Updated: Apr 8
It was my great pleasure to interview Kateri Urbanec-Rau, recent Cellar Muse Equity and Diversity Scholarship recipient for the Italian Wine Scholar certification program, (generously sponsored by AniChe cellars in the Columbia Gorge). As a Lakota person, who grew up in the home of my Grandfather and Grandmother, Kateri's words are particularly resonant to me. It is my belief that wine is in perfect alignment with indigenous cultural and spiritual values. Wine is wholistic, natural, and mysterious. I celebrate indigenous people claiming wine, and replacing negative (alcohol) associations with the joy, pleasure and healing properties of wine, which have been known the people of Europe and the Near East for centuries! I am happy to support this goal: the joy of wine for all people!
Here is Kateri:
Tell us about yourself, your background and culture. I am woman, hear me roar! She/Her/Ma’am. I am an enrolled Lummi who was born and raised in Texas. My gramma lived next door to us and impacted my life in ways she will never know. She told me to always be interested in the workings going on around me and to “cultivate thoughts”. Gramma never said to rule out any of those mischievous thoughts, though; actually, she would have probably been a big proponent and instigator. For me, languages, cultures, and traveling have been some of the best ways for me to cultivate my thoughts. I also enjoy hiking, photography, and roller skating, I even hope to bring my skates on my next travel-adventure. How did you fall in love with wine? Can you talk about the relationship to wine in your culture/community, and how that influenced your path to and life with wine? As an Indigenous person I did feel shame in drinking alcohol because of our collective, ugly history with it. Indigenous people seemingly carry this Scarlet Letter, “A” for “Alcoholic” and I did not want to contribute to that stigma in any way. I did not even want to be seen with alcohol. It is only within the past few years I have realized the problem is not mine to carry since I believe in drinking responsibly and I do. Therefore, I decided I should just reject a label that takes away my choices as an individual and perpetuates an unjust stereotyping of Indigenous people. Although, I will admit, I do struggle somewhat with how my community and elders perceive my newfound interest, but I cannot live my life based on anyone else’s perceptions of me as long as I am accountable to myself. As far as how I fell in love with wine, I remember sitting in the front yard with gramma watching the stars late at night looking for shooting stars and UFOs. Gramma sat in a lawn chair with her legs crossed sipping Chablis from a chunky green glass, what I now know to be a vintage Georgian Anchor Hocking glass. She shared so many stories about her life and dreams while slowly sipping wine from that fancy, beautiful glass. Breathing in her thoughts, then thoughtfully releasing her words. And, with those fond memories, you would think I would have started drinking wine long ago, but I never really did until my first trip to Italy with my family in 2014. By that time, I was well into my 30s. The memories and the diverse wine-tasting experiences my family share from that trip are some of my most favorite, and treasured. Besides, how could I not fall in love with wine, it has everything I could ask for: history, connection to the earth, tradition, beauty, travel, it is intoxicating. So many things in wine’s orbit to consider. We were destined. And what is it about Italian wine which is so dear to you? Tell us about your favorite wines, or regions. Italy is where I first experienced a variety of wines where I actually thought about the terroir, the history, and the tradition. As an Indigenous person, I think about “First Foods”, and drinking wine from grapes endemic to Italy spoke to me in much the same way as our First Foods do. As far as my favorite region, I am going to have to say Campania since that is where I discovered I actually enjoy white wine. I once thought real wine had to be those bold, life-affirming reds, which I love, but it was not until I had Antonio Mazzella’s Biancolella in Ischia that I learned white wine can open up the sky and make my heart sing. Oh, and how that Biancolella paired so perfectly with that scrumptious rabbit dish we had, a traditional food served on Sundays as elaborated upon by our host on that beautiful island. We ended up buying a few bottles of that Biancolella to bring home. I thought it was cool the locals who were curious enough to inquire about our purchase, nodded and smiled in approval. I also understand that you have traveled quite a lot in Italy, can you recount a favorite moment in your travels, as it relates to wine? I have so many wonderful wine-related memories of Italy, and it all began with my mission to locate a sfuso. I ran across a random blog about sfusi, the plural of sfuso, while prepping for my first trip to Italy. The idea of a sfuso was so foreign to me: you bring in any clean, empty container and you get a fill of wine for the cost of what we pay for a bottle of water. According to the blog I read, it’s what the locals generally do, and when I travel I love doing exactly that, what the locals do. So, when I found my first sfuso, La Buca del Vino, in Firenze, I did not know it would be the start to something I might actually relish, wine. The owner, Marco, was an amazing and kind gentleman. I am sure I entertained him with my extreme American enthusiasm. His wine shop surely housed wonderful Barolos and other specialty wines, but I was solely focused on his cheap, bulk wine; the wines he had me try were surprisingly good and there was a variety of regional vino to sample at a pittance of the price. Let me state for the record, we did try the liter-fill for just over an euro and it wasn’t great, but I would try-try again, why not. It makes for an interesting baseline. What are your dreams and aspirations for your life in wine? My dreams as of now would be to somehow integrate travel and wine, finding ways for people to experience other places through wine, and to just have fun with it. I am currently open to any and all opportunities available to me. Wine is still so new and there are so many aspects to wine that intrigue me, pre- vine to post- wine.