Today, I am writing with some bittersweet news. Essentially, Terre Magazine will be no more in the coming weeks.
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. I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
Greetings from freezing cold Paris! It has dumped snow here, which is very pretty, but I am chilled to the bone after a week of tasting in damp cellars in the Jura and the Auvergne, making my way toward La Dive and the other vin nature salons in the Loire. Expect an update from me soon on the highlights from those events!
Meantime, I’m starting to edit Terre Issue 2, which will come out in May. It’s going to be really, really good; we’re building on our global support and bringing in new writers, artists, and photographers. Tomorrow, I head to Copenhagen to report on one of the world’s most exciting and experimental distilleries, for Issue 2. Announcements are coming soon about pre-ordering the issue and subscribing for the year, and don’t miss out, because we sold out last time and surely will again, even though we plan to double our production. (You can sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about all this.)
I also want to share a story I’ve really enjoyed working on, an updated explainer about the phylloxera pest, with recent reporting from Australia and elsewhere. Everyone who loves wine should understand the history of phylloxera, because it’s affected grapevines and wine production everywhere, and it’s also a really fascinating story of plant genetics that continues to impact winegrowing today. Link is here!
Lastly: I’ve done something pretty unusual, and created a sort of “tip jar,” a link on Paypal where, at any point, you’re welcome to send me a bit of cash. When I left New York and started working on Terre, I had a tentative book deal and potential gig writing a magazine column. They both fell through, and then Terre became so time-consuming, that before I knew it I was living on credit cards and sleeping on friends’ couches to save money. Writing about wine isn’t lucrative but I do it because I love meeting growers and understanding the political-cultural histories of wine regions. I was inspired by this excellent piece on the New Worlder site to be more vocal and honest about how unglamorous this job can be. Here is the link to my “tip jar.” Even a five-dollar donation means a lot to me. Thank you!
Off to jump on a call with my Terre colleagues, to discuss artwork for the issue and launch events in May. Thanks for being with us on this journey!
In a hypercommercialized world where even natural wine, once culty, is now fetishized to death on social media (guilty!), people like Austrian winemaker Christian Tschida are refreshing. Christian doesn’t take in harvest interns; doesn’t use Instagram; doesn’t put cute cartoons on (most of) his labels; with few exceptions doesn’t particularly like to attend natural wine fairs; and somehow is maybe the only producer in the “Brutal” collective who is allowed to put his name on the front label. He’s somehow both gruff and nice at the same time, giving the impression that, while he’s actually a very considerate person, he’s not out to impress anyone with politeness.
This past summer, a small group of us who are fans of Christian’s wines, and wanted to better understand them, visited Christian at his home in Austria’s Burgenland region. I was accompanied by Valentina and Misiska of the natural wine salon Humbuk Bratislava, and Ed, aka the Winestache. It was a gorgeous, warm day. We didn’t go into the cellar or vineyards, just hung out in the backyard, with the stark white walls of the house lending an oddly Mediterranean atmosphere, and drank wine and talked.
“I want to make wines the way I want to drink, but also wines that age, and that I can think about,” is how Christian speaks of his winemaking. He wants to achieve a lot with his wines; they should be drinkable, but also age-worthy and meditative. Christian’s father was a third-generation winemaker in Burgenland, and founded an association that promoted organic wine growing. Ten years ago, Christian started making wines under his own label, working to assert a unique style. He has always done skin contact with the whites, he told us, and since 2010 he has bottled his “experimental” wines separately. Echoing what many winemakers working with skin contact whites have told me, Christian explained that maceration can be tricky and has to be closely watched in terms of picking at the right time and leaving skins on for just long enough, especially since Christian uses no sulfites.
The estate is around 10 hectares, all organic, and vines are trellised in a “double planting” system, with two rows of vines alongside each other, which Christian says improves the acidity and lets the roots go deeper. (Christian’s UK importer, Newcomer Wines, has some helpful information about his work in the vineyards.) Christian picks grapes for acidity, especially the Muscats, of which he has a few different kinds (“You have to avoid the stupid Muscat taste, you know what I mean?”). Read more
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.
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!