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.

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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

Weekly Apéro Hour: The Magician of Verdejo, Serbian Natural Wine, A New Indie Wine Mag

Here’s Your Weekly Apéro Hour!

DRINKING. When people list the so-called “noble grape” varieties, you’ll notice the predominance of one language: French. There are a few Italian varieties, a few German; the only Spanish grape in that list is Tempranillo. I cannot think of a stupider list at the moment except that horrible 50 Best Restaurants thing. Why would you ever want to limit your experience of wine to a few high-priced and finicky French grape varieties? How boring. (To be fair, technically the list is based on the quantity of each grape variety planted worldwide, but I mean, if you use a word like “noble,” it’s clear what is meant.)

Case in point: two recent experiences with non noble grape varieties that were pretty mind blowing.

The other day, after a long spree of drinking Aussie and French wine quite intensely, I rummaged around for something different and came out with a Verdejo from MicroBio Wines, a project from winemaker Ismael Gozalo in the Ruedo D.O. of northern Spain.

This bottle was just exactly what I was looking for: a fresh but flavorful and round white, ideal for winter. We crushed it alongside a few bites of salami. About halfway through the bottle, I noticed the alcohol percentage and was shocked.

“What is the ABV of this wine, would you guess?” I asked my lovely drinking partner.

He chewed a piece of salami and took another sip of wine, thinking. “11.5 percent?”

That’s what I had also thought — but it was 13.5! The aromatics of the wine, which was made without any sulfites, seemed to mask the alcohol content beautifully.

Reading up on Ismael’s website, I learned that he makes this wine in an old-fashioned vertical press, sort of like the old-fashioned basket press but in this case outfitted with inox to allow just a hint of oxidation to touch the grapes (many winemakers would frown upon this, but Ismael trusts that his fruit can withstand a bit of air). I think this oxidation shows in the wine in an incredibly pleasant way.

I also learned that his vines are ungrafted (on their own rootstock) and as much as 200 years old! And that he’s known as the “Magician of Verdejo” locally. OK, so I am officially on a mission to get over to Ismael’s vineyard. Soon! 

(If you’re looking for another awesome natural Verdejo, try Santyuste, by Esmeralda Garcia in Segovia. It’s delicious!)

Again looking outside the usual suspects: recently, I tried a Serbian red wine, from a French couple, Estelle & Cyrille Bongiraud. As you can probably imagine, Serbia has been producing wine for many many centuries, but there isn’t necessarily what you’d call a natural wine scene there, and generally the country’s exports are rather low, which certainly would have to do with the political-economic situation there in the past few decades. But the Bongirauds have installed themselves in the Timok Valley of Eastern Serbia (bordering Romania), which apparently is full of limestone bedrock — ideal for winegrowing.

Cyrille being a renowned soil scientist and Estelle being a Burgundian grower, they never meant to end up in Serbia but apparently were simply traveling through when their car broke down and they were stunned by the terroir: “Beautifully maintained, old vineyards with deep root systems on limestone soils. Artisanal, organic methods of cultivation and winemaking that had been passed down from generation to generation for centuries,” according to the website of their Australian importer.

Over time, they gave up their work in Franc and founded this winery, called Francuska Vinarija, about ten years ago by renting seven hectares, mostly of red grapes, from local growers. They have also planted a vineyard with indigenous grape varieties.

The 2011 “Obecanje” (translation: “Promise,” in Serbian) wine I tasted is, to my incredible surprise, made from an older clone of Gamay à petit grain (small berries).

“What is the grape variety of this wine, would you guess?” I now asked my lovely drinking partner.

He replied, “Something in the Syrah family?”

It’s fun to be surprised by a wine. Per the importer website, again: “This small berry, thinner skinned version of Gamay is believed to have arrived from France during the Phylloxera era, as French vignerons sought solace in Serbia’s sandy and chalky soils that were resisting the nasty aphid’s advance.”

The wine was much higher in alcohol than you’d expect from most Gamays — 14.5%, although, as with the MicroBio wine, it held the alcohol quite well. The palate was very expressive, full of ripe plums and black cherries and prunes, with a garnet hue, and an overall juiciness flattered by soft chewy tannins. If this is an old version of Gamay, well, that’s amazing. I would have thought something more closely related to Plavac, the Croatian ancestor of Zinfandel!

Well, I loved the wine and will seek out more from the Bongirauds.

READING. Yes, it’s another indie mag. About wine. We’re not going away, us indie mag publishers, with our devotion to excellent journalism and creative design. We’re proliferating! It’s an invasion! Make room on your bookshelves and coffee tables! (OK, not that much room, these are biannual publications, we can’t afford to come out more often, don’t worry.)

It’s a pleasure to discover Above Sea Level via their inaugural issue, which is focused on California wines. In these pages, I found some very original approaches to wine, like the collaboration between art duo Lazy Mom and natural wine bar owner Bradford Taylor (Ordinaire in Oakland; Diversey in Chicago) that pokes fun at typical tasting notes through wacky sculptural illustrations and commentary. A new take on the Michel Tolmer school of wine humor, I might say. And there is a really great feature on label art, as well as a review of a temporary museum exhibition focused on wine in the modern age, at the San Francisco MoMa.

There’s also an incredible photo essay feature on California’s persistent fog — what a cool way to approach terroir. And a brief interview with legendary importer Kermit Lynch. And some winemaker-written pieces. It’s been a while since I’ve drunk some California wine of visited the state, and it was nice to briefly transport there such a beautiful magazine. (Time for a visit, soon, perhaps?)

OK, time for a confession: I’ve officially developed a minor obsession with indie magazines. I love how different they all are and how much effort and thought goes into them! So I am thinking about trying to do an indie mag pop-up somewhere. Just an idea at this point. But if I keep thinking it and talking about it, eventually it will manifest! That’s how life works, right? For me, anyway.

More soon…

xRachel

Weekly Apéro Hour: A Tale Of Two Syrahs

Here’s your weekly apéro hour!

DRINKING: This week a friend brought over a wine from the Northern Rhone cru Cornas, where 100 percent Syrah wine is made atop a great granite hill with vineyards as much as 400 meters above sea level. This particular bottle is one I’ve enjoyed before, and loved, from Franck Balthazar, who aside from having a fabulously appropriate last name is known for making extremely elegant Cornas wine, including this completely sans soufre cuvée. It is luscious yet bright, full of black olive notes and a bit of sandlewood or maybe campfire in the tannins. It’s a comforting wine, perfect for these chilly Aussie evenings. This bottle was from the 2014 vintage and it was totally great, but could have used more time.

It was funny, when I was drinking it, how much it reminded me of another wine I’ve drunk recently: the 2016 “Tommy Ruff” Shiraz/Mourvèdre (50/50) cuvée from Tom Shobbrook in the Barossa Valley (who is featured in Issue 2 of Terre Magazine!).

OK, it’s not 100 percent Syrah (if you didn’t know, “Shiraz” is New World for Syrah) — but the Syrah definitely dominates the Mourvèdre in the Tommy Ruff wine, with plenty of olive and cherry pit and leather notes underpinned by a hint of spice. But I was laughing because the wines are both 13 percent in alcohol, both are very soul-warming and somewhat on the fuller-bodied side, yet lightened by acidity from — in the French case, I’d guess, cool nights — and in the Barossa case, I’d guess,  early picking. And both are such beautiful examples of what can be done with Syrah, a grape that can easily tend toward flabbiness and high alcohol.

Where the Tommy Ruff wine comes from, the Shobbrook family vineyard in the Barossa, couldn’t be more different to the steep slopes of the Rhône. And yet, these wines had a similar effect on me. You have to wonder, sometimes, how terroir can trespass entire countries, even continents. Intelligent winemaking can become a bridge across long distances. And for me, this experience of two Syrahs, from two terroirs, was a sort of glimpse into my own fragmented sense of self, at the moment — one foot in Australia, one foot in France, and yet always pulled mentally back to the States, where my family is and where it’s one political disaster after another.

Speaking of that . . .

CONTEMPLATING. Ever since the current U.S. President (I won’t write his name) came into power, there’s been a consistently repeated sequence:

Step 1: President does something egregious, shameful, threatening to humankind

Step 2: Humankind responds by blasting feelings and political statements all over social media

Step 3: Various forms of fundraising and marching occur across the U.S.

And then the aftermath of this is usually someone in the White House gets fired and replaced, or maybe things get passed to the Federal or Supreme Court. Which, now, is definitely going to swing in the President’s favor, anyway. Ughhhhh. How did adults actually let this all happen?

I was in Sydney when the news came out about the detained children at the U.S. border, some as young as 9 months old, guilty of no crime other than trying to make better lives for themselves against all the odds. I couldn’t sleep all night after reading the articles about how these children were being treated. And in no time, it was all over social media — people were posting photos of children crying, and call-to-actions to donate to Raices Texas or the ACLU. And I immediately felt the impulse to do the same. But then something stopped me.

This painting, by Ad Reinhardt (“Abstract Painting,” 1960-66), came to mind. I saw it on display in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York about six months ago, and it recalled the way many people, including me, took to simply posting black squares on Instagram to express our feelings of revolt at the political situation. You can interpret it any way you want, obviously, but consider the decade it was painted in, and that Reinhardt was a civil rights movement supporter and a vocal opponent to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

And reflecting on this work of art, I worried, if we rely on social media as an outlet for feelings about injustice, is that a temporary fix for a much bigger problem? I also thought about my life over the past year: living in France, then Australia, two countries that also have seriously questionable policies in regard to migrants. It’s not just a U.S. problem, it’s a global problem. People are being deliberated excluded from the supposedly all-encompassing notion of human rights.

The sum of all this reflection, for me: I’d like to be constantly doing something to support justice, rather than simply reacting every time there’s a severe crisis. It’s been incredible to see all the money people raised to support work at the U.S.-Mexico border. I hope I can find a substantial way to contribute, as well. Guilt and anger are not productive emotions; I’d rather be constructive rather than in despair.

That said: if anyone knows of an organization who works with refugees, anywhere on the planet, who is particularly in need, I have an upcoming project and I’d like to donate some of its revenue to this cause. Thanks for any tips you can share!

READING: I’ve dug into Sheila Heti’s latest book, Motherhood, pictured above with the wines. Wow. I really want to tell you more about it, but I’m going to wait until I’m a little further in.

MORE READING AND DRINKING: wild fermented, barrel aged aleI mean, I guess that’s basically what this blog is about? So, Wildflower Beer is a new project based in Sydney, Australia, where brewer Topher Boehm has translated his love for Australian flora — the reason he, being a Texas native, decided to live in Australia is that he fell in love with the stunning native flowers — into beermaking. I’ve been enjoying his this weekend alongside an indie mag about beermaking, called Hops & Barley, from the UK. the magazine has a really cool feature about brewers with winemaking backgrounds, which looks at other ways that wine and beer intersect — namely, with the use of wine barrels for ageing beers. Another cool indie mag discovery!

I’m looking forward to collaborating with Topher on an article for Pipette Magazine, which is set to come out in October. I’ll be working on that nonstop over the next few weeks. I have to say, living out here in the hills, surrounded by clean, fresh air and friendly people who make amazing wines, is not a terrible setting to be in for editing and writing. Every day I take the dogs for a walk, and I marvel at the simple beauty of a pinecone covered in dew, with water droplets on the edges of the pines, sparkling in the morning sunlight.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods is eternal youth.”

TRAVELING: Oh my gosh, Tasmania was beautiful! (Proof above!!) I went there for a wine tasting called Bottletops, hosted by Franklin Bar & Restaurant, but I was also able to get out into the wilderness a bit, foraging for incredibly delicious, meaty native oysters in the cold waters on the south end of the island, walking in the woods, picnicking by the blue lake.

I’ve posted some highlights from the wine tasting on Instagram already, and I’ll share a few more in coming weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to mention something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: hospitality to travelers.

I used to run an AirBnb in New York. We made special effort to provide a cozy space, with nice art on the walls, chocolates on the bed, and sometimes even a vase fresh flowers in the guest bedroom. These days, I use AirBnb frequently, as a guest — and too often, the apartments are completely soulless, designed purely to provide basic needs for a visitor. I always have trouble sleeping in these spaces!

So I really appreciated staying in the cutest AirBnb ever in Tasmania’s main city, Hobart — the host had installed all sorts of funny vintage knick-knacks giving it character, and there were lovely drawings on the wall, a really nice French press, and a shelf full of secondhand books. I spent an hour diving into this amazing publication Journal of a Novel, from John Steinbeck, who wrote and kept letters to his editor while he was working on the massive tome East of Eden. I loved reading about Steinbeck’s struggles to produce the book he’d go down in history for — from the day-to-day, like managing to do laundry, to the ongoing and infuriating creative challenges, the sense of disappointment when the writing wasn’t going well, all the things that we forget about or aren’t aware of when we read the finished work.

To all the hosts out there who put thought and time into providing welcoming spaces: hats off to you. I felt like the Steinbeck book appeared in my life for a reason, as I am working on a small fun little book manuscript. Steinbeck’s letters were a reminder that nobody is exempt from the ongoing challenges to writing — but we have to do it anyway! While my book is certainly no 600-page modern classic, it is still taxing to put something together and have the confidence to share it with the world.

I’ll be able to announce that project very soon!

And for those of you eager to learn more about the forthcoming Pipette Issue 1, consider signing up for the occasional newsletter. It’s the first place where announcements come out about pre-sales, events, and discount codes for purchasing magazines and for tickets to wine tastings around the world. The link is here.

Have a lovely finish to your weekend! xxR

P.S. If you enjoyed this week’s apéro hour, take a peek on the right side where you can sign up to receive this blog directly in your inbox (if you’re on your phone, you have to go back to the blog’s home page, rachelsigner.com, to find the sign-up).