It has been a rough couple weeks to try and think about doing things. Nothing seems as important as all the big things, right? Our daily lives are overflowing with insignificance. The outcome of the election was a surprise—regardless of which side you’re on—and the dust is taking its own sweet time to settle. I have read many moving, and inspiring suggestions for ways we can move forward from what feels like a very dark place where we see differences more clearly than the threads of sameness that binds us together as members of a nation.

While there is desperation in the air, our current situation also feels like an opportunity for a powerful reckoning. A moment where I/you/we can own my/your/our part in this situation that is tremendously larger than me/you/us.

Based on my shock at what was happening when I watched the election results coming in, I see that I have been unwilling to accept the concerns of large swaths of my fellow countrymen. I have resisted some grievances in part because it’s easier to look away from problems that we don’t know how to fix than to sit with how overwhelmed and ineffectual they make us feel.

The list of issues that I struggle with in this way is long--homelessness, climate change, the middle east (yes- all of it), violence against women and children, the failings of our food system, poverty, systemic racism—to name a few. Solutions, or even tangible progress on any of these issues seem so far away that I tend to ground out in a storm of futility before I do anything tangible about them.

Yesterday I spent some time at the ocean and I noticed my tendency, when faced with overwhelming things--like the magnificence of a landscape as grand as the Oregon coast-- to gravitate towards small things like shells and rocks caught in little drifts of sand, weathered wood bits, and beach glass. Whenever we come home from a day at the coast Michael has photos of sweeping panoramas and mine are all close ups of small creatures or patterns in the sand. Maybe it’s a stretch but I do think there might be a correlation here between my seashell photo collection and my tendency to shy away from the overarching challenges our culture is facing.

The big picture has the capacity both to stir and still me with its enormity. I am always inclined to focus on things of a scale that I can wrap my head and heart around. While it has been comforting recently to read so many beautiful writings about the triumphs of love and hard earned justice in our culture’s history, I have been yearning for something less grand than inspiration. I've been yearning for something that feels more like help.

Last night, when I found the Civil Conversations Project, this part of my brain that has been tense and jittery for weeks showed the first signs of softening. There is hope in this project of course, but there is also something I need even more than hope right now: practicum.

How do you take this beautiful hope and inspiration and live it in your own everyday life with all of the working, bill paying, laundry, appointments, etc? If you don’t get what I’m talking about just go to the site, download the Three Questions Guide, imagine a group of people slowing down to consider those questions(What are you feeling? What is the country that you long for? As your bravest self, what do you do now?), and tell me that it doesn’t make your eyes sweat...even just a little bit.

This project is small and enormous at once, right? I believe that work in the smallness is the most stable route to the enormity; that the direct knowing of one individual who is your other can shift the size of the distance you imagine between yourself and them.

Maybe we'll host an ask the questions event in the future. For now, we're hosting some other small things that may be of interest...

Where I Go For

Where I Go For

People write things in on our post cards all the time. I always enjoy them. 

But this one...moved me.

Kind of amazing how a casual note left on one of our tables can feel like a stamp of validation that something important is working. Of course we want what all business owners want: for our place to be busy-- hopping, and packed with people-- that's an obvious goal to have in our industry. The less discussed goal (and more important to us by far) is our desire to have our space be one that people want to come because it feels good to be here.

Comfort is that to me. Comfort is a moment of peace, a familiar face or blanket, or feeling that allows you to let your shoulders drop and breathe all the way down into the depths of your abdomen. Who doesn't crave that?

There is this group of people I like to call "everyone" who have this bad habit of relating to comfort the same way we do help: we fear that wanting it means that we're weak in some way. You know- like we want to hang out in raggedy sweat pants all day, be complacent, or play it safe when we should be out adventuring and toughing it out. But if complacency is quietly looking the other way to avoid feeling something, comfort is looking at yourself in the mirror and acknowledging what you need. 

In this moment there is no shortage of things to be concerned about (maybe that's true of all moments). Engaging with the concerns that we have can be incredibly productive so long as we're able to hold onto ourselves in the process. Regular doses of comfort are what bring us back to ourselves and remind us of the things we're out there hazarding ourselves for day to day.

By all means- face life, embrace your curiosity, live into your edges- just do not forsake comfort for yourself along the way.

(and hey, at  least you already know one place where you're likely to find it)

The What and The Why

The What and The Why

The What

Hey everyone. At the end of September we are going to reformat Cyril's. We will cease to be a full service restaurant and become a wine bar with wine/beer/great snacks. 

Saturday, October 1st will be our final dinner service.This means just a few more glorious nights of salad plates and succotash before we make the switch. Feel free to give us a call to make reservations (503-206-7862), or just come over.

We will take two days to rest and reorient before reopening on Tuesday, October 4th at 5pm.

Our new schedule will be Tuesdays- Saturdays, 5-10pm.

The menu will include Olives, Nuts, Gougeres, Pickles, Mac n Cheese, something sweet, and of course our selection of cheeses and cured meats.

For any other questions feel free to peruse the FAQs below and/or reach out to me directly (sasha@cyrilspdx.com).

The Why

I am going to honor what I'm guessing is the main question most of you want an answer to: Why?

Fair enough. One of my least favorite things, at the end of anything, is when people communicate about gratitude and good times, accomplishments and milestones and they don't tell you what happened. I feel this way when I read about businesses closing and even about people's lives ending. I can barely take in any of the information because all I want to know is: what the hell happened?

In our case, the what happened is very straightforward. For the past four years we have been working to achieve stability at Cyril's- a steady and adequately sized stream of customers to cover our bills, pay our vendors, and compensate our staff. We can't seem to get there and stay there. 

So we are changing our model in a way that will significantly reduce our cost of operations while still allowing us to share our enthusiasm for wine, and cheese, and other delicious food with the greater community here.

That sounds so obvious and easy, right? It hasn't been. I mean I am on board with the cohesive logic of it but deciding to set something down that you've been holding at the center of your world for a few years is not a casual thing. We also understand that this change impacts not only us but also all the people- our staff and all of you- who have made the experience what it has been so far.  

I will offer this as a true silver lining; accepting that Cyril's is broken (for us) has meant that we've been able to take a rest from the endless effort of attempting to figure it out and tweak/fix/change it. Accepting the brokenness of the restaurant as it has been made some space for us to love it for all that it is and to genuinely take pride in what we created.

We are also hopeful that this change will free us up to play and explore more often and to share some of that recharged energy with you through Cyril's and Clay Pigeon Winery.


Will you still have cheese club? 


Will you still host private parties and events?

YES! Please be in touch. Holiday parties, luncheons, weddings, corporate events and meetings are all part of what we have done and will continue to do. 

Will there be any new ways to have the foods we've come to love from Cyril's?

Yes. We will be hosting a monthly prix fixe dinner the first Sunday of every month (Sunday Supper) beginning in November. This will be our chance to explore foods and culinary traditions we're interested in, experience the seasons, and keep cooking!

Any other significant changes to the Cyril's experience?

Just one. We will no longer be able to allow minors at Cyril's. Know that we are working with the OLCC to understand if there is any flexibility- for example could we have minors on the premises during Sunday Suppers because we would be serving more substantial food. We will keep you posted on how this progresses.

When are you open between now and your final dinner service?

Thursday 9/22 4-9pm.

Friday 9/23 4-10pm.

Saturday 9/24 4-10pm.

Sunday 9/25 4-9pm.

Wednesday 9/28 4-9pm.

Thursday 9/29 4-9pm.


Saturday 10/1 4pm till we're done!

How are we doing?

Honestly. We're good. Our team is incredible. We have so much love for one another and we're all looking forward to enjoying a few more days and nights working together. Sad? Sure. Regretful? No way.

We are excited to see what comes next, for all of us.

Talk like a river

Talk like a river

Over the past couple weeks I've been thinking a lot about Staff for the upcoming issue (No 6) of Communal Table- the online publication I'm collaborating on with my friend Adrian and a band of talented designers, artists and writers she has recruited over the years. The issue will have stories about staff as in staff of life, staff as in a team of people who support a project or business, and possibly staff as a physical support. For me- the word always makes me think of the people who have floated in and out of employment at Cyril's- likely because I've spent more time with them in the past four years than anyone else in my life.

One of the most enriching aspects of working in a kitchen has nothing to do with food. Nothing to do with service. Nothing to do with the seasons, the lore, or the tattoos. It’s a specific kind of conversation that happens between the people in kitchen; one that has the potential to access every nook and cranny of the human experience without intending to anything but pass the time. I have come to think of these conversations as incidental in that they are “accompanying but not a major part of” the work that happens in our kitchen. They remind me of the epic, meandering talks I used to have with friends when we spent a lot of time just hanging out with no goal or desired resolution on the horizon.

The lack of urgency or need to cover any specific ground in a conversation makes room for spontaneity and deep exploration of places and topics that stick with you for days. Curiosity takes over and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but curiosity is generally not in a huge rush to get anywhere—curiosity is fulfilled simply by bearing witness to the unfurling.

Most of us don’t have much unstructured time as adults. We’re running a logistics race with people to see, places to get to, and lists of things to complete—my god, the lists right? Maybe that’s why I feel so sweet about these incidental kitchen conversations I have with our staff; they’re rangy and roomy, allowing indirect glimpses at who a person is, how they actually show up in their life and what matters to them. These conversations feel good to me partly because they are in perfect contrast to the curated quips we interact in via text, instagram, twitter, etc.

I am an incredibly curious person. I am also an introvert. Around other people, especially ones that I find interesting, I can get shy. I’m always more comfortable when I have a job to do. Having a task calms my mind, and this frees it up to wander more interesting neighborhoods than the familiar haunts of worry and judgment. Kitchens are not the only place where this type of incidental interaction is possible; it can happen anywhere that there is a loosely shared goal and a couple people willing to meander. I'm grateful that I managed to recruit a team that's up for the journey.


photo credit: www.westernliving.com

photo credit: www.westernliving.com

One of the best feelings in life is when you find that someone you love loves you back. This is precisely the case with our friend and colleague Kristen Murray- owner of Portland's loveliest luncheonette Maurice!

She gave us such a sweet shout out last week on Eater. We're blushing. And the feeling is totally mutual.


Someday I will have a prettier version of this to share with all of you but for now- at least this gets the job done of showing everyone the fantastic array of cheeses that have been explored by our Cheese Club over the past three and a half years. If it makes you wonder 'why am I not a cheese club member?' you can find out how to become one right here.

There is no BOOM

There is no BOOM

A couple years ago I got an email from a friend announcing the launch of her book. This is a person I'd been in regular communication with and yet this was the first I had heard about a book. A book! That's a big deal kind of thing. So I sent her a one word response: BOOM!

She wrote back immediately: There is no boom.

And then she went on to explain the littany of tasks, trials, and tribulations that she had been through to get the book into existence- she had written parts of it herself and had collected works from others, serving as editor, creator, project manager, chief wrangler, etc.

There is no BOOM has become a mantra for me. It's a truth I feel moved to not only remind myself of but also to share with others on a fairly regular basis. The idea of lightening bolt style inspiration and change has tremendous appeal but even changes that appear to materialize spontaneously have likely had a steady runway of subtle preparations-- often so subtle that they fail to draw our attention.

Everything we do at Cyril's- recipes, workshops, winemaking (as Michael wrote about here)- evolves and unfolds more slowly than I would like. Everything. This reality combined with the acceptance of 'there is no BOOM' has led me to learn to identify and select projects/activities/relationships that please me persistently, even at tortoise speed and in faded, non-dazzly colors.

Cheese Club, Summer Sundae Music, Flight Club, our menu, and of course our wines are all examples of the fruits of of our long-standing labors that continue to stoke our internal fires. Next week we'll be sharing news of some exciting collaborations with a handful of our favorites in the world of food and conversation. 

Becoming Ocean

Becoming Ocean

Becoming Ocean

I am not a big consumer of news. I have a tough time taking in the troubles and complexities of the world and then plowing ahead with the day to day stuff of my life; if I had to sum it up, when I allow myself to absorb not just the facts of the news but what those facts translate to in terms of impact on actual people I feel powerless.

Last week I read and listened to reports about how disappointed and afraid people are about the presumed presidential nominees, the swell of outrage surrounding the Stanford rape case, and the outpouring of grief for the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. There is so much to be concerned about and this generates a lot of feelings in us-- some that we’re comfortable with like connectedness, love, pride, and others that are decidedly less welcome like anger and despair. One of the most beautiful and awful things about our cultural response to these intense events is our will to push through them in order to arrive swiftly at some other, elusive, resolved side of things. Rightfully so, we are in hot pursuit of more stable ground.

Yesterday, seeking comfort, I reread a beautiful passage by the poet David Whyte in his incredible book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, where he unpacks and examines the word anger with breathtaking precision:

“Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger will always illuminate what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.”

This passage reminded me of the small but mighty power inherent in an individual life lived with integrity, accountability, and yes- anger. Maybe the most impactful and useful thing we can do is to grow our own capacity for empathy and compassion (which, for the record, are different things) for the murkiness of the human experience. To learn to listen for what someone belongs to when they are angry, stuck, or defensive.

Last summer I listened to a remarkable story (go here if you want to hear it yourself) about a woman who went through a unique grieving process that at the outset sounds almost masochistic but in truth was her imaginative path to solace and ultimately empowerment during a time in her life that made her feel totally powerless- the time following the death of her infant son. She summarized her experience in this way that resonated with me so much that I shared it with anyone who would listen to me for a few months after hearing it.

She said that for a long time after her son's death she felt like she was a boat on an ocean getting slapped about by rough and choppy waves and that at some point during the process she went through, she realized that she was not the boat; she was actually the ocean, and that the decisions she makes in her life have an impact in other people’s lives.

The wrinkled flag above was made by my friend and artist Marina Zurkow. She remembered my affection for the ocean analogy and gave this to me at the end of a residency she did this spring that brought experts from various disciplines together in hopes of coming up with new ideas to respond to the rising waters of climate change-- a topic rife with fear and despair.

Perhaps experiencing ourselves as the ocean is what makes us and the smallest of gestures have effect, that a million small actions strung together are what make a meaningful life. With that in mind, we have a couple events coming up that will not change the world per se; seemingly insignificant, they are part of the ocean all the same.  

Bottle Shock

Bottle Shock

Waiting is part of winemaking from the very beginning. Most people start in winemaking as an intern; entering a winery for harvest when they need the most help. It’s an exciting and energetic time filled with movement, potential, physical exertion and long hours. Punctuating all of this excitement is a lot of waiting. Waiting for grapes, waiting for the press to finish, waiting for dinner.

Becoming a winemaker is very different. It is no longer about waiting. You move beyond that into what is an exercise in patience. You learn to relish the bursts of activity in between the months, sometimes years, of attending to the wine-- making space for it to decide what it wants to become. You cultivate a willingness to endure your wine’s process- think of this as exponential patience.

Early on, a veteran winemaker said to me, “Don’t try your wine very often, it will drive you crazy. One month you have made the greatest wine ever. The next you are contemplating leaving the industry and pouring everything down the drain.” The madness he described is absolutely real but with practice, you develop restraint and at times you find comfort in knowing that the wine moves at its own pace.

Eventually, after months or maybe years, when you decide that your wine has fully expressed itself, and is ready to go into bottle—the finish line comes into focus. Alas, there is one more hurdle between your wine and the world: bottle shock.

Bottle shock is not only a pretty-decent-if-you-like-Alan-Rickman movie about the 1976 Competition in Paris; it is an actual “condition” in the life of every wine. The act of bottling wine stresses it. Some say this is caused by filtering, some say it is additional oxygen intake from the bottling line or the pumping, others insist that it’s the addition of sulfur at bottling. I love that we don’t really know what causes it, and bluntly I don’t want to know. Regardless of my feelings about it, the wine I taste the morning of bottling changes once it is in bottle and tastes, well, terrible… for a while.

The first wine I made on my own was a Pinot Noir from Mistletoe Vineyards in 2009. Two weeks after bottling, I opened one. It tasted like a pine tree. Not the scent of pine, it tasted like the actual bark and sap of pine-- like licking a Christmas tree. It was not nice and nostalgic, it was awful. I began to respect and understand the words of that veteran winemaker.

Most of the time a wine going through bottle shock just gets dumb: the flavor you loved the most before bottling goes quiet. It resembles a sullen teenager: moody, dismissive and easily wounded. Adding insult to injury, you never know how long bottle shock will last. Only the wine knows. There are rules of thumb-- 6-8 weeks, 3 months, 6 months-- but these are just guesses.

Bottle shock is where your exponential patience skills are put to the test.

Despite the inconvenience, bottle shock is one of my favorite phases of winemaking. I know, from experience, that the wine will return (wines in bottle shock eventually return to what they tasted like before going in bottle) but the ride is crazy. I love to share with people because it demonstrates what fascinates me about wine; the fact that a bunch of grapes, with a sprinkling of yeast and some time, can create such a vast range of flavors and textures. During those early weeks after bottling, the wine goes through many personalities and while none are very good, they reveal all that is packed in there and that is pure magic. It’s what patience rewards.

There are ways to cut down on winemaking wait times, the first is to make white wine. Whites are normally bottled within a few months, not years, and bottle shock is often shorter in duration. You can also make lighter, brighter reds as they too typically take less time to get bottled and into the market.

As luck would have it, the wines I want to make take time. I’m looking for that intersection of fruit and secondary notes where cherry flavors recede, cedar and mushroom notes climb. What I’m beginning to understand is that the kind of wine I like to drink, the kind of wine I want to make, is all about coming to terms with waiting. Patience is something that I have worked on, and frankly struggled with, most of my life so perhaps this is how it was always meant to be.

Right now I have over 4,000 bottles of Clay Pigeon wine that are in some stage of shock. So I wait...and continue to taste for that moment that each one decides it’s ready to come out and play.

Just in case you’re curious, the wines in waiting are:

2015 Rose
2015 Pinot Gris
2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
2013 Rogue Syrah
2012 Reserve Syrah
2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Believe me- we will let you know as soon as they’re ready for drinking!