Ashley’s spent the past 10+ years working in wine and service, launching and managing hospitality and wine programs for restaurants including: Animal, Trois Mec, Osteria Mozza, Scopa Italian Roots, and more. She’s since created her own hospitality-focused wine venture, Pour This in order to share the best wines from small producers around the world with good people.
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01 Story: What’s the best story you heard this month?
At an incredible, six-hour lunch with Arianna [Occhipinti], we blind-tasted one of her wines - which means that no one, including her, knew what wine was poured. The eight of us agreed immediately it was pristine, stunning, an unquestionably a great wine of importance. When the wine was revealed (because not one of us could name it!), I saw it was one of hers which I’d never tried before: a special bottling she only makes one barrel of each year, and this one was from a very special year. I asked her what Grotte Alte meant, the name of the bottling. Her eyes lit up and she told me the tale: in ancient times, the hamlet of Vittoria (Arianna’s homeland) was littered with criminals. They would hide out in high caves, the Grotte Alte. Contessa Vittoria was compelled to eradicate crime, and so she offered to grant one hectare of vineyards to anyone who turned in criminals, even if those that came forward were complicit in hiding them in the caves. The land of Vittoria was thus founded on winemaking since its first inception, a detail of history that has paramount importance to Arianna. So, she named this Cerasuolo bottling after it. And at this lunch, we sat, drinking and discussing a library vintage of the rare Grotte Alte - with her! She also possesses a ceaseless energy for sharing the history of her place and winemaking, which was impossible not to delight in and made for the most privileged of settings to hear this magical story! I’m still on a high from that lunch (also nine bottles of wine and six hours of Sicilian food might probably have something to do with it…)!
02 Nature: An encounter with the natural world
When I was working harvest in Sicily, there would be some downtime in between work periods, like waiting for more grapes to be trucked over from the vineyards, or equipment to be set up, or the after-lunch recovery and lounging, this kind of thing. During that time, some of us climbed up to start the harvest, plucking ripe olives from their trees to cure. I climbed high up this old wooden picking ladder, which was thin as a rail, and reached through these delicate, slender leaves for the ripe, black olives. We tossed them in crates and then poked each olive twice with a fork, to prepare them for salting and drying in the shade over a period of weeks. The fresh juice was briny and burgundy-colored; then, out of nowhere, a breeze blew in this familiar aroma that reminded me of Thanksgiving! I looked down and realized: there was a giant, bushy patch of rosemary growing wild at the foot of the olive tree. And in the middle of that perfect, golden Sicilian afternoon, standing with my head in the branches of a tree, everything made sense - particularly the “invention" of rosemary olive oil.
03 Art Experience: An encounter with art (in any form)
I recently had a conversation about the definition of art with a good friend. This is the type of friend who you enjoy debating ideas with, and the type of conversations observers would interpret as an argument. But really, you are just circling a topic that has a very difficult center to reach. He said art is defined as anything that is created with the intention to connect with another person, either through stirring emotion or expressing emotion. For some reason that perspective stuck to me, and I got to measuring everything lately with that barometer, asking myself, hmm, is this art? Recently, we had a dinner in our backyard, and two incredible bluegrass musicians played. Their voices and that banjo drifted high up above the bougainvillea and out into the streets; the culmination of food, wine, and people we love in our home - it was magic. But the music was this unexpected facet that completed the sensory experience, and made me feel that strange and rare cocktail made from the pure joy of home and that longing for something you don’t know yet. What an impossible emotion to define! And equally profound. So the bluegrass of the Echo Mountain Boys was in agreement with my recent contemplations of the definition of art.
04 Change: a meaningful change that impacts the way you live (either that you initiated or that entered from outside)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the satisfaction of watching work pile up and then diminish. After stacking and washing hundreds of plastic crates, and taking great pleasure in spraying down concrete and squeegee-ing it in linear columns during this harvest, I want to feel this same thing with the less physical nature of my daily work, so I’ve decided on implement the concept of doing - so that when feeling overwhelmed, when comparing my work to others, when feeling uninspired, I do an intentional act of work, a squeegee-ing of some sort, if you will, so that the act of doing replaces that negative feeling with one of productivity.
05 New Idea: a new way of looking at things or something to attempt in the future
When we left Arianna’s my heart was breaking. We embraced. We said I love you. And I was left teary-eyed the whole two-hour ride to Mount Etna. I couldn’t imagine enjoying the rest of our Sicilian trip without her, it seemed wrong! I said out loud: I’m so sad! And to me, Tyler said: But what KIND of sad? And I thought about it and listed the facts: I just met, for the first time, someone who has been a hero for over a decade; how you’re never supposed to meet your heroes because they can't live up to your ideal, but in this case she exceeded it; the trip was so inspiring; we even became friends! And that my heart was just aching to leave. Tyler said so simply: what’s sad about that? It was the kind of revelation that just clonked me on the head and dried up my tears. My heart still felt so tightly bound up, so squeezed, but I determined it to be a hug and not a break. So this new idea is a way to look at and embrace those very emotional, complex moments in life differently, so that you get the most of them: because when an experience or interaction feels so big that you default to categorize it as a basic or negative emotion like sadness, you might accidentally run away from it. But when you see that it is actually profound, possibly life-changing even, you might go toward it in an effort to seek that rare thing, the heart hug.
06 Object (new): a new object that held significance
Tyler and I love to host and have people over - to feed them! Lately our dinners have seemed to expand, so he built us a twelve-foot table out of solid redwood. It’s incredible, perfect in all of its right angles, its color, its form. Now every morning I get to have some coffee in the backyard and smell the redwood and sit at this giant table by myself to start the day.
07 Object (old): an old object that took on new/different kind of meaning
Potato peeler: When we arrived to Arianna’s we cooked dinner for the team every night. I like to use a peeler to shave cheese into a salad for example, but I was surprised to find there was not one in the kitchen! I thought for sure it was hiding, so I asked Arianna where it was kept, and she said oh, the potato peeler! I always forget to buy one for years now! I just never remember to get it. I had a fantasy of buying some gorgeous, fancy peeler, one which we’d get engraved and send as a thank you gift; instead, the last night we picked up a peeler at the market along with the dinner fixings; it was plastic and metal and about as basic as it gets, and brought it back to cook dinner. I presented it to Arianna and she was so genuinely excited. It gave me the same kind of internal pride you might get as kid, when your older brother bestowed upon you a rare, unexpected compliment. I will probably always now have a special affection for peelers.
08 Discard: Something you decided to rid from your life (or that you are particularly happy this month to see come to an end)
I am embracing fall. I love summer, but the season of fall is a change I can really feel before it happens on the calendar, and one that I always find very moving. It’s a season that is somehow filled and abundant, but also has a sprinkle of something melancholy, a little bit of reflection, a leaving behind of something, and a wanting for the feeling of home. Summer has gone when this feeling arrives.
09 Gratitude: something you have been specifically thankful for this month:
The confluence of my work with my vision for living a good life. I am reaching a moment where the work I do and the life I want to live are becoming one thing, and this is such a powerful moment and realization of harmony. This month was very much defined by my trip to Sicily. Getting the opportunity to experience wine this way, and also meet and learn from a winemaker and person like Arianna defines what I do but also enforces the choices I make in life. It’s so affirming and inspiring, and such a privilege. While the trip was work related, it was pure warmth and hospitality; utterly good people and an abundance of heartfelt stories, the most open of kitchens, and laughing like I have not done in so long. The kind of laughing that you do only in church when you are not supposed to laugh, which only makes it that much funnier. There’s a notion that work is separate from that stuff, but in fact, they can be one thing, and for that I am grateful.