Surprised by something I remember.
“Wonder, or radical amazement, is a way of going beyond what is given in thing and thought, refusing to take anything for granted, to regard anything as final. It is our honest response to the grandeur and mystery of reality our confrontation with that which transcends the given.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel
For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind when thinking about the word "wonder" was when I was standing at the foot of the General Sherman tree in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. I remember feeling so very small and my mind was buzzing with the thought of how long this tree had lived. It was here before me and would most likely be here long after I'm gone.
My place in time, my purpose, has been an overarching theme in my thoughts even from a very young age. Usually this stream of thought lands me right in the ocean of wonder.
What is wonder? The Oxford Languages describes wonder as "a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable." You'll know it when you feel it.
I love that wonder is something we can experience through all of our five senses. When you think about it, it is also something we experience through thought itself. Wow! What beautiful design that we have so many ways to get there. So if so, what does it mean?
I think it means that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Maybe wonder is really just a recognition of a fingerprint we know deep down.
My childlike pursuit: To really know wonder. To recognize an imprint and signature design in the beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar and inexplicable around me...and within.
HIGH DESERT RENDEZVOUS
We have been invited to participate in the High Desert Museum's annual fundraiser, High Desert Rendezvous. More details to come!
Introducing a space created for appreciating those who go above and beyond. People like you make people like me so happy and proud to be in the Oregon wine industry.
This first edition of Two Claps goes out to Mr. Charlie Garrell of Oregon Wine Guides. Do you know what he did? He went out of his way to call and leave a message about what he found in regard to his commercial car insurance because he remembered me asking about it at an ITC event. He left a name and number of someone who cut his costs in half! Seriously though, he didn't have to do that and for me, it made me feel welcome and supported as I start out. Thank you, Charlie! TWO CLAPS!
SWT GIFT CERTIFICATES!
Serendipity Wine Tour Gift Certificates now available! Can purchase in $100 increments or "The Works" for $600. What a wonderful gift idea!
Founding the Wine Tourism Collective is still front and center in my mind. I'm meeting with Justina, the facilitator of the current ITC (Industry Tasting Collective) this Thursday and look forward to learning and sharing ideas.
In the process of scheduling Serendipity's very first Wine Guide Reception. This will be for those who have shown interest in driving for us as we grow. Creating culture, training and communication are very important to me. I want those who work with us to feel like family.
Have you been noticing beautiful fields like this everywhere you drive here in the Willamette Valley? Well, they are not just beautiful, they serve a purpose.
Winter rains can leach away nitrogen and other mineral nutrients. Cover crops like red clover or canola can improve soil structure, stability, and the nutrient holding capacity for plant growth. They also smother weeds and help control pests and disease.
JOEL & LAURIE KIFF
Joel and Laurie are one of those couples you rejoice when you find them! Their winery, J.L. Kiff Vineyard is also a hidden gem. I just love these two and I think by the time you read this interview, you will too. I hope that it spurs you on to meet them and their wines for yourself. You'll be so glad you did!
Did you both have separate careers or have you always done this?
No, we have not always done this. Laurie’s career was a stay-at-home mom and Joel was “relief to her.” Oh, that, and worked as an analytical chemist for 16 years. Since it was their own business, it was a bit all-consuming. Making wine was never initially on their radar.
(So that means there’s a backstory…and here it is in a nutshell.)
I noticed as they told their story that there were what I like to call “breadcrumbs” leading them to where they are today. I love it when that happens.
This lovely couple met at, you guessed it, UC Davis (although Laurie studied Nutrition and Joel studied Physics at the time). They had always talked about moving to Oregon since Laurie was from Salem. She also had it on her list to build a passive solar home. (I had to ask what that was and she said it was a house that faces south so that the house can be heated that way.) Do you know what else, besides Laurie, likes a good south-facing slope? Grapes! Now, to Joel: he was from Sonoma county and knew that he loved wine country in California. He talks about how he almost messed up high school completely since he was “so into grape growing that he barely passed his Physics class.” He teases he had to go back and major in Physics in college to make up for it! He likes gardening and working with plants so the “seeds” of this unexpected but totally-makes-sense move to Oregon were planted early on. (See what I did there?)
The story goes that each time they would come to Oregon to visit Laurie’s family they would look for property. On one of these trips, Laurie found a property that was much larger (80 acres) than what they were looking for but was beautiful, south-facing and ticked all the boxes. It wasn’t even on the market! They say it was "serendipitous" that they found it and everything just fell into place. The soils were even tested, which intrigued Joel. Laurie originally suggested apples or blueberries but then the question that would change everything floated on the air, “How about a vineyard?”
What is one of the most rewarding things about what you do?
Sharing our place with people. Also, for many years we grew the grapes and made the wine. We knew that good wine starts in the vineyard. Next we began to sell the wine and we realized that it was so hard because it was like starting a new business. We feel that we are starting to turn the corner. It’s rewarding to know that all that hard work, well, that we’re going to get there. It’s also nice that people like our wine.
“Also, bringing the different parts of my life together,” says Joel. Music is a hobby and I can work into combining it with selling wine. We feel like we can start dreaming again.
What is it like, working together?
We have different strengths but we’re on the same page. Joel is a hard worker. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he’ll figure it out. We have different ideas but similar perspective. We both believe in giving the customer an awesome experience. We both want to produce the highest quality wine. We like to experiment. We trade off in taking risks or being the grounding one. We both like change and are entrepreneurial. “If you were a control freak in this business, you would be locked up,” says Joel. “Or you’d need a different approach,” adds Laurie. We enjoy the controlled chaos and having things half-done.
They both agree that it’s quite amazing they can work together day in and day out. If there’s friction, they deal with it. They like each other and are good friends first and foremost.
If you had to choose between a scientific or an artistic approach to winemaking, which would you lean toward?
They are so intertwined. Start with science and then be artistic with the science. There are some rules. You can find freedom within the process and within the rules. If you do try things, think little scale. Laurie adds that the vineyard is mostly scientific. Go with what works but then play on the edges and try different things. They are branching out into a vineyard trial this year by training in a new way. “We usually have one experiment going.”
What is the one task that you just tolerate?
From Joel, a resounding, “Labeling wine by hand! It’s a total waste of my mental capabilities.”
Laughing, I asked if there was a machine that could do that and he said yes, and though expensive, they may be buying it soon.
For people who may not know you, what are some of your passions, outside of wine?
Ballroom dance. We met in Ballroom Dance class. “We dance together in other ways since then,” quips Laurie. For Joel, music is his hobby, he just loves it. For Laurie, it’s photography.
What is one thing you love about the wine industry as it is now?
The collaborative nature of the people in the wine industry. They are a great, interesting group of people that share the same passion. We are making a product that people like instead of need. Customers seem to be happy. We meet them at their best moments. It’s fun to have younger customers, to be interacting with people of all ages, so many backgrounds and from all over the country. We love being a part of that “aha” moment when they realize that their wine appreciation kicks into an upper level, maybe through tasting the wine or through learning about the winemaking process. Laurie appreciates the diversity in wineries, from the rustic, family-run to the fancy, staffed operations of a luxury winery. Guests have a wide variety to choose from and we hope it stays that way.
What is one thing you would love to see improve in the Oregon wine industry?
We’re worried that Oregon is shifting. Not only because of the demand for Oregon wine and the fact that others want to get in on it but also because of climate problems around the globe. The affluence of the more established California and French wine industries are looking more and more at Oregon. Now, this is Oregon and there is just a little more “down-to-earthiness,” things are harder and more rugged, so it won’t totally shift but may go more that way. Growth is good. Tourism is necessary but while we shift and change, don’t ruin the quality of life of the people who live here.
We then discussed how the pioneers of the Oregon wine industry faced problems head on…together. They collaboratively came up with solutions to upcoming obstacles. The same can happen today. There are enough smart, impassioned people to care and find a way to protect what was built as the horizon changes for everyone.
What is your best advice for other couples who work together?
Listen and acknowledge. It’s not about you. Have fun and laugh. Don’t take it too seriously. There’s always a way to figure it out.
But then Joel adds, “Don’t do it. I don’t recommend it. You have to be really skilled at your marriage. There is a transition in figuring it all out.”
Great advice, Joel and Laurie. Such wisdom and kindness and fun in your words. I for one am so glad you “serendipitously” found your way to Oregon all those years ago, that you are making beautiful wines and having success at it, and I’m even more thankful that because of all of this, I get the privilege of knowing you.
Keep making your music together, we’re all listening.