Whether you are an importer, producer or sommelier, the demands of the wine industry can include travel, daylong tastings, long evenings and an excess of wine. With late nights followed by early mornings, days can blur together. Managing exhaustion, posture, diet and drinking with exercise is a challenge.
The good news is that the industry has begun to embrace wellness. There are sommeliers that run marathons, winemakers who cycle, and now, a growing number of industry professionals are also turning to yoga.
Yoga (the word being derived from Sanskrit), originated in ancient India and encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices and disciplines.
Coupled with meditation, yoga serves as a holistic practice that’s easy to take on the road. It can relieve a tight back after a flight, help with insomnia and focus a wandering mind confronted with a hectic schedule. But its benefits extend far beyond short-term fixes. Yoga can enhance personal and professional lives in a way few athletic endeavors can do.
“Without my [yoga] practice, I would likely not still be in the wine business,” says Rebecca Hopkins, vice president of communications and partner at Folio Fine Wine Partners, who has been in the wine industry for 25 years.
“Hedonism, it’s an easy trap to fall into, being in that constant state of indulgence,” says Hopkins of the industry. “I was headed down that path for sure, and I could have easily stayed in that place, which would have been a negative space for me. If I am out late eating, drinking, partying, being in all these fancy places, my body gives in.”
Hopkins began yoga in 2007, after relocating to San Francisco from Australia.
“A woman in my neighborhood opened a studio,” she says. “I knew nothing, started from nothing.” She soon found a teacher who sparked her inner warrior. “She was Hatha [a type of yoga] to the core. I went from cuddly, yummy yoga to disciplined practice.”
Moving through and holding bodily postures, known as asanas, can increase balance, strength and flexibility, and movements can be done easily in a hotel room.
“When I haven’t practiced, I feel like crap,” says Hopkins. “It helps me better manage stress, especially in the workplace. I can detach myself from situations, look at things objectively, and not get involved in the drama.”
Hatha yoga combines asanas with breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). The goal is to merge a sound, healthy body with a clear, peaceful mind.
Hopkins points out that it also helps that she works in an environment where people are open-minded to the benefits of practice. “Michael Mondavi and I compare yoga mats, and our CEO and I chat about what books we are reading,” she says.
“The wine industry is incredible, but it is very easy to become run down and off-center.” —Kimberly Drake, Hedges Family Estate
Yoga’s approach to well-being is a big draw for Barbara Shinn, viticulturist and owner of Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse on New York’s Long Island. Along with her husband (who is also her business partner and vintner), David Page, she discovered Vinyasa, a catchall term that covers a broad range of yoga that focuses on breath-synchronized movement. Seven years ago, a Vinyasa studio opened in the North Fork. Shinn was hooked after the first week.
Working outside in the vineyards—stooping, pruning, assessing fruit and vines—demands a degree of physicality. For that, Shinn says, “yoga has provided greater fluidity of movement, more energy and more patience.”
Yoga fits with Shinn’s holistic approach to viticulture, as she strives to farm organically and follow biodynamic principles.
“Yoga has taught me not to be a warrior fighting the land, not to farm based on fear,” she says.
Shinn applies the tools of mindfulness and presence, cultivated in class, to her vineyard management.
“I’ve gotten better at working in peace, enjoying the days when our fruit is healthy and the vintage looks good, not thinking about what could go wrong, or taking pre-emptive strikes against those worries,” she says.
If yoga can help a viticulturist co-exist in harmony with her vines, can a winemaker use it to evoke similar state of tranquility in their wines? That’s one goal, said Laura Bianchi, proprietor and winemaker at Castello di Monsanto in Tuscany.
“What I love from wine is balance, elegance and finesse,” says Bianchi. “I’d like to think my practice helps me understand those elements, and if I can find them in myself, maybe I can reflect them in my Sangiovese.”
Bianchi doesn’t adhere to a specific form of yoga. After a decade spent learning techniques, she says her body tells her what it needs.
“I’ll pick an asana depending on how I feel,” she says. “I suffer from backaches, and certain postures help immensely with that.”
Owning a winery in Tuscany allows access to beautiful landscapes for outdoor practice. In the middle of her highest Chianti Classico vineyard sits a semi-pyramid of stones that Bianchi uses for both poses and contemplation.
“It was built initially for the view, but my father and I always believed the place held a particular energy,” she says.
“Focusing on graceful transitions on the mat helped me handle…uncertain transitions in my career.” —Nancy Frey, Jackson Family Wines
While most industry practitioners are pupils, a few have made the jump to certified teacher.
“I wanted to deepen my practice,” says Kimberley Drake, a former sommelier and now national wine sales ambassador for Hedges Family Estate in Red Mountain, Washington. She took part in a teacher training camp in India during a break from her wine career.
Drake worked previously at notable New York City restaurants including Jean Georges before she moved to Hong Kong to open Café Gray Deluxe at the Upper House. It wasn’t until she left floor work that she reunited with yoga.
“I finally had the motivation, maturity and time to create a practice for myself,” she says. Originally from Southern California, she grew up amidst yogini moms.
Drake started a wine consulting business in Hong Kong, and soon discovered a nearby studio that focused on Ashtanga and traditional Hatha.
“I went every day,” she says. “That was a transformative time for me. Rain or shine, that practice was the one thing that kept me grounded.” The wine industry, Drake said, “is incredible, but it is very easy to become run down and off-center.”
In 2015, Drake flew to India for a course in teaching yoga, at the behest of a friend who taught anatomy. While she intended to only tackle the multidisciplinary 200-hour training, she became so inspired that she completed the full 500 hours required to become a registered yoga teacher.
Drake never intended to leave the wine world, but her months of training helped her work through the travel required by her new role as a sales ambassador.
“I knew after I started with the Hedges Family, that I would be on the road for at least six weeks,” she says. “To survive, I’ll mix up local classes with solo practice. And. of course, I always take my yoga mat with me.”
Like Drake, Nancy Frey, a 15-year industry veteran and current director of trade marketing for Jackson Family Wines, wanted a deeper dive into yoga. Along the way, she discovered her desire to teach.
Because of consolidations or acquisitions, Frey moved between wine companies several times. “Focusing on graceful transitions on the mat helped me handle these uncertain transitions in my career,” she says.
Inspired by a favorite yoga teacher, Frey committed to a training course. By the end of her 200 hours, she sought to develop classes and has offered weekend workshops and a hybrid event called “Vinyasa and Vino.” Participants move mindfully between poses and then apply that focus to wine tasting.
“Overall, yoga is about creating awareness and listening to what you need and feel,” says Frey. ”Keeping that truth with you, and tapping into it during hectic deadlines and business travel, helps keep you balanced and happy.”