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MailTribune.com
  • Life is like a jug of wine: Drink deeply

  • Probably due to some regrettable mix-up, I was not invited to give a commencement speech this year. Or for that matter, any year.
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  • Probably due to some regrettable mix-up, I was not invited to give a commencement speech this year. Or for that matter, any year.
    Despite the long-standing shun, I'm sure words of wisdom from other well-intentioned souls were wrapped around newly minted graduates as snugly as tassels to mortarboards.
    Flipping through my accordion file of Best Commencement Speeches Ever! — which I keep by my side at all times, just in case — I am reminded that Conan O'Brien once advised overachieving Harvard grads to "Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over."
    Um. I like the part about falling down and talking about it.
    Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once told fresh, young faces at Stanford: "Right now, the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."
    Ouch. This reminds me of what my mirror whispers to me every morning.
    Genius Jobs then redeemed himself by adding: "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
    Hungry? Foolish? I'm in.
    Pulitzer Prize-winning author Russell Baker told college grads to "sleep in the nude" and said the best advice he can give anybody about going out into the world is this: "Don't do it."
    For grads who stubbornly insist that they venture out of their parents' homes and carve out a living, comedian Stephen Colbert recommended that they get their own television show because "it pays well, the hours are good and you are famous."
    These practical, simple suggestions have me all revved up right now, but with no place to go. Maybe I should drive over to the Southern Oregon Wine Institute and buttonhole a wide-eyed vino grad and give her what for.
    What? You haven't heard that Southern Oregon has a wine college for students who are thirsting for a viticulture, enology or wine-marketing education? Well, gather around and let me brag that I'm a proud dropout — due to my work schedule and sloth — of the very prestigious (call it Viny League) wine institute at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg.
    This school produces ready-to-work employees exposed to what John Olson of Palotai Vineyard & Winery calls "hands-in-the-wine, hose-in-the-face" training.
    SOWI's students take online classes to learn the science of growing grapes and producing wine. Then they put their studies to the test by preparing vineyard soil, planting and pruning vines.
    They harvest, sometimes at odd hours, to bring in what's affectionately referred to as "midnight merlot." In a winery, they test and adjust the juice, then they bottle, design a label that earns government approval and store the finished product.
    A few grads launch a new winery. Most, however, want a job assisting a pro and to join the ranks of those making wine better here.
    Just ask Steven Korecki, a 24-year-old SOWI grad who works at Henry Estate Winery in Umpqua. Under the watchful eye of legendary Scott Henry, he helps operate the tasting room, explaining the ins and outs of wine tasting to walk-ins by using skills from his sensory class.
    The best advice Korecki was given: "Don't just settle, go do more."
    Elisabeth C. Grunwald had a corporate career before moving to Medford to raise her two children. Searching for a new direction, she recalls, "I saw a flier that said 'wine school' and I thought, 'That's for me.' "
    She completed SOWI's program in June 2010 and turned her internship as an assistant to Agate Ridge Vineyard's winemaker into a job at the Eagle Point winery. Now, the 45-year-old works at Pallet Wine Co., a custom-crush facility in Medford, where she can apply lab work she once studied.
    Elisabeth says she's not done learning, and she advises others to "take all that passion you have and put it to good use."
    That's wise, Elisabeth. Because if you look around, you'll see that education is everywhere.
    Earl and Hilda Jones of Abacela did not build a tasting room on their property outside of Roseburg, but a two-story Vine and Wine educational center. Take a self-guided tour of the vineyards, buy a bottle of 2010 Tempranillo ($21) and pass on what you know.
    Come to think of it, if you really study tasting rooms, they are classrooms. People listen to an expert explain the nuances of the subject, and then there is the test: swirl, sniff, sip.
    Take it all in while considering actor Bradley Whitford's — "The West Wing's" Josh Lyman — commencement words: "Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble."
    Class dismissed.
    Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com
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