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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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

 

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).

Weekly Apéro Hour | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Here’s your weekly apéro hour!

 

DRINKING.

I am sorry.

It’s a unicorn wine.

I kind of hate when people post and write about unicorn wines. So many of us don’t get to enjoy them. It doesn’t seem fair. And it feels like it can fuel this sense of hype that permeates the natural wine world: get the bottle that nobody has the privilege to drink! Then Instagram it! Watch the likes flow in!

But take a moment, and flip the perspective: think of the winemaker, who has chosen to run a very small business, and to make precious few wines that they really love and believe in. Not because of ego, but because small is truly beautiful, to that winemaker.

That’s the case with Kenjiro Kagami’s wines. They number at most 10,000 bottles per year, coming from his 3-hectares of vineyard in Grusse, in the Jura, not far from the legendary Ganevat, who has been an influence on Kenjiro’s wines. Kenjiro, a former engineer who left his native Japan for the love of French wine, studied winemaking in Burgundy, worked for Bruno Schueller in Alsace for five vintages, and for one year with Thierry Allemand in the northern Rhône, winemaking is not a practice of ego exultation. He’s not hoping that we’re getting 300 likes on a photo when we post one of his wines.

But at the same time, his winemaking is about ego. Miroirs is French for “mirror.” Kenjiro chose this name for his winery because his last name actually translates to “mirror,” but also because he sees winemaking as a reflection of himself. Which, of course, it is. Such a simple, almost obvious truth, but what a lovely way to express it. We speak of terroir as the “environment,” but it’s absurd to think that the hand of the maker does not play a role in how the wine (or any product) turns out. Especially with a small-batch producer, the maker’s touch defines so many aspects.

No sulfites are added to the wines, making them an even more naked reflection of oneself. And they are immaculately pure wines. I had the opportunity to taste from barrel with Kenjiro’s winery when a friend, the Jura natural wine queen Sev Perru kindly organized for a few of us to visit him in February of this year. Each taste of wine caused us to exclaim at its purity, as well as the tension and precision. Just the right level of reduction. Just that hint of lush creaminess that you find at the end of a long, diligent fermentation. Nothing above 12.5 percent ABV, we guessed.

Luckily, we were able to bring a few bottles with us. If you get ahold of some Domaine des Miroirs wines, please do yourself a favor and age them. This 2014 bottle of “Sonorité des Vents,” made from his 1.5-hectare parcel of Chardonnay, was just beginning to show itself. Unlike a real mirror, which gets dirtier with time, Kenjiro’s wines become brighter and truer expressions as the years go on. It’s as if they polish themselves, somehow. 

Kenjiro also makes, of course, Savagnin, as well as very small amounts of the light red grape Poulsard. One highlight during our visit to his cellar was tasting the Chardonnay he fermented on skins for 1.5 months (destemmed). It had notes of white peach tea, with tannins on the front palate. That’s definitely a wine which will need time in bottle.

These are wines to pull out of the cellar when good friends come over for an intimate meal. (Although we did impulsively drink one during a harvest-time lunch with about ten people at the table.) These wines will bring you joy. And be warned, they could also make you become a little self-reflective.

READING: Sorry. More self-reflection.

It has been five years since Tao Lin published a book. (The photo above is from several years ago, when I wrote to Lin asking for an advanced copy of a book he published of his own tweets along with the tweets of an internet poet Mira Gonzalez. Possibly my weirdest selfie ever, I think I was excited because he personally addressed and stamped it! I loved the book but never wrote anything about it because I was working full-time at Vice and wine-writing on the side. So it goes).

Lin is a controversial, though quite popular author in the U.S., known for his novels, which portray the bleak realities of upper-ish-middle-class existence in bare bones prose: the pointless shoplifting and fiendish drug use so many get wrapped up in; an overall sense of boredom; constant digital chatter. I like books like this because they don’t try to hide anything. Much like I prefer natural wines, I like books that reveal the world in its raw form, which is sometimes beautiful and inspiring but often quite gritty.

With Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, Lin strikes a new tone. He has achieved a completely different voice, in this nonfiction book (he has only written fiction until now) that explores the legacy of Terence McKenna, a pioneering advocate of psilocybin and LSD use in the 1970s and 80s. I am only halfway through the book but I could hardly put it down even to write this, and to recommend it — it’s a definite must-read if you’re curious about the topic. 

Before writing this new book, Lin was addicted to Adderall, Ecstasy, and other manufactured drugs. Pretty nasty stuff. When he discovered McKenna’s lectures, he felt drawn to the way he spoke about the world — the vocabulary he used, his ability to not preach or profess that one must believe in certain things. Lin had never even tried psychedelics. Lin wrote this book in order to undertake a deep, personal exploration of hallucinogenics of various classes (and yes, he documents his trips in the book, including one that he undertakes with his mom!) — and it’s all with one aim: Lin wrote the book in an effort to try to be a less narcissistic person, less skeptical about the world, and more OK with oneself. 

TRAVELING. This week, I head to Sydney and Melbourne for some fun events! Do you live in either of those places? If so, please join me on Wednesday the 20th at Sydney’s PNV Wine & Liquor Merchants, where I’ll be co-leading a panel about the intersections of terroir with a beekeeper, a coffee roaster, and a seafood procurer (info and tickets here — and a copy of Terre Issue 2 comes with your entry fee!). Then, on Thursday the 21st in Melbourne there’s a fantastic pop-up you won’t want to miss, at Milton Wine Shop (pictured above), where I’ll be guest somm-ing with a special winemaker-guest-chef. Check details on the Milton Wine Instagram.

And following that, I am headed to Tassieeeeeee. I have never been to Tasmania, and I’m so excited. It’s for a winter solstice natural wine tasting called Bottletops. You can follow along on my personal Instagram if you like!

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). I promise that it will only occasionally be slightly boring or irrelevant and will otherwise be the highlight of your week! (Sorry, I am too honest, sometimes.)

more soon xxR

Apéro Hour | Weekly Highlights: Remembering Georgia; Remembering Bourdain; Retasting Aussie “Favourites”

Welcome to your weekly apéro hour! 

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.

-Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

 

DRINKING. Just over a year ago, I was invited on a trip to the Republic of Georgia. That trip changed my life, completely; it exposed me to a vibrant culture of wine and food, and I met some people who, even if I haven’t seen them since, I consider close friends. Eight days driving around on a bus, meeting winemaking families, is a great way to bond! I also met my partner on that trip, so that was one of the obvious highlights.

At the Zero Compromise tasting in Tbilisi, all of us were impressed by tasting wines made by Mariam Iosebidze, from a light red grape called Tavkveri that’s basically the Georgian equivalent of Poulsard. Mariam makes her wine in an uncle’s mariani (cellar) and there is very little of it, so I’m thrilled that it makes its way to Australia and I had a chance to drink the 2016 the other day, over a light lunch. The wine was made with only a brief skin contact — less than three days, which is not much for a red — and fermented for one month total in qvevri. The short maceration does it well, I think — it’s got plenty of flavor but is light and driven by acidity — it tastes like crushed roses and salted cherries, with hints of curry and salami. It’s got no sulfites added, nothing but grapes in here. And it’s definitely one of those “funky” natural wines, if you’re looking for that (it has some VA — which I don’t mind, at all!)

If you want to read more about Georgian wine, here’s the piece I wrote for MUNCHIES based on that trip!

MOURNING. When I read Kitchen Confidential, it was long after its publication in 2000. I’d come late in life to the world of food writing, and discovering Bourdain’s tell-all memoir was a revelation: it was brave and brash, hiding nothing about restaurant life and his own tumultuous experience as a cook. In this age of over-saccharine social media performativism, I am sure all of us appreciate the instances where someone is raw, unguarded, and truthful. Especially when it comes to restaurants, which so many of us experience as the end-user only.

Bourdain’s legacy is powerful, and wide-reaching. It was incredible to watch the outpouring of emotion on social media and in the news, from people whose lives he had touched deeply, whether they’d had a chance to meet him, or not. They shared stories of how he’d motivated them to go to cooking school, or validated their sense of pride in Filipino cooking. Bourdain showed appreciation for simple, humble dishes at mom-and-pop restaurants around the world, and shunned fancy establishments. He ate bún cha with President Obama in Hanoi. He made his career after halfheartedly sending an exposé of restaurants to the New Yorker, on the advice of his mother (watch the video where he tells that story here).

The California-based writer John Birdsall wrote on Twitter: “After a day of being able to get nothing done and a night trying to resist sinking into panic, I figured out Bourdain’s legacy: to use whatever influence you have to champion anyone with an authentic voice, even if it’s not fully formed.”

In the wake of Bourdain’s death, I was touched by brief and touching eulogies written by the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, and Kat Kinsman for Food and Wine. Bourdain’s suicide also triggered an eruptive discussion about mental health, particularly in the hospitality industry, and more broadly; people wrote on social media about their own struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies. As always, all one can hope with a tragic loss like this is that it sparks a profound debate, which could have lasting cultural or even legal changes and help others find their way. I hope this doesn’t sound inauthentic, because many people are saying this, but I’ll chime in: if any of you need a friend, even if you’ve never met me, please reach out. I do check my messages, probably more often than necessary, on all forms of social media and e-mail. I will make time for you if you’re hurting inside.

AUSSIE DRINKING. Back in Australia, it’s pine mushroom foraging season. They are everywhere! We’ve been sauteeing them and having them on toast, or in an omelette; I also pickled some, just because there are so many.

And it also means: back to drinking Aussie wine. And I’m very lucky to be doing so, because all over this country, natural winemakers are making some of the freshest, most gluggable juice out there. Australia’s natural wine scene is largely concentrated in the Adelaide Hills area, but that’s far from the only place it’s happening. Take, for example, Momento Mori, made by Dane Johns in Victoria; these are small-batch wines featuring mostly Italian varieties made with skin contact. I’ve enjoyed them a few times, had the pleasure of re-tasting them at a recent event in Melbourne called Handmade.

I also got to retaste some favorites from Travis Tausend, located in the Adelaide Hills. His winemaking is inspired by his time working with Sebastien Riffault and Daniel Sage in France. That should be enough motivation to try them! Tausend’s wines do make it over to Europe and the U.S. in small amounts, so keep an eye out.

(By the way: my spellcheck now autocorrects “favorites” as “favourites.” Is it only a matter of time before I make the switch??? Oh, and happy birthday to the Queen! That feels really weird to write.)

I also love this Savagnin from the Barossa-based duo Yetti and the Kokonut, which I drank recently with some friends here in the Basket Range. The story behind Savagnin in Australia is funny — it was brought over mistakenly labeled as Albariño. What a happy mistake for us Jura lovers! And re: the fireplace, yes, it is “winter” here. I am sorry, but I grew up on the East Coast — an average of 14 Celsius with sunny days does not make a very scary winter! But it does get cold inside the houses here. I’ve become very good at building a fire! Watch out Scandinavia, Basket Range hygge is totally a thing.

WRITING. I’ve been working on a short story lately — as in, fiction! Nothing to do with wine. As soon as I send this, I am going to return to that. Also, I have something else in the works completely unrelated to wine writing; I guess you could call it a travel book, or a guide to traveling? But it’s written by me, so it’s not exactly your average travel guide. Stay tuned for more on that in a month or so.

And, are YOU a writer? Are your friends writers? Please share with them the submissions guidelines for Pipette Magazine, my new indie mag venture (Terre, rebranded, essentially). The first issue is already shaping up to be pretty good! Follow along on the Pipette Instagram and via the newsletter.

Have a good start to your week! Long live the Queen! Cheers! RS