Beau Paysage in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

We’ve all felt trembles inside while tasting very special wines, but experiencing an earthquake as I sipped a world-class Pinot Gris was a new thing for me.

In Japan, of course, earthquakes are a fairly common occurrence. It’s an island that is harsh to inhabit in many ways, and it’s certainly not the easiest climate for growing wine grapes.

Given the intense humidity of Japan, hybrid grapes are very popular. The red grape Muscat Bailey-A is the most planted grape in Japan; you’ll also encounter the white grape Koshu, perhaps skin-fermented, as well as the North American hybrid Niagara and Kerner from Germany. Still, there’s strong enthusiasm for European vitis vinifera across the country.

Chatting with Eishi Okamoto of Beau Paysage in Tsegane

In Yamanashi prefecture, the main wine-growing region of Japan, the winemaker Eishi Okamoto farms 3 hectares of French varieties and produces wines of elegance that will stir something inside you, even if there are no tectonic plates moving below when you try them. His label is called Beau Paysage.

We visited Eishi on a very warm and sunny early August day. First, we stopped into the vineyards, in a town called Tsegane, which is a plateau sitting at 800 meters above sea level, surrounded by the mountains known as the “Japanese Alps.”

Eishi, who is a trim man probably in his forties, and quite shy — later in the day, after many glasses of wine, he laughed open-mouthed, but until then he was very reserved — pointed out the varieties as we passed through the rows, which as you can see are trellised with the vertical shoot system.

The vine canopies were carefully hedged on top, work Eishi does by hand. He never plows, just lets the weeds grow in between the rows. There was primarily Merlot, as well as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Pinot Blanc (and a mutation that produces yellow grapes, which Eishi has dubbed Pinot d’Or), Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Much of the vineyard is volcanic soil. Eishi planted these vines in 1999-2000.

The farming in Tsegane is primarily organic. However, since 2011 Eishi has resorted to using a synthetic fungicide in the vineyards to combat something called “banper” disease, which he says would cause absolute destruction.

The rest of the day was spent leisurely tasting Eishi’s wines and discussing them, as well as natural wine more generally, with the help of our mutual friends, the natural wine distributor Lulie Cross and the natural wine journalist Junko Nakahama, who translated back-and-forth. Eishi’s wife served us some homemade egg-and-veggie sushi, as well as cold soba. Their young kids came in and out of the kitchen and at one point I curled up on the couch with them to let the older one read to me from their picture books.

We listened to classical and jazz — in fact, Eishi has commissioned a few albums of music compiled to match his wines, but it’s not just an aesthetic project, he sells the booklets that accompany these albums as a fundraiser to create awareness about the prevalence of sugar being added to wine throughout Japan. Eishi explained that this sugar is sourced from places like Brazil, where its growth contributes to the destruction of rainforests. I’ll admit, the connection between classical music and sugar monocropping might not seem obvious — but I know that it can feel impossible to make any political statement within the culture of wine, so I admire the effort.

One other interesting thing Eishi said was regarding sorting the grapes upon harvest — something he does not do, which surprised me given his seemingly meticulous nature and the tidiness of his sparse winery. But Eishi asked us to “imagine a movie theater that only allowed in the young and healthy…” If he made wine like this, Eishi said, it would be “too uniform.” He “prefers harmony.” I thought that was such a lovely explanation.

We briefly saw the winery, although not much was going on. If you want to learn more about Eishi’s winemaking, including his very special bottling technique, definitely check out this post by the veteran natural wine blogger Bert of Wine Terroirs — he visited when the winery was more in action.

Eishi doesn’t see Beau Paysage as a beacon of natural winemaking — in fact, he wasn’t even aware of the concept, and simply felt he was working within a tradition of Japanese craftmanship, until an influential Tokyo-based wine bar owner and importer, the recently passed Shinsaku Katsuyama, visited Eishi’s winery with a bottle from the Alsatian winemaker Bruno Schueller. That wine and that encounter showed Eishi how natural winemaking was a global movement, and pushed him further in the non-interventionist direction.

Below are my impressions of the wines we tasted at Eishi’s house, surrounded by rice paddies. Note that recent vintages have been made without sulfur additions. We also had the pleasure of trying the 2014 Chardonnay a few days earlier in Tokyo, and it was a wonderful bottle, elegantly balanced between round and mineral aspects, with stonefruit and citric notes in harmony. It was aged with some new oak, which is a practice Eishi employs largely because of the lack of neutral oak available in Japan. The new oak didn’t bother me too much although it was noticeable. If you find the bottle, I recommend cellaring it.

The experimental Pinot d’Or wine
  • 2017 Pinot d’Or – Eishi managed to produce 15 bottles of this varietal anomaly! We really liked it — 11% ABV with a slight orange hue from three weeks’ maceration; with notes of fresh-cut grass and white peach and a warm, inviting texture. Since he had a very small amount of Pinot d’Or grapes, Eishi put them on top of Chardonnay must in the basket press he uses for all his wines (you cannot get enough leverage to press if the amount is too minuscule). The wine was aged in large sake bottles (very practical!).

 

  • 2015 “A HUM” Sauvignon Blanc – I was so interested to find out that Eishi’s whites are named “A HUM” after the full pronunciation of the word many yoga practitioners know as “OM.” This wine also received three weeks of skin contact — all of the whites ferment and age in stainless steel, by the way — he has these nice 225-Liter stainless drums. It had a nose of lemon drops and yellow peaches, and the wine had a stunning balance of minerality, notes of yuzu and blood orange, and a soft but lasting finish. I really liked this one. (Note that the A HUM white wines are distinguished only by the color of the words on the label!)

 

  • 2014 “A HUM” Pinot Blanc – Most people don’t think of Pinot Blanc as an exciting variety, but Eishi would prove them wrong! This was a floral wine with incredible texture, balanced acidity, overtones of hazelnut, and a quite serious structure. Three weeks of maceration. My favorite of the whites.

 

  • 2013 “A HUM” Pinot Gris – A reddish, darker hue than the other whites. This wine struck me as quite Friulian (indeed, Eishi is a fan of Vodopivec‘s wines, which are from the general area near Friuli). Lower in acidity than the other whites, with soft fruitiness, I found it lovely.

  • 2003 Pinot Noir – This was the second vintage of Beau Paysage Pinot Noir. You won’t find it on the market, we were lucky to taste! The nose was crushed roses and burnt caramel, with a richly textured palate of dried orange peels — very complex. Beautiful.

 

  • 2014 Cabernet Franc “La Bois” – Tannic, dark cherry, fresh boysenberry. The reds are aged in small oak barrels, and maybe some stainless, too. I liked the Cabernet Franc I’ll admit that the whites impressed me more.

If you want to read more about Japanese natural wine culture, stay tuned for Pipette Magazine’s forthcoming Issue 4, where I’ll feature several of Tokyo’s best drinking and dining establishments as well as more insight into natural winemaking in Japan. The Issue (print-only) will be available for pre-order on the magazine website in September, as well as via stockists around the world in early October.

Thank you to Eishi and his wife for the visit and to Lulie for arranging the trip. Japanese viticulture and winemaking are going to become more and more exciting as the years carry on. I hope some progress can be made in terms of finding ways to farm organically despite the climate.

In Memory of Ned Benedict, A Great Human And Wine Importer

When you are a young, upstart, female freelance wine journalist, the people who support and help you are extremely few and far between. That means you will definitely remember them for many years to come.

Being a natural wine writer, furthermore, puts you in a weird position, especially in a place like New York. People in the natural wine crowd there, at least the more old-school types, don’t really think it’s “cool” to write about wine. They prefer the secret-society model, where “if you know, you know” is the motto. Meanwhile, the top-somms who sling Grand Cru Burgundy and cult Rieslings would be quick to insult the general “natural” category for embracing too many “flawed” wines.

I’m sure some of that has changed now—I hope that Pipette Magazine has shown how natural wine writing can be different. But when I lived in New York, I often felt very alone in my quest to document natural wine culture—without a mentor or support network.

A few people showed me kindness and generosity and took me seriously as a professional. One of those was Ned Benedict of the wine imports company Grand Cru Selections, who recently passed away tragically at a too-young age. I met Ned at the annual “International Pinot Noir Celebration” event in Oregon. He introduced himself and said he’d heard of me—I was incredibly flattered—then introduced his colleague Brian and asked me to join them at Rajat Parr’s table, where Premier Cru Dauvissat was being poured like it was Evian. The esteemed Marquis d’Angerville was sitting at the table, serving a vertical of his Burgundy wines. I pretended like it was no big deal, but it truly was. I felt included, allowed to hang with the “top dogs.”

Soon after, Ned invited me to lunch at Felidia, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. I wondered why he wanted to chat with me. I wrote mainly about natural wines, for hardly-visible websites and my own blog, at that point. Ned was at ease, ordering whatever he felt like drinking, and treating me like a friend, not trying to see what I could “do” for him and his business. Of course, Grand Cru is very successful and doesn’t need any journalist props, but I still appreciated the attitude.

I was always invited to Grand Cru tastings after that, and saw Ned at parties, where he always poured me whatever special, rare wine he was drinking.

Ned also reached out to me when there was an opening at a very special lunch highlighting several Grower Champagnes. I remember, I was at the gym in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, when he called, and for some reason I answered. “I’ll be there in an hour,” I said, and I rushed home, showered, and got on the train as quickly as possible. I had no suitable shoes to wear, so I bought some black pumps on 6th Avenue for $60 before arriving to Gunter Seeger for the lunch. I was seated at a table with the eminent Champagne writer Peter Liem, whose work of course I knew. I later went on to visit several Champagne growers with Peter. It was all thanks to Ned thinking of me, and making that call.

Whatever I needed, I felt I could ask Ned, and he’d let me know if he could help—if I wanted to visit a producer, or if I had a question for an article, or if a somm friend was looking for a job.

My deepest condolences go out to those who work with Ned, those who love him and consider him a close friend and family. He will be remembered by many in the world of wine and food and beyond, as a kind, generous, thoughtful human being who loved wine, loved to support people, and knew how to be great company.

Drinking With Women

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In 1964, a British woman named Nell Dunn sat down with nine women she knew — most of whom were educated, creative professionals, writing books or making art — and with each one, opened a bottle of wine, and recorded their conversation. They spoke freely and openly about their passions and creative ambitions, and how they were affected by being a woman. They discussed love, sex, men, lesbianism, marriage, and then had more discussion about how all of these related to their creative work.

In 2018, a friend and I gather at her flat in Paris 11ème and open a bottle of wine. It is a light red made of the grape Poulsard, from the eastern French region the Jura. And because it is so light, we can discuss heavy topics, things that matter to us: our relationships, our families, our finances, my friend’s newborn child — and how all these things impact our creative and professional ambitions. The wine is an ideal companion to our closeness.

Nell Dunn’s Talking to Women tempted me from various bookstores in London until I finally gave in and bought it. I’d never heard of her of this book, which caused a sensation in the Sixties and which someone, for whatever reason, decided to republish. Why republish this book now? Maybe because the topics that Dunn and her peers covered back in 1964 are still quite relevant for many women today.

Women continue to question whether we can “have it all” in terms of balancing love and family and work, and society as a whole still grapples with the relevance of marriage. In those days, I think, the crumbling of religion’s hold upon society was a bit more recent, and because of this, many of the women Dunn interviews profess adamantly that they don’t believe in marriage. Their views are not, however, entirely progressive. Some of them also have definitely bigoted views toward queer sexuality. And Dunn’s one conversation with a woman from a working-class background reveals her lack of sensitivity to such cultural differences.

But aside from those points, I was struck by the idea that this book could have been written today. I found it captivating to read, and often sad, as many of the women seem truly resigned to either choosing the creative life or motherhood. It’s a book that I think all creative women will enjoy spending some time with.

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And Jean-Baptiste Menigoz‘s Poulsard is the perfect bottle to enjoy while reading it, or even better, to open when you want to have a nice long conversation with a friend. As with most Poulsard, the wine is light and pretty, low in alcohol, almost a mere distraction rather than being the center of attention. It’s a wine that knows how to be subtle; it speaks articulately without blasting information about itself. Whispers of fresh and dried strawberries; the fragrance of violets; the kiss of a tart black cherry.

It’s been pretty shitty emotionally for many of us these past few weeks as we’ve observed what happens when a woman speaks out. When she tells the world of her abuse. As the Kavanaugh trial was underway in my home country of the U.S., I watched online from my little sublet apartment in Paris, with Dunn’s book by my side. I thought about how little has changed for women, in so many ways — that our words are still cast aside as untrustworthy or quickly raked over by the somehow more authoritative male voice, admonishing a woman who has shared the truth that many would have preferred not to hear.

I know that wine and politics are not necessarily meant to be drawn into a parallel together. But drinking that bottle of Menigoz in Paris with my friend, who also lvoes natural wine for its frankness, transparency, and stark beauty, I felt there was something to be said about the need for honesty in our every day lives. Maybe it’s this need that really motivates me to seek out natural wines. I feel I can trust them. I also feel I can trust people who are also fans of natural wine, who are actively supporting natural winemakers. It’s a very comforting world to exist in.

Reading Dunn’s book, I also feel that not very much has changed in women’s lives, in as much as there’s a constant tension between creativity and femininity, in so many ways. The conversations in the book are often refreshing to me, as well as challenging. “I want to feel myself a human being first and a woman second,” says Frances, a 27-year-old mother of two and a furniture maker. I think this book called to me because it seems like there’s a need for more honest conversation between people these days.

These women in 1964, talking about everything in their hearts — writing, art, sex, divorce — remind me of the universal need to share our stories, whether intimately with one close friend, or in our published work, or publicly with the entire world; and it calls to mind as well the importance of being properly heard, listened to.

If any of you do venture to read Dunn’s book, I’d love to hear what you think! It’s a strange thing to dive into but I’m glad I did so. And I definitely recommend finding Menigoz’s wines; they are always so ethereal and lovely, with adorable cuvée names that seem like an inside joke between the winemaker and a buddy (“tôt ou tard” means “early or late”); they are never high in alcohol or too bold in flavor — the perfect backdrop for a conversation about books, politics, love, or nothing at all.

Making Pét-Nat Is A Bitch (So Enjoy Drinking It!!!)

If you google me deeply enough, you’ll find many published quotes from me, c 2015, along these lines:

“Pét-nat is the simpler, more fun version of Champagne.”

“Because pét-nat — short for pétillant-naturel, as in French for ‘natural sparkler’ — requires only one fermentation, it is easier to make than Champagne.”

“Want something to crush on the patio? Grab a fun, easygoing pét-nat!”

Ohhhhh, how little I knew.

The first statement, I will qualify, is definitely true. But now that I have actually made pét-nat, from grape to glass, having done nearly every single thing minus farming the grapes and some work involving forklifts (forklifts kind of terrify me), I can testify that pét-nat is NOT easy to make.

While it is certainly fun and easygoing to DRINK, the actual making of pét-nat involves intense PRECISION and KNOWLEDGE, coupled with hours upon hours of dutiful, exhausting, repetitive handwork.

If you already follow me, you are aware that I am in the middle of a natural winemaking journey, which takes place in South Australia. I’ve been fortunate to produce some wines under my own brand, Persephone Wines. It’s a wild ride.

Of course, when I was given this opportunity, I thought, I’ll make pét-nat! Because I love nothing more than a good bottle of fizz. So, I am going to share here the process, from start to finish. It will be a long post, but if you bear with me, you’ll have a deep understanding of how sparkling wine is made and why you should really appreciate every bottle you consume.

I know that there has recently been a bit of an Internet drama regarding some California pét-nats that were made in a rather industrial style. There has also, in the past, been debate over the proper definition of a pét-nat. As writer Zach Sussman has pointed out, the term is new, but the style seems to be very old; therefore, pét-nat is a postmodern phenomenon (when the old, abandoned way becomes new and cool again).

Sussman writes that,

“Many of today’s ancestral method wines undergo a technological approximation of this process through temperature control, artificially halting fermentation in the tank via refrigeration. After several weeks, the half-fermented juice is then bottled and the fermentation resumes. Pét-nat, on the other hand, almost always goes straight from tank to bottle—an uninterrupted continuation of the primary fermentation.”

But in many cases, including mine, that’s not exactly true. I’ll explain why later.

Furthermore, Zach says that pét-nat is generally bottled with the “lees” — and then released without disgorgement.

“Unlike many ancestral method wines, which are disgorged in the interest of creating a more stable commercial product, pét-nat is almost always bottled with the deposit of dead yeast intact: hence the style’s signature cloudiness.”

It’s true that disgorgement has typically been associated with Champagne method wines. But many pét-nats today are, in fact, disgorged, and in my opinion, it very much improves their drinkability by making them less explosive.

Sussman wrote that piece in 2015, and I really think that since then, partly because of the success of wines like Les Capriades, a lot more producers now seem to be opting to disgorge. (Les Capriades is an all pét-nat house in the Loire Valley that disgorges religiously, written about very nicely in that link by France-based author Emily Dilling.)

And disgorgement is one of the reasons that making pét-nat is such a bitch!

Read on to find out how incredibly tiresome and annoying (but ultimately rewarding) it was.

Picking the Grapes

Because I am a bit of a sucker for Champagne, I opted to make my pét-nat with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These were picked in the early days of harvest — the Pinot was one of our very first picks, starting on 24 February, and the Chardonnay came soon after.

A wonderful picking crew was employed by beloved, incredibly knowledgeable mentor Anton Van Klopper of Lucy Margaux Wines, and so those of us who were more on the winery crew were tasked with carrying buckets and sorting out any bad berries (there were very few). All organically farmed fruit, by the way. That’s important for making natural wine! Vital! Nothing good can happen in the winery without growers who are willing to farm without pesticides or other chemicals.

(From left bottom corner going clockwise, in the photo above: that’s Alberto, who until recently was the wine director at Racines in Reims; Niki, who has a mezcal brand in Oaxaca and runs dinner pop-ups around the world; Sev, wine director of the Ten Bells; and Rapha, who works for the wine importer Vine Trail in the UK. Amazing people!)

We generally picked in the morning, and then spent the afternoon processing grapes, although sometimes we picked all through the day and then had long, long nights in the winery. Lots of midnight dinners, and then 6am wake-up calls next morning.

Fermentation

Chardonnay was pressed directly at the winery, in the pneumatic press (read: a modern, electrical one — I used this press only for my sparkling wine; all of my still wines were made in an old-fashioned, manual basket press). I took a barrel of that juice for my pét-nat.

The Pinot, however, I decided to macerate (leave on the skins) for a short time, to have color in my final wine, and also because the fruit was too beautiful to press directly. For about 48 hours, the Pinot was in a large, wooden open-top fermenter, and each morning and evening I’d climb into it and jump on the grapes to get the juice flowing.

Then it was pressed, and I transported the juice bucket by bucket to another barrel.

And then, my lovely Chardonnay and Pinot fermented away happily in their separate barrel homes, for several weeks.

Over the course of fermentation, I tasted the two wines regularly. They were beautiful from the start and got better and better. Pinot tasted like ripe strawberries and crushed cherries. The Chardonnay had an incredible minerality to it. When I tried doing a 50-50 blend with the wines, that minerality was lost. So, I opted for 60 percent Chardo, 40 percent Pinot in the final blend. 

And before we knew it, the wines were totally dry!

Bottling

You can’t make pét-nat with dry wine. The residual sugar is what causes the wine to re-ferment in bottle. We didn’t have time to bottle mine, so it fermented to dry. But there’s another way: at bottling, we first racked and blended the two wines, then added some Gamay juice that still had a bit of residual sugar left to that blend.

We carefully calculated the correct amount of Gamay to add (it was a couple of liters, ultimately) based on our target baumé, a French system that measures the density of liquids. We added just enough Gamay to get to a specific baumé that we knew would allow the wine to referment once bottled. The wines were bottled, as is done with nearly all pét-nat, under crown caps. 

About 370 bottles were made. Of course, that’s pre-disgorgement. 

A few days after the wines were bottled, I repositioned them upside-down in a large bin, so that all the lees would sink into the bottlenecks.

Disgorgement

The idea of disgorgement is to simply use the pressure created a bottle of sparkling wine to push out the lees. Many people freeze the necks of the bottles, using a chilling machine. We didn’t do that; instead Anton brilliantly drilled holes into a fermenting bin and we simply opened the wines into that, making sure the liquid was touching the caps as we flicked them open with a regular old household beer opener. It worked really well!

When you disgorge, you lose some wine — the lees come out along with liquid. So, each bottle has to be topped up with more wine before it is resealed, in this case with a crown cap. 

All of this was truly a massive job. Each bottle had to be wiped down carefully with a cloth after it was disgorged. We went though about twenty tea towels doing this!

In the end, though, the wines are cleaner and they won’t explode when opened.

And voilà, that’s pretty much it! I loved the process; I learned so much about the chemistry and physics of fermentation, and all sorts of practical things related to the nature of liquids and alcohol.

I made some other wines, as well — all reds — but none of them compared to the pét-nat in terms of labor and time.

But I hope all this doesn’t deter you from fully enjoying pét-nats! They are meant to be fun and delicious. Now that you know how much work goes into them, you may even enjoy them more.

Any questions or feedback? Leave ’em in the comments.

xxRachel

 

Weekly Apéro Hour: Luxuriating in Sangiovese and Rachel Cusk’s World of Dialogue

Sometimes, I make a list in my head of the living people whom I’d give anything to have dinner with. Novelist Rachel Cusk is at the top of that list. She is a writer who has reinvented the genre of the novel, by giving it new form, seemingly without effort.

Reading Cusk’s critically acclaimed trilogy, of which I’m now on the last segment, feels simultaneously like you have become witness to an act of genius, and like there’s nothing simpler, more comforting, more enjoyable, than this simple book in your hands. This tension between ingenuity of form and bare bones writing is what I love about Cusk’s work. 

The plot of each of these books revolves around a narrator who is doing not much more than living her life, as a writer — it’s very hard to write a book about writing that isn’t super annoying, but she has mastered this — while having conversations with people who are deeply entrenched in the throes of emotional maelstroms. To quote critic Dwight Garner, these dialogues “branch out like broccoli florets.”

Kudos is the latest in Cusk’s series, and I treated myself to it after finally launching the Kickstarter for my book Nomad — which is off to a good start! Please check it out if you haven’t yet. If you know me, whether from following me on social media or IRL, you’re surely aware that I’ve long wanted to write a book. Ultimately, I have plans to write something more complex than Nomad, which is more like a long essay than a full book, but I see this attempt as a crucial step in breaking through the obstacles I feel are between me and that future book.

If you are thinking about going out to grab Kudos, you definitely can jump right into it, although it will probably make you want to go back and start the trilogy from scratch. I highly recommend it — the whole series is a meditation on the contemporary world and how it makes us feel at an individual level, with close examinations of relationships, both romantic and familial, and deep studies of femininity and masculinity and artistic creativity.

I also treated myself this week to a very special wine, a beautiful red from Pacina, an organic estate in Tuscany that consists of grapevines, olive trees, grain and vegetable farming, and a monastery dating back to 900 A.D. Having spent the week bottling Sangiovese (including my own, for my forthcoming label, Persephone Wines), I was ready to sit back and drink a fine example.

You’ll note that this is a wine from 2013. In the world of natural wines, it’s not very common to be able to enjoy a wine that has undergone extensive ageing like this. Many natural wines are made in a “fresher” style, meant to be light and low in alcohol, and there’s also the unfortunate truth that quite a few natural winemakers who would prefer to age their wines for longer simply can’t afford to do so, as anything held in stock represents potential immediate cash income.

Pacina makes this wine, comprised of nearly all Sangiovese, with a bit of the local blending grape Canaiolo/Cilliegiolo mixed in (two local red varieties traditionally used for blending with Sangio), with extreme care and respect for Tuscan tradition. The grapes are first macerated for six weeks in concrete, and then fermentation continues also in concrete for six months. Then there’s ageing in old oak barrels of different sizes, followed by one year of resting and integrating in bottle. No sulfites (or anything else) were added.

The result is an extraordinarily elegant wine that delivers the satisfaction of experiencing a vintage several years later. Although the wine is somewhat high in alcohol (14% — normal for a wine of the sunny Tuscan hills), this is only one component of its profile, as the ageing helps the alcohol to integrate with the other flavors. On the very aromatic nose, I found ripe cherry and pickled plums. The palate had a totally smooth texture, featuring musky sandalwood and charred rhubarb. The wine was such a treat to drink, and despite its complexity and meditative aspects went down very quickly — it wasn’t weighted down in any way. A serious red wine doesn’t have to be overly tannic and massively heavy on the palate, if the maker is artful enough. Surely, the Pacina wines are aided by the fact that Giovanna, who along with her husband Stefano run the estate and the winemaking cellar, is the third generation to do so — the knowledge must have been passed down to her from previous members of her family, and so she can rely on the older ways to some extent.

Have a great start to your week, everyone! Thanks for reading this edition of #apérohourweekly and feel free to subscribe to the blog via the homepage if you want to receive this in your inbox each week. Around mid-August I’ll be headed to Europe, to visit vineyards in Slovenia and Spain, and check out the wine scene in Berlin and London, and I’ll be continuing to write as a I travel — it would be great to have you along with me. (Of course, I also blog as I go on my persona Instagram, so hop over there if you don’t already follow.)

cheers! xxRachel

 

A Travel Book For Unconventional Travelers

This week, instead of offering the usual wine and book reviews, I’m letting you know about my latest self-publishing project: Nomad, a short illustrated book about the ups and downs of living on the road, without a fixed home, as I’ve been doing for just about one year now. 

When I left New York, having given up my apartment, packed up my books, and shoved some clothes and my laptop into two suitcases, I knew I needed a change of scenery, badly. What I also found was that I was heading into a time of self-change. I learned to be more adaptable, less attached to material things, kinder and more empathetic toward others — all in very concrete situations. Most of these situations are things we do encounter in regular, daily life, but I found that they were more heightened while living as a modern nomad.

I felt the need to share these lessons by committing them to the page, and to do so with illustrations as well as a mixture of storytelling, advice, and even provocation. I’m guessing many of you dream of giving up your job or life and traveling for a year or moving to a new city, perhaps abroad. Or maybe you know someone like this, who needs a fresh start.

Moving or starting a journey without a concrete plan are difficult things to do, but sometimes they are the necessary path toward creative fulfillment or renewed happiness. Nomad is a book to support and encourage these dreams, and coax them into reality. I’ve made a Kickstarter (link here) which features a video of myself explaining the project in further detail.

I hope you can take a moment to check out the Kickstarter, and I look forward to sharing the book with you in just a few months!

If all goes to plan (i.e. my nonstop hustling results fruitful), I’ll have Nomad on sale in independent bookstores around the world — and I plan to donate 10 percent of those sales to the International Rescue Committee, an established non-profit organization that works globally to support displaced communities, help out in humanitarian crises, and engage in policy work — because not everyone chooses to be a nomad.

Back to your #apérohourweekly with the next edition of this blog!

xRachel

Weekly Apéro Hour: Little Things, Ploussard or Poulsard or Just Wonderful Wine, Motherhood (The Book)

Welcome to your weekly apéro hour!

After excursions to Spain and Serbia in the last edition of #apérohourweekly, we return to my regular, ongoing consumption of French and Aussie wines! (This is a short one, also, because editing Pipette and bottling spring releases is pretty demanding on time and energy, as you can probably imagine.)

FRENCH DRINKING. Fill in the blank: discovering a good bottle of Poulsard you’ve never had before is: ________________.

(Options include: “like finding a new favorite band” // “better than sex” // “almost as exciting as discovering a good bottle of Trousseau you’ve never had before” // your unique answer.)

Over the weekend, I met a new friend in the form of Domaine de la Borde’s Ploussard (aka Poulsard, the more general name). Poulsard, for the uninitiated, is a light red Jura grape (Eastern FrancE) found mostly around the Pupillin area, and delivers heavenly, aromatic, wine with note of dark cherries or crushed roses).

Domaine de la Borde, I learned from online research, is helmed by a young vigneron who is one of the relative newcomers to the Jura, named Julien Mareschal. As of now, Julien has about 5 hectares of vines, many at high elevation, and in conversion to organic or biodynamic. All of his wines are single-vineyard products. This cuvée, “Brume des Chambines,” (2015) is from a plot of 30-year-old vines on red clay soil, is aged 10 months in tank, and is currently the only (or one of the only) wines that is made completely without added sulfites. It was incredibly light and ethereal, with hints of curry spice and cumin, and an overall savory character. The hue was almost translucent like a precious gem. There was a hint of tart raspberry on the finish.

AUSSIE DRINKING: This yummy wine was made not far from where I am writing, in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, by a guy named James Madden whose first vintage with his own label, “Little Things,” was just in 2017 (450 cases total). This wine is called “More Than White,” which as you may suspect indicates the use of skin contact to extract more flavor from the grapes.

I’ve had the pleasure of sipping on wines from Little Things before — Pinot and Syrah, of late, both really pure and showing lots of wonderful fruit notes — but this was my first time trying the “More Than White,” made from Sauvignon Blanc, destemmed and fermented on the skins for a few weeks, and zero sulfites added.

And this wine was just a pure delicious bomb: it explodes in your mouth with white peaches and yellow grapefruits, as well as happy, broad acidity that swishes around on the tongue. The grapes were picked early so the alcohol is low (10%), James told me over e-mail (he’s out of town, otherwise I would’ve probably just gone over there!) — and he also informed me that the light rosy hue of the wine comes not from the addition of some red grapes, as I guessed, but from ageing in old red wine barrels! “A case of limited funds/resources starting out,” he says.

Note that if you’re outside Australia, it might be just a bit of a wait before you see “Little Things” abroad, as James is slowly scaling up production. Meanwhile, those of us Down Under will be lucky to enjoy these sumptuous and pretty wines.


READING. It took me a while to process this book, Motherhood, the latest autofictional novel from Toronto-based writer Sheila Heti, whose earlier book How Should A Person Be? was life-changing for me and one of the few things I dragged across the world with me to Australia.

As you can discern from the title, this is a book about motherhood — specifically, it’s about the decision that women make consciously, at a certain point in their lives, as to whether they want to become a mother. Heti constructs a character not unlike herself in real life — approaching 40 years old, deeply focused on her “art” (in this case writing), also deeply in love with a man, and desperately unsure of whether to have a child or not.

The device that Heti employs to move the book along is a strange thing: she adopts a technique from followers of the I Ching, who flip three coins, six times, to get a “yes or no” answer to any question. At first, I liked this, and even found it very humorous in instances where it gets out of hand (the coins lead the narrator to do all sorts of things, like hiding a knife as a response to some weird symbolism in a dream) and then I soon found it annoying, and before long I found the entire book annoying and disappointing because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere except despair, indecision, and self-loathing. I found myself struggling to enjoy reading the book, and also sort of judging the narrator — just have a baby already, won’t you! It’s clearly what you want! Or at least it’s what I, as a reader, want. 

Then I noticed my feelings and realized that I wasn’t really listening to how much the narrator was struggling, and I wasn’t quite getting how difficult it would’ve been for Heti to write this book. It’s a book that grapples deeply with all the complexities of femininity, womanhood, our bodies, ageing, and choosing a creative life. Parts of it, as well, follow the arc that a woman’s body goes though during the menstrual cycle. Maybe my own discomfort was partly a reflection of how much I also live these questions, and of course that same cycle, though in different ways to Heti. Her point, of course, is that each woman is on her own journey, and I was judging her just as the narrator feels judged by women who have babies while she does not.

In the end, I feel that this is a book very much worth reading, although it does miss out on some of the sense of wonder and adventurousness that I found in Heti’s earlier book. Anyway, motherhood isn’t an easy role or an easy topic, so it surely deserves a difficult book.

It’s time to head back down to the winery for more bottling! More soon, friends.

xRachel