Shoe Shine Wine Hero

© Ronnie Goodman

© Ronnie Goodman

Life is a Journey. Through all the momentous ups and downs, “blue-bird” surprises, mindful and not-so-mindful moments, and inexhaustible learning, it is clear that Life is not just a race from one end point to the other, but is a Path. An utterly unique, convoluted, multi-dimensional, never replicated spiritual odyssey.

There are heightened times on this Path where we stand at a crossroads, or life takes us on an unexpected turn. A little over a year ago, at a San Francisco Living Wage Coalition event, I was so very fortunate to meet a beautiful man, Ronnie Goodman, who seemed to be, not just thrashing the arduous challenges of life, but actually embracing them along the way. Ronnie has a wisdom and thoughtfulness that is remarkable, and as Ivan Vera, director of the Hospitality House recently said in this weekend’s SF Chronicle article about Ronnie: “He’s got a heart of gold, and he is super talented.”

Ronnie Goodman

Ronnie Goodman

Ronnie Goodman was a relative late-comer to art, but is clearly naturally gifted. He imbues his work with the serpentine energy, life, precision and optimism that cascades out of him. He is fortunate to have studied under another masterful Bay Area artist, Art Hazelwood. Ronnie’s talents, energy and perspective were exactly the perfect mix to create Justice Grace Vineyard’s wine label for our upcoming brand, to be announced shortly.

I am grateful to have met Ronnie, and am happy to see him earn the accolades he dearly deserves. You can find Ronnie many days, and experience his art, at the Gallery on Haight Street (bw Fillmore and Webster) in San Francisco.

Celebrate Marriage Equality

For Immediate Release:
January 28, 2014

Shoe Shine Wine Celebrates LGBTQ Romance on Valentine’s Day with Award-Winning Bay Area Petite Sirah

Near-Zero Sulphur Added Wine Wins Gold at 2014 SF Chronicle Wine Competition

San Francisco, CA– Justice Grace Vineyards, a Bay Area micro-winery and the maker of Shoe Shine Wine, is proud to announce new vineyard-designated Petite Sirahs celebrating LGBTQ relationships with unique, fun, and beautifully designed labels.

York Creek Vineyards ’10, Spring MountainThe label series includes “Male-Tango,” depicting two men entwined in a dance, and “Female-Footsie,” capturing a flirtatious moment between two women. The labels were chosen for inclusion in SFMOMA’s 2011 curated show, “When Wine became Modern,” for their extraordinary design. Customers may select their preferred label to adorn any bottle, to celebrate their values, lives, and those of their loved ones.

“This Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating this past year’s phenomenal momentum which has restored justice and brought an end to marriage discrimination in 17 states and counting,” says owner/winemaker Eric Cohen. “I’m proud to offer a unique, handcrafted wine which reflects compassion, affection, and heart and soul both inside and outside the bottle.”

Since 2003, Shoe Shine Wine has been uniquely focused on helping to revive California’s underdog heirloom varietal, Petite Sirah, which is in the midst of a quiet Renaissance. After handcrafting wines in very small volumes in Sonoma and Napa for more than 10 years, the winery recently moved to a shared space in Northwest Berkeley.

With transparent ingredient labeling, very few additives, very low to near-zero sulphur dioxide added, and unique blends of several varietals, each lively and soulful wine speaks clearly of a special time and place. The fruit is sourced from several distinctive vineyards, including organic, Biodynamic, old vine, high altitude, and cold climate sites.

The recently released, near-zero sulphur added 2010 Shoe Shine Wine Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, from Gustafson Vineyard, was just awarded a “Gold” medal in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Last year, Shoe Shine Wine’s 2010 Wolff Vineyard’s Petite Sirah, Edna Valley, was awarded a “Double Gold” in the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Shoe Shine Wine is available online at, and at select Bay Area establishments.

New Petite Sirahs from Shoe Shine Wine are available at

– 2010 Tenbrink Vineyards, Solano County (organically farmed)
– 2010 Gustafson Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (high-altitude)
– 2010 York Creek Vineyards, Spring Mountain (old-vine)
– 2010 Golden Vineyards, Mendocino (Biodynamic)

About Justice Grace Vineyards:

Justice Grace Vineyards is a father and young son team with the sole winemaking mission to make authentic and world-class Petite Sirahs, using very few ingredients and interventions. Shoe Shine Wine released its first vintage in 2003, but only publicly launched at the end of 2011, after its ninth vintage. Shoe Shine Wine is dedicated to being a catalyst and resource for a national living wage movement. A new, second brand will be launched in early 2014 with an additional social justice mission. The winery is located in Northwest Berkeley; tastings available by appointment only.


– One of very few wineries worldwide to transparently label all ingredients on each bottle.
– Each cork/bottle is hand wrapped with a vintage fabric “capsule,”—beautiful and environmentally conscious.
– Abstract Winemaking Photography: In 2012, owner/winemaker Eric Cohen was named one of 10 extraordinary Bay Area artists in SF Weekly’s “Masterminds” artist competition for his abstract winemaking photography taken over the past decade.

For More Information:
Justice Grace Vineyards:

Shoe Shine Wine:
Follow Us on Facebook:

Selected Abstract Winemaking Photography:

Eric Cohen, Owner/Winemaker:, 415.695.7662

The Buddha

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more.”

from The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

In general, I’m not a big fan of wine competitions. Between the research papers suggesting that judges are wildly inconsistent, and the fact that medals seem to be awarded to a huge percentage of the entries– wine competitions just don’t seem to be as meaningful, and informative for consumers, as they might ideally be.

Despite the fact that here at Justice Grace Vineyards I’ve have a hard time letting go of my ideals at any point along the path, I decided to enter a single Petite Sirah into the 2013 SF Chronicle Wine competition, for this first time. Lo and behold we were just awarded with a “Double Gold”, placing our 2010 Wolff Vineyards, on this particular day anyway, near the very top of dozens and dozens of Petite Sirah’s priced above $20.00 a bottle.

As I opened the envelope and read the results, my brain had just finished processing the words when I also “heard” the booming voice of an old-timer I once worked for, as he often used to say: “Better than a kick in the pants…”

Indeed. When I got the news, I was relieved and excited. Then, I was swept away in reflection. Ten years of winemaking. Along the way, the juice that propelled me were the many kind words, smiles and genuine enthusiasm heard from consumers and industry insiders alike. Yet, because of my nature, it is more likely that the handful of not-so-nice, spit bucket dumping, non-plussed faces (frowns if you will) ferment in my mind.

Like the ones who grab a glass, taste without paying much attention, turn to me and say, “I really don’t like Merlot anyway” (but it’s a Petite Sirah!). In the same day you might hear, “It’s too sweet”, “It’s too dry”, “It’s too big”, “It’s not big enough”, “I usually only like whites anyway”, or “it wasn’t the worst wine I’ve had today.” The professional tasters are only slightly less confounding: in one day, you might hear industry veterans add, “I pick up a green note I don’t like”, or “I pick up an intriguing green note that I love”, and “It’s not big enough for our customers”, or “It’s too big for our customers”.

How all of these remarks affected me has varied in intensity with each passing year. My emotions ranged from exuberant to broken-hearted in the early years– and to be honest, depending on the source, still have that potential. After all, I have worked tirelessly for ten long years trying to put my heart and soul into each and every bottle (and a little of my boy’s huge heart as well). It’s hard not to associate those tasters who like “it”, with the notion that they like “me”, and vice versa. In many respects, Shoe Shine Wine, is me.

Buddhism has taught me (my apologies to the real practitioners out there) about the “Middle Way.” Not too high, nor too low. And grasping for more of one, and the end of the other, nevermore. Sounds nice. And for the most part, it has helped in managing the emotional impact of getting such contrasting feedback from consumers and professionals alike. For my taste and goals, the “Middle Way” has no place in winemaking itself, but it has everything to do with having the self-confidence and insight to chart our unique course.

But here is where it gets trickier: sales. While professionals certainly influence the taste expectations and even generate pre-conceived notions about certain wines, consumers increasingly have a palate of their own. And reports are suggesting that as consumers rely more heavily on friends (“taste buds”?) and social media for recommendations, their range of taste influencers is expanding beyond the traditional trend setters. They are open to what tastes good to them, vs. “how it’s supposed to be.”

The industry is responding. Led by boutique wineries, new winemaking approaches to traditional varietals are revealing newfound complexities in the grapes, and new varietals are being introduced.

If you are grounded, and Open to it, all feedback is good. Helpful even. I doubt many businesses have been successful ignoring customer feedback, whether they believed it at the time, or not. So if it is true that professionals and traditional wine media gatekeepers are having a lesser role in shaping taste preferences, and more experienced consumers are trusting themselves more — who do I listen to more as I shape my winemaking direction to succeed in this hyper competitive marketplace?

Or do I at all? Am I a leader, or a follower? Innovator or lemming?

A few days before our 2010 Wolff Vineyards Petite Sirah was awarded the “Double Gold”, I was informed by the wine buyer for a long-time customer (whom I highly respect), that the same wine wasn’t as well received by his customers as other wines, from another vineyard, in the past. And, surprisingly, he didn’t place a re-order. My personal experience directly pouring this wine for consumers and professionals alike, has been exceptionally positive. In fact, it was so positive that this was the wine I chose to enter into the competition. Yet I can vividly recall when this wine buyer tasted my recent lineup that he was less than enthused. I could tell that he was reluctant to continue to support me at this time. He offered critical feedback– which I asked for, and absolutely want.

Does the medal award in this notable competition change anything as I shape my winemaking style going forward? Do his comments, instead? How about all of the other wide ranging direct consumer and industry feedback? What about the relative sales of the wines as an indication of style direction?

The Ups-and-Downs of any given wine, on any given day, can make a heartfelt winemaker’s head spin.

Take thy tongue from out my heart, and thy medal from out my hand.

Quoth the Buddha: “Nevermore”.


The Walmart Shell Game

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me
Pastor Martin Niemoller, 1946


I am reminded of this haunting quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller, when I consider the current state of the economy and labor markets around the world. I know the use of this quote, which has become a passionate cry worldwide about the horrors of political apathy, may at first seem an overreach.

Two observations: over the past 40 years, there has been a steady and severe erosion in the wages, benefits, and financial security of the working class, which has engulfed more and more job categories and plunged a staggering 46+ million Americans into poverty. Secondly, while the Occupy movement, and recent Walmart worker strikes have stirred some measure of public outcry, the response of most of the US middle-class while the assault on worker’s rights and living conditions proceeded unabated for decades, has been shockingly quiet.

The courageous worker-led strikes/ actions at nearly 1,000 stores of our nation’s largest retailer (and largest food retailer), Walmart, on Black Friday, are nothing short of monumental. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich points out, the 40 year attack on worker’s rights and wages were made possible, in part, by the precipitous decline of labor union power and representation. As the number of private sector workers enrolled in unions has plummeted, so too has worker bargaining power; and with it wages, benefits, and in the past year, even an offensive led by Wisconsin Governor Walker against what the UN long ago deemed a universal human right: the right to collectively bargain.

It wasn’t always so. Leading up to the turn of the 20th century, the working class was united, enraged, and active. Sidney Lens, writes in The Labor Wars: “…in the quarter of a century of enormous economic growth from 1881 to 1905, there were 38,303 strikes and lockouts, involving seven and a half million workers.” Violence was common in those days, and joining a strike risked more than your family’s sustenance. Their courage earned all workers an eight hour workday, a spotlight on child labor, better wages and working conditions, and restored some sense of human dignity.

In the past few months at Walmart, workers brilliantly decided that, as a first step perhaps,  rather than embark on the colossal task of winning union representation at the nation’s most notorious anti-union corporation (which could take years), these heroic and fed-up workers would simply organize themselves organically. They rallied together under the banner OUR Walmart. They quickly appealed to consumers directly with their pleas for an end to chaotic “just-in-time” scheduling, safer working conditions, more hours, better wages, access to affordable healthcare, and an end to corporate retaliations for simply speaking out. Walmart’s goliath legal team has thusfar struggled to use anti-union labor laws to prevent OUR Walmart’s actions.

Not only is their organizing choice remarkable (and effective), but they have also chosen to enlist consumers directly, via a tactic which I believe to be dramatically underutilized: boycotts. Consumer spending is by far, the biggest driver of the US economy. As such, consumers wield enormous power– but they don’t use it effectively as an agent of change. In fact, consumers collective apathy in doing so only emboldens corporate exploitation and entrenches old actions which have gone unaccountable.

Tired of waiting for large corporations to do the right thing?

Profiting via exploitation (people or the planet) in the ongoing race-to-the-bottom is common across all industries: see recent revelations at Apple/ Foxconn, Hershey’s use of child labor, Gap/ H&M, Abercrombie garment workers, Wall St./Big Banks, Ikea’s use of forced labor in the ’80’s, Hyatt Hotels, Lonmin mines, BP’s history, and CA farmworkers to scratch the surface.

As consumers, you don’t have to wait for years while executives avoid accountability, and legislators pass the buck– you can effect change immediately! Simply stop spending any money at these institutions. How powerful would the banks “too big to fail” be if consumers withdrew all of their checking/ savings/ mutual fund and retirement account assets?

Businesses have both fixed and variable costs. The more fixed costs are, as a percent of total expenses (i.e. big-box retailers), the greater the power of the consumer can be to effect the change they desire. Simply put, if only 20% of revenues decline (which may require less than 20% of the customers to act), a company with high fixed costs would see profits plummet at a far greater rate. Want to get the company’s bonus fixated executive’s attention? Stop shopping there!

A village can do more than just raise a child– it can also raze a business.

For Walmart, there can simply be no reasonable doubt as to whether they have the economic means to provide work with dignity (despite the rhetoric to the contrary). In their last Fiscal Year ending January 2012, Walmart reported profits of $16 Billion, and more importantly, more than $10 Billion in Free Cash Flow1. For the past three fiscal years alone, the company reported $30 Billion in Free Cash Flow (i.e. taken to the bank). Interestingly, “Grocery” is by far the greatest single engine of revenues at Walmart’s US operation, accounting for 55% of revenues (4 x greater than the second largest contributor). While earning these gigantic annual profits and cash flow, the employees who worked their butts off to generate such riches, earned on average $8.81 per hour, or $18,000 per year (pre-tax).

Apologists, for the relentless corporate desire to reduce wages and benefits as a percent of revenues, offer a few common justifications. This trend is a material and obvious reason the disparity between rich and poor has never been greater in this country, and more than 1:7 Americans finds themselves in poverty, so lets examine their argument:

By default, these wages are “fair”. The employees are “unskilled” and the “free market” has created a market clearing price to attract these workers. If they would only get a decent education they could easily improve their lot in life. They should stop whining and go to school!

Many of us are all too familiar with the many subsidies and trade barriers/ tariffs which interfere with the so-called “free market” across all industries, and create harmful incentives and distortions, leading to poor health, food insecurity, environmental devastation, and widespread hunger and poverty worldwide. The same shell game is evident in the labor market: over the past 40 years Corporate America has managed to pawn off the responsibility of decent wages and benefits from their own Income Statement to the taxes of the middle-class. As a 2004 UC Berkeley study highlighted, while Walmart workers earn poverty wages, they rely to a huge extent on public safety nets from financially desperate municipalities to cover the costs of healthcare, housing subsidies, and food stamps.

Those “benefits” are paid for by the middle-class taxpayer, whether they are Walmart customers or not. While the company receives attractive tax incentives to locate a store in an economically desperate town, Walmart pawns off expenses related to their employees living standards to those same cash strapped cities, states and taxpayers. Retailers in the US may not be able to outsource the humans who unload the cargo at the shipyard, repackage and haul the goods at the warehouse, stock the shelves, and take your cash– but they have been outsourcing Corporate Responsibility and human decency for decades.

Let there be no doubt: it is only because of the current willingness of always-on-sale legislators to maintain this shell game for Corporate America, that Walmart is able to maintain poverty wages for its 1.3 million workers. Without the public safety net, surely out of desperation, tens of millions of workers all across America would be waging 20th century strikes. I wonder what the size and impact of those actions would be when news of such could spread immediately vs. the difficulties of 100 years ago when more than seven million people acted, largely via word of mouth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7 of the top 10 fastest growing job categories over the next decade are low-wage ones. And as the National Employment Law Project makes clear in their 2012 report “Big Business, Corporate Profits and the Minimum Wage”, many of these poverty wage jobs are in the Food sector.

Farmworkers and domestic workers were hardly ever given any respect or rights to be taken away. But “they” have come for the miners, rail workers, garment workers, longshoremen, truckers, steel workers, auto workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, Food Chain workers, hotel workers, airline pilots, health care workers, postal workers and the strongest bastion of unions today: public sector employees.

Will they come for you?

Workers of the world unite– you have nothing to lose but your chain-stores.

What can you do?

– Buy Local
– Sponsor a striker at Walmart
– Support unions and public sector employees in your community: find them and connect via social media !
– Show Up ! Walk a picket-line, and support boycotts by shopping at local businesses
– Wield the enormous power in your wallet: only spend/ keep money at businesses that embody your values (including Credit Unions vs. Big Banks)

1. “Free Cash Flow” is annual cash retained after capital expenditures, which are re-invested back in the business


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The Life and Times of a micro-Winery, Part II

The Need for Human Cloning:

As a sole proprietor, just like most, I am jack-of-all trades, and master of none. Not because of masochistic tendencies, but simply because of money. Can’t afford to pay anyone, not even yourself.

Justice Grace Vineyards, the 1 1/2 person (me and my 6 year old boy) winery that it is, is somewhat unique in the current world of “custom crush” enabled wineries, in that, from the very beginning, I wanted to do everything myself. Especially the wine related functions: securing and working in vineyards, winemaking, bottling and delivery to the customer. This is in stark contrast to the hundreds of “wineries” that pay someone to source grapes from big name vineyards, and also make the wine for them. You will not ever know this from their marketing. In fact, you might even get the impression that they are completely hands-on in all of these areas. In contrast, the painstaking path I have chosen has required me to try to develop skills and knowledge in a number of areas, as you will see below. As a result, I can feel proud about what’s in every bottle, and ensure that the quality meets my high standards.

This blog post is one in a series about the Life and Times of my micro-Winery, Justice Grace Vineyards. I thought it might be interesting to start with a glimpse of the many roles and skills that I needed to learn from scratch when I made the leap into this new life, and continue to refine over the past 10 years. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been unbelievably exciting, challenging, chaotic, rewarding and fun.

I wouldn’t have it any other way…

I’ll try to break down the responsibilities into categories where in some larger wineries, there might be separate people dedicated to such tasks. Here at JGV // Shoe Shine Wine, it’s all me…

1) Business Owner/ Manager:

- Create vision for company and make sure all efforts are aligned. Constantly   re-evaluate
– Form corporate entity and maintain annually
– Obtain Insurance annually

2) Compliance Officer:

- Obtain business and wine specific permits at Federal, State, and Local level. Maintain annually.
– Obtain label approvals for bottling

 3) Accounting

- Bookkeeping
– Bill Pay, Accounts collection
– Taxes

 4) Brand Manager

- Create and develop brand(s)
– Guide graphics designers/ artists to collaborate
– Community engagement, activist campaigns
– Web site content

5) Vineyard/ Grower Relations:

- Vineyard research/ selection
– Vineyard work prior to Harvest (if permitted)
– Haul grapes during Harvest from vineyard to winery

 6) Winemaker

– Develop unique style
– Refine and innovate approach per vineyard or varietal
– Play with Barrels/ Coopers per vineyard or varietal
– Experiment Experiment Experiment
– Listen to customers and be open to tweaking… Yada Yada, repeat

7) Bottler:

- Hand bottle All wines
– Hand label all bottles
– “Capsules”: buy fabric > hand cut and hand-tie around each bottle over cork
– Haul case goods to warehouse

8) Vendor Selection:

- Research, solicit quotes and acquire equipment
– Barrel/ Coopers: acquire and manage inventory/ usage. New vs Used
– Printer for Labels
– Corks
– Glass: annual changes based on unusual requirements and availability

9) PR/ Media relations:

- Initiate and develop media relations and interest
– Pray

10) Marketing:

- Social Media: develop strategy, stay up-to-date, try to stay calm, and do something/ anything: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest etc
– Write content for Blog
– Drink your wines often: for “accurate” Tasting Notes, of course
– Update all Web Site Content
– Manage Community donation requests
– Arrange private dinners and Presentations
– Research Industry developments

11) Sales:

- Cold-call restaurants, wine bars, retailers
– Meditate/ accept/ and come to terms with being ignored… Repeat
– Go to same exact places the next opportunity.
– Meditate/ accept/ and come to terms with being ignored… Repeat
– Give up and engage consumers directly
– Schedule conference call with Accountant (yourself).
– Limit your complaints about the sales manager’s performance to 5 minutes
– Go back to cold-calling

12) Distribution:

- Schedule deliveries with individual customers
– Hand deliver all sales
– Manage Inventory at multiple wine warehouses

13) Customer/ Community Relations:

- Communicate/ respond to customer inquiries, donation requests
– Maintain customer database

14) Child Entertainer:

- Keep young boy interested at winery so he doesn’t wander off into de-stemmer unattended

15) Wine Photographer

- Because I have so much free time!

16) Social Justice

- Participate in and Support campaigns as much as humanly possible
– Research campaigns for future support and involvement



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Life and Times of a micro-Winery, Part I

The romantic me (above in Tuscany in 1994) at 26 years old, thought it was so easy to see. Such a beautiful life, I concluded: grounded to the Earth and the seasons, the reward of honing skills over many years and hand-crafting something that brings pleasure, the connection to history and vintners worldwide over many centuries, and the ability to exercise artistry, passion and vision in one place.

The idealistic me, at 38 years old, knew it all seemed so utterly necessary. After 15 years working my butt off around the clock in NYC while straddling steep learning curves in labor and life (which only left me feeling completely hollow and knowing little joy) I left my paying job behind. I had 3 small vintages under my fingernails and belt, and that small taste of the life envisioned by my romantic and idealistic selves was too much to keep at bay any longer. I embraced a new life’s path with heartfelt gusto, and soon thereafter learned I was navigating unskilled, unclear, and uncertain.

Where, during those 12 long years of learning, waiting, and drinking, was my realistic self?

If you drink enough wine, and are too lazy (or reluctant) to wash out your wine glass, in time all of your glasses become rose colored, it seems. In and of itself, that is not so bad. We are here, perhaps, for only one life. And this, beyond any doubt imaginable, is the life for me and my boy.

Miraculously, this year 2012, brings with it the 10th Harvest for Shoe Shine Wine. I suppose when it comes to a whole life’s journey “ten” should be fairly meaningless on its own, except that as I write this, I find myself facing the expectations formed from a decade of learning, dreaming, and doing. Shouldn’t I be further along? Shouldn’t the path to “success” be clearer? Shouldn’t I feel more secure about the future? Shouldn’t I be swimming in medals and basking under the glow of the adoring media sun? Ahhh, this is where my annoying inner-critic self is heard. Bad timing as always.

Life isn’t easy. And most certainly, the life and times of a 1 1/2 person micro-winery ain’t. Not yet anyway. But perspective, the vineyards, and hard work keep me grounded. As we learned earlier this month, the Census Bureau reported that 46 million Americans live in poverty– many of whom in families where someone works full time — in our nation of abundance. Foreclosures, cuts to public education and food security, and affordable healthcare, all continue to be daily scourges for tens of millions of our neighbors. “Austerity” measures imposed by legislators and bankers worldwide are creating devastating pain among the very victims of past crimes and injustices perpetrated by those same bankers. All-in-all, making a “luxury good”, no matter how difficult, just doesn’t compare. Life — the life of a micro-Winery– is good.

From the outside, where I once stood fondly as well, it’s hard to see the challenges that a small winery faces. It’s hard to imagine the steep learning curve, the many obstacles, and the struggles. Through the past 10 years I’ve grown quite a bit, and have come to passionately appreciate, value, and support the independent local voices and businesses that touch my life. I know, first hand, how much my personal values are best reflected in the shared beliefs and toil of my neighbor, rather than that of a multi-national corporation. And through the efforts of Justice Grace Vineyards // Shoe Shine Wine I realize just how dependent those voices are, on gaining the trust and support of their neighbors, for survival.

In that vein I’d like to share some of what life has been over these past 10 years, as a new micro-Winery, in the ultra-competitive wine market. With 100,000 wines introduced into the US every year, it is surely among the most competitive markets anywhere in the world. Maybe you will come to appreciate what it has taken, and the towering tasks that lie ahead. Maybe you will, as I once did, hear only of the romance, and delight in the intoxicating vision. Or maybe you will simply wonder why I didn’t listen to my, apparently bashful, realistic self.

No matter. It’s all good.
Such is life.

…Part II to come



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“Sustainable” poverty?

New York City’s Council recently passed a flawed, but important new Living Wage bill. Despite being watered down over the many months it took to negotiate, billionaire NYC Mayor Bloomberg promptly vetoed it.

Like many Living Wage ordinances, this one would also only apply to employers who receive city subsidies, in this case more than $1 million. It would raise pay to $11.50 an hour, or roughly $24,000 per year for those without benefits (vs. the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or roughly $15,000 annually) , and $10 per hour with benefits. Advocates of the bill even admit that currently this would affect roughly 600 total workers, this in the largest (and perhaps most expensive) city in the US, with a population of over 8 million people.

Apparently, on his weekly radio address, Mayor Bloomberg was reported as saying about the bill:

“Not good for employers. But if you force that you will just drive businesses out of the city. You just cannot force employers to pay a rate that isn’t sustainable in their business.”

Ignoring for the moment the many well researched papers (incl. one from CEPR ) and on the minimal effect of employment in cities adopting similar Living Wage ordinances, and the fact that this bill would affect such a miniscule number of workers among the multitudes similarly asking for dignity, what struck me about Mayor Bloomberg’s comment was his use of the hopelessly meaningless word, “sustainable”.

His argument rests on the notion that society should somehow condone, and by inference support businesses built on exploitation– simply because that was in their business plan.

This is the argument successfully put forth to legislators behind the multi-decade outsourcing of corporate responsibility to America’s labor force and working families: seen in the precipitous decline of real wages, the heartless attack on retiree pensions, the shrinking of benefits and full-time employment, the deterioration of working conditions affecting worker safety, the irresponsible destruction of the environment, and the recent assault on what the United Nations long ago declared a universal human right: the right to collective bargaining.

Businesses are able to convince their paid-for representatives that paying a Living Wage, a pension, health care, providing adequate worker safety and environmental protections are simply beyond the means of today’s competitive business climate. All the while, asking you to look the other way each quarter as they report their obscene profits to their sycophant friends on Wall Street– who promptly reward the same corporate executives with higher stock prices on their ill gotten options.

And the beat goes on.

More money to the executives. More money to keep legislators in office.
And a steeper path to poverty for everyone else.

Meanwhile, municipalities (strike that– the middle class) are asked to pick up the tab of working people living in poverty in their own communities. Food pantries straining to meet massive rises in food insecurity, emergency room’s bruised from the uninsured using the ER as their general practitioner, mounting housing subsidies and neighborhood blight from malicious foreclosures, and environmental apathy and destruction. The very victims of this travesty are asked to pay for what corporations should be paying for out of their profits– and THIS is what should be in their business plans.

How about a new “sustainable” means test for city business permits in the most wealthy of all US cities: an employer requirement that all employees are paid a Living Wage–

or “no license for You”?

Passion abounds

Greetings All,

I am grateful for so many things in my life. Truly.

Sometimes, I admit, despite such good fortune, it is hard to remain firmly grounded in all of the beauty of my life, and this world. What tends to bring me back, more often than not, is Passion.

I’ve been lucky. When I was coming of age there were lots of friends and acquaintances in my Gen X community who were lost. They didn’t really know what they wanted to do, or where they were headed. Many years passed and despite searching with a profound (and perhaps misapplied) sense of urgency, they struggled to come up with the “answers”. This only added frustration, and a bit of depression to their lives…

Me? I’ve always had lots of things I was passionate about. And those passions are what keep me alive: my heart racing, soul ever dreaming, mind captivated by idealistic notions of what-can-be, striving to make a difference and upend societal values that cause so much harm to an incomprehensible many, yearning to share life with someone truly special– with a connection like no other.

This little winery encompasses many of those passions. That is what makes it so intense for me, but also so indescribably beautiful. I have been able to weave my love of crafting something with my hands– something firmly rooted in the soil, and the cycle of the seasons– with my artistic inclinations (winemaking and photography), social justice missions, and of course, watching the business grow while my beautiful boy grows in, and along side, of it.

Sometimes it feels like the success of Shoe Shine Wine // Justice Grace Vineyards is nothing short of a real-time referendum on my own deeply held joys and dreams. Of me, itself. I’m sure it feels that way for many family owned businesses across the world.

When I get a moment to come up for air, and a moment of peace to reflect, I realize that I will always continue to pursue my passions, whether the business achieves all that I had hoped, or not. Those passions are as much a part of me, as any part of my body. And they bring me so much of the joy I feel in this world everyday. I can only hope that you get just a glimpse of that from sharing a bottle of Shoe Shine Wine, or lost in thought while looking at one of the abstract winemaking photos. I tried to put it all in there.

I really did.

Justice Grace Vin Soul: Never Business as Usual Part II

Please See Part I, previous Post…

Consumer Culture:

This even permeates the companies we idolize. Google, the self-proclaimed “Do no harm” company, one of the most well known brands in the world, derives roughly 97% of its revenues from advertising. While organizing the world’s information, they also seem to be indexing your emails, following you on your trips, and storing your searches; generally motivated to create products which enable them to capture more information about you so that they may place ever more “useful” ads in front of your face.

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Justice Grace Vin Soul: Never Business as Usual Part I

“Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.”

Donella Meadows, The Global Citizen

Paradigms, are a powerful thing. Shaped by all of our trusted influences– family, friends, associates, religious organizations, schools, and the media, we are conditioned over our lifetimes to believe certain “truths”, and these paradigms become the lenses through which we view ourselves and the world around us. So powerful are they that sometimes they persist despite a lifetime of unique experiences which contradict such beliefs. In other words, we don’t even believe our own eyes.

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