Competition – Persis Johnson

Persis Johnson writes about herself, 'After completing her graduate work studying International Environmental Policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Persis dove right into the wine industry at Honig Vineyard and Winery, where she blended a deep enthusiasm for sustainable winegrowing practices, production and, wine-tasting. In 2013 her passion for wine and genuine love of the industry led her to Think Food Group in Washington, DC where she consulted for Jose Andres' Research and Development /Beverage support Team. Currently, Persis Johnson is the Environmental Affairs Coordinator for The Wine Institute and for California SustaInable Winegrowing Alliance. She holds her Level 2 WSET certificate and plans to continue her wine education. She continues to expand her experiences and interest in food, social justice, sustainability, and wine! Her tale entitled 'The Golf Cart and the Gopher' is her (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition

The truth of it, is that desperation lead me to wine, at least initially. Having just completed graduate school, I was restless. I had been eroded by the weariness of “thank you for applying however…” responses, the loom and doom of student loans, and the humbling reality of living back with my parents in southern Napa County. Suffice it to say, I was willing to jump at any work opportunity. This trifecta pushed me to accept a fluke position, working with a family friend at a winery in Napa Valley. I remember the phone call, “Persis, trust me, I can teach you about wine. What I can’t teach you is personality and charisma-which you already have!” I can still remember thinking “Surely he’s joking...I’m going to be in a WINE tasting room, not at a Myers-Briggs Convention”.

A month later, I was working full-time in the tasting room. The gorgeous, family owned property was clustered among several other beautiful estates in the heart of Napa Valley, book-ended by the majestic Mayacamas mountains to the west and the stags of the Vaca mountain range to the east. It is only with hindsight that I fully appreciate the beauty of those surroundings. At the time, I was so nervous about misquoting case production numbers and butchering names of our widely used varietals- I rarely noticed the beauty of it all. I erringly used phrases that I had misheard and definitely misunderstood. Once, I mortifyingly tried to explain “potrytis” instead of “botrytis” to a group of wine buyers. If ‘face-palming’ was a thing in 2011, I was doing it daily. That being said, I was able to use my natural ease of speaking and, my smile (a 5k investment in orthodonture that paid off in spades), to get through most days.

Of course, neither of these personal attributes could carry me for long. One slow Monday afternoon, a colleague of mine, who worked closely with the winemaker, asked me to assist him with a few things. Carrying cases of wine, writing tasting notes, and discussing updates quickly led to an invitation to join him on a short trip to a neighboring property. With things being as slow as they were, I jumped at the opportunity. I couldn’t wait to hop in the back of the old pick-up truck and to let the wind blow through my hair as we drove down the gravel roads connecting vineyards. Instead, he pulled around the corner in an electric golf cart. Not letting perfect be the enemy of good, I jumped in and braced myself for what would be a slow crawl around this 60+ acre property. Little did I know that it would turn out to be a slow but enjoyable crawl towards my future career!

During our golf-carting adventure, my colleague pointed out owl boxes, blue birds, snakes, bee hives, cover crops, vine trellises, ladybugs, egrets, gopher holes, and other flora and fauna. It was a gopher hole that led him to pull the cart over. After a few expletives and a brief lesson in pest management, we were back on the beat. There I was, cruising the gravel path on the estate, witnessing the inner-workings of a healthy ecosystem, the animals and their niches being “managed” together for the purposes of producing quality wine. I had seen all of these things before but not like this. Each and every one of these elements was vital.

I fell in love with the vines first, and subsequently, the wine. Upon my return to the tasting room, I poured a glass of sauvignon blanc and tried to taste it all, and somehow, I did! Every honeysuckle blossom, buzzing bee, and hooting owl. I could even taste the sparkle of what was explained to be tinsel, used to keep the birds from feeding on the fruit- it was magical. I now work with winegrape growers, environmental regulatory bodies, and advocacy groups-marrying my love of wine, with my masters in International Environmental Policy. It is my everyday work to sustain and preserve the very ecosystems that produce this amazing crop! It was a single ride in a golf cart, and a gopher...you know the one, that set me on a course of wine-loving, tree-hugging, nature filled work.

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