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

Welcome to your weekly apéro hour! 

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

-Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Introducing Pipette Magazine (Take Deux)

Today, I am writing with some bittersweet news. Essentially, Terre Magazine will be no more in the coming weeks.

I write this with some level of sadness. Over the past year and a half, I saw that Terre was really exciting to people, that this magazine added some joy and wholesome intellectualism in their lives. Over the course of two issues, I have had the pleasure of working with authors and photographers in truly rewarding ways, seeing a vague idea develop substance and then become a solid draft — and finally, something we could be proud to publish in print.
But the good news is: I won’t be giving up. I’m starting a new magazine.
The new magazine will be called Pipette. A “pipette,” you may know, also called a “wine thief,” is a glass siphon used to draw tastes of wine from barrels. I am naming the new magazine Pipette in honor of a very special experience I had recently while visiting Slovakia. The winemaker Zsolt Suto of Strekov 1075 brought us to visit a friend of his, a Hungarian man making natural wine in a beautiful old cellar, with no commercial intent, at all–he bottles the wine for his own consumption, only.
This winemaker, Gabor, led the tasting using the most lovely pipette I had ever seen. He also had us tasting out of 100-year-old wine glasses! I remarked on how beautiful the pipette was — apparently it’s common in the region but I had never seen the style before. Gabor, noticing how enamored I was, ended up cleaning it carefully and giving it to us as a gift. It was very touching and symbolic of the non-commercial nature of what he does as a natural winemaker. The pipette unfortunately broke during a dash through the Vienna airport — but that generosity will remain in my memory forever.
And that’s what is important. Natural wine to me is about generosity. Writing, even, is about generosity. My financial benefit from writing is basically nothing. My personal benefit, however, is massive, when I hear from readers that something I’ve written has touched them or shown them a fresh perspective. And the same return is involved in editing, and working with talented creatives, to make a unique print product that brings us away from the constant noise of social media and fake news.
That’s all I ever wanted to do by founding a print magazine about natural wines: add beauty and thoughtful discourse to the world, in a time when there’s so much consumerist bullshit and greed. So, I’ll be doing that with Pipette. The magazine will, as with the previous iteration, be print-only, and it will still have minimalistic design with great photos and artwork, and hopefully still enjoy wide distribution around the world. I am going to have to re-do a lot of work, from scratch. It’s hard, because I was already so strapped for time, editing Terre while building its network, also making wine and doing assignments for magazines. But I’ll write emails in my sleep to make it happen.
I will have more news soon; I know that many of you subscribed and are wondering what will happen to your subscriptions. For now, if you could please follow the new magazine on Instagram so I can re-build a following, it would get me off to a great start. And please spread the word!
Thank you for your support!
xxRachel

Apéro Hour | Weekly Highlights

Hi everyone! This is a new feature I am pioneering on my site. Each week, I’ll post a list of things I’m psyched about, thinking deeply on, questioning, reading, drinking, or otherwise want to share. Subscribe to the site to receive this in your e-mail box each week. It’s designed to be something you read with a glass of wine or tipple of your favorite whiskey as you wind down the day, and to inspire you for the coming weekend.

And here’s your very first Apéro Hour! 

WRITING. The jet-lag from being in Europe is starting to fade, and now instead of being an insomniac all night and watching weird old movies to fall asleep, I feel refreshed enough to look through all my notes from visiting winemakers, and try to figure out what to do with it all! I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing the Renner sisters (RennerSistas is their wine label), a sisterly winemaking duo in Austria’s Burgenland. I love stories like theirs of generational shift and change — converting the family vineyards to organic, making new strides with the winemaking and going for lighter, lower-alcohol styles, and less or no sulfur. You’ll have to wait for Terre’s next issue to get the full story! It seems like so much is happening in that part of Europe. Evidence: in my latest publication, for Playboy Magazine, in which I did not pose in a bikini with a glass of wine (sorry to disappoint), but instead wrote about the philosophy behind the natural wine movement, I also recommended three producers from Middle Europe (Middle Europe is a vague term, but comprises the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia) — including two from the Burgenland, where the Rennersistas are located. But you have to read the piece to find out who they are! Link here. Maybe not safe for work?

COOKING. It’s getting chilly here in the hills of South Australia, and the other day I was inspired to make lasagna. Obviously, I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe — is there any other, aside from your grandmother’s, worth trying? It turned out to be not just good, but incredibly good, for two reason: one, handmade fresh pasta, and two, freshly ground nutmeg. Do it! And drink this Aglianico from Canlibero while you’re at it. We picked it up in Rome, at a beautiful little wine bar called Caffè Sospeso. Ripe plums and fresh plums with a lovely touch of reduction.

But what I am most excited about when it comes to cooking is that my friends in Portland, Oregon, the rock star somm Dana Frank and super talented chef Andrea Slonecker, finally have pre-orders on for their upcoming cookbook with Ten Speed Press: it’s called Wine Food, New Adventures in Dining, and you can order your copy here. It’s always bothered me that cookbooks, generally speaking, narrowly focus on food, without sharing wisdom as to what you drink alongside, for example, a comforting dish like grilled fish with herby fennel relish. The answer, per Dana and Andrea, in this case: a salty Greek white wine. They walk you through which producers to look for and even how to pronounce grape varieties. It’s a manifesto for making wine accessible without dumbing it down, and for considering wine part of a beautiful meal, rather than making it separate. I am pretty sure this is the ONE cookbook everybody should grab this year. (Also pictured: the May/June copy of Imbibe Magazine, featuring an article I wrote about collaborative winemaking — look for it on newsstands!)

DRINKING. Here’s something I am less into these days: sulfur. I realize that many people have defenses of adding sulfur to wine: it stabliizes the wine, so that it can travel across the world, being the most common one. That’s the reason why importer Kermit Lynch famously asked the winemakers of the Gang of Four, who pioneered sulfur-free and generally non-interventionist winemaking in Beaujolais in the 1980s, to put a bit of sulfur into their wines before shipping them to the U.S. There are a lot of misconceptions about sulfur, which is a preservative added to probably 98 percent of wine, and in some cases naturally occurring, depending on soil types, and I’ve answered them in previous articles (like this one here). But what is interesting to me now is that I’ve personally gotten to the point where I strongly dislike wine made with added sulfites — I can’t even really drink it. I honestly think I’ve developed a sensitivity, as well — the few times in recent months where I’ve drunk wine with added sulfites, I’ve felt very lethargic and even a bit short of breath.

Anyway, the question of how sulfur relates to my personal taste is simpler to explain than any physical reactions: A gift of Dard and Ribo’s Crozes-Hermitage traveled with us from France to Italy, where it was opened with great anticipation. This is a producer not easy to get ahold of, you cuold say, and not terribly cheap, either. On first sip, I was enthralled by the flavor of fresh black olives, the silky texture. But with each glass, I noticed more and more the sense of heaviness in the wine, and the way this heaviness lingered in my body. It wasn’t the booze itself, as the wine was low alcohol: 12.5% ABV. But the addition of sulfur was the unmistakable culprit. How much was added? I would guess between 20-30ppm (parts per million). Not as much as the standard, these days, which is around 40ppm for many small producers. It’s legal to add as much as 70ppm and still call yourself organic, in many places (and still be admitted to the RAW Wine Fair, even, with those levels), and some wineries add up to 120ppm. Anyway, the good news is there are enough winemakers now working without any added sulfites, at all, that I won’t go thirsty. At least, I’ll have my own wines to drink!

READING. This will be the nerdies section of my weekly apéro hour, for sure! This week’s pick is especially heavy on the nerd factor.

I have a longstanding interest in French critical thought and specifically psychoanalysis, so I was excited to receive an advance copy of this little memoir on Jacques Lacan by Catherine Millot, a French woman who was the lover and student of the famous psychoanalyst for many years, and who also practices the profession herself. I loved in this book how a woman’s intimate testimony sheds light on such an influential yet elusive figure, getting into the squeamish details like Lacan’s infidelity to her, the fact that he unethically kept treating her as an analysand while they were together, his failed attempt to unify intellectual factions in Italy, and his terrible driving skills. 

Next up, I’m awaiting delivery of Tao Lin’s new nonfiction book on psychedelics, as well as Sheila Heti’s latest piece of genius, Motherhood. The other day, I managed to get 500 words of a short story down onto the Word Doc. I promised a friend in Paris that I would have a completed draft of a story for her to read, next time I see her — it’s based on a sort of wild night we had together, a night that carried a certain sadness along with glee. I have until September to make this really good!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog on the right side of the page so you can receive this in your inbox each week!

Much love xxRachel

Spritzes, Birthdays, Knowing Thyself

This week, I turned one year older. (I’m not going to hide my age from you: 34.)

On my birthday, I was staying in a little house outside Rome, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards growing the red grape Cesanese. My boyfriend and I took a walk in the nearby town, which seemed straight out of an old Sophia Loren film, and where we shopped for veggies and cheeses and a cut of steak to cook for dinner, and then had spritzes in the piazza; after, we went back to the house we were staying in, to drink more spritzes and watch the sunset.

Often, people comment on my social media or in e-mails that my travels “look amazing” or that I’m really “living the dream.” I never quite know what to say in response. Should I deny that Italy is beautiful and I just had some spaghetti alla carbonara to die for at a little neighborhood trattoria in central Rome, or that spring wildflowers have surrounded us everywhere we’ve gone for the past few weeks, and that I spent an entire afternoon observing people and sketching in one of Copenhagen’s new coffee shops Andersen & Maillard because the energy in that space was just so nice? Should I not admit that I’m incredibly excited to return to Australia and taste the wine I made a few months back, and consider when it will be ready for bottling?

Or, should I reply mentioning how much my stomach hurts from the lack of exercise and stress of traveling, that it’s really hard to run a small indie magazine while living on the go, that my entire family had a gathering with all my nieces and nephews there and I kind of wish I’d magically teleported over to give them all hugs, or that on certain days, I would trade this transient existence for whatever their full time jobs are?

Well, this has gotten heavy, quick! This post started out as a way of introducing myself to many of you who have, for whatever reason, started following me in recent weeks. Whomever you are — whether you’re a seasoned magazine editor, a mother of five who enjoys reading, a winemaker, a friend of a friend who followed out of curiosity — I welcome you here very much, because without you I’d be writing into the void.

But I hope you’re not here hoping that I’ll only blog about wine! I do like to write about wine, of course, but sometimes I wish I could be a sort of superhuman Renaissance Woman, writing about wine, literature, modern art, and even politics with expertise and flair. I feel like the world we live in wants us to market one side of ourselves to the world, rather than confessing our multi-faceted natures. Some people manage to escape this monotony, I think — either they jump swiftly and surely from one project to the next, or they gracefully merge their interests into one place. For the latter, I’d note the newsletter from the California wine delivery service “Pour This.” Not being a California resident, I cannot order any of the wines, but I absolutely love the way the company’s founder Ashley Ragovin weaves personal stories and cultural topics into her wine updates. It was an obvious “yes” when she approached me wanting to write for Terre, and if you haven’t yet cracked open your copy of Issue 2, do it now and go straight to Ashley’s story about getting to know Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti. I love that I can work with such talented and unconventional writers!

But I’m meandering severely. What I wish I could somehow know, is who all of you out there are! Some of my readers, I’ve met and know well. There’s the natural wine fanatic in New York (hello, Andrew, glad you enjoyed Greece!). There’s my mom — and my mom’s lovely ex-boyfriend. There’s the aforementioned editor of an established magazine (you still out there?). Writerly types, I assume, are on the roster. Give me a shout on email sometime, or wherever really, if you feel like it. Let me know if you liked a recent post, if it made you laugh or prompted a question.

Et moi? Well, you already know my age. You may also know that I’m originally from the U.S. but left a year ago, two suitcases in hand, to let the wind carry me. You possibly know that I love wine, only natural wine, made from grapes with no preservatives added. I’m a long-term yoga practitioner, I love modern art, I have seven (or is it eight now?) tattoos. Currently, I am writing this in a hotel room outside Rome, wearing a towel and sitting on the floor. I’m staying up all night because we have an early morning flight and I can’t sleep when I know I have to be at the airport in three hours. I’d rather write.

I’ll have more to say soon, when I’m back in Australia, and I’ve processed the past few weeks. It’s honestly been an incredibly inspiring trip. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my own relationship to natural wine, and I’ve also — sort of unexpectedly — learned a bit about spring pruning, since that’s what people have been busy with in the vineyards we’ve visited. (That’s the vineyard of Le Coste in Italy, up there — one of my favorite natural wine producers.) Vines are really amazing and quirky plants — their instinct is to grow wild, but they have to be tamed to make decent wine. (Metaphor for humans? Hm…) The work of spring pruning involves trimming off the unnecessary shoots that come in all over the branches, and it is a massive job for any small grower to undertake. So much love and care is going into vineyards, all over the Northern Hemisphere right now, as berries begin to flower and turn into actual grapes. Here’s wishing a wonderful growing season to all of you.

And to those of you who have recently joined me here, stay tuned for a new project, which I’ll announce soon. It’s a project for dreamers and risk-takers and those who are fed up with life’s mundane routines, those who thirst for something new, even if they don’t know yet what that is. I’m guessing some of you out there are a bit like that. More to come. I think I’ll tackle a few emails before it’s time to rev up the rental car one more time and do the airport song-and-dance I know so well.

I’ll leave you all with a quote from the Surrealist intellectual Andre Breton:

“I have no desire to know myself. (Basta! I shall always know myself!)”

. . . Um, wow, if this little birthday is this existential, what will 35 be like???

Slowing Things Down

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.

— Soren Kierkegaard

It’s 8am. The alarm goes off. Immediately, your hand reaches for the little machine beside you. The screen lights up. Messages. How many likes on that recent post? It feels like an onslaught, an attack on the senses, yet somehow it’s addicting, you cannot resist.

There isn’t much of an escape from technology; it pervades our existence and even in the most remote locations — an island, the woods, airplanes, the ashram you escaped to for the weekend — there’s WIFI, beckoning us to connect, to display our lives.

It’s been almost three months since I’ve been living in the hills of South Australia. Every morning, I awake to the birds — the magpies cawing, the wrens chirping, the cockatoos . . . screaming, for lack of a more polite term (cockatoos are extremely loud birds, in the family of parrots). The sun rises over the valley, slowly warming up the day.

Now that the frenzy of harvest is over, and Issue 2 of the magazine is ready to go out into the world, I’m enjoying a slower pace of life. There’s so much beauty around, and just walking for an hour with the dogs helps me think clearly. Making wine has been only one instance of working with my hands; there’s a huge veggie garden here on the farm and I’ve taken to pickling and fermenting everything I can. (A long-time passion for me, which I can finally realize in full!) 

For a while, I was making sourdough bread but I’ve come to the point where I have to admit: I’m not that talented at baking. I may pick it up again in the future, but meanwhile, there are olives to pick and cure, chilis to be hung to dry, tomato sauce to preserve, tree barks and wild fennel and fig and lemon leaves down by the creek to collect and soak in our Chardonnay grappa, to become vermouth.

For years, my life was about consumption, about getting into the latest restaurant — and now it’s gone to the other side. I welcome the change. And while there’s certainly enough of the New Yorker left in me that I’m quick to jump on my phone and computer in the morning, I am also taking time to read, sketch in a journal, and work on fiction — something I used to do regularly, but set aside when I decided to focus more on wine writing. finally got around to George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I can’t really think of any reason you should not go out right this minute and locate a copy; it’s a beautifully written meditation on loss and the afterlife and American history, and such a pleasure to read. 

This blog has been many things over the years; I’ve used it to promote my published magazine articles, to defend natural wines against its critics, to share details of my visits to some of the world’s most interesting natural & artisanal winemakers. Recently, a number of people subscribed to this blog, and I’m curious who all of you are, and wanted to introduce myself anew. So: hello, there. I’m a writer who left New York after living there for almost nine years, moved to France with two suitcases, and followed my heart and the good weather to Australia, someplace I’d never been and hadn’t considered visiting. I’m discovering a lot here.

Mostly this moment in my life is about grounding, creating a new home, and getting to know Australia. But partly because I was nomadic for so many months, I really don’t take the notion of “home” for granted — I feel incredibly lucky to have a place where I can just be. I’m reflecting on the idea of “homeness,” what it means to connect to a place and make it our own, and what happens when that connection is denied or confiscated. Recently, I had the chance to see an amazing, small collection of new paintings at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The artist, Jacob Stengle, is an aboriginal from the Ngarrindjeri community who was taken from his family at the age of three and placed in a government run home. His story represents the legacy of Australia’s “stolen generation”: throughout the Twentieth century up until the 70s, children were systematically and forcibly removed from their homes as a way of promoting “assimilation” into the white settler culture.

Stengle’s paintings have the chilling effect of sharing his experience from a child’s perspective, as well as looking in from the outside, showing his mother’s heartbreak when he’d been taken. His grandfather, we learn through the narrative of the paintings, was one of the men who helped the South Australian Museum build their collection of aboriginal artifacts. The exhibit is about to close after this weekend, but any visitors to Australia interested in this theme must not miss the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, which has a stunning and well-curated collection of contemporary aboriginal art.

Coming from the U.S, of course, much of this narrative is familiar, although here in Australia the oppression of aboriginal communities happened in different sequences and more recently. In Australia’s wine and food circle, thoughtful leaders like Adelaide chef Jock Zonfrillo of Orana are working to highlight native ingredients and channel research funds back into the communities they come from; winemaker Momento Mori in the state of Victoria has written on their back labels: “We acknowledge and respect the traditional owners of this land.” These are the sentiments I want to see more of, write about and share with others, and get involved in myself.

As this Indian summer turns into the cooler days of fall, I am gearing up to travel to Europe, where I’ll be tasting wines, celebrating the release of Terre Issue 2 (if you didn’t pre-order, hopefully there’s a stockist near you!), and researching articles for a few magazines. Speaking of, if anyone can get ahold of the latest issue of Imbibe Magazine, I’m in there writing about amazing examples of winemakers collaborating around the world. It’s a feature I really enjoyed writing, highlighting some producers I really admire.

Aaaaaaaand . . . I have a new self-publishing book project on the horizon. It’s just a bit too early to say more, but I will let you know this: it’s not about wine. Stay tuned, I’ll be ready soon to share details and will be asking for your support.

I hope that, wherever you are, you’re finding ways to slow down, tune out the noise — there’s so, so much of it — and perhaps, use your hands to make something beautiful and nourishing. At the very least, take a walk — it does so much for the soul.

 

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.

How could I, a writer, 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 here I am, at 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 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 creating carbon dioxide as the yeasts consume sugar. Winemaking 101. 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. I made bubbles?!?!? It’s truly awesome.

It’s funny, when you visit winemakers 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 a meditation on the meaning of individualism, and of the concept of work itself. Nearly all of what we did, we did as a vintage team — up at dawn to get to the vineyards, all day picking and sorting, then processing the grapes. In the vineyard, we worked alongside a picking crew mostly from Laos and Thailand. Weeks after vintage has ended, I still dream about the incredible food they brought — every day, different dishes — for “smoko,” the Aussie word for the mid-day break.

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But when it came to making my own wines, it was all up to me. 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 itself was also a choice. I opted not to use the modern pneumatic press, and rather chose to use an old-fashioned, small basket press that a friend of ours bought new from Italy. 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. Gravity is something you have to learn to trust and befriend, I think. It’s the same way in yoga, which I’ve practiced for thirteen years — if you feel fear, you’re not working with gravity, you’re fighting against it. My goal is to become at one with gravity — that’s when I’ll feel like a real winemaker. And a yogi, I guess . . .

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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, standing there, beside the press. 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.

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 grab one at a nearby stockist, or subscribe). 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 . . .