If there are two things in this world that can help keep out the chatter and help one stay balanced, it's yoga and a glass of good wine. Yogi sommelier Chiara Shannon has brought the two together at her workshops, which combine wine tasting and yoga.
In fact, the 37-year-old is one of the only known dual certified sommeliers and 500-hour yoga instructors in Southern California.
"Yoga and wine intersect on many different levels," Shannon says. "I've been practicing yoga for 20 years and in the wine business for 10 years.
"Wine tasting is a very focused practice that requires discipline, and my experience with yoga helped me with that. Focusing on the breath, being in the present moment, tuning out distractions and concentrating on what's going on in terms of sight, smell and taste. The yoga practice of sensory discrimination control is exactly what you do when you evaluate wine. "
A native Angeleno, Shannon grew up in La Cañada Flintridge and landed in Napa Valley after attending college at UC Berkeley and traveling through the vineyards of Spain. She spent time in Northern California wineries sampling vintages and living in the moment, which ignited her fascination with oenology, the study of wine, and her desire to educate others.
She started working at Napa Valley's Schramsberg Vineyard, where she developed her love of sparkling wine and knowledge of seasonal patterns and all that is wine making. She went on to become K&L Wine Merchants' head sommelier in the Bay Area and is now a certified sommelier and full-time manager at Mission Wines in Pasadena.
She says she came back home to be part of the energized downtown L.A. food, wine and arts renaissance and to become part of the changing Greater Los Angeles neighborhood landscape.
One of her typical studio workshops is about two hours long; it starts with yoga and meditation practice and ends with wine tasting. Fifteen minutes are spent just looking at the wine, which itself is an exercise in discipline because students usually want to just dive right in.
"It's not a happy hour let's-do-yoga approach. I don't think doing yoga and getting drunk is helpful to people. That implicates imbalance," says Shannon, who takes her instruction very seriously.
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Then comes the education in taste and smell, questions and answers. The whole experience is designed to demystify wine tasting in a very relaxed and focused state.
Her destination workshops are a half-day with yoga practice and a vineyard tour with grower and winemaker; they culminate in a lunch with food and wine pairings and discussions about balance in wine and yoga.
Her class will be part of this fall's four-day nature and wellness "Restival" in the middle of the Arizona desert, which promises to help participants escape the digital grind and reconnect. All wines in the workshops are organic, biodynamic or naturally made from grapes farmed without pesticides, she says.
"Even though I'm certified in both, I still consider myself a student of wine and a student of yoga," Shannon says. "A yogi sommelier is a yoga-informed educator of wine who speaks to an audience that has wellness and health as a center to their lives and enjoys good food and wine. There are so many threads that connect it all."