Jon Staenberg on Wine, SANE Alcohol Consumption, and Quality Eating

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Jonathan Bailor: Hey everybody. Jonathan Bailor, back with another bonus SANE show. Very excited for today’s guest, a gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting recently and a very cool guy with a very cool story, very passionate, and I think you’ll enjoy chatting with him today. His name is Jon Staenberg. He is the Founder of Hand of God Wines and I know we’ve been getting a lot of questions about how or if alcohol has a role in a SANE lifestyle, and I said who better than Jon Staenberg to get on the show to chat about this. Jon, how you doing today?

Jon Staenberg: Fantastic.

Jonathan Bailor: Well, Jon, right now your whole life revolves around wines and before we get into wine and how that can fit or not fit into a healthy lifestyle, we’ll have certainly a good chat about that. How did you get into the wine business to begin with?

Jon Staenberg: It sort of took me by surprise and captured me in a way I didn’t expect. Eight years ago I went down to Argentina just for a vacation, and whenever I travel to a new place I like to look up classmates or people that I might know. And I happened to look in my Stanford Business School alumni directory and found a guy by the name of Santiago Achával and Santiago it turns out is an amazing winemaker. And I reached out to him and said, “Hey would it be possible to get together and have a glass of wine? I’d love to try your juice and see what you’re up to.” And he said, “Sure, come on by.” So what was going to be just a trip to Buenos Aires became a trip to Buenos Aires and a trip to Mendoza which is across the country next to the Andes Mountains and so the journey started.

Jonathan Bailor: Very cool. And so where are you at today in terms of that journey?

Jon Staenberg: Yeah, so I met Santiago and we had a glass of wine and then we had two glasses of wine and then we had a bottle of wine and then we sat down for what’s called a asado, which is their version of a barbecue and literally five hours later and I don’t remember the number of bottles, we shook hands and I said, “I’ll buy some land if you’ll make the wine.” And so that was eight years ago and so we planted back then and it was fallow land, it was rocks and just dirt and today we’ve got a thriving vineyard on it. And we have our first release, our 2010 release, and I’m in the wine business and it’s been quite a journey.

Jonathan Bailor: Talk about planting those seeds, you literally planted those seeds and then waited nearly a decade.

Jon Staenberg: Yes.

Jonathan Bailor: You got to have just like a pent up I’m ready to launch this.

Jon Staenberg: Yeah, I used to say nine months for pregnancy then nothing. With all due respect it took a long time, but the good news is because you don’t know is that the juice is really good and you’re sort of on pins and needles because you don’t know how it’s going to come out. It’s a little bit of art, and it’s a little bit of science, and it’s a little bit of the hand of God.

Jonathan Bailor: Whoa, speaking of science when it comes to things that are discussed in the media wine and chocolate in terms of health benefits or lack thereof because people like wine and they like chocolate so if anyone can say anything nice about them certainly that is good news. So what has been your experience with wine as it relates to good health or poor health?

Jon Staenberg: Yeah, first of all let me say I’m not a doctor. I think that’s important for people to know. But what’s fun is there’s this thing called the Internet and you can find out a lot of information quickly and easily. So just for fun I thought I would do a Bing search, [inaudible 00:03:39] I had to say that, on wine and health and there are 399 million results.

Jonathan Bailor: Oh, well that proves it right there wine is good for you. It proves it, definitive proof.

Jon Staenberg: But actually it’s a fun topic because in 1991, I think 60 Minutes did a special on sort of the French paradox, right? The French, they eat all this butter and they’re smoking and this have this unhealthy lifestyle and yet they’re living longer at the time then Americans and the article was really about red wine. And that 60 Minutes segment changed forever American red wine consumption. It immediately changed overnight because of that. And I think it’s been studied over and over now and there’s clearly something going on there.

There’s a takeaway today. Everything in moderation, but it’s probably good for you right and they’re actually not sure. They talk a little bit about resveratrol, if you can say it, and whether or not the antioxidants and what it does for you and anti-aging and supposed to be good for reducing cancer risk and so forth whether or not that’s it or it’s just alcohol in general. But I mean, I think the consensus is again a glass or two a day of red wine or some equivalent is probably pretty good for you.

Jonathan Bailor: And I think there’s a really important thing to tease apart, Jon, and that’s what we mean when we say really good for you and I know that might sound like a what do you mean by the definition of the Bill Clinton style, but …

Jon Staenberg: That was fair.

Jonathan Bailor: … some people might say for example light cigarettes are a healthy choice and they are compared to regular cigarettes, right?

Jon Staenberg: Right.

Jonathan Bailor: And I think when people hear red wine is good for you, do you think it’s a fair characterization to say if you drink alcohol the healthiest source of alcohol is red wine? But when compared to kale for example, if you had to choose between eating some kale and drinking wine red, you might be better off eating that kale.

Jon Staenberg: Or having kale wine.

Jonathan Bailor: That’s your next crop, kale wine.

Jon Staenberg: How good is that going to be?

Jonathan Bailor: Holly moley.

Jon Staenberg: Don’t release this yet, I got to go make some more kale wine.

Jonathan Bailor: That’s okay. It’s going to take ten years when it’s out. No, I’m just kidding.

Jon Staenberg: So yes, I mean certainly, you know, to be honest I hear what you’re saying and distinguishing if you’re going to drink alcohol. The truth is they think the red wine is the one to have. It’s not 100 percent sure.

Jonathan Bailor: Okay.

Jon Staenberg: They do think a little bit of alcohol is good for you. I mean, I love this article that I read that the eight health benefits of drinking wine, right? Longevity, reducing heart attack, lowering heart disease, risk of type II diabetes, lower risk of stroke, cut risk of cataracts, colon cancer, slow brain decline. I don’t know man, that sounds like you should be drinking it.

Jonathan Bailor: Well, if you read it on the Internet …

Jon Staenberg: It must be true.

Jonathan Bailor: … it must be true, especially if that company sells ad space for a wine company then you know it’s definitely true.

Jon Staenberg: Okay, so it didn’t come through Food and Wine magazine.

Jonathan Bailor: No, Jon, it’s actually a very interesting point because we had Professor Gary Wenk on the show and he studies a lot of chemicals and their impact on the brain and on the body at Ohio State University.

Jon Staenberg: Right.

Jonathan Bailor: And he talked for example about how it’s very difficult to say is something good or bad because there’s almost always good components to things, it’s the ratio of good to bad. One example he gave is smoking cigarettes. If you look at smoking cigarettes, there are, I know it sounds crazy, but there are some very compelling health benefits …

Jon Staenberg: Right.

Jonathan Bailor: … to smoking cigarettes.

Jon Staenberg: Relaxing.

Jonathan Bailor: The challenge is though that there’s a ratio there …

Jon Staenberg: That’s right.

Jonathan Bailor: So I think it’s really important though for folks to understand that if they are drinking alcohol if they like drinking alcohol, what is the healthiest choice for them to choose. So have you had any experience like what is it about red wine versus white wine specifically or versus …

Jon Staenberg: I think it might be that element, that word that I have a problem saying.

Jonathan Bailor: Resveratrol?

Jon Staenberg: Yeah. But to be honest, they’re not sure.

Jonathan Bailor: Yeah.

Jon Staenberg: Let’s be clear. I actually spent some time looking at this and the consensus, if there is one, sort of suggest two glasses of red wine if you’re going to drink alcohol is probably the best thing. But I got to say, it’s not conclusive science at this point. But I got to tell you …

Jonathan Bailor: You may or may not be biased.

Jon Staenberg: Okay, so probably doing this is bad, but a little bit. You know, I’m just saying.

Jonathan Bailor: And, Jon, I think there’s also something to be said, I know you are quite the connoisseur. You take a great deal of pride in your wine. What is the role of the quality of a red wine or a wine in general? Certainly, I’m wondering if a box of wine versus a bottle of your wine would have a different health impact.

Jon Staenberg: Well, that’s an interesting question. I mean look there’s this whole discussion about – I get asked a lot about organic wines and I think there is no fixed definition, concrete definition, of what that means in the wine industry, we’re biodynamic. But just like your fruits and vegetables, you probably don’t want to be drinking wines that have been full of pesticides, insecticides, and the whole thing and fortunately Argentina is in the very fortunate position of not needing to use that stuff very much. France had the great flexera (phonetic) problem where they lost all their crops. Argentina just doesn’t really, knock on wood, they just don’t really have that issue. So we don’t use that stuff very much, if at all, and so that is one thing to consider.

There’s this whole other thing about people getting headaches from some wines and not other wines, again we don’t have the science on whether there’s some additive or not. But what we’re doing is pretty free of any of the chemicals you wouldn’t want in there and we’re not doing any additives. Some people want to add wood chips in for flavor and add sugars in and all kinds of things, no we’re not doing. I mean for us the joy, and beauty, and the truth if you will around wine is all about the fruit expressing it as it is and as it wants to express itself, not manipulating it. So we believe actually the excitement and the art here is about that. They talk about tawar (phonetic) truly expressing a place of the dirt and where it’s coming from and that’s what we’re about. So I can’t speak to everybody else and what they’re doing, but I can tell you ours is pretty pure from that standpoint.

Jonathan Bailor: Jon, what I love that you captured there is the focus on the quality because I think that this all really boils down to anything negative that someone wants to say about wine or alcohol or anything like that in general is usually couched in the context of people consuming alcohol in an abusive fashion which you’re not going to do with a high quality wine that you’re savoring. The same thing applies to food.

Jon Staenberg: Right.

Jonathan Bailor: It’s not that you should never eat dessert, it’s that if you’re going to eat dessert let’s make it worth it. Let’s make sure it’s a high quality thing and you savor it and you enjoy it and you extract all the goodness you can from it not just from a nutritional perspective, but from an emotional perspective. And in some ways, people talk about moderation, but if you really savor things, I feel like you may even self-regulate because it’s almost a spiritual experience.

Jon Staenberg: One hundred percent. I mean it’s interesting. I guess I’ll say two things about that. One is we named our vineyard something that is a uniquely Argentine Spanish word called Sobremesa which generically means on top of or above the table. But in Argentina, it actually refers to the time after a meal with family and friends where you’re sitting around and enjoying each other’s company …

Jonathan Bailor: Yeah.

Jon Staenberg: … and taking time and not doing email, and not doing all those other things, and truly taking time with what’s in front of you and being present. And I think what you’re saying is absolutely right. How often do you go out and see people chugging or not paying attention. We do dinners here in Seattle at a place called The Vood (phonetic) which is kind of a popup dining club and before or during the meal at some point I tell people stop, smell the wine, take a moment, stop what you’re doing, and actually focus on what’s in front of you. Because for me, and I can say this because I didn’t make the wine, there’s real magic in what that juice is about. And so I think if you do that in any part of your life, it’s the mindfulness stuff, right? If you do that then it’s not about mass consumption and you’ve lost what it’s about for what we’re trying to do. I can’t speak for others, but what we’re trying to do.

Jonathan Bailor: The mindfulness is key, Jon, because people talk about eat like grandma did and all these different diets and cultural practices that exist around the world and even the French paradox. But I think one common denominator that we can see around cultures is the further away they move from savoring and honoring that which they put in their body and the more they turn towards just shovel stuff in, no mindfulness, that seems to be the common denominator of just breakdown in physical health so it’s less about like can I ever drink wine or this nuance or that. It’s like look if you take a mindful quality focused approach to what you put into your body, it’s going to be pretty tough for you to achieve anything other than some pretty good results it seems.

Jon Staenberg: Yeah, it’s funny, I think about people going into a grocery store and the terrible experience of having to choose a bottle of wine and it’s overwhelming, right? And it almost becomes, gosh I’m just going to pick something that price point is cheap and the label’s cute and I’m not going to think about what that wine’s about. And what we want to do is we want to create some storytelling and some connection to a place and that’s all part of the same thing. It’s all part of that mindfulness. It’s all part of saying what’s this thing about, what am I putting into my body. And so I love what you’re doing because it totally relates and directly relates to how we think about the experience of wine.

Jonathan Bailor: Oh well thanks, Jon. And I think that lesson that you just said that what is the story behind this. I would urge everyone who’s watching and listening to this to think about that story because you will see for a great example is dairy. I eat certain dairy products that are SANE, but you’ll almost see dairy products presented as if they’re telling one story which is this happy farm where cows are running around on the grass and everyone’s smiling, and if you actually understood the story of how that got on the shelf you would never put it in your body and you would definitely not ever give it to your kid. So really also thinking about the story about what’s on your plate and what’s in your glass, Jon, I think that’s really empowering for people.

Jon Staenberg: And just if we can take it one step even further come to Argentina. Come walk the vineyard with me. I’m quite serious and about every other day I get a request from someone, hey I’ve got this friend going to Argentina, they want to visit your place, they want to drink your wine. That’s part of it and any of your listeners who are going would love to give them tips and tricks and introductions and suggestions. So I’m sincere and happy to give out my email and we’ll do that for them.

Jonathan Bailor: I appreciate that, Jon. Well on that note where can folks go to learn more about you and about Hand of God Wines?

Jon Staenberg: As you might expect, the Internet. There’s a place called handofgodwines.com so.

Jonathan Bailor: Excellent.

Jon Staenberg: And I’m just jon@handofgodwines.com so if anyone wants to reach out, I’m here. But we’d love to connect with you even if it’s just questions or thoughts, we’d love to connect with you.

Jonathan Bailor: I love it. Well, folks check out handofgodwines.com. Our wonderful guest today was the always delightful Jon Staenberg. Jon, thank you so much for joining us.

Jon Staenberg: Thanks buddy, I loved it.

Jonathan Bailor: Listeners and viewers, I hope you enjoyed this chat as much as I did, such great takeaways, what is the story behind what you’re putting in your body. And again if you can have that focus on consciousness and that focus on quality things get a lot simpler and a lot more enjoyable so tough to beat that. Anyway, have a great day and remember stay SANE.