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Living Lightly

Stopping to Taste the Wine & Chocolate

Why this talk of chocolate and wine on a blog called Going Green?

My friends, going green is about living a life-filled life. Green, after all, is the archetypal color for life. Going green is about minimizing things that steal our vibrancy and maximizing things that add to it. Often I focus on avoiding certain chemicals in products that deplete health. I hold forth on cutting out toxins in our minds that reduce our inner thriving. I offer reflections that I hope bring richness and beauty and peace and joy.

This post goes in that latter category and is about adding something very important to our lives: nothing. This nothing in my family is called “zero time.” It is intentional, purposeful, beautiful blank space.

Picture a wall of art – an abundance of masterpieces – all jammed up against each other. A Rembrandt abutting a Picasso bordered by a Warhol sitting atop a Monet. It would be a mess, chaos, a jumble. The gorgeousness of each piece would diminish that of the adjacent because they’re simply too close. You would miss so much of each piece because of the intrusion of its neighbors. They need space.

The spaces in between – the mat, the frame, the wall itself – are just as crucial to the impact of the work as the hands of the artists themselves. Without these white spaces, the work of art is stifled and even ruined.

Now instead of art, think of the pieces on the wall as elements of your life. Necessities, hobbies, relationships. Home, work, children, friends, family. When all of these are jammed together, you can’t appreciate each component: the challenge and satisfaction of work well done, the freedom and joy of creative outlets, the spontaneity and hilarious absurdity of children (or pets – there’s a lot of overlap). Packed together, they contort purpose and intention into obstacles and problems. You may end up resenting things you used to enjoy. They may even end up destroying each other.

You need white space in between these life parts, to frame them, to set them off to beautiful effect. So this post is about creating that white space…with chocolate and wine.

Zero time can take many forms – active or quiet, alone or gathered. But here’s the key: obligations stop. Agendas stop. To-do lists disappear. It’s about being here. Now. No memory, no plan.

I share with you here my recent gathering on a day when time slowed, and we stopped together to learn something new: how to pair chocolate and wine, two elements with untold layers and limitless possibilities. Perhaps you can recreate a similar event, holding at bay the busyness of life for an hour or two.

Chocolate and wine lend themselves perfectly to the idea of zero time. Neither can be enjoyed quickly. In fact, I will go so far as to suggest that if you do not have time to savor chocolate or wine slowly, do not partake of them at all. There’s really no point. They need a little time to work their magic to fullest effect. However, if chocolate and wine are not really your thing, you can create something similar with coffees or cheeses or anything that doesn’t take a lot of prep but has oodles of options.

Ever since the Magic All-One Chocolate launched, I have been aching to explore the complexity of its flavor profile. My only low-level regret with the chocolate has been that each bite is over too quickly. I am ever just beginning to grasp each layer and note and then it’s gone. The Magic Chocolate has been like hearing a foreign language which I understand about half of – enough to follow a conversation, but all the while knowing I am missing so much depth and nuance.

My brother Mike’s article “How to Taste Chocolate” went a long way towards giving me a map and a vocabulary with which to experience and explore the chocolate more deeply. But his guidance had heretofore only been words on the page. I needed to experience it.

On a drizzly Friday afternoon, seven of us gathered in an urban winery for what was sure to be one of the top afternoons of “work” any of us had ever experienced. These were my colleagues, some of whom I had never met in person due their hiring within the last 18 months of remote work and others I hadn’t seen in just as long. Joining me were members of Dr. Bronner’s social media team, with whom I work quite closely, as well as members of our chocolate tasting quality control panel. (Sorry folks, there aren’t any open positions on that panel.)

Our guides for the day were two vintners, Joe and Dania Ames, founders and owners of BK Cellars Urban Winery and Tasting Lounge in Escondido, CA.

For this grand experiment, Joe chose five of his wines, in increasing order of intensity: Rose (light & refreshing with a slight sweetness), Sangiovese (cinnamon, vanilla, and oak with underlying cherry), Malbec (anise, bell pepper, with dried strawberry), Syrah (slightly jammy with peppery notes and an earthiness and minerality), and Tempranillo (caramel & cinnamon, mild sweetness with hints of rosemary). And then in a burst of spontaneity as we progressed, Joe pulled out a bottle of “The Experiment,” (aromas of vanilla, clove & raisins with a touch of smokiness) – Joe’s favorite ever that won Double Gold at the Orange County Commercial Wine Competition and was awarded 94 points.

To begin, we laid out alongside the wines the six Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate Bars: Salted Almond Butter, Salted Dark, Crunchy Hazelnut, Salted Whole Almond, Coconut Praline, and Roasted Whole Hazelnut. The chocolate bars were at room temperature, which maximizes their flavors, and were broken into easy-to-grab small bites so as not to overwhelm or fill us too quickly.

With this enticing set up before us, it was hard to wait for the guided beginning. But this is part of the practice of zero time. No hurry. Be still. Take time. Be present.

I love how the words on the segments of chocolate reminded us throughout the tasting of a larger perspective of our place in the world.

In addition to the array of wine and chocolate, we added palate cleansers. Simple, neutral foods to clear the palate without introducing new flavors or filling you up too much. We went with water crackers and thinly sliced apples.

Then came the phalanx of wine glasses.

I had expected that Joe would carefully lead us through one wine/chocolate pairing at a time: pour, sip, taste, next.

But wine and chocolate don’t work that way. Dania explained that the best fun and flavor is to be had in trying each combination for oneself and that we would all end up with different preferences. It does take a lot of wine glasses to have all five available at once, and if this were my private event, it would have to be a BYOG – Bring Your Own Glasses. A fun conversation starter in itself!

Joe suggested to focus on the wine first and try each type of chocolate with one wine at a time. And then note on a piece of paper favorites to go back and try again once all wines and chocolates had been sampled together. With the Magic All-One Chocolate, you cannot eat a ton at once. It is too full, rich, intense. So for the pairing, the key was nibbles. The smallest possible piece of chocolate per wine so that we didn’t do ourselves in and have to stop early.

Now the fun began. We were off and running. Tasting, switching, retrying. Cleansing the palate and then diving in again. But the best part was the talking and laughing and exclaiming.

So now you’re waiting for me to tell you which wine paired with which chocolate. And that I will not do. Not only is it impossible, but that would entirely defeat the purpose. I took scrupulous notes on everyone’s observations and there was no consensus, other than that the red wines in general paired best.

This is not a disappointment nor a failure. In fact, it is the whole point. To adventure side by side, to experience the same thing but come away with different conclusions, to marvel at the variety of perspectives on the same view. This is a microcosm of life. To see how the diversity of our takeaways only makes life more interesting. Besides, if everyone likes your favorites, there’s less available to you!

I will tell you what I liked best, just so we can get to know each other better. I thought the Crunchy Hazelnut Butter paired most universally with the wines, but it likely is no coincidence that it’s my favorite bar anyways. Perhaps more telling was that I thought the Sangiovese, a wine that I don’t believe I’ve ever met before, paired with the most chocolate varieties. But even this is misleading because if I had to pick a second place for each wine and chocolate, there would be three runners up.

What we each preferred stemmed from our individual taste, where we were in that moment and how we got there, our histories, our food experiences and significant food moments, what we’d eaten in the last 24 hours, and the unnamed abundance of factors that form our druthers. It becomes an equation I cannot possibly calculate, nor should I try. But how fun it was to share and compare and observe and exclaim and be in a moment together.

That’s the beauty of this.

And so cheers to you and yours. May you make time to pause, even if you must carve it out with a pickaxe. Savor and enjoy. Breathe and ponder. Gather, celebrate, reflect, notice detail, care for yourself, find beauty, step outside routine, learn, explore, become new.

A special thank you to our wonderful hosts and guides, Joe and Dania Ames of BK Cellars Urban Winery and Tasting Lounge in Escondido, CA. A toast to you!

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Lisa Bronner

Green means life. “Going Green” is living in such a way to promote vitality and vibrancy in every sphere of life. Grab an idea to make your days healthier, simpler, and more beautiful at their core.