Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Earning and Understanding the Title 'Sommelier'

* written by Sage Vogel

Anyone who has visited a winery tasting room or two, or seen a wine documentary or read a wine blog (Cheers, I hope you're drinking wine right now, because I am) has likely heard the word 'sommelier.' You may be somewhat familiar with the term and know it roughly equates to being a 'wine expert' and you may know there are schools and guilds that grant the title to worthy individuals.

But, if you're like most people, you likely still have some questions about this funny word and what it means when someone has it on their business card. You may have wondered:

How do I say 'sommelier' without embarrassing myself?
What exactly is a wine sommelier?
What does it take to become a wine sommelier?

If any of these questions have popped up in your head, read on. I think I can help shed some light on the subject having recently earned the title. First, let's go over pronunciation and definition, then I'll tell the story of my journey towards becoming a sommelier.

How to Say Sommelier

The easiest way to pronounce 'sommelier' is to say it like suh-mel-yay in such a way that it rhymes with the word 'say.' Making the association with the question itself "How do I say 'sommelier' should help a little bit.

If you took French in high school and you remember a little bit of it and you don't mind sounding just a little pretentious you can add a very subtle /h/ sound at the end of the word, that's a voiceless /h/ meaning your vocal cords do not vibrate: suh-mel-yay-h.

If you want to be even more pretentious, know that traditionally a female sommelier is called a 'sommelière,' which is pronounced like suh-mel-yai-h with the ending of the word sounding like the word 'air' if you replaced the /r/ with the voiceless /h/. We don't use this word in the US, so don't worry if the difference between it and sommelier is too subtle.

If you're still having trouble with saying 'sommelier', there are many resources online like videos and recordings to help you out. Here's a link to the sommelier wiktionary page, I prefer the pronunciation under the French section: Wiktionary Sommelier

If that's still too difficult, you can almost certainly get away with just saying 'somm.' You might even sound more "in the know." Look at you, abbreviating things like one of the cool kids.

What is a Sommelier
If you scanned that Wiktionary page you know that the word 'sommelier' was originally used to refer to a person in charge of guiding pack animals who carried wine. Things have changed a bit since then. Nowadays, a sommelier (called 'wine stewards' by francophobes) is a professional trained in all aspects of the art of wine service, and there's a great deal involved in that.

A good sommelier knows and can teach wine tasting etiquette, they can serve, entertain and educate, they know the New World and Old World winemaking regions and their specific traditions and styles, they know how to pair food and wine, how to craft a wine list, how to pick out aroma, bouquet and tasting notes and they know when to admit they're not sure about something. That last bit is important, no sommelier knows everything, it's impossible (There's more than 10,000 wine grape varietals in the world, and don't even get me started on Europe's regional quality control laws). Any good sommelier worth their weight in grapes knows they'll always have more to learn, and that's not a reason for embarrassment, it's a respectful admission of the wine world's richness and complexity.

So, who gets to call themselves a sommelier?

'Sommelier' is not a strictly controlled term, but it's highly unlikely you'd benefit from putting it on your resume without certification from a respected Institution, Association or Guild. While its possible to defend the title after years of working in the wine industry, this is quite rare and understandably difficult. Most sommeliers pursue some level of formal education along with other training and considerable work experience in the industry. There are a number of organizations that can provide this education, both in the US and abroad. If you want to become a sommelier, you should start by looking for what certifying bodies are operating in your region of the world.

If you live in the Southwest, have several years of experience in the wine industry and are currently employed therein you can take the Level I: Guild Wine Seminar and Examination given by the International Wine Guild based in Denver, Colorado. Upon completion, given your industry employment is active, IWG will certify you as a Wine Sommelier and as a member of the Guild.

That's what I did, and here's how it went.

How I became a Sommelier
I started working for Vivác Winery in the summer of 2015, right after graduating college. I've known the family for almost my entire life and we've always been close. So close, actually, that I've been drinking Vivác wine since well before I should have been allowed to do so. The job quickly proved to be a great fit for me, but it wasn't until this year that I realized it might actually be the job for me.

I've worked a couple other jobs since my first summer at Vivác, the opportunities came up and Liliana, my tasting room boss and mentor, encouraged me to take them so long as I would return to the Vivác bar for the busy summer seasons. I taught English in southern Spain for a school year and High School Language Arts here in New Mexico the following school year, but summer after summer I returned to Vivác and each time it felt more and more like coming home. This year I didn't renew my teaching contract (despite the tempting offer of a $1 annual raise, come on New Mexico) and I fully invested myself into working for the winery. Along with working behind our bar, I began distributing (building and maintaining business relationships with stores, restaurants and hotels) and also began jumping at chances to help in the winery itself, crushing grapes, harvesting, bottling, drinking, etc. I learned a lot, and fast, which is good because when I saw that IWG had a seminar earlier this month for first level sommelier certification, I knew I really wanted to take it and I knew I'd have to employ all I'd learned about wine to pass.

The International Wine Guild has been in operation for over twenty years. It is a standalone wine vocational school that provides college level wine education through 25 different professional wine education courses. The Guild offers technical diplomas (Level I, Level II: Advanced, Level III: Master) and other certification programs to professionals in the wine industry and serious enthusiasts. It seemed fitting for me to pursue my certification from the IWG not only because of its prestige and locality, but also because three of the Vivac founders are certified through their program. They know us, we know them, it's a healthy relationship to have and maintain. I highly recommend them to anyone in our region who is interested in kicking their wine education into a higher gear.

The Level I: Guild Wine Seminar with IWG is a two day intensive seminar followed by a final exam. Provided a student is successful in the class and the exam they are welcomed as a Guild member and are provided with either a Professional or Non-Professional Award title. A professional chef is eligible for the Chef of Wine Arts title, while other professionals in the industry may pursue either Wine Manager or Wine Sommelier titles. Anyone not employed in the industry may receive the title Wine Cellar Manager. I, of course, wanted to be a Wine Sommelier.

Day 1 of the seminar had class beginning at 8:30 AM. The course is structured to accommodate as many as 75 individuals but I was unusually fortunate to have scheduled with a smaller group of less than ten that was a good mix of both professional and non-professional classmates.

Our first module of the day provided a broad but thorough rundown of Key Terms and Concepts we would need as a foundation for the rest of the course. Efficiently and methodically our educator, Senior Wine Instructor Nicholas Post, educated us on essential wine categories and the rules designating them, basic winemaking for reds and whites, the world's "noble grapes," basic chemical equations for fermentations, acid transformations and other basic chemistry, fundamental understandings of Body (Acids, Alcohol, Extract [flavor intensity], Tannins, Viscosity) and Structure/Character (Dryness, Body) and correct serving order and temperature.

Nicholas immediately proved an excellent and obviously seasoned instructor. Looking back and reviewing our course, I'm still surprised how manageable he made assimilating so much information so quickly. It was challenging, but not frustrating. Not everything we went over was new for me, but a lot of the content filled gaps in my prior knowledge that really helped me with what was to come.

The next module focused on Old World wines, and Nicholas began the lecture by reminding us that when he was done, we'd get to start tasting, which is really always the best part when it comes to wine, right? Drinking it?

The module started with a lesson on the EU's international Quality Classification regulations, essentially what winemakers are required to do in order to insure the quality and integrity of their product. I won't get into it, but I will say that the EU is considerably more strict than the New World's wine governing bodies and they focus a lot more on terroir (the growing environment).

Given the time constraints, IWG focused on France and Italy's wine for their level one seminar, a wise choice given their history and influence on winemaking in the world today. Together we explored these countries' regulations and the most important regions, including Bordeaux, Rhone Valley, Tuscany and Piedmont.

When the wines came out that's when the fun really began. Nicholas' associate Tom (a Level II Sommelier) poured us our French wines (including my first Chateaneuf-du-Pape!) and we pulled out our tasting analysis sheets. Nicholas walked us through analyzing the wine by instructing us how to discern Clarity, Color/Hue, Aroma and Bouquet in nose and mouth, Sweetness, Acidity, Body, flavor notes, possible flaws, mouth attack, flavor profiles, finish, overall impressions and finally possible food pairings.

Then came Italy with a Soave Classico, Cortese di Gavi, Barolo, Amarone della Valpolicella, and several others. Fun to say, fun to drink!

Day 2 started at 8:30 AM sharp again with a module on New World Wine. We went over comparisons between the Old and New World wines, learning, to put it very, very briefly, that Old World wines tend to focus more on Terroir and Acidity, while New World wines are all about Fruit and Alcohol. In the Old World winemaking is art, in the New World winemaking is science.

There was a lot to learn and a lot to taste. I won't spoil it for any of you who might be interested in the course but our last tasting flight was a blind tasting, inspired by the live taste test that Master Sommelier candidates have to take, in which we had to discern the differences between same varietal wines cultivated and produced in different parts of the world. It was the perfect way to really drive home the subtle but notable differences in wine styles and profiles.

The seminar concluded with all classmates and the two IWG instructors being friends, we swapped business cards and wine tales, and made toasts over an exquisite champagne. I think we all parted ways with a renewed interest in the craft and a sustained thirst for its product.

I took my exam a little over a week later, after studying and re-studying our takeaway texts and my own notes from the seminar. The exam covered nearly everything we learned in 50 minutes with 50 questions. It was challenging and comprehensive, and though I wish I had studied more just to relieve some of the stress, I'm proud to say I walked away with a 90% grade, a genuine sense of accomplishment and what I can undoubtedly say is the well-earned title of sommelier.

There are two more levels for me to complete if I want to become a master sommelier, and it's definitely in my plans. A classmate I connected with jumped into the next level immediately after the Level I Seminar and she told me afterwards that it was considerably more intense but also even more rewarding. I'm looking forward to it, especially since I've already been having so much fun flexing my new knowledge for visitors to our tasting room.

Earning my title as a Wine Sommelier from the International Wine Guild proved an amazing experience that I know I will always look back on with fondness and pride. Through it all I learned a great deal but most importantly it really helped evolve my perception of Vivác Winery, our products and our founders. There are a lot of things we do here that we don't have to do, according to American law, but we do anyway because quality is our first tenet and (this is the really important part) despite these self-imposed challenges we are still successful and managing to grow.

The truth is that the odds are stacked against us, and any small winery that gets built from the ground up. We're a relatively small operation, we're local, we're family-owned and operated, we're 100% New Mexican and all the wine we sell is wine we make, we're quality-focused, we're internationally recognized and we're actually doing this thing without having to compromise our integrity or our product!

Learning all about the backbone of this business made me realize, in specific detail, why our winery is so special. It made me appreciate in a much more intimate way how difficult it must have been for our four founders to get this winery on its feet and keep it there. This is a very special company I'm blessed to be a part of, and I understand that better now more than ever before.

I'm looking forward to what happens in the years to come, both as a fledgling sommelier and as a seasoned Vivác employee. I'm looking forward to learning more, to teaching more, to tasting more and to toasting more and I hope this post may inspire you to do the same.

-Cheers from the Vivac Winery Family!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Here, There and Everywhere

I am writing this in a NY airport bar. It is 10:30 am and I have a glass of Chardonnay sitting next to me. I feel like a character in a Romantic Comedy with this cliche scene. So how did I end up here? And if it is 4:30 pm in Budapest, does it really make it OK for me to be drinking at this time of day? If you answered that question in your head with "duh, YES!", then we can be friends.

I have just completed a long weekend judging at the Great American International Wine Competition and am now flying back to Central Europe where I have been judging International Wine Competitions in Czech Republic and Hungary. My husband and son eagerly await my return as we continue our 2 month adventure. This whirlwind wine extravaganza has included once in a lifetime meetings with epic winemakers and the discovery of incredible new grape varietals. Ironically this has come in very handy at the recent USA located competition as there was a huge number of Central European wines entered. As I type this, I feel like I'm in a half daze, compound jet lag and a bit of a where-the-hell-am-I feeling. Maybe it is also the crap wine in my glass. Who the hell made this Chardonnay?!?

Central Europe has been so impressive... and actually has beautiful Chardonnays; I wish I had one of those in my glass. If you haven't been to that part of the world, stop picturing the communist infected era images we were all fed growing up and start imagining countries that are thriving, rebuilding and making some of the best wines on the planet. The food is fantastic and this plump woman is likely to get plumper as I obsess over the fun new grape varieties and finding food pairings that rock. What can I say, I love food and wine!

As we investigate these new varietals, we have been gathering wines that show just how beautiful they can be in a glass to take back to our business partners (my husband's brother, Chris, and his wife, Liliana). In fact the only reason why our fabulous foursome can take our families on 2 month travel adventures is because there are four of us and two stay back to hold down the fort. I know what you are thinking, 'those bastards!', I know, we are super lucky. We are well aware that at our ages, we should not be even close to this kind of phenomenal freedom, but I will say, we have busted our butts to get to this point. And it isn't because we are rolling in money, we are still paid far less than our employees and have to hardcore budget all year to make these trips possible. But I am a big believer in 'do it now!' (insert the suggestion to go back and read previous blog posts to figure out why I'm so committed to this idea). Needless to say, we are going to go broke buying wines to take home.

If you are wondering why we think the grapes that grow in Central Europe might work in little old Dixon, NM, it is because the climate and growing conditions are similar. We already are having incredible success growing Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, winning awards and wowing with their mineral aspects and incredible acid. We will look into finding a nursery that has the varietals in the USA and plant test plots, baby them for 5 years and see if we can create something dynamic and beautiful. It is absolutely a labor of love. Speaking of which, Chris and Liliana, back in NM are currently monitoring bud-break on our '1725 Vineyard' and the temperature changes. If a big frost is coming in, they will need to create one of our "Save The Gruner!" parties that require friends and family, wine club members and our community neighbors to stoke fires set around the edge of the vineyard through the coldest hours of the night. Being a farmer is not easy and raising these vines to maturity is much like the process of raising your do everything you can and hope for the best. And drink a lot of wine to cope.

*this post is brought to you buy crap wine poured in airport bars. Don't be like me, drink great Vivac Winery Gruner Veltliner, Dry Riesling and the amazing Petit Verdot.  

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

March Madness

Spring is a time for change.There has been a record amount of snow this year that has fallen, melted, turned into epic mud, fallen again and repeated so that now we live in a mud bog. The vines are still dormant, but the cover crop between the rows is already changing to a bright green and the March roll-of-the-dice weather has us excitedly trying to sit out on the patio. This time of year is always insane, in part because either myself and my family, or my husband's brother and his family, always go on vacation, the scheduling for the jam packed summer starts and the wind of northern New Mexico literally makes you crazy. Thankfully all the new wines are ready to be bottled so we can drink our way through the cray cray.

This year, we have the excitement of a full system of taps now in place giving us a wall of craft beers, white wines, red wines and even cider available! It's as if St Patrick himself visited our tasting room and blessed it just in time for St Paddy's Day. We can tell the locals are ready for the patio imbibing too as more and more people flock to the little oasis, bundled in thick sweaters and happy smiles on their cold faces. It is going to be a year like no other and that's for many reasons, but the biggest one is simply having been doing it for long enough to know what the hell we are doing!

20 years ago, a couple of kids had the dream of becoming winemakers, fast forward and us 40 somethings have weathered storms far greater than those that pummeled our ski slopes this year. But through dedication and devotion (sounds like wine is our religion and honestly it isn't that far off) we have now crested a steep hill and look forward to reaping the fruit of our many years of sacrifice. Of course that couldn't happen without an amazing staff. If we have indeed learned something over the years, is that great staff is crucial. We have been lucky enough to have had exceptional staff.

For the last couple of years, a young woman named Nell has warmed the hearts of tourists dropping in, locals that love her big beautiful smile and wine club members that have grown to see her as a friend. Of course she has touched the lives of the Vivac Winery team that has enfolded her into our family the most. She is young and delightful and full of energy and needs to explore the world, so with a sad goodbye because we will all miss her terribly, we send her off with love and support and look forward to hearing all about the amazing opportunities that come her way! If you have gotten to know Nell, please come by over the next two weeks to raise a glass to this remarkable woman.

None of us can accomplish our goals without the love of those willing to believe in us. We are so grateful for all of those that have supported us either by working with us, selling our wines for us, or by making a cheers with our wine in your hand. We aren't Mondavi Winery, we won't ever be that big, but knowing we have been a part of fabulous people's lives like Nell, and can welcome our neighbors to our patio to celebrate the coming Spring makes this long journey worthwhile.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Time For Change

It has taken me a long time to set this blog post into motion. My emotions seem to be entangled in what I want to share with all of you, all of you that have journeyed through so much of my life with me. I started this blog 10 years ago for our winery and as I explored how to make is successful, learned how to craft it to be engaging in a completely different way than any of our other social media, it also became more and more about my personal experiences. You were with me as I whined and wined through the training for many races, and then through the many injuries or epic fails that kept some of those races from happening. You were with me as I went through horrific health problems, got better, learned to sail and had incredible travel adventures...all with the winery, wine and whining as a central arch. As I have come into a new place of self recognition, a redefining of my identity (thank you therapist Mr. Awesome) so too does my work and life need adjustments.

This blog, and all our social media marketing strategies have felt like a baby of mine. I have crafted each piece lovingly to reflect and touch different people and with this piece, I laid bare my deeply personal, intensely private thoughts and experiences. My intention was to connect with all of you in a way that good friends share stories over a couple bottles of wine late at night. I think I did that. But it has been brought to my attention, and it is certainly true, that there are far more stories to be told that do not center around me. There are wonderful stories about all the people that make our International Award Winning Winery the spectacular jewel that it is. The sound of the blog will be changing, growing and hopefully finding more fans. I hope you are all excited to hear about the fresh new stories that will no doubt entertain, enthrall and drive you to drink!

*If you are still interested in my whining and wining, my travels, trials & tribulations, you can follow my personal blog at Wine First 

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018, Go Jump in a Lake

Saying goodbye to 2018 feels like breaking up with an abusive boyfriend/ girlfriend; very necessary, yet very traumatic. As we count down the few remaining days of the year, we look back at what we have accomplished, lost, or figured out. Or so we are all told we are supposed to be doing. I'd rather have a wine induced coma that blacks out the year's events, but my therapist says I can't do that.

I could try to list all the fantastic things that did give highlights to this year, like the honeymoon period an abuser uses to beg you back, asking you to over look the vile things they have done, but in the end it's still an abuser. We did start out in the stunning country of Colombia (awesome), I was flown to Rochester to be a judge for The Great American International Wine Competition (incredible), we had an array of exceptional mini trips and parties including my 40th birthday (delightful), and the winery is exploding in a way that has stunned the four of us owners (fantastic). But that doesn't encompass the daunting nature of 2018 and its abusive core.

2018 was a beast! If you didn't feel run over by the year, congrats, pat yourself on the back. Most people I have talked to, tell tales of the carnage this year has left in its wake, shock and awe in their eyes; somehow blindsided by just how ruthless life can be.

Personally, we have had to face disproportionately difficult experiences and losses. The kind of stuff that turns your world upside-down, forcing those around you to groan under the pressure as they try to help support. It has been a year that has challenged every single one of my relationships, like a especially hard birth, we have had to bear down and force ourselves through it. As I have eeked out to the other side of avalanche after avalanche, I think of the cliche "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" and while that may bring comfort to some, it makes me want to rage into the night. I am consumed with anger, frustration, fear and anxiety at the amount of crap 2018 has thrown at me.

I should clarify, I am not constantly angry ( husband might disagree with that, but clearly he has forgotten the golden rule of marriage: The Wife is Always Right). My anger seems to be sourced in the fight I have with what is verses what I want it to be. I must untangle the 'compound grief' I am struggling with as I sort out the complex layers of events that tumbled into this year. Who the hell am I after all this turmoil and grief? We just began to celebrate my good health, only to have a scare it was returning. There were wild occurrences that demonstrated that nothing is what you thought it was. Who are the people around me as they struggle with their own issues that arise as they try to help me? What about as they deal with their own tangled experiences? This year became a whirlpool of confusion and angst. Like Ben Stiller's character in the movie Zoolander  who asks longingly as he stars at a reflection of himself in a puddle, "who am I?" and the reflection answers shrugging nonchalantly "I don't know". This is followed by a passing car splashing the mud from the puddle into his face...2018 is the mud in the face.

What I do know is that I have seen friends and family members transform into the most incredible, generous, supportive, loving, gracious people I've ever met. I always knew they were phenomenal, but like coal, compressed under extreme pressure, they shine like diamonds in the light of the dark shadow 2018 has cast. So for that, thank you 2018. Now get the hell out of the way cause 2019 is going to kick your A$$!

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Holiday Habits

The Holidays are here and the treats are everywhere! As I continue to process and embrace being FINE (see previous blog post), I vacillate between feeling the need to comfort myself with food and wine and the fact that I am really out of shape and truly taking care of myself would be to exercise.

Celebrating Hanukkah for the first time at our house (thank you 23 and Me for the discovery that I am half Jewish), meant embracing foods of the Jewish culture. As we look into our mysterious family history, it seems mandatory to embrace the things we find Challah bread...which is definitely NOT gluten free... or calorie free. Now that Hanukkah has passed, we move into the Christmas celebration and there are cookies to decorate and eggnog to drink. And I don't know about you, but extra cooking means I need a glass of wine in my hand, which ironically is the only way you will get me to cook. It's a vicious cycle.

So how do you avoid falling down the rabbit hole of the holidays? How do you motivate when you have spent 2 years recuperating a broken body? Clearly I think increasing fried foods is the way (why have I not been eating latkes my whole life???). So out of desperation, and the sight of my stomach, this morning in 17 degree weather, I jog/ walked around the town soccer field for 30mins.

You know that line from The Saint Nick story, "thoughts of sugarplums danced in their heads"? As I drug my old, soggy body down the path, my lungs heaved in the searingly cold air, and images of chocolate coins, special bottles of fine wine, and pasta casseroles danced in mine. My urge to stop was barely drowned out by the music blaring in my ears, but I resisted the temptation. I focused instead on the fact that my ligaments and tendons, once badly compromised by my health issues, now felt strong and my ankle that I completely blew out, now handled the cow like weight of my body without stinging pain. These were really good signs and even though I barely fit in my stretchy workout clothes, I am actually better. This is good stuff!

My self talk can be really bad, I know shocking. But being aware of the crap in your head is the first step right? So I will attempt to have better habits. I will focus on the positive, I will try to make better choices today, I will get a black coffee instead of a latte, I will avoid the chocolate and orange challah bread sitting in my kitchen, I will stop calling myself "fatty" when talking to myself, and I will not drink wine tonight.

Wait, that sounds excessive. Between the dietary edits and the little workout this morning, I don't want to send myself into shock. Maybe I will do less wine tonight. Maybe fatty can get back on a gluten free diet. Maybe fatty can go to bed earlier, before the next bottle of wine is opened. Maybe fatty can ...damn it! I already failed one of my 'better habits'! Ahhh man, that was fast. I guess I should go ahead and eat that Santa cookie that is silently teasing me and call it a day.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Art of Being Fine

The last blog post was rough. Thanks for hanging tight with me guys as I tried to express what Scott meant to us. We seem to be slowly melting our way back into regular life, letting the pain of loss fall away little by little, but the scar remains tender. Tender enough to finally catapult me into action.

It is through this grieving process, the ache that is so deeply uncomfortable, that I have started to take a closer look at loss and the scars we carry, the way they build on top of each other. My son, an insightful pre-teen, has been encouraging me to find a therapist since my diagnosis of a brain tumor a couple years back. My need to support and protect my son during that scary time, made finding a therapist for him a priority. For me? Not so much. The concept totally made sense, we were dealing with some scary shit, but to actually follow through? Somehow I couldn't pull the trigger. I felt I was handling it all fine.

Now, after a string of earth shattering developments, losses, and changes, I have finally taken the step forward to seek help. It isn't easy to turn to someone else when you have been able to cope just fine. No matter what life has handed me, I've always been fine. Don't we all have dings from the crap life threw at us? Aren't most of us fine? I almost felt bad taking up someone else's time since I am fine and I know there are some people that are truly in dire need of support. I felt like I was taking their spot somehow.

First thing the therapist tells me on session one is that I said I was "fine" several times in 1/2 an hour and that I can no longer use the word in respect to some of the daunting life occurrences I've weathered unless I agree to being FINE... F*#ked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. I laughed so hard I cried. Here I finally realized just how FINE I've been and the discovery seemed to break open my mind's eye like the quick, powerful smack of a window scraper on a windshield covered in thick ice. As the car sat in the sun, warming just enough that with that single blow, the entire ice sheet splinters and falls away revealing the shiny, clean windshield underneath.

There have been many gems I've gleaned from my sessions so far with this therapist, the biggest is to admit the many losses that have occurred for my psyche, not just the deaths of those we love. Simply having been ill and the symptoms that altered my existence, the diagnosis and the fear that comes with that, the fear for my son should the worst happen to me, the wear and tear on my marriage as we tried to understand my body's changes and the emotional stress, family dynamics and maybe the biggest one...the loss of identity. A loss of innocence that bad things can happen and we are not invincible is a hard pill to swallow even when you thought you were aware of that already. I will never see the world the same, and I need to form a new identity that has grieved the loss of who I was before. To truly grieve the entire process I went through. It probably sounds simple, I know I intellectually had grappled with these concepts and decided...wait for it...that I was fine. But it is a far cry to sit in that uneasy, uncomfortable space where your psyche comes to peace with it.

Add in the other life changing elements, and suddenly a lot has happened in the last couple years that has become a muddled mess. Layer upon layer of pain, loss, grief and plenty of being FINE has mixed together. This mix is not like a finely made Old Fashioned with the sugar, bitters, slice of orange and cherry being thoughtfully muddled, pressed together to combine flavors, no my muddle is more like a sea of people snatching things off shelves in a mob on Black Friday, full of chaos and confusion. Layers of self identity crisis varying from after 2 years of sickness and injury, I no longer fit in my ski pants, to what would I like the world to look like for my son if I'm not in it, to turning 40, to who am I really? If my work does not define me, being a mom or a wife does not define me, who is it that is left?

It is easy to turn to a glass of wine, get back inside my head and debate existential ideas, climb into my nice comfy "fine" place and hide. But, I will resist the temptation, I will continue to feel the ache and hopefully come out on the other side clear of the ice I've let build up. I will take that glass of wine though, after all, it is the only thing left that is truly 'Fine'.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!