AND SO BEGINS MY GAP YEAR…
Leah Jorgensen Jean
According to Wikipedia: “A gap year, also known as a sabbatical year, is a period of time when students take a break from their studies, usually after completing high school or before beginning graduate school. During this time, students engage in a variety of educational and developmental activities, such as traveling, working, volunteering, or taking courses.”
This time of year is typically filled with anticipation, excitement, and a little bit of stress: bottling is behind us and I’m busy planning for harvest, picking up supplies, making sure my equipment is clean and ready to go, chatting with my grape growers, and visiting Southern Oregon to check on the vintage. The past few years have included concerns around drought and dwindling yields – which has meant making less and less wine.
This year, instead, I’m juggling things differently.
My red bottling was pushed out to the first week in October. I’m working to get my limited 2022 red wines out of barrel and ready for delivery to the nearby bottling facility. Once I get all those logistics worked out, I’m taking a break from production. I’m taking a gap year.
The past few years have been exhausting for me – both physically and emotionally. Motherhood has shaped my life in new and unexpected ways, but the constant pressure to work all of the time as a winemaker-entrepreneur has been much more difficult for me, mainly due to navigating the residual challenges of the pandemic, and now inflation, from a small business standpoint, to personal and family health issues. Long Covid impacted my life with unusual symptoms related to my long-struggle with autoimmune disease.
I experimented with outsourcing some of my cellar work to lower my stress levels and ease some of my ongoing health issues. But, I was still in over my head with managing sales and administrative busy work while dealing with pressing things on the homefront. Between a horrible allergy season and dangerous wildfire smoke, we have been dodging outside time due to respiratory illness, which is hard when you have a busy, outdoor-loving four year old. Both my little boy and I have been diagnosed with asthma, and the journey to emergency rooms for respiratory distress has been overwhelming. I’m exhausted from the PTSD I’ve experienced over the past three years.
We have spent much of the summer escaping to the ease of east coast beaches for clean, sea-salty air, swimming in the ocean, basking in the negative ions to uplift our spirits and enjoy precious time with our extended family.
This spring I enrolled in an herbalism certificate program. I already have a degree in holistic nutrition with two tracks: Traditional Chinese Medicine and Functional Medicine for the allopathic clinical study.
My interest in continuing these studies has been to address my family’s needs. Herbal medicine is an incredible ally to allopathic medicine, and numerous studies have shown the positive impact herbal medicine has in improving efficacy of allopathic medicine therapies. I’m nearly finished with the intensive six-month program and it’s been an incredible opportunity to boost my health and my son’s health using herbal formulas along with nutritional therapies. My nutrition specialty is digestive disease, nutrient deficiency and mindful eating practices to engage the parasympathetic system for ease of digestion. Food is medicine and it’s amazing how effective managing diet is at easing symptoms from various ailments and disharmonies – and, of course, supporting the interconnectedness of the many systems of the body.
In herbalism, I have been especially interested in herbs that are considered nervines, helping the nervous system. When we are unwell, it takes a toll on an emotional and mental level. Nervines gently ease the nervous system and powerfully relax and heal emotional and mental distress. And then, for my family, there are a host of herbs that heal the respiratory tract – so many, in fact, that you can select specific plants to address specific symptoms. It’s incredible natural medicine and it’s been a gift to care for my family holistically. Since I’ve applied herbal medicine to our daily lives, our symptoms have improved significantly. The difficult parts of life now feel more manageable.
Part of the wisdom I am learning in herbalism is about being more gentle with yourself, coming into full alignment with yourself, and making time for yourself if only because of the chaotic daily grind. In the spirit of applying this awareness to my personal self care, I have partnered with a lovely friend and co-inspiritor, Heather Ciprani, mother, holistic nutritionist, herbalist, harvest chef at Nicolas Jay and owner of Flower and Bone Supply skin care, to offer Trillium Women’s Half Day Retreats.
We’re co-hosting our first half-day retreat at my wine country home this month in Newberg, Oregon.
The botanical symbolism of Trillium is that it is the perfect flower for overcoming life’s challenges with grace, strength and dignity.
The Trillium Women’s Half Day Retreat is a half day of transformation built specifically with the seasonal elements in mind to help our guests open up and explore a deeper connection with self, others and the natural world. When we come together in community we transcend ourselves and find commonalities, we bear witness to one another’s strengths, hold space for vulnerability, and allow for collective power to be harnessed.
We are inviting guests to take time out from our busy and chaotic lives to share this space for women’s collective gathering with intimate healing connection, sparks of creativity, and spiritual awakening for tangible transformations. The purpose is to help our guests come back and connect with the most authentic, aligned and truest version of self.
Offering elevated content and an experience curated with the highest intention and integrity imbued with each and every detail – this special half day devoted to our guests will leave everyone feeling refreshed, inspired, and capable of embodying the benefits of personal transformation for lasting results. Our half day retreats are unique in that they contain four key tenants of movement, mindset, nourishment and creativity – serving as a spark to rekindle and nurture the internal flame.
This work is soul purpose driven and it is bigger than my career or profession. This work is about doing my part to help make the world a better place, doing my part to positively impact the collective consciousness, and doing my part to help heal the planet and its inhabitants. We all have gifts to offer in this way. I am just now coming into what is my “light work” and doing my part in the way that feels most authentic to my soul.
This work is also in full alignment with my own personal and family needs for healing and wellbeing.
I am in the process of downsizing my wine business. I can’t walk away from making Cabernet Franc. I have a purpose there, too! And I’m not finished with what I have started on that front.
I will be making less wine but it will be my attempt to make world class Cabernet Franc – highly collectible wine with extraordinary aging potential. And I still have plenty of Leah Jorgensen Cellars inventory to supply my devoted community. I am still booking private tastings by appointment! I am still working with my six distribution partners to allocate small amounts of my wine in a few key markets.
As I take a mere year off from production, I will get to refine my work in herbalism, holistic nutrition and the healing arts, while taking time to take care of my family. Meanwhile, I will take the time to consider how to evolve my wine brand.
The world of wine is changing quickly and drastically. There is such a thing as too much wine, believe it or not. Studies and data support this and suggest wine brands must make changes in order to adapt to the changing market. Just a few days ago I posted on my personal Facebook page a climate story by CNBC about France paying winemakers to rip up vines as famous Bordeaux region faces an uncertain future, as well as a Business Insider story on the French Government to spend $216 million to destroy excess wine as younger consumers drink less alcohol.
The numbers don’t lie.
While we can chalk up the decline in wine sales to uncertainty in the economy, there are other important key factors involved in wine consumption here in the U.S., as well as the global market.
For me, less is more. I never planned to scale my business. I’m not a large volume winemaker. I never trained in large volume facilities. I don’t have any interest in that style of winemaking. As I consider my personal needs and interests, I will plan accordingly to make what feels right.
So, there won’t be photos of beautiful grapes on my social media pages. There won’t be shots of or selfies with fermentations, punchdowns or press loads. I will be hosting lovely tastings for auction winners with beautiful food and intimate ambiance. I will be conducting private tastings and building my collector’s list for access to my most collectible library wines. I have been approached by a handful of wineries in California, Washington and Oregon to consult on producing an elegant style of Cabernet Franc – I’m not sure if I will engage in consulting, but, I will be at least thinking about it. And I will be writing. A lot more. My undergraduate degree was in writing and it’s always been a passion of mine! So look for more content in my blog here. And stay tuned for more content in other arenas – which I’ll announce when the time is right.
I am grateful for the outpouring support from my Cabernet Franc community. In a sea of Oregon Pinot Noir, I have somehow managed to stay afloat through 11 vintages of making Oregon Cabernet Franc! I look forward to what may come. For now, it’s rest, renewal, rejuvenation… it’s what the herbalist ordered!