I Can Only Confirm That I Wrote This Story (But Not Which Parts Are True)

Most of you who follow this blog probably don’t know that wine and food journalism is only part of my overall writing repertoire. Fiction, as well, is a large part of my life, and it’s actually because of my desire to learn fiction writing that I fell into this whole wine thing: I was writing a novel, and taking a really engrossing workshop called the Writers Institute, at the City University of New York. Having hostessed and served in restaurants throughout high school and college, I figured that working in a restaurant would be the logical way to support these unprofitable habits. Just a few tastes of the vin nature at Reynard, and as soon as the manuscript was finished I cast it aside–the proverbial first novel in the drawer; I’m glad I wrote the whole book but I don’t think anyone needs to read it–and I promptly delved into wine study.

But today, I am really happy to share a published short story, that I wrote back when I was studying fiction at the Writers Institute, on the Daily Beast. I hope you’ll find a moment to sit back with a glass of wine (or two? It’s a fairly long piece) and read it–link here. And if any of you out there are fiction writers, I’d love to hear what literary publications you’re into at the moment. I might start polishing up some more of these old workshop stories to send out!

Only one request . . . if you do read my story, “Dancer,” which takes place in Costa Rica, please don’t try to get me to divulge what parts of it are true. I’m sure it’s tempting, but don’t even bother; I am a seasoned writer and I know when to zip my lips, only offering the phrase, “I can neither confirm nor deny.” (OK, I can confirm that I’ve been to Costa Rica. But that’s all! No more concessions.)

Written from a quiet hillside in Italy, where I’m on the Franciacorta trail at the moment. Stay tuned.

I Have Strong Opinions About Sauvignon Blanc

People often ask me: “How do you think of a story?”

Much of the time, I pitch stories based on wines or winemakers that have amazed me, or places I’ve visited where I see an interesting trend happening. But in the case of my most recent piece, a sort-of manifesto about Sauvignon Blanc (and why we might want to call it, simply, “Sauvignon,” and never “Sahv Blanc,” although I do think “Savvy B” is a nickname with a certain charm), the idea came to me the morning after a really fun pop-up at La Buvette, one of my favorite Paris natural wine bars in the 11th arrondissement. I woke up thinking about the snacks served at that event, and the wine we drank alongside them, and just started writing. In a nutshell, the piece explains why I don’t want to drink Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like canned green peas, or like a jalapeño made love to a watery green apple. I want flesh and citrus in my Sauvignon! Find out why I feel so strongly about Sauvignon in my latest for Sprudge Wine here, and I’d love to hear what you think. 

Cheers to all of you from London, after a few days of enjoying the city’s fantastic eating and natural wine culture, and prior to that, a brief stay in Edinburgh, where I attended Wild Wine Fair and had lunch at Timberyard restaurant. More on both of those to come, soon!

In Ten Years, We May All Be Drinking “Ruby Cab” From Texas: Here’s Why

Whether you prefer the “doom and gloom” approach to writing about climate change, or perhaps yearn for more of a “think critically and talk solutions” framework, there is no denying (unless you’re our sorry excuse for a fake president) that it’s happening. With regard to agriculture especially, there will be drastic and far-reaching consequences of rising temperatures, and the world is going to have to respond.

I’m a big believer in bottom-up change, and I think it’s interesting to glimpse what’s happening in the winemaking world, to see how people are anticipating the effects of global warming. That’s one of the reasons I honed in on a young woman named Krista Scruggs for my latest piece on Vice MUNCHIES. She is working with hybrid grapes in off-the-beaten-path viticultural regions like Vermont and Texas, despite having started out her career with Constellation Brands in Central California. Part of Krista’s mission, which she has adopted while apprenticing for the passionate and studious Deirdre Heekin of La Garagista, is to prove that hybrid grapes are not “second class citizens” to vitis vinifera. As we continue to observe the effects of climate change, it’s worth asking whether her quest may become more and more relevant.

But the other reason I wanted to write about Krista is that she doesn’t fit the mold of your typical winemaker. The wine industry is not only overwhelmingly male, as has often been pointed out; it’s also mainly made up of white, heteronormative people. Let’s hope that increased diversity in this industry, as more people like Krista come into the fold, will lead to deeper and more progressive conversations about issues like sustainability, climate change, and supporting innovation from the ground up (literally).

Read my feature about Krista Scruggs and her quest to prove the worth of hybrid grapes on Vice MUNCHIES, here. In ten years, we may all be drinking Ruby Cab from Texas instead of Napa Valley Cabernet–and in the best case scenario, that won’t be just because of climate change; it will be due to the delicious, exciting wines coming from young winemakers like Krista. Happy Friday!

It’s All Greek To Me, But Only Some Of It Is Worth Drinking

What’s old is new, and what’s new is old, right?

Nowhere does that seem more true than within the culture of natural wine. After all the money spent on science and technology in the late 20th century, with the goal of creating a commercial wine industry, and thousands and thousands of wineries installing temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks for a quick and consistent fermentation, people all over the world are now putting their grapes into clay amphorae, fermenting them without sulfites, and letting wine be just about as wild as it was back in the days of Dionysus. 

Crazy, right? Next thing you know, people will actually be talking to each other in cafés instead of perusing Instagram on their phones. Er, probably not . . .

In Greece, a country with 4000 years of documented viticultural history, modern winemaking dominates, and is strongly influenced by Bordeaux-style oenology. But there are a few people making really interesting, low-intervention or natural wines, and elevating the country’s fascinating indigenous grapes. My article about the producers leading the way for natural wines in Greece is up on Sprudge Wine, read here

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I had the pleasure of tasting many of these wines during a recent visit to the country. What’s important to mention here, too, is that the wines really shine especially with Greek food, which is rich in flavor and features lots of fresh Mediterranean vegetables, like eggplant and tomato, as well as plenty of meat, feta cheese, and dolmas. So, ideally, that would be the way to enjoy the wines; however, I did recently have a fantastic 2013 Xinomavro from a producer named Oenos at a restaurant here in Paris (cute place called Tannat, in the 11ème), and it was perfect with duck. (Although Xinomavro with moussaka, that’s just, like, boom.)

moussaka!!! so good!

If you live in New York, I really recommend the restaurant Molyvos, where I first tasted many of these wines a couple years back with the very knowledgable wine director, Kamal Kouiri; the food is really delicious and classic.

Thanks for reading!

 

Committing To A Long-Term Relationship With Burgundy

a berry of Gamay Teinturier in the Mâconnais

I hail from a place where just about everything is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly new. The houses are, maybe, 75 years-old. The schools were built in the ’60s. Supermarkets did not replace small artisanal bakeries and butchers, because there hardly ever were any. Growing up in the typical American suburbs, one’s sense of the past is vague, illustrated in high school history books but hardly livable or comprehendible in any way. Heritage is whispered about during visits from grandparents, who generally would rather forget the past, its global wars and times of bare-cupboard scarcity.

What, then, gives me, a child of the American suburbs, any right to delve into the profound mysteries of Burgundy? Can a Millennial do justice to a region whose history stretches back over a Millennium?

I am writing from Paris, after spending a week traveling around the Côtes d’Or, visiting producers including some whose wines I’ve deeply admired for many years. I am humbled by the experience. It was my second visit to Burgundy; the first was in 2014 when I somehow got myself into cellars of the likes of Frédéric Mugnier, knowing very little about what I was experiencing. Now, I have a much stronger grasp of wine tasting and wine writing, and my French is finally good enough to do an entire visit in that language in cases where the vignerons don’t know much English. But still, I feel that I am really only seeing the tip of the iceberg, in Burgundy, just beginning to understand the diversity of grape varieties there–meaning, the various clones and older varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Gamay–and the nuances of vinifying Pinot Noir in particular.

talented vigneronne Fanny Sabre, age 32, who worked for Philippe Pacalet for several years

What helps, though, is that there is a forceful, somewhat younger generation in Burgundy–people like Julien Guillot, and Fanny Sabre, who have learned from their parents and mentors, and who believe deeply in the terroir they work with, and have their own, strongheaded ideas about how to best represent them.

Along with Guillot and Sabre, I have a lot to think about after stimulating visits last week with Sylvain Pataille, Jean-Yves Bizot, Antoine Jobard, Pierre de Benoist of Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Dominique Derain, Pierre Fenals of Maison en Belles Lies, and JJ Morel.

Sylvain Pataille in the Clemengeots vineyard, Marsannay

Burgundy is not only an old and storied winemaking region, it is constantly changing, and quite significantly in the second half of the Twentieth century. New issues arise all the time–some related to climate (frost and hail, mainly, as well as the Suzuki flies of 2014), and others related to winemaking techniques, such as the much-discussed premox problem. Every year, there seems to be less and less wine made in Burgundy; meanwhile, the region’s top talent is churning out better and better wines, but at higher prices. I’m privileged, as a wine writer, to have access to some of these domaines for tastings, but I can’t really afford to drink most Burgundies on my own dime, unless we are talking about young Village-level or Bourgogne appellation wines, which I’m always happy to drink.

I guess the answer to my above rhetorical question is: I don’t really have any right, per se, to cover Burgundy as a journalist–except for the fact that I find the region fascinating, and I really do love the wines when they are made with care in a non-interventionist way. And I have a lot of respect for the vignerons working in this fashion, despite the market pressures.

Anyway, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be working on some stories based on this tour, and I’ll try to do justice to such a complex and fascinating region. But the fact is, I need to commit to Burgundy, if I want to truly understand it. This isn’t a region you pass through and say, “well, that was fun,” and never revisit. It requires a lot of study and attention, over time. I can say for sure, after this trip, that I’m captivated enough by the wines and the terroir to gladly lend myself to the task.

Jean-Yvez Bizot overlooking his Gâchés vineyard, in Vosne-Romanee

By the way, I have a new story out, focused on the main New World sister winemaking region to Burgundy–yep, Oregon! I covered a recent tasting of Gamay wines from all around Oregon for the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine. Read the article here.

I definitely encourage you to seek out Oregon Gamay; many of the producers are treating the grape with the same attention that you’d find in Cru Beaujolais wines, so these are wines of finesse meant for aging. A few that I really liked are in the following slideshow; reach out directly to the wineries via their websites for availability and pricing.

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A bientôt! RS

 

What Does One Drink During A Heat Wave In Paris?

The answer: anything and everything. Lots of water, cold cold beer, and soooo much vin de soif.

Paris, and most of Europe, is just emerging from a terrible heatwave. This past week, an energy-zapping, torturous, four-day cloud of brutally strong sunshine and 37 degree Celsius temperatures made the entire city into a greenhouse. My brain felt cooked. I tried to get work done, but it was really difficult to sit still and concentrate.

That said, I did have an article come out on Monday, ruminating on the phenomenon of “hipster celebrity natural winemaking,” in this case with the launch of Action Bronson’s wine, made in collaboration with a French grower and micronégociant Patrick Bouju. Read the story for Sprudge Wine, here

Other than that, I spent the week working on Terre Magazine; we’re assigning stories to writers around the world, plotting the corresponding artwork, and delving into the massive task of layout design. It’s interesting working with Erika and Katie across the sea, but actually it’s not so hard to communicate. We have some really compelling and unique stories in the works, and I’ll be editing throughout July and August. (For those interested in writing, see these pitching guidelines.)

Due to the heat, I really had no choice but to drink quite a bit this week. Here’s what I’ve gotten into (some of these are from the previous week; my liver’s not THAT hardcore):

Collaborative Septime x Vouette et Sorbée Champagne 

Not your average house wine! The restaurant Septime partnered up with biodynamic Champagne grower Vouette et Sorbée to make a killer special cuvée; it’s effectively the producer’s signature Fidéle blanc de noirs, made from Pinot Noir grown on Kimmeridgian soils in the Aube, but in this case élevage and tirage go a bit longer, according to the woman working at Septime Cave, where I purchased it. The juice is from vintage 2014; disgorgement was in December 2016. All of the V&S wines are rich in texture, vinous, and deeply mineral, and this one is no exception; it had notes of bitter almond, tree barks, and preserved lemons.

Cidrerie du Vulcain, cuvée “Trois Pepins”

I am smitten by the Swiss ciders from garagiste Jacques Perritaz, a former biologist who works with nearly-extinct heritage apple varieties, “remnants of a bygone polyculture,” as written on the Becky Wasserman site. This cuvée blends apples with quince and pear; it’s only 5 percent alcohol and refreshing without being sweet, loaded with mouth-puckering acidity and complex flavors; a perfect drink for aperitif at the charming caves-a-vins La Buvette in the 11ème.

Cancelli “Vini Rabasco” bianco
Trebbiano from a small estate in Abruzzo, niente chimica added, showing the true potential of this grape; the wine has luscious mouthfeel and a healthy dose of salinity layered with good concentration of fruit. Truly a pleasant wine to drink with small plates at La Buvette. I’d drunk the red several times in the U.S. but I actually think this one is more interesting. Not a wine to age, but wonderful for enjoying in a casual setting, and fantastic with pâté.

Etienne Courtois, Romorantin, 2011

If any of you out there have money and want to plant vines in a cool climate wine region, please please find a pépinière (vine gardener, essentially) who has Romorantin and grow it! It’s one of my favorite varieties on the planet, a mouth-puckering combination of lemon drops, white peaches, and stony minerality, and only about 60ha are left in the Loire Valley. The barrel-fermented and -aged Romorantin of Etienne Courtois is one of my favorite wines; it could age for another few years but right now it’s drinking marvelously and it tamed my thirst perfectly the other night at Aux Des Amis.

Luici Tecce, Taurasi, 2011

A bold, ripe Taurasi on a sweltering summer night? Might seem counterintuitive, but I’d been invited by a friend to hang out at a newish spot selling Italian natural wines called Vino Nostrum in the 11ème, and when the owners told us they had only one bottle left of this extremely limited-production, culty Taurasi… we obviously had to buy it and open it on the spot. The DOCG appellation of Taurasi features the Aglianico grape grown on volcanic soils about 500m above sea level, and the wines receive extensive aging in barrel (minimum of three years prior to release, at least one year in wood). Luigi Tecce, who is considered something of a wizard in the region, inherited the family estate in the late 90s when his father passed away; it has 5ha of vines, including some that are over 80 years old. Licorice, smoked meats, tobacco, and ripe raspberries made this a contemplative, complex wine.

La Ferme de Sept Lunes, Viognier/Roussanne, 2015

Rhone whites are under-appreciated. True, they can be flabby and sweet-tasting, but in the hands of certain producers, the unique white varieties of this region really do shine through. La Ferme de Sept Lunes, in Saint Joseph, came onto my radar during a salon I attended a few months back, called Découvertes en Vallée du Rhone. I drank this Voignier/Roussanne blend at La Buvette, and it was the perfect balance of ripe fruit and fresh acidity. In true biodynamic fashion, the estate is polycultural, working with grains and stonefruits. You can purchase their apricot, pear, and grape juices at La Buvette right alongside their wines.

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.