Is it the Wine or the Experience?

ristorante street view

This is the Ristorante Sant’Anna in Rome.  This was our favorite spot right around the corner from our apartment on Via Santa Anna.  We had many meals there and of course drank wine with those meals.  But I could not tell you what wine we drank, only that the overall experience was so perfect that it stays with me still.

This restaurant is in a very narrow alleyway.  We always sat outside and enjoyed the sensation as cars and scooters rushing by us within a few feet of our table.  We always felt welcomed there after a day of sightseeing.  It was shady and cool and the food and the wine always tasted delicious.

Yet I am not sure if I even remember the dishes we had let alone the wine.  I am sure I mostly ordered the house wine which was probably sangiovese if it was red and perhaps trebbiano if it was white.  In the “foodie” world and culture we live in it seems we must photograph and record or otherwise document everything we put in our mouth.  To me there is no better way to kill my enjoyment than to have to record what I am eating.

Of course the world of wine is interesting.  Analyzing wine is what I do for a living and I also enjoy teaching and talking about it.  Yet at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is the pleasure we take from a delicious meal served in an alleyway in the heart of one of the most amazing cities in the world.  I hope I never get to busy recording to stop enjoying. And I hope my customers remember their experience at Zambri’s in the same way.

The Art of Writing

StJohnCD-59FMy wife Dieuwertje is an artist.  Through her I have had my eyes opened to the world of art, architecture and design.  When we first met she was working as  Chef and I was a waitress.  Although I knew she was a creative person, this fact did not really hit home to me until she decided she had had enough of the restaurant business and wanted to retrain. She entered the Fine Furniture program at Camosun College  Upon graduation she took a six week intensive artisan course at the Inside Passage School of Woodworking on the Sunshine Coast.

We both took a business course and in 2007 we opened a business called Victoria Wood Studio.  She was to be the “creative” side to the business and I was to run the “business” side.  Our original idea was “Fine Gates and Passageways” where we designed and built gates, arbours and Pergolas using the beautiful western red cedar available on Vancouver Island.  Now we do a combination of custom work both indoors and out and we also sell product such as outdoor furniture, bird houses and laundry racks.

20101014_VWS_5Patio Set 2 SmallFrom its inception our business attracted attention probably as much for the uniqueness of our work as the uniqueness of our company.  It is very rare to have a design/build business owned and operated by women.  It is also rare to see such attention to design and detail in work that is made for the out of doors.  In 2009 we were selected as one of 10 businesses to watch by Douglas magazine.

Douglas article 001The last few years have seen many changes in both the work we do and our business model.  It is very interesting to me how we both have changed our idea of the division of labor.  For one thing, Dieuwertje has turned out to have a very good head for the “business” side of our business.  She has great intuition in dealing with customers, marketing and pricing and she is unafraid to follow her instincts. In turn, I have unleashed a much more “creative” side of myself.  I have always loved words both spoken and written.  Observing the creative process Dieuwertje goes through has shown me that I too am a very creative person.  In fact I am much happier writing this blog than dealing with customers, marketing or pricing.


My House Wine

Gruner VeltlinerMy customers at Zambri’s often ask me what is my favorite wine and what is my personal house wine.  There are often two different answers to these questions.  Due to the ridiculously high rate of taxation on alcohol in British Columbia I can not always drink my favourite wine on a daily basis.  Wine costs in this province are often too high for this.  But this Gruner Veltliner , (Count Karolyi), that I am drinking right now is truly both.  At $9.49 a bottle (before tax), it is really great value.  Yet it is a well made medium bodied white which works really well with the spicier food that I like to eat.  Tonight I am going to have it with Chicken Everest, a roast chicken served in a ginger, garlic, garam masala marinade.

szekszardiThis red wine by Szekszardi would also work with this dish.  Medium bodied with good acidity and not tannic so you can pair it with spicy foods and with chicken or even fish.  I had it last night with some farmers cheese and concord grapes and although you would think it might be too light for this pairing the bright acidity really held its own with the cheese.  The grape in this wine is Kekfrankos which is a typical red grape from Hungary.  I have written before about the incredible value in Hungarian Wines and this is a great example.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire still rules in my house!


Both these wines are available at Fort and Foul Bay Liquor Store.

“Live in the layers not on the litter”

Joop sm jpeg

This is Joop.  He died on July 2 from an aggressive form of cancer.  He was only five.  The week that Joop was diagnosed I read a poem by Stanley Kunitz (1905 – 2006) called “The Layers“. For some reason the line from this poem, “Live in the layers not on the litter” has been in my head and heart all summer.

The Layers

                                              I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 after the death of several of his friends including the suicide of painter Mark Rothko. The famous line came to Kunitz in a dream and while even he says he is unable to decipher it,to me  there is something consoling about it.  It seems to offer a guideline if not an explanation.  How do we weather life’s great losses? How is it that we are not consumed by grief at the many tragedies we endure as we get older?

I don’t really have any answers to these questions.  Neither did Kunitz.  The closest I can come is this.  We know that we are drowning in litter both literally and figuratively.  Every day my trash bin is full of deleted e-mails and my recycling container is stuffed with wasted pieces of paper.  Inside my brain there is a non stop conversation going on, most of it irrelevant.  We are all drowning in litter.

When I looked in the beautiful eyes of my Joop, when I leaned down to kiss him and we shared a moment, I felt a part of the complexity and the beauty of being alive.  My heart broke when he died. Yet that is still preferable to living in the litter. We can live in the layers if we chose to, as heartbreaking as it is.  If we must drown let us drown in the layers.

Stanley Kunitz wrote this poem in 1978 out of despair at so many losses. Yet he continued to write for nearly thirty more years and lived until he was 100.  Maybe the consolation in poems and in paintings like this one by Rothko is how we survive.

Rothko 1