Archive | The Kahina story

Great roots!

The recent release of the VHR Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Hill Ranch, Katharine’s Napa Valley”roots”, is receiving rave reviews. Here’s the most recent from esteemed wine critic Antonio Galloni in his wine blog Vinous:

The 2013s from Vine Hill Ranch, block by block

It’s hard to believe just how far Bruce and Heather Phillips have come in just a few years. Of course, the Phillips family has been supplying grapes to some of the Napa Valleys top wineries for decades, but that is not the same as making wine. Ever since their debut vintage 2008, the Phillipses have quietly but surely staked out a place for themselves among the top producers in Napa Valley. Vineyard guru Mike Wolf and Winemaker Françoise Peschon bring an extraordinary level of passion to Vine Hill Ranch that is evident in every detail.

Vine Hill Ranch currently produces just one wine, which is a blend of six separate blocks on the property. The 2013 harvest was a full three weeks ahead of 2012. Peschon opted to leave the wines on their lees as long as possible. The 2013s were racked in March, right after the malos finished. The five blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon in this tasting are all vivid and remarkably different. Block 6L, the single largest component, is drop-dead gorgeous. Petit Verdot has yet to be used in a final blend at Vine Hill Ranch, but the 2013 is beyond beautiful. The 2012, tasted just prior to bottling, could turn out to be one of the wines of the vintage. I also had a chance to re-visit the 2010 and 2011 from bottle. Both wines confirm their place among the best wines of their respective years. Readers who haven’t tasted Vine Hill Ranch owe it to themselves to do so. This is without question one of the most exciting properties in Napa Valley today.

– Antonio Galloni

Hearty congratulations to Katharine’s brother, Bruce, and his wife, Heather, for spearheading the project, and to the passionate and dedicated wine-making team!

Business With Berbers


I have found that most of Moroccan business is done over tea and a handshake at the very least, and more often involves a show of their extreme hospitality.  I was invited to numerous meals in the homes of my Berber friends, all of which included enough food to feed the entire village.  These meals were extravagant by any means, especially considering the relative poverty of my hosts.  Amazing multi-course meals, in which all the ingredients were grown organically on the premises, were produced in the simplest of homes over a wood-burning stove.  Even inside the cooperatives, the Berber women would share their simple staple of ground argan nuts combined with honey and olive oil.

These events are the starting point for good, lasting business relationships in Morocco.   The exchange of money is never mentioned during these meals, which can last for hours once the rituals of hand washing and drinking tea have been completed, the “bismallah’s have been said, and the food eaten from a communal plate.

The elaborate paperwork that is required to import products, meet FDA and cosmetic manufacturing regulations pales in importance to the bonds formed over good food and mint tea and for that reason the business forms we rely on can be difficult to obtain.  Most urgent requests for paperwork are met with “I’ll send it to you next week Inshallah (interpreted to mean something like “I’ll send it to you if God wills that my computer works, my car doesn’t break down, it isn’t a feast day, or  there is any other possible obstruction.”).

While we can email the most basic information to each other in French, when I am there conversation requires two translators — from English to Arabic, and from Arabic to Berber.  Interviewing the women who work in the cooperatives on a recent visit was a version of the childhood game of telephone – I would ask a question, which was translated into Arabic and then into Berber for the final recipient.  Peals of laughter and chatter would ring the room of women before an answer would come back down the line to me, which by the time it reached me would be reduced to a simple word or two.

I am often amazed when the oil actually arrives.  The first few shipments I received were shipped to the Post Office in rustic, hand-made wooden crates with nails sticking out of them and my address  scrawled on the outside in black ink.  It took a month for them to arrive by boat and by the time the crates got to me, the writing was barely legible.

But it is this part of the experience that keeps bringing me back to Morocco, to the simple life there and good-humored temperament of the people that live there  And it is this experience I hope to share with others through Kahina Giving Beauty.

Making a Mark: Helping the Berber Women


Most women of the argan cooperatives are illiterate and some are just learning to write their names through literacy programs provided by the cooperatives. Meeting these women for the first time,  it struck me that these women could barely write their names and yet they were producing the most amazing product.  It occurred to me that I could help them and produce a line of products that women here would want to buy.

In trying to bring these women to life for customers, I collected their signatures  and graphic marks which form the base of the package design. I use these signatures on the packaging so that people can understand what it means for them to be illiterate and then to learn to write their name or to navigate a bus route for the first time.  I also wanted to showcase the lyrical, beautiful side of the simple way these women live.

Since my first trip to Morocco, I have been back six times in order to source the oil from the cooperatives myself instead of going through a broker.  I want to know the source of the oil and test it for quality.  I have become friends with the women who work to extract the oil, and I let them indicate how they will allocate the resources I raise for them.

It has become clear that while few, if any, of these women has any formal schooling, education for their children is a top priority for them.  While there are some public elementary schools, early education is clearly lacking.  One of the cooperatives from which I source my oil outside of Agadir has indicated that they would like to build a preschool with the money.  Another cooperative houses a small classroom, but it badly needs electricity and supplies.  Yet another cooperative is in the process of building a women’s center complete with preschool, and a classroom to provide the women with literacy and women’s rights programs and could use help toward completing this project.  My measure of success will be when I am breaking ground on a preschool in a small village near Biougra.

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