Fall 2012
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Benjamin Spencer of Leojami Wines

Wine & Words

By Lisa Birman, MFA

Benjamin Spencer (BA, 2000) doesn't feel any need to choose between his passions. Winemaker, enological consultant, journalist, novelist—each venture fits into his commitment to leading a fulfilling life whilst contributing to the lives of others.

Ben first came to Naropa as a Summer Writing Program student in 1995, returning to complete his BA in Writing & Literature. He sees the effects of his Naropa education in both the wine and the words he produces. "I sit with things for a long time before I release them...In writing this is a much more metaphysical relationship between the self and the "Muse." In wine, it's a very real and direct relationship to our environment, to the vintage, to agriculture, to fermentation science."

Ben founded Leojami Wines in 2008 with his wife, cookbook editor, Nadine Guarrera. This family-owned micro-winery produces single-vineyard single-variety wines from quality-conscious farmers in Monterey County. Leojami's focus is always on quality over quantity, with a total production of approximately three thousand bottles per year. Distribution is aimed at local and sustainable venues, including grocery stores, wine shops, and restaurants. Ben and his wife recently relocated to Sicily, where they are developing Leojami's imports division focusing on natural wines from Italy. Ben will be involved in making some of the wines, and will also be promoting and importing other varieties through American Wine Maker, the new consulting arm of Leojami Wines.

The move to Italy is also a chance for Ben to refocus his energy towards writing. As well as making delicious and sustainable wine, Ben has continued to nurture his passion for writing. He is the founder and editor of the online journal,American Wine Writer, where he publishes educational and entertaining articles about his experiences in the wine industry. He is also executive editor of the online literary journal Cadillac Cicatrix, which had its first incarnation as a letterpress publication produced in Naropa's Kavyayantra Printshop. The journal focuses on innovative writing and art, and has published Kerouac School frequent guests Bob Holman and Ed Sanders, among others.

Ben is excited about keeping all of these ventures alive and flourishing from abroad. "The nice thing about technology is that we all are increasingly able to lighten our load while continuing to do the things we love. Almost all the projects I am currently working on are digital manifestations of my real interests. They are ways to share and promote what are naturally very small projects on a global scale, with very little infrastructure and a lot of knowhow. These are all projects I can manage from anywhere in the world. They are projects which bring me in contact with a great number of amazing people and give me opportunities to pay it forward, to share with all of you."

Ben has just released the first in a series of four novels. Honey Rider, available in print and online, is a fictionalized memoir of the months immediately following his summer at Naropa in 1995. The second installment, Shallow Midwest Blues, is set at the Naropa campus and at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Ben has some inspiring advice for Naropa students and social entrepreneurs: "Set your sights higher than your goals and do what your gut tells you to do while you're getting there. It might seem or feel selfish sometimes to pursue something that gives you so much pleasure, but you only have one chance in this world to do what's right for you. Hopefully, that means giving something back to the world that gave you life...As Jack Kerouac said, "goGoGO!""