When I first met Peter Liem, I had a lot more hair, and my beard was all pepper and no salt. He was a fairly obscure guy publishing a journal called The Riesling Report and I was a fairly obscure guy selling the aforementioned Riesling wherever I could, with fitful success. The paucity of people like us made us conspicuous to one another, and I followed Peter and his work through his early wine bar and then through his writings for various publications, and then through his new preoccupations with Champagne (and Sherry) and finally to his arriving at remarkable stature as an oracle of Champagne, resident in the region, keeper of a hugely informative and erudite website, and finally author of a seminal work that constitutes a pivot-point in the literature of Champagne, much as his earlier book on Sherry altered the landscape for that topic.
Liem also created and maintains an indispensible website devoted to all things Champagne: www.ChampagneGuide.net
After Peter moved to Champagne, we found it possible to coordinate our schedules so that we could travel together on my tasting itinerary in the middle of March. Peter knew I wouldn’t be dunning him for inside information or peering over his shoulder at his tasting notes, and because we both understood the protocols of being professionals with interlocking yet separate agendas, we were able to be cordially collegial. We were also able to make friends, and I was able to gain a deepened appreciation for Peter’s methods, palate, temperament and for the way he processed information.
If Peter Liem is a “star” of the wine world, it’s not because he was on every rooftop shouting. Rather the reverse. He was always and insistently just where he needed to be, quietly. I find myself, as a rule, to be a fairly low key guy, but even my affect felt loud when I was with Peter – and I say that ruefully and with great affection.
Cards on the table; I have unreserved admiration for Peter Liem, in addition to the affection I feel for him. His calm seriousness is like a balm for me. I’ve never liked the word “wisdom,” but if there is such a thing, then Peter finds his way to it unerringly.
Recently Peter developed a passion for deep sea diving, and I finally saw a side of him more visibly passionate than I’d known him to be. I confess I found it beautiful. I wanted to start by asking him about it. A final note; I usually structure these interviews more as conversations than as Q&A, by means of frequent interjections in email chains that can grow quite complex. But Peter’s answers to my first round of questions were so articulate and fascinating that I wanted fewer interjections from me. Now and again I’ll enlarge on a point he’s made, but for the most part this is a tribute to a remarkable man and an indispensible citizen of the world of wine – especially when they grow on chalk. Which brings us to the sea. Which brings us….to diving.
TERRY: So: diving. WTF? In all seriousness, please tell me how it is for you. What do you experience, what draws you back to it so compellingly, what have you learned about this part of yourself that was so particularly awakened by the experience?
PETER: I’ve always wanted to scuba dive ever since I was a little kid watching Jacques Cousteau and reading National Geographic, but I never had the opportunity, or later, never made the opportunity, as I was occupied with other things (like champagne). So I didn’t learn to dive until I was already 43 years old, and I’m now making up for lost time. In the past four years I’ve done 350 dives on six continents (I’m currently scheduled for the seventh but have had to delay it because of Covid), in all sorts of underwater environments, not just tropical reefs. A fair portion of it has been what other people might consider a little extreme: diving under ice in Lake Baikal in Siberia, technical diving (diving deeper and longer than recreational limits allow), diving World War I wrecks in the north of Scotland, things like that. I spent this past winter in Mexico getting certified as a cave diver with GUE, the most rigorous and demanding training organization, so I’m quite proud of that—for me, cave diving is one of the pinnacles of the diving world, an uncompromising test of both your physical and mental capabilities.
A lot of what compels me to dive is being able to experience environments that most human beings will never see, explore wonders of this planet that most people have no inkling of. It’s a magical thing, going 1,000 feet into an underwater cave amidst breathtakingly grandiose limestone formations, or swimming with whitetip sharks 160 feet below the surface on an ocean reef wall encrusted with coral, or drifting underneath a four foot-thick layer of ice with the most incredible light patterns filtering down all around you. Diving connects you with this planet in a particularly intimate way, literally immersing you in the splendor of the natural world, and it can’t help but reinforce your appreciation of the living, breathing environment that surrounds you. I always think that if more people could experience the underwater world, perhaps we as a species would value our planet more and learn to take better care of it.
TERRY: What was your first dive like?
PETER: It’s funny, before you’re allowed into open water you have to train in a pool, which I found really claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I was afraid that maybe diving wasn’t really going to be for me, but everything changed the moment that I got into the ocean. It was in Thailand, off of Ko Phi Phi, and it was an unexpected moment of epiphany, like coming back to a home that I had never known. I was immediately captivated and wanted to learn more, and I’m maybe a little surprised now at how quickly it’s become a significant part of my identity.
TERRY: You really never know where that thing may be found, and many of us never find it, and we make do with whatever comes closest. I think every person who reads what you just said will be moved, and some will be envious. By “some” I mean “me.”
Which reminds me to ask, have you seen “My Octopus Teacher?”
PETER: I loved that movie! It’s a different kind of diving than I do, as he’s a freediver, diving exclusively on breath holds. Me, I like breathing. But I can relate to his sentiments, and I’ve dived in South Africa so I can attest to how cold the waters around Cape Town really are. Octopuses are really intelligent and sophisticated creatures, and I see them quite frequently underwater. They’re truly amazing—I had already stopped eating octopus about five years ago, even before becoming a diver, and now the very idea is revolting. To me it would be like eating your cat or your dog.
TERRY: Is your love of diving in a different compartment from your love of wine, or is there a doorway through which these things pass into each other?
PETER: I think they’re very separate things, although I would love to personally bring up some 19th-century bottles from an old shipwreck someday. But that’s unlikely to happen. If there’s any connection, it’s maybe that I approach them in a similar way. When I started learning about wine, I wasn’t content to just enjoy a bottle with dinner now and then. I wanted to learn everything, to taste everything, to experience all the breadth and diversity that the wine world has to offer. So it’s a bit the same with diving: I love spending my holidays swimming around a warm, tropical reef and looking at fish as much as anyone, but I’m not satisfied with that being the totality of my diving experience. I want to see and do everything.
TERRY: Shifting gears, I first knew you as a Riesling guy. Why do you think you ended up in Epernay rather than….Bernkastel?
PETER: It developed as a response to the times, honestly. As a young wine professional in the mid- to late '90s I was traveling a lot in wine regions across Western and Central Europe, focusing heavily on Burgundy but really trying to go everywhere and meet everybody and taste everything. I was writing the Riesling Report with Kirk Wille, as you know, which took me a lot to Alsace and the wine regions of Germany and Austria, and those experiences instilled in me an everlasting love for all things riesling, as well as the other grape varieties of those areas. But as much as wine paradigms were in flux all over Europe at that time, with winegrowers everywhere asking questions about viticulture, winemaking, identity, meaning, process and the like, I felt that no appellation was reexamining itself to the degree that Champagne was. And this was stuff that you couldn’t read in books, or even in the media.
You, Terry, were already working with grower champagne by 1997, but apart from your catalogs, which I thirstily devoured, there wasn’t anybody writing about what was actually happening on the ground in Champagne at that time. So if I wanted to learn about it, I had to go there, which I did. And the more I went, the more I realized how much I didn’t know, and how much was actually happening, and how significant all of this actually was. I also realized that just visiting Champagne once or twice a year wasn’t going to allow me to accomplish what I wanted to, and so eventually I was able to move myself to the region full-time.
TERRY: How’s the book doing? I mean that in terms of sales, but more importantly in terms of the place it holds in the “conversation” around Champagne. (Which I feel your book should have fundamentally altered, just so you know where this question’s coming from.)
PETER: Thank you! It’s doing well, and sales are continuing to be strong. We’re in the third printing now, I think, so that’s gratifying. To be honest, I’m probably the wrong person to ask about its impact, as I don’t have that kind of perspective. There have been a number of champagne books that have come out over the last few years that are notably different from those being written before, reflecting the new paradigm(s) of champagne that we’re now existing in, and that’s been exciting. I’m happy to have been a part of that.
TERRY: You’ve been close to Champagne for how many years now? We all know the dramatic and visible changes that region is experiencing. But can you suggest ongoing changes that are so subtle or so slow-moving, that we don’t see unless we’re as close (or as observant) as you are?
PETER: I began making annual trips to Champagne in 1997 and began living in the region at the end of 2006, so it’s been a while now. Not that it’s at all invisible, but I don’t think that we give enough credit to Champagne for improvements in viticulture, or environmental efforts in general. Obviously it’s very much a work in progress, and there is a long, long way to go, but having conversations about viticulture in the region today is significantly different from how it was when I first came to Champagne. It’s easy for a wine tourist to visit and look at the ground and dismiss these vineyards as shit, especially when there’s bits of blue plastic in them (because it never goes away, not even in vineyards that have been biodynamic for 20 years), but to do that betrays your ignorance of what’s really been happening in the region.
TERRY: For example? And who are some of the people spearheading these developments?
PETER: Of course the most forward-thinking producers are at the forefront of the evolution: viticulturists like Anselme Selosse, Pascal Agrapart, Pascal Doquet, Emmanuel Lassaigne and many others are well-known for their leadership, Louis Roederer is doing incredible and visionary work in their vines that most consumers are unaware of, Pierre Paillard is spearheading a terrific project on massale selections and genetic vine material. But what’s happening in Champagne involves much more than just the top 5 percent of producers in the avant-garde, and maybe that’s the quiet part that not everyone pays attention to. It’s striking, in fact, to see how much this conversation (or these conversations, to be more accurate) have permeated the Champagne culture, and to be fair, the CIVC itself has implemented its share of initiatives over the last 20 years to try to push the region forward. Clearly we are impatient for more rapid advances, more urgent developmental improvement, larger structural change. But in a region with 34,000 hectares of vines, things will always move more slowly than we’d like. Observers can be cynical if they want, but if you compare baselines from today and 20 years ago, they are actually significantly different, and I choose to see this as incremental progress. But all of this is directly related to the larger issue - the really big and slow-moving baseline change - of us (meaning all of us as consumers, professionals or wine producers) actually treating champagne as a real wine. Instead of seeing it exclusively as a branded luxury product or a beverage of celebration, we as a culture have finally started to treat champagne as a wine like any other, asking the same questions and demanding the same answers of champagne as we would of other wines, and this simple yet significant shift in perspective has created opportunities for all these other things to happen.
TERRY: You are someone who draws back the curtain, who shows us that “things aren’t as you assume them to be,” first with Sherry and then with Champagne. Are there other places in the wine world that you feel are essentially misunderstood?
PETER: Champagne and sherry have been misunderstood in much the same ways, which is curious. Both are blended from different vintages, which today is a sort of anachronistic oddity in the wine world. Both of them occupy categories so niche that many consumers don’t even think of them as “wine”. Even when they are acknowledged as wine, both have come to be widely regarded primarily as wines of process rather than place, which is ironic because both actually have long and remarkably detailed histories of site identification and specificity of place, which were only suppressed in the last half of the 20th century. I don’t think there are many other wines that face similar obstacles in comprehension—in general, most wine regions aren’t necessarily misunderstood, they’re just under-appreciated or suffering from lack of exposure. The one other category that I would cite, which I’m sure you would too, is German riesling.
TERRY: Well gosh, I’d never ever have thought of that….
PETER: Obviously it suffers from similar misconceptions about the role of sugar as champagne does, and it’s frustrating to see this not only among consumers but producers as well. You get it from both sides, too—on the one hand you have those people who insist that a wine has to be bone dry in order to be any good, and on the other you have to fight the popular misconception that all German wines are dessert wines.
TERRY: It’s been a singular and mischievous issue of my wine-life, that I happened to have two regions in my valise that were challenged by a total misunderstanding of residual sugar. But on a happier note….Champagne has usually been a wine of a certain sensuousness, in ways that seem to defy definition. Think of a good Tête-du-Cuvée from an honorable negoç as an example of what I mean. To the degree that many grower’s wines are highly terroir-specific, do they risk squandering the sensuous overtones that made Champagne so singular?
If so, is this a “squander,” or does the good outweigh the “bad?” (Hébrart’s wines square this circle virtuosically, in my view.)
PETER: I don’t think that terroir expression or a narrow sense of terroir specificity is necessarily antithetical to sensuousness. Les Chétillons, for example, always seems to produce sensuous wines, no matter who makes it, and I often think of wines like Gaston Chiquet’s Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ, or René Geoffroy’s Empreinte, or Pierre Paillard’s Les Maillerettes that feel so keenly reflective of a specific place yet that are also simply delicious to drink, “moreish” if you’re British, maybe “slurpable” if you’re American. (And yes, J-P Hébrart is the grandmaster of this!) There are many examples demonstrating that these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I think the problem of squandering sensuality arises when either the producer or the taster becomes blinded by tunnel vision, and most of the time this is related to dosage. It’s usually due to inflexible philosophy—refusing to use dosage purely out of principle—and so you make a wine that’s incomplete, or at the very least it’s less good, simply to satisfy your moral convictions. But there’s also a sort of Champenois “cellar palate” that develops among growers who habitually only taste wine that they disgorge à la volée, and they become accustomed to that profile, and even seek it out. So they’ll release a wine that’s really imbalanced and aggressive, because they’ve learned to actually like it that way. That’s Minerality! Um, no. That’s the raspiness of acidity that occurs when your champagne lacks sufficient dosage. Somewhere along the line we conflated minerality with severity, but there’s no reason that soil expression has to feel severe. And ironically, you would see an even greater and more complex expression of minerality in your wine if it were correctly dosed.
TERRY: In the general literature of Champagne today, are there still misconceptions that frustrate you? Does this apply to the day-to-day commentary on Champagne also, or more?
PETER: Dosage, more than anything, continues to be the single most misunderstood subject in Champagne. It’s not just by consumers either, it’s wine professionals and even champagne producers themselves. The huge error of perspective is making the mistake of thinking that dosage is an issue of sweetness. Like I like my coffee black but you might like it with a little sugar, and that’s just a matter of taste, you simply prefer it a little sweeter. But that’s not at all how dosage works. In my book I make the analogy of salt: we don’t necessarily add salt to our food to make it salty, but rather to work in conjunction with other components of a dish to make it more complete. Salt makes beef beefier; or conversely, too little salt makes a phenomenal cut of beef less beefy. Salt’s ability to enhance and augment other flavors parallels the role of dosage in amplifying and expanding the other components of a champagne: magnifying and layering the flavors, lengthening and giving more dimension to the structure, and yes, even increasing the intensity and complexity of terroir expression. When winemakers say things like “My wine is so good that it doesn’t need dosage,” or “You just like that version because you like sweeter wines,” it exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of what dosage is and how it functions in champagne.
It’s not at all that I don’t like non-dosé champagnes or that I don’t think there are excellent non-dosé or low-dosage champagnes being made. There are many, and I try to highlight those whenever I encounter them. But every champagne has its own appropriate dosage level specific to that wine, no matter whether it’s 4 g/l, 8 g/l or, for a proportionally small number, 0 g/l, and it’s the responsibility of the producer to figure out what that is. You and I have seen in many dosage trials—tasting the same champagne at multiple dosage levels—how the sugar seems to vanish into the wine when the dosage hits that correct fulcrum point, or how a champagne that has too little dosage can sometimes actually taste sweeter than it does when it’s properly dosed, because the imbalance of sugar makes it stick out more. This kind of exercise is really valuable in learning how dosage works, but most end users never get to make these comparisons, so I understand why it’s difficult to comprehend.
TERRY: Even when sweetness is understood as helpful, it is often misconstrued as a kind of palliative to relieve a wine of some pain it’s thought to be in. The most blatant example is wines with uncomfortably high acidity, which are often “corrected” by attempting to balance them with equally excessive levels of sweetness. “Sweetness balances acid” is the prevailing platitude. But in such cases you never really get balance; you only get a symmetry of excesses. It may seem to work at the very beginning, but such wines often fall apart quite young. It also reinforces a theory that’s actually implausible, and doesn’t help the cause of understanding the role of sweetness as a highly useful facet in many white wines.
You also see the same mistake made in what look like opposite circumstances, when a wine that’s too low in acidity is left to be entirely (and often brutally) dry because it doesn’t “need” sweetness. In Champagne when a base wine is overripe and with correspondingly low acid levels, withholding sweetness only leaves that wine with all its rudeness and clumsiness exposed. Sweetness isn’t medicine to administer to a sick patient! It is, rather, a vintner’s best friend.
PETER: I like "symmetry of excesses". It's true that an excess of anything rarely bodes well in the long term. It's a good point about low acidity and overripeness too. We saw that clearly with the 2003s, where most Champenois thought that these wines needed a lower dosage, or none at all, due to their ripeness. In fact, most of those have not evolved well at all, and the successful champagnes from that vintage were often from those people like Selosse who actually raised their dosage.
TERRY: I’d like to talk about the role of dosage in aging, but that leads me to ruminate about aging in general, and how little I think we understand it. I find myself questioning whether any of us really knows how and why wines age. Every truism I was fed has evaporated. Wine ages on its acidity? Not if the acidity is unbalanced. Wine ages on its pH? Ibid. Wine ages on its extract, total density, fruit; those things may be true, or partly true, but exceptions are so frequent that we can’t posit any of these theories as proven. The only hypothesis I’d defend right now is, all other things being equal, the sweeter a (white) wine is, the more slowly it will age. I am also tempted by the notion that a vintage that is balanced along moderate lines, that is, not marked by intensity, is likely to remain balanced and age gracefully.
Regarding reds, and the idea that they age on their tannins, I think this is mistaken. Yes, old wine has less tannin than it did when it was young, but that does not indicate that it was tannin that preserved the wine. Some other thing preserved the wine, and meanwhile tannin was diminishing. For proof, look at how well some low-tannin wines age: Burgundy, Rioja (traditional versions at least) most dramatically.
Given that both of us have been surprised by vintages that fell apart far sooner than we surmised, and also that vintages we assumed were for “quick drinking” ended up developing gradually and gracefully….what do you think?
PETER: I am inclined to agree with your thoughts about aging—any statements that definitively attribute aging potential to a specific component or feature of a wine seem destined to fail. Certainly the misguided Champenois ideas about acidity or pH being the primary factor of aging are problematic, despite, annoyingly, their continuing prevalence in the region. (And like you say, it parallels a similar fallacy with tannin in red wine.) As with other big questions like premox, the answers probably involve multiple factors simultaneously, as well as the interconnectedness of these factors. I do feel that aging, or aging well, is linked to things like extract and density, and this is one of the issues that contemporary viticulture is seeking to address. To me that's more important, overall, than sugar.
There's no question that sugar can act as a preservative, and we see countless examples of that around the world (as well as in Champagne). But simply dosing your champagne higher is not, I think, going to increase its aging potential. Why did most vintages of the '80s and '90s (and some wines of the '70s) decline earlier than we expected, while vintages of the '50s and '60s continued to thrive, or at least to demonstrate greater longevity? It's not just sugar—okay, dosage may have been slightly higher in the previous era, but it was hardly lacking in the '80s and '90s, and it's clear that the wines have, in general, not aged the same way at all. I believe that it's influenced by viticulture, and that the viticulture of the '50s and '60s gave those wines a substance and life-force that the heavily industrial practices of the later decades could not replicate (hence the growing obsession with things like acidity). I can't prove this, of course, so it's a matter of faith. But I think that most of the people who are working conscientiously in their vineyards today believe this too, and that we will generally see greater longevity from those people in the '00s and '10s than from the dark ages of the '80s and '90s. I think, too, that this is what will enable contemporary, high-quality non-dosé and lower dosage champagnes to age gracefully, provided that those wines were actually suited to their dosages (or lack thereof) in the first place.
It's interesting to think about moderate vintages versus intense ones. We've certainly had surprises on both sides, and it's true that some moderate vintages that were initially underrated have evolved better than some intense (and highly esteemed) ones of similar age. I often wonder what the trajectory of contemporary vintages will be like: 2008, for example, was an intense vintage, and I like it a lot, for now.
TERRY: As do I, but I’m wondering whether now isn’t the ideal time to drink it. What will happen to all that acidity-driven torque? But what about other recent vintages?
PETER: 2012 and 2002 were intense as well, but perhaps in a more classical or less extreme way. 2004, 2013 and 2014 were more moderate vintages that have continued to get better and better every time you taste them, and I like those a lot too. I hope I'll get to follow some of these wines for a while.
TERRY: Have you ever had a desire to make wine? (I myself have not, about which I sometimes feel a little ashamed…)
PETER: I did make wine once, with a friend of mine, Eric Pottmeyer. We made a couple of vintages of pinot gris in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, 1999 and 2000. It was basically just on a whim: a lot of the pinot gris that we were tasting at the wine shop where we worked was pretty unsatisfying, but David O’Reilly had made this terrific one in 1998 from the Elvenglade Vineyard, which is relatively cool-climate and high elevation, so we asked him to hook us up with some fruit. It was really low-budget, literally made in Eric’s garage, and we had no real clue about winemaking, but we had specific ideas of what we wanted and plenty of winemaker friends to advise us. We got a barrel from John Paul at Cameron that had previously been used for Clos Electrique Blanc, and we fermented our pinot gris in it without malo, bottling it directly from the cask like [Nikolaihof’s] Hefeabzug or Muscadet. It turned out really well, and it’s proved to be surprisingly long-lived. I last tasted a bottle maybe five years ago, and it was still fresh and delicious. So I learned a lot by doing that. But I think that’s an itch that I’ve sufficiently scratched now.
TERRY: Thought exercise: create a family of wines that you think share a certain common DNA, starting with Champagne. Who, in other words, are Champagne’s siblings, cousins, distant cousins? (Idiot uncles?)
PETER: The wine regions of Burgundy are its obvious siblings, with Chablis and the Aube’s Côte des Bar being fraternal twins. Sherry, especially fino and manzanilla, is a clearly related cousin, which might not initially be apparent but which quickly becomes so upon scrutiny. I would say the same for Mosel Riesling. More distant relatives might be white wines of the Canary Islands, or Assyrtiko from Santorini, even Hunter Valley Semillon.
TERRY: Thought exercise II: what, for you, is a vision of a beautiful life? I mean for yourself. This doesn’t have to be attainable; it’s an invitation to dream.
PETER: The older I get, the simpler my desires are, which I’m sure is hardly an uncommon or original sentiment. It’s not that I’ve lost ambition, but rather I’ve gained a greater appreciation for simplicity. When you put that in words it sounds awfully cliché, but I’ve gradually noticed that this is how I’m choosing to live my life. I do miss water, when I’m away from it for too long. My dream would be to someday live at least part of the year in a place where I could wake up every day, put on a couple of tanks and spend the morning underwater. (I currently live next to the Marne River, but that doesn’t quite cut it.) The most beautiful life for me would be if I could live in a version of Champagne that was located by the sea. But I moved here around 40 million years too late for that.
TERRY: What are some great bottles of wine you drank alone? And did you wish others were there, or was it OK to be solitary?
PETER: I always think that wine is better when it’s shared. I have many bottles in my cellar that I would never open unless it were with someone else, and even bottles earmarked for sharing with specific people in my life. The only times I’ve ever drunk great bottles by myself were when I was traveling alone and had no real choice. Like having dinner at Landhaus Bacher, where you want to drink everything on the list. I remember drinking a 1979 Nikolaihof Steiner Hund there by myself, and of course the bottle was utterly, magnificently profound, one of those singular wines that etches itself indelibly into your memory. But I would have enjoyed it even more if I were sharing it with a friend.
TERRY: What’s on the walls around your writing desk? (Or desks?)
PETER: The wall above my desk is embarrassingly empty, but that’s because I’m preparing it for wallpaper, which has seemed to take years. I’m trying to make custom wallpaper from the Champagne section of the map of France that the Cassini family made in the 18th century, which would be super cool. The rest of the room is covered with bookcases, filled with books of all sorts, not just wine. I converted to a standing desk a few years ago and I really like it. I try to keep it almost entirely cleared, which I know some say is a sign of an empty mind, but it gives me lots of room to make tea or set up wine samples or spread paper out for art projects and things like that. The only things that permanently sit on my desk are an old Salon magnum box that houses my tasting notebooks and a little vintage globe from the '50s that I use to mark all the places I’ve dived.
TERRY: If you contemplate the arc of your life, what surprises you? Do you ever look back and think “I had no idea I’d have ended up doing that (or this)? I thought I’d be a lumberjack! (Cue up the “Lumberjack Song,” and be glad I’m not asking whether you’ve ever eaten Spam….)
PETER: All of it has been a surprise, honestly. (I’m a cave diver? WTF) Not that it’s been haphazard, but I’ve always seemed to go where my energy directs me, and it hasn’t always been a straight path, nor has it always conformed to conventional norms. Nor has it helped me financially—in fact, it’s usually been detrimental. Maybe it was linked to the rebelliousness of being a second-generation Asian-American and explicitly rejecting the doctor/lawyer/banker road that was culturally laid out for me. It was certainly influenced by my liberal arts education, in which I prioritized reading, writing and thinking over following career paths. But I’ve always felt it more important to live meaningfully than to make money for the sake of making money, and much of my life has been an attempt to balance both of those things.