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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 . . .)
I suppose you could call me a student of bubbles. When it comes to sparkling wine, there’s so much to think about, and try to understand: the conditions for ripeness; the balance created by acidity; lees influence; reduction vs. oxidation; pressure levels; soil types and grape varieties; disgorgement dates–the list goes on! But that’s why it’s so fascinating. It’s like being stuck in an endless PhD program, where the crappy stipend is palliated by sip after sip of occasionally quite stunning juice. There are ways in which bubbles, when made really well, can reveal things about a place in a way that a still wine cannot, I think. There are emotional experiences to be had with beautiful bubbles. And when the dosage is kept low, and vinosity is emphasized over powerful bubbles, these wines can pair so well with food.
This being my obsession, I gladly accepted an invitation to visit Franciacorta. This northern Italian DOCG, located just northwest of Brescia in Lombardia, probably best known for the dramatically beautiful Lake Iseo, prides itself on making high quality méthode traditionelle wines that are uniquely Italian. As in, they are not just an “alternative” to Champagne. Of course, the same grapes are involved: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc. It’s a young region, relatively–the DOC was founded exactly 50 years ago with the goal of becoming Italy’s bubble kingdom, beyond the Charmat-method, populist Prosecco, and it became a DOCG in 1995.
From one perspective, this is a marketing challenge and a big business risk that I’m not sure I would have wagered, given both Prosecco’s and Champagne’s popularity and successful branding. But the climate of Lombardia does seem good for this kind of wine, and anyway, who says that if you decide to make sparkling wine, it needs to be about competing with other regions? Franciacorta may never be as prominent as Champagne; it may never be as beloved and saleable as Prosecco. But it’s interesting in its own right, in many ways.
Franciacorta may be a new DOCG, but this being Italy, of course, it has deep history. There are mentions of a region called “Cortes Francae” as far back as 1277, and in 1570 a physician named Dr. Conforti makes note of sparkling wine in the area, calling it “mordacious” (stinging) wine. Anyone who loves Italian food and wine and culture (MEEE!!) should be learning to appreciate Franciacorta and its small group of producers, who very widely in style, size, and terrain–it’s a region with five soil types, according to the locals. There are very large, industrial producers in Franciacorta; there are also medium-sized, organically farmed estates; there are small, slightly idiosyncratic, even biodynamic producers; and there’s at least one fiercely natural producer who, unsurprisingly, is kept outside the DOCG–that’s Cà del Vént, who, unfortunately, I was unable to visit.
One thing that sets Franciacorta apart from any sparkling wine region is that nearly every producer is adamant about using little or zero dosage at disgorgement. There is a lot of Extra Brut or Brut Nature/Zero Dosaggio Franciacorta out there to choose from, and unlike in Champagne, it’s not necessarily the most prized/expensive cuvée of the estate. It’s just what Franciacorta winemakers prefer. “Sugar for me is like a mask: a bit fake,” is how Sabrina Gozio, the hospitality manager at Castello di Gussago, phrased it. “It changes the balance of the wines” when you add too much dosage. Also unique in Franciacorta: the wines are effectively always made as single-vintage cuvées, rather than incorporating reserve wine as in Champagne.
Another idiosyncrasy about Franciacorta is this style of wine they have called “Satèn.” Essentially meant as an aperitivo wine, it’s a blanc de blancs–Chardonnnay and Pinot Blanc are both permitted–made with slightly lower pressure (5 bars is the maximum). Saten also has longer time on the lees–24 months versus 18, per DOCG rules.
A recent point of excitement in the DOCG is that an indigenous grape called Erbamat has recently been allowed into the list of permitted varieties. This is probably because some of the larger, more influential producers, like Barone Pizzini, see it as an important historical grape in the region, and want to experiment with it. Silvano Brescianini, General Manager and VP of Barone Pizzini, where 3- and 4-year old Erbamat vines are growing, says that, in early experiments, the grape appears “aromatic and high in acidity” to some tasters. Erbamat has low polyphenols and a clear/light color, he says. They’ve had some challenges getting the Erbamat vines to produce grapes consistently in their otherwise healthy, organic estate; Brescianini thinks the next step is to “find the good clone.” I look forward to returning for some taste trials!
Organic viticulture is practiced, one could say, fairly widely in Franciacorta–I met and heard of over a dozen viticulturalists and growers who had recently converted their estates, or were in the process of doing so. Sabrina at Castello di Gussago said that organic viticulture is important because families, including her own, are “living near the vineyards.” As well, it’s a question of quality: her colleague Angelo Divittini, the winery’s agronomist, explained to me that over the years, Franciacorta has experienced a “loss of natural organic substance” in its soils–and he said this was a significant problem in Italian agriculture overall. “Forty years ago, the organic matter was 4 to 5 percent,” said Antonio. “Thanks to synthetic fertilizers, we’ve lost it all.” Organic winegrowing is important because the future is at stake, as well as regional heritage: “This land is our patrimony,” he said.
But there is only a nascent biodynamic movement in the region. 1701 Franciacorta is currently the only Demeter certified estate in the DOCG. I visited the home vineyard and cellar with Marco Benedimi, their oenologist. The project was born in 2012, when Silvia and Federico Stefini, a brother and sister team, purchased the 11-hectare estate and winery from a Count. They converted it to organic first, and received Demeter certification in 2015.
All the 1701 wines, even the “Brut,” are basically zero-dosage or very low-dosage, and they are planning to change the labels soon to reflect this. We tasted mostly wines that consisted of the 2012 vintage, and had been disgorged in March 2017, with the exception of the Satèn, which was a 2013. I liked them all, finding complexity and minerality in each one, but most enjoyed the rosé, made of 100 percent Pinot Noir (like in Champagne, blending is allowed here): the nose had ripe cherries and strawberries; the palate was full of mineral notes and acidity and seemed like it would open up to new flavors with time; I could have pictured it alongside grilled vegetables, pasta dishes, or a cheese plate. I also tried 1701’s still Chardonnay, fermented in amphora, which had a smoky stonefruit nose, and was mineral and light on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity.
In the cellar, we tasted some of the freshly pressed juice, as harvest had just begin. The Chardonnay had lots of acidity and was just beginning fermentation. The Pinot Noir had just been pressed and was juicy and fruity; they were getting ready to add fermented grape must to kickstart the process.
All sparkling wines at 1701 are hand-riddled–the total production is 5-6000 bottles per year. It’s possible to find them in the UK via Cave de Pyrenes. I don’t think they’re currently in the U.S.
Another great experience was tasting through the wines of Arcari + Danesi, a project of Giovanni Arcari and Nico Danesi, and one of the first Franciacorta wines I’d tried in New York, imported via Indie Wineries. I met with Arianna and Alex, as Giovanni and Nico were out of town.
The Arcari + Danesi project was born in 2007/8. They are well known for their“Solo Uva” wine, which omits sugar entirely, and which they first made in 2011. “Solo Uva” is a Chardonnay with only grape must to accelerate the secondary fermentation in bottle, rather than using sugar as is the norm worldwide, and with must again at disgorgement, instead of dosing with sugar. As you see above, there are two Solo Uva wines, one Brut and one no-dosage; then there are two standard wines and then there’s a vintage reserve.
I found that the Arcari + Danesi 2013 basic Dosaggio Zero was really singing; it had intense mineral notes, bright acid, and a fruit basket of lemons and peaches. I think it will age very well. It’s 90 percent Chardonnay, 10 percent Pinot Blanc, and spends over 30 months on the lees. The Solo Uva wines spend about 24 months on the lees.
Overall, the Arcari + Danesi wines are bottled at lower pressure, compared to other Franciacorta producers–around 4 or 4.5 atmospheres, versus 5-6. This is simply what they prefer. Generally speaking, it’s what I prefer, as well. Sprkling wines at lower pressure are, in my experience, are more vinous and food friendly.
Although it seems that most Franciacorta producers stick to stainless steel fermentation, one notable exception to the rule is the organic estate Mosnel, where barrel aging in French new oak is the norm. Out of their line-up (see header image), the 2012 Satèn was one stand-out; it wasn’t captivating me at all the wineries but the Mosnel approach, using 100 percent Chardonnay, aging 60 percent in horizontal tanks and 40 percent in barrels, delivered a wine with rich fruit, and strong acidity, offset by 6 grams of dosage. Overall, the wines at Mosnel (imported to the U.S with David Bowler Wines) have chewier textures and more toasty notes than wineries that don’t let the wine ferment or rest in barrels.
Franciacorta has a lot of potential; although most producers actually export a relatively low percentage of production, the wines can be found at Italian restaurants abroad, and of course you can enjoy the wines in Italy. If you’re in Milan,, it’s a quick day trip to Franciacorta; Lake Iseo is really beautiful and peaceful, with an island in the middle that you can stroll around on a sunny day, and various historical convents scattered around. And the food in the area is excellent. They have a special kind of sardine-like fish that comes from the lake called agone, which you’ll encounter in various pasta dishes around the area.
Looking forward to embarking on further studies in bubbles to share with you. xRachel
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 writtenmedium-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 email@example.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.
On the last weekend in April, wine lovers in New York have the opportunity to attend the wine tasting event of the year–really, it’s just too good to pass up. Unfortunately, I myself cannot attend, so please can you go and I’ll live vicariously through you? We’re talking about Wines on Wheels, an annual event where some of New York City’s most knowledgeable sommeliers (Morgan Harris, Dana Gaiser, Josh Nadel, Katia Scharnagl, Dustin Wilson–the list goes on!), retailers (Jean-Luc Le Dû), and regional winemakers (the wonderful Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate) are offering highly informative seminars and blind tasting classes, and pouring some of the best wines and most unique, formidable vintages–and it’s all for charity. 100 percent of proceeds benefit Wheeling Forward, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities live life to the fullest. This event is the brainchild of Yannick Benjamin, an acclaimed sommelier who has never let the fact that he’s in a wheelchair deter him from doing the job he loves most, and Alex Elegudin, a disability advocate and mentor.
Also, don’t miss Victoria James’ talk on rosé--she has a fantastic new book out on drinking pink, with illustrations from Lyle Railsback of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant! Bianca Bosker will also be there, signing copies of her book Cork Dork, which has been sparking controversies (insert awkward smiley face emoji here) left and right–so now you can ask Bianca about all these issues in person! She will no doubt be game.
It’s an all-star cast, with some killer wines. For a good cause. Skip brunch that day, and go. Saturday, April 29th. At City Winery, 155 Varick Street. Let me know what amazing wines I missed out on! (Whatever, I’m not that jealous, because I’ll be in Oregon hiking with friends and drinking Gamay. Insert big smiley emoji here.)
Probably should have posted this at the beginning of the weekend, but I was, uh, busy eating brunch? Anyway, for your future brunch needs, I’m in the April issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine sharing some expert pairing tips for wines that go well with easy brunch dishes. Check it out on newsstands, or read at the link here. (p.s. I believe that I am the first person to write about pét-nat in the printed pages of this magazine!)
also, just for fun, here’s this photo I found on the Internet:
Most of the time, writing on this blog is like dancing alone in my living room; nobody sees me except, perhaps, a few dozen onlookers clustered in the apartment across the way, who casually glance over as I flail around clumsily, to some tune they can’t hear, or the proverbial beat of my own drum.
In other words, I write here for the small group of readers (for whom I’m extremely grateful) that are interested in my voice, my writing. I am not, by any means, the most authoritative perspective on wine and food in the world; my writing here is often diluted, or hastily composed due to the fact that I am far overworked, and it’s also probably a bit snarky from time to time, which might be derived from my overall neurotic composure thanks to almost nine years of living in New York City. This blog was never really meant to be a blog; I always saw myself as a journalist, and used this site as a portfolio for prospective editors. When an audience came, I was glad, but it wasn’t something I’d fished for, and I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
Which is all to say: it’s very startling to, suddenly, have large numbers of people watching me dance. All my awkward moves are revealed, my lack of formal training and my imperfect sense of rhythm. An artist would have to navigate such an impromptu performance with only the highest level of confidence, or she would fail immediately; weakness would take over, she would be booed offstage.
When I wrote a response to Bianca Bosker’s piece last week, I was very emotionally moved, as if her article had somehow been affront to me personally. That said, my response wasn’t entirely impulsive; first, I let a few days go by after her article came out, and I read what other people had written and asked myself if I really wanted to chime in, as people were already posting rebuttals. But then what I wrote came out so quickly, and it just felt right. It was like those moments on the dance floor when you’re just in the flow and your body knows what direction to move in, you don’t need to guide it.
It may have been impassioned in a good way, and people do seem to have appreciated my take on the Times article (and I do stand by what I said–I really, really do love natural wine and it’s important to me that people are at least aware of its presence, if they are in the slightest bit interested in such things) but I don’t feel like I gave the most elegant performance. I feel there could have been a slightly more . . . rehearsed way of doing it, perhaps?
Sweeping aside the dance analogy for now (although I’m having fun with it), I want to reflect on the role of criticism within wine and food writing. Typically, the idea is that we, the writers, are all out here critiquing the producers and the makers, the winemakers and the chefs, the restaurants, and so on. Criticism, in this vein, is sort of the highest form of service journalism; we’re directing people who already have some level of good taste (because they are reading food or wine writing in the first place) to the experiences and things they will probably appreciate. The same goes for art, music, film criticism.
But what about criticism amongst us writers? How best can we approach this?
Tonight, triggered unsuspectingly by a photo (above) that I took in a shop in Austin, Texas, where I was visiting for an assignment last week, I went rummaging through my old college and grad school books. God, it’s been a long time since I read some of this stuff. After poring through a few sections of James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Baudrillard’s America, I found my dog-eared copy of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, a canonical study of Marxby the late Marshall Berman, who taught at CUNY. As if by magic, I opened to a page where I had underlined this quote:
“Criticism, as [Marx] understood it, was part of an ongoing dialectical process. It was meant to be dynamic, to drive and inspire the person criticized to overcome both his critics and himself, to propel both parties toward a new synthesis. Thus, to unmask phony claims of transcendence is to demand and fight for real transcendence.”
I read this, and it sank in: my response to Bianca felt wrong because I hadn’t proposed any kind of synthesis. Instead, I’d been defensive and polarizing.
When Bianca’s article came out, a lot of people brought it into the current political context by calling out, “fake news!” And then the other day, someone commented on a blog post about my writing (ugh, yes, we’re all blogging about each other’s blog posts now), again: “fake news”–!! We’re pointing fingers at each other, rather than looking for transcendence. We’re of the misguided belief that to critique means to be “against” someone; and that the only other choice is to “like” someone (literally, to give them likes on Instagram, etc, to be a follower/supporter). In other words, we think we either have to be nice, on someone’s “team,” or we are against. I don’t want that, and I don’t think it’s productive if we as a group of writers, focused on food and wine, or any group of writers, are to achieve anything with our efforts. I’m not really happy with the way it came out that you had, on one side, the “natural wine defenders,” and on the other side, supposedly, Bianca and all the supposed “natural wine haters.” This doesn’t seem like the right configuration, and it makes the phrase “natural wine” (which I use all the goddamn time, lacking a better signifier for the genre of wines I enjoy and want others to know about) seem even hollower than it already is. (Thank you, Blake, for pointing out this pointless dichotomy.)
Criticism, more so now than ever, should serve to make us better at what we do. It’s not about pinpointing “fake news” and scapegoating the author of such prose. Antonio Gramsci famously spoke of “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” How can we better apply an effectively critical mindset when regarding other writers’ work?
I don’t know, quite yet. But I’m thinking about it. What I do know is, if my super left-wing grad school professor–who wore all black and knew Das Kapital the way some Master Somms know their vintage charts–knew that I was using Marx and Gramsci in this context, he would probably try to revoke my M.A. in anthropology. As long as I get my money back, I would be totally OK with that. Then again, I do still appreciate these books.
The wines of young couple Martin and Anna Arndorfer have a particularly vibrant energy, which I insist on believing has something to do with their life partnership. Yin and Yang, maybe? (And you thought that biodynamics was esoteric—now I’m judging wines based on the romance between people who made them!)
But it makes sense—two people from winemaking families who fall in love and decide to make fantastic wine in the Kamptal using a non-interventionist approach and working with unique parcels, and over time they become increasingly adept at their craft, and motivated by the natural wine movement; this is by all means a recipe for beautiful wines.
Which is why I’m really excited that New York City is now getting a vertical of one of the Arndorfers’ most unique wines, a Roter Veltliner from an extremely well-situated vineyard that was planted in 1979. (Sorry, rest of the country—this wine is super limited and only a few cases of the back vintages came to NYC, but you can drink all the other delicious Arndorfer wines, don’t worry!)
Roter Veltliner is not a “noble” grape variety—it’s generally considered something of a workhorse, which is why so many vineyards in choice locations were ripped up and replanted with Riesling in recent decades. I don’t have a lot of very specific information on that right now, but as you may know, when a grape becomes popular on the global market—as Riesling did increasingly in the Aughts—growers typically rush to plant it in place of whatever older varieties they have. I love discovering the older grapes, though, and generally speaking I find that they have a lot of character.
The Arndorfers’ Roter Veltliner is raised in small old french barriques as well as stainless steel barrels, with fairly extensive lees aging (around 10 months on most of the wines)—and I think this approach has a lot to do with the wine’s charm. Thanks to the lees contact and the large oak casks, the wines are unctuous, slightly nutty, richly textured; they sort of beg you to roll the liquid around in your mouth and savor its complexity. Martin and Anna have an appreciation for traditional approaches (like large oak casks, which they use on some of their other wines), and they go easy on the sulfites, resulting in very expressive wines across the board—but these Roter Veltliner wines are particularly interesting, as the grape doesn’t typically get much respect. They were knock-outs with the dim sum food we had while tasting.
The vineyard site, called Gaisberg, is about 300 meters up—about as high as vines go in that setting—and is surrounded by top Riesling vineyards (see the picture of a map with the site circled) and consists of primary rock. Martin purchased it from a grower who didn’t much care for it or consider it worthy of great wine. But clearly, in the hands of Martin and Anna, the Roter Veltliner grown at this site expresses nuanced flavors and develops well with age.
Four vintages are currently available: 2012 through 2015. The 2012 has 8.5 grams of residual sugar, and its really well situated within the entire wine—the nose is honeyed with caramel inflections and a touch of crème brulée; the rich and creamy mouthfeel is so inviting. The 2013 has a smokier character, and the same great texture; it’s a more mineral-driven wine, with a nice thread of acidity. The 2014 is from a difficult vintage (rain throughout August) but you really wouldn’t be able to tell; it’s perhaps a bit more one-note although still wonderfully textured and fresh. The 2015 is very mineral, with wet stones on the nose and palate, and it’s fresh and a touch nutty. These are nuanced wines that deserve to be cellared for a couple of years.
I definitely recommend grabbing one of these bottles if you see them in retail (I hear that Vintry currently carries some); but look out for the Arndorfer wines in general—they have a very good Gruner-Riesling blend that runs about $18-20 on the shelf, as well as a really nice Zweigelt rosé. In general, the Arndorfer wines are real gems and are likely to only get more and more interesting with each passing harvest.