“Wine O’Clock” & The Winemaking Mama

 

Woman with wine and a pile of clothes

Well – I think I may have finally come up with my podcast title – The Winemaking Mama!  I’ve been working on my vision board and mapping out what I want it to be… the name was the thing I was struggling with the most!  I can’t do “Pirate Princess Diaries” or “Pirate Princess Chronicles” because of Disney, mostly.  So, we’ll see if The Winemaking Mama makes the cut!

My husband likes the full title – Wine O’Clock & The Winemaking Mama…  That’s probably too long.  Short and catchy are always recommended.  But I digress…

I’m not writing today about my future podcast.  I’m writing about something much more difficult to unpack – women and the wine o’clock habit – and how it has become a problem for many women.

Exhausted mamas, I see you.  I’m one of you.

Many of us find ourselves wiped out by early evening (heck, by early afternoon!) and we find our way into the kitchen right on time for wine o’clock.  We look forward to it all day.  We need it.  It’s a kind of reward for the weary.

My husband and I are both in the wine industry.  For years I have participated in the enophile’s delight of discovering delicious wines from all over the world.  Wine o’clock could happen at any time of the day.  But there’s something about the happy hour time when wine o’clock falls in for most – it’s to unwind.

For us, drinking wine at the end of the day was not initially about needing to relax but, rather, about exploration and participating in our professional passion – enjoying wine.  We would geek out over special bottles, cool bottles, esoteric bottles, surprising mainstream bottles, and so on.  Over time, with a new child and mounting life responsibilities, the luxury of drinking wine for appreciation too soon morphed into our needing the time to unwind.

The thing with wine consumption for me – I would always mean to have just one glass.  I would tell myself – one glass only.  Or as my grandmother liked to say, “one and done!”

Moderation is key.  I was pretty good about keeping to my imbibing guideline.  Some days were more difficult than others.  Those days included better bottles we were not willing to waste or hold on to for multiple days, or multiple bottles that made their way onto our kitchen counter that we wanted to try.  So one glass would become two, or three, or a bottle.

By the time we decided to start a family, I was committed to an alcohol-free pregnancy.  I was an older mom-to-be so I felt it was imperative to cut out all the “no no’s” from my diet – including caffeine and alcohol.   And I did it.  Save for a few glasses of Champagne in my third trimester.  It was easy because I didn’t have a taste for wine when I was pregnant – white wines tasted like vinegar to me and red wines were just too much.  I could handle a little Champagne, but, it was kind of wasted on me because my palate was not in its prime form with all of those pregnancy hormones surging through my body.

I had no taste for or interest in wine after my baby way born, either.  I didn’t drink during his first year.  I believe I sipped on a few glasses here and there, but, I could not drink an entire glass of wine.

When the coronavirus hit in March, my baby was fifteen months old, and the stress of our lives and our world drew me back to wine o’clock.  It started off innocently enough, with just sips.

My husband and I embarked on a virtual world tour while sheltering in place – and we cooked up dinners with recipes from cities we’d “visit” and we’d pair our international meals with wine.  At first, I just sipped.  As the pandemic continued to ravage the world, my sips stretched out to a glass, then two.  I had the will power to maintain my two glass maximum.  But because I didn’t have much of a tolerance for alcohol anymore, I would feel groggy and worse for the wear.

The wine o’clock happy hour did not last long.  Here we are at the end of June and I’m back to sipping no more than a glass, as max.  And not every day.  I sip on wine maybe three days a week.

This isn’t about my exercise of self control.  This is about my body’s rejection of something I have loved for years, something I MAKE professionally.  My craft is winemaking!  How surreal to make wine professionally but no longer to have the desire to drink it with the passion, curiosity and pleasure I once had.

I guess this is my new mantra:  I’m a winemaking mama that doesn’t really enjoy drinking wine anymore – beyond sips for personal discovery and professional evaluation.

This is important because I’m not just a winemaking mama.  I own my own wine business.  I market and sell my wines to stay in business.  Many of my customers are wine o’clock women.

I have considered the philosophical “liability” of producing and selling alcohol – many times.  I’ve sat with my feelings of  guilt and discomfort about it – many times.  I have loved ones in my circle with drinking problems and with alcoholism.  I have issues with loved ones who make choices that impact me and my family negatively.  And I try to be compassionate towards those I love who have problems with alcohol consumption.

If you open up Facebook  you’ll see many conflicting articles getting tossed around – especially if Facebook recognizes you as a wine professional or enthusiast.  Some will say drinking wine will extend your life, drinking wine is good for heart health to drinking any amount of alcohol is toxic.  You get marketing coming from every angle.  How do you know what’s true?

I will put on my holistic nutritionist hat and say that alcohol causes inflammation and should be consumed mindfully based on your bio-individuality.  Some people should avoid alcohol at all costs.  Alcohol is safe for the majority of adults.  Finding moderation for your body type, life stage and other bio-individual requirements can be assessed by a healthcare professional.

Today, a new Facebook ad found its way into my feed – “Wine O’clock a Habit?” sponsored by SoberSis (www.sobersis.com).  The attractive woman on the video looked like one of my fellow woman’s college alumna in a preppy hot pink t-shirt, pearls and a ball cap.

I’m sometimes a sucker for good click bait.  So I scanned some of the posted comments and then clicked.

What struck a cord with me was the normalcy of the behavior this woman addressed.  She was describing herself, but she was describing me and many of my women friends who would start the day with good intentions, following mindful practices throughout the day – working out, drinking green juice, thinking good thoughts – and but still finding the that glass of wine at the end of the day.  She describes the delicate way wine o’clock controls you.

Psychological connection to wine o’clock gets unpacked and SoberSis has tools to help women break the habit.

This post is not a constructive critique of or endorsement for SoberSis and her tools.  It’s about the conversation about women and wine o’clock and an important word she’s using that is not just a smart marketing tool, but a real connection (best way semantics can work out) – and that’s using the word sis.

Women do a pretty good job with reaching out for help.  Women do support groups better than our male counterparts.  Women seek out community and… sisterhood.

I must admit, it makes me a bit sad when I see the need for this type of program.  This isn’t about Alcoholics Anonymous.  And I’m not even suggesting a pay-to-play platform for managing a drinking habit is the answer for anyone.

I am simply relating to the problem.  I am humbly exploring my role in this problem, as a winemaker and wine marketer and wine seller.  In a perfect world I could make, market and sell my wine to women without any concern, assuming my customers all practice safe and moderate drinking practices.  But I know better.  I know that some women really struggle and secretly wish they didn’t have wine stocked up in their homes as they wait for wine o’clock to come each day.  Many of these women wake up in the morning feeling horribly hungover and full of regret.  Many will say – no more.  Today I will not drink wine but then will arrive at wine o’clock with a full glass.

I’m not sure what to say right now.  Because I know there are many sides to the wine o’clock women out there.  Some really have fun and feel good about their decisions to imbibe regularly at their special designated time.  It’s a feel good ritual no matter how many glasses are enjoyed.

I hate preachy talk about drinking and I avoid it at all costs.  To quote my favorite online yoga guru Adriene Mishler (yogawithadriene.com) – “find what feels good.”

I want to remove all judgements about wine o’clock.  I’m not sure how I feel about SoberSis’s unpacking of wine o’clock.  If her platforms helps some women find healthy balance and happiness and good health that is a win.  I hope her message isn’t about making wine consumption a shameful practice.

This encourages me to continue my own exploration of what it means to be a winemaking mama.   I can sit with my previous feelings of guilt and concern and reframe them into cultivating positive wine o’clock experiences.

Perhaps I’ll launch a healthy “Wine O’Clock Wellness Circle for Women” group for my podcast subscribers!  This may need some word-smithing.  But you get the idea.  It can be an invitation to come right where you are right now and be well with it.  No shame.  No guilt.  But healthy balance for what feels right for you.  If one glass feels right, you are welcome; if four glasses feels right, you are welcome.  You just have to be present with your choices and clear about your intentions to bring joy and a little to your life.

Perhaps I’ll invite Adriene to do a yoga opening and lead a gentle mantra about “finding what feels good” when treating yourself to that glass of delicious wine and even have SoberSis chime in about balance and retaining the control you want with your wine enjoyment.  I think there’s a lot of potential here to pivot a little, to change the narrative and move from habits that no longer serve us.

This is not for everyone and it’s not meant to judge or shake a finger at those who love their wine their way – I feel compelled to keep reiterating that point.   It’s really about Yoga Adriene’s mantra – “find what feels good” – and if you should so happen to shift from your feel good place to another – you can find community and sisterhood as easy as online.

 

 

 

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A Mutha of a Vintage

 

There is a gentle humility that comes with expecting and then delivering a baby.  Something intrinsic in your wiring switches and your life is no longer all about you.

Motherhood literally changes the brain.  There is plenty of research demonstrating how having children – even childbirth itself – changes a woman’s brain.  Did you know that after giving birth the brain actually grows?

There’s no question for me how important the prenatal experience was for my child’s early development.  Pregnancy did not happen without some external intensity for me – and, really, that was regarding my work.

I could not abandon ship during the most critical season – harvest.  I had to figure out how to see the 2018 vintage through while carrying my son in the second and third trimester, and miraculously get the white and rosé wines bottled weeks after giving birth while struggling through a difficult and painful recovery.

It wasn’t easy.  To be honest, it’s been a mother of a struggle.

Five months postpartum – and I have to maintain barrels of red wine, prepare for bottling the red wines, and prepare for the 2019 harvest.  My brain is narrowly focused on one thing – my son.

I don’t understand how any mother can return to a full time job during the first 6 months postpartum.  I am one of the lucky ones.  Being an entrepreneur means I create my own schedule – to a point.  As a winemaker, the seasonality of my work drives my schedule.

My brain is still fixated on the track of mothering.  It is a full time job – and then some.  Work-life balance is a challenge.  As an entrepreneur the business never really shuts down for you.  You have to create healthy boundaries to ensure you stay in business, that you are engaging and taking care of your customers, and, of course, keeping the process of production on schedule.

I was a little late in the game with bottling and releasing my white and rosé wines this year – with good reason.  Still, it made it more challenging for me to release and sell these important wines.  I am relying on my distribution partners to see the benefit in a later release with aromatic and rich Sauvignon Blanc and bone dry, savory rosé.  Truth be told, the 2017 vintage wines that are still out in the market are really tasting amazing at this time.  Holding off a little on releasing the 2018 vintage only means the wines will evolve and taste better with a little extra bottle age.  This is a good thing!

Still, bills need to get paid.  A delay in releasing and selling these wines means a delay in bringing in capital to pay for our production costs.  The dance between production schedule and related costs against sales schedule and bringing in capital for the business is complicated and stressful.  It never pans out just right and I’m constantly squirming to pay our bills on time.

This is stressful as a business owner.  Add pregnancy and motherhood to the mix – it’s pretty daunting and emotionally draining.

Something has to give.  And it’s not going to be at the detriment of my son.   I work hard to produce world class wine.  I’m confident that I am making among the best expressions of Cabernet Franc wines available anywhere.  But making wine is no longer my first priority.

I am taking some of the pressure off of me to perform perfectly.  2018 will be an exceptional vintage, I am certain.  But, I am awaiting a major learning point here.  I relinquished some of my obsessive tendencies regarding winemaking to care for myself and my son during this precious time.  I called on some help to see things through in the cellar.  I hired a part-time employee to do some basic cellar work for me – like washing tanks and topping barrels.  My husband came to the rescue a few times to check on and top barrels and to clean up our cellar space.

This is a big deal because for the past eight years I have performed pretty much every bit of the work load by myself.  It’s been an important lesson to let that go and get help, as needed.

To be a creator or a maker… and to follow a disciplined schedule… AND to evolve into a new mom – it’s no easy undertaking.  There are a ton of emotional ups and downs.  I even resented my business for quite some time.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I even lost interest in wine while I grew my baby and began nursing him.

I feel like I owe others a piece of me, via my wine, and it gave me such anxiety as I struggled to work.  This was especially true during the weeks after giving birth when I had to prepare our white and rosé wines for bottling.  I was an emotional wreck.  My body hurt and a part of me didn’t care about what I was doing.

It was my husband who was my greatest cheerleader, who pushed and encouraged me to get things done when I didn’t want to work at all.

I’m coming around.  Working part-time feels right for me right now.  I will need to pull some longer hours in the coming weeks when we prepare our red wines for bottling.  Harvest will require a lot more from me and I hope I am up for the task!  I am currently pulling together a couple of smart, capable people I trust to help me out during the most intense part of the wine production season.

I am asking my kind customers, business partners, friends and family for continued support, patience and understanding.  I always mean to make thoughtful, expressive wines that continue to excite and engage wine lovers.  I am also a new mom trying to find my way.  Some days are harder than others.

Each vintage tells a unique story.

For me, 2018 wasn’t just about the weather, the season of wildfires, the climate and long growing season, the effects of global warming and having scrutiny over the physiology of the grapes coming in after exposure to an ever increasing warming pattern (note:  I write extensively about the effects of global warming on wine grapes, especially regarding the increased population of spoilage microorganisms, like pedioccocus bacteria, that come into the winery on fruit that is sustainably or organically farmed, and how I need to mitigate the start of my fermentations to ensure cleanliness, purification of fruit and eliminating spoilage microbes by creating an environment for healthy fermentations completed by desired saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts with the goal of reducing byproducts, like biogenic amines, that can taint wine).

The vintage was about all of those things and how I navigated my work while growing my son – enduring many symptoms of pregnancy including edema, Braxton Hicks contractions, and exhaustion.  Even getting the calories I needed via holistic nutrition was challenging – but, I made it a priority.

I don’t know if the 2018 wines will be my best wines or not, but, they will be reflective of the major changes  that came along during my journey as a winemaking mother.  In the coming weeks I will be tasting through barrels and evaluating each lot and making decisions about what will be the final blends.  I am excited to see how these wines will transform over the next few years while I watch my baby grow into a toddler and little boy!