The First Barrels

Never did I think, even when I first got into wine writing, first stepped into an expansive vineyard with a notebook and pen and wondered how the plants I saw, budding in late spring, would eventually translate to the lovely drink in my glass–even in moments as beautiful as those, never did I think, I’ll make wine one day.

When people asked me if I would ever make wine, I sometimes said, maybe. But I never believed it. How could I, a writer living essentially from one meager freelance writing check to another, possibly dream to make wine? Friends I knew who had made wine had worked three, five, eight vintages around the world. I’ve worked harvest for two weeks in France, and done some picking here-and-there in Burgundy and Napa Valley.

But when the opportunity came up to make wine during a visit to Australia, I couldn’t say no. And here I am, near the end of vintage (Aussies say “vintage,” versus harvest, and my English is quickly becoming Aussie-fied, you know, mate?) in the Basket Range of South Australia, with several barrels of wine tucked away in a shed, and one sparkling wine already in bottle. We just opened up one the other day, and when the bubbles rose up in foam, I was kind of in shock. I made the wine, but the wine made itself sparkling. Isn’t that incredible? I know, I know–it’s all fairly straightforward, fermentation and carbon dioxide. But I was terrible at chemistry and physics and all that in high school and university. And yet, I can still make them work to my favor.

Before too much time passes, I want to get some thoughts down about wine making. It’s funny, when you visit wine makers as a journalist, you ask certain questions that you think might help you communicate something, to future readers, about the wine: When did you start picking? Did you de-stem? Tank or barrel? But it’s impossible to really understand the reasons behind the answers to these questions, I think, unless you’ve made wine.

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Making my own wines was an experience in individualism, and it was also a meditation on work itself. You see, nearly all of what we did, we did as a vintage team–up at dawn to get to the vineyards, all day picking, then processing the grapes. In the vineyard, we worked alongside a picking crew mostly from Laos and Thailand. You couldn’t believe the incredible food they brought–every day, different dishes–for “smoko,” the Aussie word for the mid-day break. Spicy food may not be the ideal thing to eat during a day of hard physical work, but none of us regret a single bite!

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But then, when it came to making my own wines, it was all up to me. I could work at my own pace. Each of my red wines were macerated in open-top, wooden fermenters that I climbed into and jumped on once each day for about two or three days; then, I did punchdowns (“plunging” in Aus) by hand, morning and night, to keep the cap wet. That was the first choice: whole cluster, non-carbonic fermentation. I liked this approach because I could always see and taste the grapes and evaluate whether they were ready to press.

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Next decision: when to press? With the Gamay, I wanted a light and pretty lunch wine, so five days of maceration was plenty. Cabernet Franc was about the same. Right away, I saw how different it was to press Cab Franc than Gamay. The juicy Gamay berries had been a breeze, oozing juice nonstop, whereas Cab Franc’s thicker skins were tougher to crack.

The press was also a choice. I opted not to use the fancy, pneumatic press, and rather chose to use an old-fashioned, small basket press that a friend of ours bought new from Italy–because with the basket press, I didn’t require any forklift, no electricity was used, and I could literally do everything all by myself (OK, I did need help getting the free run juice out of the barrels, sometimes–we don’t have pumps at the Lucy Margaux winery, instead using gravity and our lungs to transfer wine via hoses, which is super super hard, the most difficult part of winemaking for me).

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I loved the basket press because it was, by nature, a slow process. With each press, I loaded the grapes in bucket by bucket or shovel by shovel, after siphoning the free run into a barrel. This gave me time to think. With the Cabernet Franc and the Sangiovese, it occurred to me that the juice already tasted quite stemmy, from the whole-cluster fermentation. So, I took a pause to hand-destem about 50 percent of the fruit. Why not? There was no rush–the point was to make something delicious that honored the beautiful, organic fruit the local growers had spent much time caring for.

And I found the basket press empowering because, now, when I say that I made these wines, it really means that I made them. Nothing was added or taken away, and nothing will be. There’s no need; nothing has the scent of volatile acidity, and the barrels were cleaned well with hot water before being filled.

I don’t claim to be one of the greats just because I’ve made wine one time, thanks to the space provided me by someone very generous. But it was a beautiful experience doing it truly on my own terms, and I’m excited to see how the barrels look in a few months, how they’ll become in bottle, and how they’ll taste when they hopefully make their way around Australia and perhaps the world–who knows! I made the wine to share and be drunk. My hope is they will bring pleasure and transmit the energy of this amazing vintage in Australia–a hot, fast, intense, but also, really peaceful one overall, and a season of abundance, of more grapes than anybody expected, tons of people around from all over the world, and plenty of good wine and food on our communal table.

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Also, editing Terre Issue 2 while doing all of this has been both impossible and amazing. There were days when I’d be up at 5am to go pick, and then find myself editing three articles in the afternoon before going into the winery to help process grapes or clean up. Obviously, I would have preferred to be getting more sleep! But at the same time, there were moments when I’d be reading someone’s work and it struck me as really powerful, more than any other time I’d read or written about wine, because I was literally elbow-deep in the stuff right then. 

For example, in California vigneronne Martha Stoumen‘s interview in Issue 2, she talks about joy and patience in winemaking. She tells Miguel de Leon, “I am a firm believer that you can experience more joy in what you’re consuming when the person making it was joyful in the act of making it. The first time I made wine, I was like a little kid; I got to feel things and feel textures. When I work outside, I’m noticing how the sun hits things, how the smells hit me.”

This quote. How much it speaks to me. I am so happy to have her interview in the coming issue (out next month!). I’ve only met Martha once and tasted a few of her wines and I can say that she is definitely singular and has a message worth hearing.

And then there’s the memoir about harvest at Arianna Occhipinti‘s, by Ashley Ragovin. After ten years of admiring Arianna’s wines, having first been transfixed by them while working as a somm in a fancy Italian restaurant, Ashley finally went to Sicily for harvest in Vittoria. The experience was far beyond what she’d anticipated, and confirmed that wine heroes, or just heroes in general, are a real thing worth having. The connections we imagine between winemakers and ourselves aren’t false.

So much more is in Issue 2. I hope you’ll pre-order a copy soon (or subscribe) — this issue is off to the printer by the end of this week! And one day, in the not-too-distant future, you may even be reading Issue 3 while sipping on a glass of wine made by yours truly.

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Terre Issue 2 Pre-Sales Are On!

Only a year ago, Terre Magazine was just a glimmer of an idea.

And now, we’re nearly finished editing Issue 2, and moving onto the design phase! Please consider pre-ordering your copy; even if there’s a stockist near you, pre-ordering helps us finance production and pay our writers, artists, and photographers around the world, and every dollar counts. Also, you will get your magazine directly from the printer (I know some of you had to wait a few weeks last time — won’t happen again) if you pre-order.

We’ve been dropping some hints about Issue 2 in our newsletter, and on Instagram. Of course, we want to keep some of it a surprise. We’re really happy that the issue will not only feature several rising star winemakers and a few who are already quite well known, but also interviews with wine bar owners around the world, a visual essay from an Italian design collective, features on coffee/tea/spirits, and even a guide to buying cannabis. It’s a magazine for people who love natural, artisanal wine, but so much more.

Check out the options at this link. You may want to subscribe for the whole year, so as to also receive Issue 3, which comes out in November. 

We’re blown away by the incredible talent that’s come to us for Terre Issue 2. It’s really an honor to be publishing such great work. The magazine comes out in May and we’ll be hosting some events in Europe and New York. Stay tuned!Thank you — sorry to be brief, but it’s harvest here in Australia and I’ve got to get back to hand-plunging the Merlot . . .

From Snowy Paris, Visions of Terre 2 And New Writing On Phylloxera

Greetings from freezing cold Paris! It has dumped snow here, which is very pretty, but I am chilled to the bone after a week of tasting in damp cellars in the Jura and the Auvergne, making my way toward La Dive and the other vin nature salons in the Loire. Expect an update from me soon on the highlights from those events!

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Tasting with François Saint-Lo at Les Anonymes in Angers

Meantime, I’m starting to edit Terre Issue 2, which will come out in May. It’s going to be really, really good; we’re building on our global support and bringing in new writers, artists, and photographers. Tomorrow, I head to Copenhagen to report on one of the world’s most exciting and experimental distilleries, for Issue 2. Announcements are coming soon about pre-ordering the issue and subscribing for the year, and don’t miss out, because we sold out last time and surely will again, even though we plan to double our production. (You can sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about all this.)

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How to prevent the spreading of phylloxera

I also want to share a story I’ve really enjoyed working on, an updated explainer about the phylloxera pest, with recent reporting from Australia and elsewhere. Everyone who loves wine should understand the history of phylloxera, because it’s affected grapevines and wine production everywhere, and it’s also a really fascinating story of plant genetics that continues to impact winegrowing today. Link is here

Lastly: I’ve done something pretty unusual, and created a sort of “tip jar,” a link on Paypal where, at any point, you’re welcome to send me a bit of cash. When I left New York and started working on Terre, I had a tentative book deal and potential gig writing a magazine column. They both fell through, and then Terre became so time-consuming, that before I knew it I was living on credit cards and sleeping on friends’ couches to save money. Writing about wine isn’t lucrative but I do it because I love meeting growers and understanding the political-cultural histories of wine regions. I was inspired by this excellent piece on the New Worlder site to be more vocal and honest about how unglamorous this job can be. Here is the link to my “tip jar.” Even a five-dollar donation means a lot to me. Thank you!

Off to jump on a call with my Terre colleagues, to discuss artwork for the issue and launch events in May. Thanks for being with us on this journey!

Learning To Be Less Skeptical About Life In 2018

WHAT A YEAR. Several times, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the sludgy, awful, maddening mess that was 2017, whether the angst I felt was related to the surreal, dystopian political situation; or to the increasingly impossible lifestyle of New York City; or horrific environmental catastrophies that affected people I knew in some cases; or personal quandaries that seemed to mount on top of each other, one after another. Something tells me you probably know what I mean? It was not an easy year.

At some point, I’d simply had enough of it all, and I made some drastic changes in my life: I left New York and lived out of a suitcase for six months, squatting in Paris at regular intervals–that was a good start! And, thanks to SO MANY of you, I started a beautiful print magazine, alongside two women who inspire me endlessly and teach me new ways of thinking. In recent months, I’ve been focusing more on health and wellness–eating less bread and pasta, and consuming wine thoughtfully rather than excessively; have rekindled my love for the outdoors; put aside the often-too-dreary New York Times in exchange for serious poetry, novels, and essays. It’s about self-care, people–making time for being a well-rounded, happy person! Anyone have must-read recommendations? I’m all ears, please share! This novelistic reflection on falling in love, written decades ago by Alain de Botton, was one of the best things I read all year–I can’t believe I never got my hands on it until now. As well, I’ve been really into poetry by Ross Gay and Rupi Kaur, and catching up on Zadie Smith’s recent work. If I get really motivated, I may return to the Karl Ove Knausgaard series where I left off, mid-book-three. We’ll see about that.

this book is life-changing — written decades ago, but timeless! (awesome Chenin Blanc, too…)

Thanks to everyone who made 2017 so special: all of you who supported Terre from its inception; the people who hosted us for events and pop-ups in New York, Oregon, and Sydney (more to come in 2018!); those of you who bared your souls on social media rather than pretend that life is perfect amidst this shit we all experience; friends in Paris who let me sleep on their couches while I edited Terre and shepherded it to print. All of these people give me reason to be optimistic about 2018: we can stay real, we can stay strong, we can support each other so that we don’t lose track of our passions, even when everything seems up against us, and when things like wine, food, art, and other beauties can seem irrelevant in such a troubled world.

There’s much to be excited about heading into the New Year. I’m writing from South Australia, specifically a wonderful nook called the Basket Range, where I’ve been living the reality of natural wine, spending time with growers who have devoted themselves to it over the years; it’s a stark and meaningful change from simply dropping into vineyards for an afternoon, or drinking in urban wine bars. I mean, check out the beauty of this Pinot Noir vineyard at Lucy Margaux–incredible! It’s an experimental vineyard that’s never been sprayed or pruned.

And there are some AWESOME wines made here in the Basket Range, a cool climate, hilly region located in the Adelaide Hills, just above the city of Adelaide. The natural wine scene is strong! I’m slowly getting to know the different growers and winemakers here, and will share more stories as I can. Right now really into some of these:

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Before coming here, I was lucky enough to have a glimpse into some of the other wine regions around Australia, and I look forward to sharing those stories with you all soon! Visiting Mac Forbes in the Yarra was definitely one highlight, and it was also great to visit Tom Shobbrook, whom I’d met in Europe several times, in his home base in the Barossa.

Let’s stay optimistic and positive moving into the new year, as much as we can. That’s what Terre was founded upon: we were motivated to celebrate small producers of wine and food, as well as emerging and talented artists, photographers, and writers around the world–to make our network feel more international, and to strengthen it. We believe very much in critique, but we also want to create a fresh platform for such discussion. In the wine world, it seems that, again and again, we are asking the same, tired questions, and getting already-heard answers, rather than developing a wider range of topics to investigate. There’s no need to recycle points that have previously been made; let’s push forward and work together to challenge old ideas, and see what emerges from that. If Terre can do that, and also provide some enjoyment for people who like to read thoughtful work about wine, food, design, and the world’s most interesting entrepreneurs in these spaces, then I can’t imagine being any happier.

Already, Issue 1 of Terre has been more successful than we could’ve dreamed–retailers in Paris, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, and more, far beyond our home base of New York!–and we are gearing up now to take it further. Stay tuned for details about subscriptions and contributor’s guidelines–sign up for our occasional e-newsletter to be in-the-know!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Hopefully with a bad-ass bottle of Champagne. On that note, I’ve got some words up on the Wine Access blog about how to throw a wine-soaked dinner party, if you or some friends need any good party-hosting tips.

Hugs from Down Under.

Some Sneak Peeks (Or Peaks?) Of Terre Magazine Issue 1

Here’s how tired I am: I nearly wrote “sneak peaks.”

I’m exhausted! It’s the middle of harvest here in the Loire Valley, where I am working for the wonderful Mosse family in Anjou. (More on that soon.) While traveling all summer, I’ve managed to put together an entire magazine. There are some really complex, in-depth features in Terre Magazine Issue 1, which is now for sale on our website. Here’s a few of just the tiniest glimpses at what’s between the covers:

  • Deirdre Heekin of Vermont’s La Garagista delivers profound thoughts about hybrid grapes, with her signature prose style
  • One of Italy’s most prominent natural wine consultants, who is also making his own first vintage, is profiled
  • A first-person “day in the life” of one of the U.S.’s most exciting natural wine bars
  • The “beyond Pinot Noir” movement in Oregon
  • Cheesemaking and why terroir is a marketing scheme
  • How one Long Island winery made its first pét-nat

That’s only part of what’s in Issue 1. And you should see the artwork. We’ve collaborated with super talented painters, photographers, and illustrators around the world, and our designer is currently putting the finishing touches on the layout, all of which has happened via my talented artistic co-founders, Erika DaSilva and Katie June Burton.

If you haven’t already purchased your copy of Terre, grab it on our site. Copies are limited, and no content will be posted online. Potential stockists, if you have questions, please reach out to us at terremag@gmail.com. We’re planning some launch parties in NYC and Oregon for November–stay tuned! Follow us on Instagram or Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter

Can’t wait to share Terre Magazine with you all, so so soon . . .

And now, back to bottling some Chenin Blanc. (It’s a rainy day, so it’s cellar work time here . . .)

How To Pitch Any Magazine, But Especially How To Pitch Terre

Now that I’m the new editor of a print publication, I am fielding pitches, and I think it’s time to share some guidelines as to how that’s done. Because I’m getting a lot of these kinds of pitches from writers:

“Hey! I’m happy to write about something related to cider in California. Here’s a story I did a few months back about cider. Let me know!”

“Hello, I would love to write for Terre. Please take a look at my website, where I blog about wine and food, and see if anything interests you. Thanks!”

“How about a piece looking at the rise of natural wines in restaurants across the U.S.?”

The writers sending these pitches might be very talented, but there’s not much for me to work with here. Writers, you should not make your editor think of a story for you; it is up to you to figure out what the editorial approach of a magazine is (and yes, we don’t have an issue out yet, but we did explain our approach via text and video on our Kickstarter, which raised almost $17K, thanks to many of you who supported it, and I also have a lot of published articles on this site which indicate my interests and views) and propose articles that might fit based on that.

A good pitch should provide a glimpse of what the article itself will look like. It can begin with a colorful lede; for example, you might offer a few details of a person or place that peak an editor’s interest. This also helps to show your writing style; the rest of a pitch will be somewhat more technical and practical. You’ll want to outline the 5 W’s of journalism: who, what, where, why and when…

And regarding “why,” the pitch should address the timeliness or significance of the story you’re pitching. In the case of Terre, we are not really looking for “trend pieces,” such as “5 Restaurants Serving Natural Wine To Try Now.” This would be more the territory of a website looking for clicks.

Being a boutique print magazine, we want articles with a lot of substance and energy, and we are looking for in-depth, colorfully written medium-form stories, in the 1500-2000 word range. For this kind of feature, I would love to see pitches that promise a story which will move from the specific (“this winemaker has an interesting vineyard because X”) to the general (“this vineyard is an example of how indigenous grapes respond to climate change, which applies to broader questions like X”), as much as possible. I realize this is difficult to do, but I think it’s important to do more than simply profile an interesting producer; we need to make connections to the bigger picture.

As well, a good pitch should address the following:

  • why are you the writer to take on this story?
  • how will you do this differently than anyone else?

This could be answered in a number of ways, and it will be specific to the publication. For example, if you are writing a memoir about working on a vineyard, I as an editor would like to know what literary skills you have, because memoir is a genre that really depends on beautiful, talented authorship. If, however, you simply want to pitch an interview with a renowned winemaker who is difficult to access, you could offer your prowess as a reporter or perhaps your language skills (maybe the winemaker only speaks Croatian, and you do?), and your knowledge of wine in that region.

Also, it’s great to pitch several ideas at once, so an editor can see your general range of thinking, and also, you might get more than one assignment! Every pitch should begin with a proposed headline. It won’t be the final headline, but it does help to frame the pitch.

So, a few more tips here, and also a review of the points above:

  • give your pitch a headline
  • use a colorful lead
  • pitch something you’re passionate or curious about that you think fits the publication
  • explain why you’re the person to write this
  • offer a sense of your approach and what you envision as the approximate word count
  • explain why this story should be written now, and why for this publication
  • check back, and make sure you’ve at least tried to address the who/what/where/why/when of this story…
  • and finally, but this is also the most important: pitch stories, not topics–i.e. look for something that’s actually happening, or a new phenomenon, or a person who is remarkable right now, and construct a narrative around that

Was this useful at all? I really hope it was, and that it helps those of you who are writers, whether you’re pitching Terre or someplace else.

And in case you’re a writer, and you’re wondering: yes, Terre will pay contributors. Send pitches to terremag@gmail.com, and soon! Many assignments have already gone out.

Want to keep up with our progress at Terre Magazine? We have a newsletter, which will send out very occasional updates; sign up here. Cheers from Paris, where we’re slogging through a brutal heat wave; I’ve taken refuge at a friend’s apartment to work until I’m brave enough to venture back out for a glass of wine.

 

 

 

The First Thing I’m Going To Do When I Get To Paris

Joan Didion: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.” – “Goodbye to All That

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When I moved to New York, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’d forgotten all about writing as an artform, and was totally focused on an academic career.

But I grew up with writer parents, surrounded by books, our household first on the block to have a computer (or a “word processor,” rather, made by Epson–yes, they did computers before printers!). I couldn’t stay away from the life of words for long. Nobody ever said to me, “Hey, did you consider journalism, or writing?” It was like I was pulled to it, the métier spoke to me from a place beyond my control.

And as I set out teaching myself the basic skills of reporting and producing a story (nut graf, intro, body, conclusion; the foundational structure of everything), I realized that New York was going to be hard on me as a writer. Money was short, and student loans were heavy weights. I traveled to the Bronx at 5:30am to substitute teach in charter schools. Had almost no furniture. Ate lots of uninspired pasta and bulletproof Chinese food, drank cheap beer and Trader Joe’s wine, and often cried at night in a bathtub with a neat whiskey in hand: how am I going to do this, here, in this city?

Over the years, New York has not gotten any easier on me. I’ve gotten tougher, probably. I’ve learned to let the drive to write overcome everything. But other kinds of obstacles come into your life, if you stay in New York. Your relationships are strained. Dating, as a woman in her late twenties/early thirties, is an excruciating task; somehow I do know people who have met and fallen in love in New York but it has only presented itself to me a few times, and always accompanied by heartbreak. Money in New York is a contradiction; we never have enough of it but somehow keep on spending, because the city demands it.

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In ways, New York has been very good to me. I’ve eaten some incredible meals, met brilliant people, had the chance to interact with some heavy-hitting winemakers and chefs and editors. I’ve learned fiction writing–which has made me a much better journalist–from some of the best editors and publishers in the city, and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

But, having now found a niche (or a passion? an unwise obsession? a devotion?) within the world of wine and food writing (the path to that is too long to recount here, but this earlier blog post touches on it), it is no longer satisfying for me to be in this concrete jungle, too far from the vineyards that most inspire me at this time.

I am a hopeless francophile. I first tried to learn French when I was 12; for whatever reason, Madame Fox strongly disliked me (OK, I was a rambunctious and probably rude kid), so after one semester I switched to Spanish. But I always wanted to learn the language. When I was 20, I was living in Spain and went to visit a friend who was doing a semester of art studies in Paris. Walking in the Latin Quarter one day, I needed to use a bathroom and waltzed into a restaurant as it was just opening. The waiters tried to push me out, but I persisted. One of them, in his starched white shirt and suspenders, raised a chair overhead and threw it toward me, yelling something I didn’t understand but was probably like putain americaine de merde avec votre président du merde (effectively: screw you, American with President Bush!). Since then, I was absolutely determined: I would learn French, move back to Paris, and take that city by its literary teeth, breathing in the ghosts of all those writers and thinkers of centuries past. I would write a book in Paris.

At 20, I had no idea that I’d be writing a book about wine in Paris, but that is now what I intend to do.

making olfactory love to Matthieu Barret’s Cornas

This is my last week in New York. I have no idea when I’ll be back. Possibly this fall, but I’m not sure. I also don’t have every detail of the next year of my life figured out–but I am headed to Paris with a small amount of earthly possessions, most importantly this laptop and a dog-eared copy of A Moveable Feast that my brother gave me (have you read about the latest Hem biography?) and will be based there.

Believe me, I know that living in Paris will be different than visiting for a week here or there. And I also know that Paris will offer its own set of challenges and complications (such as: greetings, with the French–are we kissing once, twice, seven times, a handshake?). But I have to give this a try. The world is too unstable, corrupt, sanitized, to not at least try to pursue what you think will make you happy. If something is calling to you, the only choice is to push aside the obstacles and go toward it.

In Paris, I’ll be working on Terre Magazine, as well as writing for wine magazines in the U.S. I’ll also be trying to do some more cultural writing; I used to cover art and film openings in New York, years back, and would like to return to that in Paris. I’ll be visiting lots of vineyards this summer, you can be sure. Will be headed to Greece next week, in fact, and then to Burgundy, later in June. Slovakia and Croatia are in the scheming, also, as well as the Jura and the Loire this fall.

And I’m working on the book, I am. But first and most importantly, as soon as I get to Paris, I’m going to call my friend and ask him to pick me up on his motorcycle, and head to Septime Cave in the 11éme for an apéro. I’m going to sit down with a glass of Champagne and listen to him tell me all about what it was like to be in Paris during the recent election. I’m going to have a snack of anchovies on toast. Or maybe, we’ll grab a bottle and bring it to the canal, to soak in the sun. And I’m going to relish in the experience of feeling at home in a new place–and in the fact that if somebody does throw a chair at me now, it will hopefully be because my French is too good, but I haven’t yet lost my ability to be sassy. Madame Fox would be proud.