Anthony Blackburn. Spirituality. In the same sentence?

These things go together like oil and water. I have never really considered myself a spiritual person.

I don’t have time for it.
It’s too complicated.
I don’t want to be like everyone else.

I have all kinds of reasons. But just for a little over an hour, in my Cultural Appreciation of Wine class at Napa Valley College, I let the barriers down and opened my mind to the ideals presented by a Rabbi friend of my instructor.

Paul Wagner, my instructor had lined up David White to speak on wine and spirits. No, not the drinking kind. And not the kind that say, “Boo!”, either. The kind of spirit that is the outlook and beliefs we have that impact how we live out lives and interact with others.

This is not about religion. Religion is the rigid architecture and structure of hierarchy and belief systems. Spirituality is in our minds and is manifested in how we interact with others.

David White is a founder of and the WineSpirit Institute of wine and Spirituality.

WineSpirit began as a conversation between two Davids, a businessman and a member of the clergy. Both sought to integrate spirituality into the business of life, ongoing awareness and celebration of specialness in moments throughout each day. After several years search for integration of wine and spirit, addressing matters of life balance and fragmentation, the Davids realized that the business of grape growing and wine production often overshadowed the joy and blessing of doing such unusual farming, but it also in many ways was a metaphor for life and spirit. From their perspective it was amazing to reflect on how many are drawn to the vineyard and wine as a calling, a special feeling for the grape and the magic that it produces.

I am a product of that calling. I’m already successful as a business owner. But the grape still calls me.

People like me are not drawn to apples, bananas, berries or dates. We are drawn to vineyards, grapes and wine and the lifestyle and interaction with other people these things bring.

As the Davids shared questions and reflections with friends and colleagues, some of whom became WineSpirit Advisory Board members, what dawned on them was growing delight that each time they conversed. They gleaned more insight into wine’s extensive role in celebrating life and relationships. Wine metaphors blend knowledge with passion, inspiring people to make moments special, even holy; that is the domain of spirituality. Many teachings from widespread traditions can join hands in alignment and unity in raising a glass of wine to share in a toast.

David White straggled into class a few minutes late, looking a bit frazzled and not being helped by the light rain that was falling outside the classroom, on this chilly night. Rabbi White was in a hooded jacket and looked much like any student struggling to get to class on time, hoping that instructor Paul Wagner wouldn’t mark him for being late to class.

Participants and interviewee’s in WineSpirit are a who’s who of the Napa Valley wine community. Brother Timothy, winemaker for Christian Brothers during Prohibition, Al Brounstein of Diamond Creek, Justin Meyer of Silver Oak, Rene de Rosa, Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase, Jan Birnbaum of Catahoula Restaurant, Margaret Duckhorn, Jamie Davies of Schramsberg, Alan Steen co-founder of Whitehall Lane, and Robert Mondavi joined by his wife Margrit. Valeria Huneeus of Quintessa, Joanne (Dickenson) Depuy, who was involved in the organization of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, Jack Cakebread and Mike Grgich.

After a gracious introduction to the class by Paul Wagner, David White pulled up a stool and spoke to the class about wine and spirituality. He is an unassuming person, but he keeps his audience engaged by cracking jokes here and there while discussing his theme of wine and spirituality.

David perfectly fits the role of a Rabbi. He is passionate and compassionate. He is personable and a real person. He is philosophical and a story teller. All without the accent that would have nailed him as a rabbi.

David has recently written a book on this topic called “Sippin’ On Top Of The World. Toasting Good Times And Better Days”.

The book is filled with “Sips”. Sips are passages that reflect on how wine impacts the spirit of our lives. These passages are written metaphorically. Each “Sip” is followed by 3 reflective questions from the authors and a fourth that is an optional, introspective question to be authored by the reader.

The book itself is divided into 6 sections.

1. Breaking Down Barriers: Wine and Spirituality
2. Gleaning Lessons From The Vineyard
3. Toasting Good Times And Better Cays
4. Savoring Life’s Blessings
5. Finding Spirituality In The Details Of The Day


6. Harvesting The Wisdom Of Ages

Each section has a dozen plus “Sips”. Sips like #176:

“What Wine Could You Choose to Celebrate a 21st Birthday? “
We were reminded of how swiftly the years fly when we toasted our son’s 21st birthday, at a restaurant of his choice, with a wine born the same year he was.
What made the toasts so rich was not just the clink of glasses with a young man enjoying his first taste of wine as an adult of legal age; nor was it the phenomenon of enjoying a wine that was alive as many years as we were celebrating with him. What added to the moments of toasting with this special wine were the memories of birthdays past: tracing Josh’s journey from infancy, childhood, his teen years, and now his first moment of full-grown adulthood.

One memory was of when he was 3 years old: wondering whether it would be possible or feasible to find a wine that could last until his 21st birthday, from a year that was not considered favorable for longevity. I recalled sharing my concern with a friend who responded by giving me a bottle from a small winery that produced a few hundred cases of Cabernet. That was the bottle we opened. Every sip of the 1988 Bellerose wine was a taste of the divine; we were filled with gratitude that what we hoped could work out from when Josh was a toddler came to such delicious fruition!

Drinking an old and aged wine, celebrating our son’s first steps into young adulthood, juxtaposed how aging goes for different kinds of life; an old wine met a young man of the same age. How wondrous it is to celebrate life’s journey with a wine that has been with you all the way.

When the toasting was done, the last sip enjoyed, and the meal concluded, what remained was a wonderful phone call to the folks who had given us the wine, to thank them for being with us through their gift, of so many years earlier, and how well it turned out. My call triggered memories for them, as well, of when the children were little, that we put aside a precious time capsule to open on that special day. What a wonderful way to celebrate our son’s 21st year of life!

1. How have you honored old memories in celebrating a new milestone?

2. What are ways you can use/have used wine as a time capsule?

3. What do you recall of a plan made years earlier that you completed in its anticipated time…and with what impact?

Rabbi David read a selected passage from each of the six sections in the book. As a class, we do a lot of discussion, so the chatter, observations, questions and answers were quite intriguing and entertaining, if not informative. Several student opened up sides of them that they had not revealed before. There was a lot of introspection.
All the time, Paul Wagner and Rabbi David worked to keep the tone light.

The book is a great vehicle for looking at wine and how it impacts our daily lives.

Some other Sips:

Sip #27: How Does the Human Touch Bring Out Nature’s Best?
Sip #39: When Is It A Good Time To Go Home Again?
Sip #49: How Full Is Your Cup Of Life?
Sip #61: What Is Wonderful About Clinking Glasses?
Sip #76: How Do You Age Gracefully?

These are just a few titles of the passages in the book. There are 88 in all.

I did have to make up for my lapse into an hour or so of introspection, so during the class break, when David was selling books, I went up and introduced myself. In my normally uncharming and tacky self, I asked him to sign a book with a funny Jewish Rabbi type quote.

Rabbi David came up with:

“To Tony,

You’ve come a long way since the first winemaker, Noah!

Enjoy life’s balancing moments.

Rabbi David White”

Rabbi David has a way with words, indeed! I’ll have to give this book a good read, and I suggest that you do too.

Anthony Blackburn is a student at Napa Valley College in the Viticulture and Winery Technology Department. He is also the Student Sales and Marketing Intern responsible for selling the wines made by the students in the student winery.