Nobody Drank Much Water At H20…

I hope that my latest feature on Sprudge Wine will serve as something of a lighthearted mood-lifter (tu te calmes and carry on, is perhaps what Thierry Puzelat might say…?). It’s a write-up of the raucous and extremely well-curated two-day natural wine fair H20 Vegetal, held last month in Catalunya, Spain. You can read it here

xRachel

When Home Is A Vineyard Somewhere And Everywhere

It’s a wonderful time to be in Europe. It’s a difficult time to be in Europe.

I have been traveling for the past month. Each day, I’ve been enthralled by the vibrancy of the cities I pass through, the exceptional wines and foods I’m tasting, the generous hospitality of the people I’m encountering along the way.

1701 Franciacorta, a small-production, zero dosage biodynamic project in Lombardia, Italy, which I visited last week

And yet: constant heaviness. The world feels perpetually uncertain, unsafe. The U.S. news cycle reads like a script for a soap opera, and it would almost beg laughter if it didn’t represent actual suffering, large steps backwards in terms of social progress, and the dismantling of environmental and political institutions that are so vital to society. 

What happened in Charlottesville also hits very close to home, and it was very hard to be away while it was going on. Not only did I live in this town for several years as an undergraduate student; my older brother is the mayor of Charlottesville, and while it’s been remarkable to watch him rise to the occasion, it’s also incredibly strange how the internet can superficially transport me to the events transpiring. Watching the video of the car barreling down the pedestrian road through Charlottesville’s downtown mall felt absolutely surreal; it’s a place I spent many afternoons drinking coffee, and some months waiting tables at a small Italian restaurant.

We are all processing, in our own ways. To those of you struggling to grapple with these events, or who feel unsafe and afraid, know that I’m thinking of you, even while far away.

Meanwhile, and despite the sense of angst, I’ve had some incredible encounters this past month, and have been in some of Europe’s great vineyards, wineries, and restaurants. Although my actual home is far away, I feel right at home when I’m in the company of people who are working to make something they are proud of, that represents the place they live. True hospitality is a rare find and I’m grateful to experience it.

Last Sunday, it was very special and comforting to be invited into the home of Angiolino Maule, a pioneering winemaker in the Veneto, to share lunch with his family. This was exactly the kind of warmth I needed on that day.

Angiolino Maule’s two sons, Alessandro and Giacomo, at their home in the Veneto

It was also heartening to visit the family at Slobodne Vinarstvo, in Slovakia, and spend an afternoon-into-evening absorbing their forward-thinking approach to winemaking. Walking the vineyards with their beautiful baby and discussing the fascinating history of post-Soviet Slovak winemaking, and tasting their skin contact wines full of energy under a sky full of stars, was at once calming and uplifting.

Agnes (and baby Viliam) of Slobodne Vinarsto, Slovakia

Over the next few weeks, I will begin properly writing up my notes and stories from this summer. Already, one report has come out: a write-up of Scotland’s first natural wine fair, in Edinburgh. You can read it on Sprudge Wine, link here

Claus Preisinger’s winery, Burgenland

I’ve returned to Paris after a week in Slovakia and Austria, where I convened with two wine bloggers for some very moving visits with natural winemakers. Pictured above is the winery of Claus Preisinger in Burgenland, Austria–one of the most impressive and thoughtful works of architecture I’ve ever seen, along with Christian Binner’s in Alsace.

I look forward to weaving the past month’s research into some insightful stories. At the moment I’m posted up in a quiet Paris café (the city is still away on vacation, which means I’ll hopefully get a lot of work done), a café crème and three full notebooks beside this laptop.

with love from Paris -RS

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