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.

When people asked me if I would ever make wine, I sometimes said, maybe. But I never believed it. How could I, a writer living essentially from one meager freelance writing check to another, 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 when the opportunity came up to make wine during a visit to Australia, I couldn’t say no. And here I am, near 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 up 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 and carbon dioxide. 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.

Before too much time passes, I want to get some thoughts down about wine making. It’s funny, when you visit wine makers 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.

IMG_2316.jpg

Making my own wines was an experience in individualism, and it was also a meditation on work itself. You see, nearly all of what we did, we did as a vintage team–up at dawn to get to the vineyards, all day picking, then processing the grapes. In the vineyard, we worked alongside a picking crew mostly from Laos and Thailand. You couldn’t believe the incredible food they brought–every day, different dishes–for “smoko,” the Aussie word for the mid-day break. Spicy food may not be the ideal thing to eat during a day of hard physical work, but none of us regret a single bite!

Aussie smoko 2018.jpg

But then, when it came to making my own wines, it was all up to me. I could work at my own pace. 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.

IMG_0898.jpg

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 was also a choice. I opted not to use the fancy, pneumatic press, and rather chose to use an old-fashioned, small basket press that a friend of ours bought new from Italy–because 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).

IMG_0286

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. 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.

And 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.

figs and pink wine

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 subscribe) — this issue is off to the printer by the end of this week! 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.

IMG_1045

 

Advertisements

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 . . .

From Snowy Paris, Visions of Terre 2 And New Writing On Phylloxera

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!

LesAnonymes_RachelSigner_ET.jpg
Tasting with François Saint-Lo at Les Anonymes in Angers

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.)

Mac Forbes boots chlorine 1_Rsigner
How to prevent the spreading of phylloxera

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!

Learning To Be Less Skeptical About Life In 2018

WHAT A YEAR. Several times, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the sludgy, awful, maddening mess that was 2017, whether the angst I felt was related to the surreal, dystopian political situation; or to the increasingly impossible lifestyle of New York City; or horrific environmental catastrophies that affected people I knew in some cases; or personal quandaries that seemed to mount on top of each other, one after another. Something tells me you probably know what I mean? It was not an easy year.

At some point, I’d simply had enough of it all, and I made some drastic changes in my life: I left New York and lived out of a suitcase for six months, squatting in Paris at regular intervals–that was a good start! And, thanks to SO MANY of you, I started a beautiful print magazine, alongside two women who inspire me endlessly and teach me new ways of thinking. In recent months, I’ve been focusing more on health and wellness–eating less bread and pasta, and consuming wine thoughtfully rather than excessively; have rekindled my love for the outdoors; put aside the often-too-dreary New York Times in exchange for serious poetry, novels, and essays. It’s about self-care, people–making time for being a well-rounded, happy person! Anyone have must-read recommendations? I’m all ears, please share! This novelistic reflection on falling in love, written decades ago by Alain de Botton, was one of the best things I read all year–I can’t believe I never got my hands on it until now. As well, I’ve been really into poetry by Ross Gay and Rupi Kaur, and catching up on Zadie Smith’s recent work. If I get really motivated, I may return to the Karl Ove Knausgaard series where I left off, mid-book-three. We’ll see about that.

this book is life-changing — written decades ago, but timeless! (awesome Chenin Blanc, too…)

Thanks to everyone who made 2017 so special: all of you who supported Terre from its inception; the people who hosted us for events and pop-ups in New York, Oregon, and Sydney (more to come in 2018!); those of you who bared your souls on social media rather than pretend that life is perfect amidst this shit we all experience; friends in Paris who let me sleep on their couches while I edited Terre and shepherded it to print. All of these people give me reason to be optimistic about 2018: we can stay real, we can stay strong, we can support each other so that we don’t lose track of our passions, even when everything seems up against us, and when things like wine, food, art, and other beauties can seem irrelevant in such a troubled world.

There’s much to be excited about heading into the New Year. I’m writing from South Australia, specifically a wonderful nook called the Basket Range, where I’ve been living the reality of natural wine, spending time with growers who have devoted themselves to it over the years; it’s a stark and meaningful change from simply dropping into vineyards for an afternoon, or drinking in urban wine bars. I mean, check out the beauty of this Pinot Noir vineyard at Lucy Margaux–incredible! It’s an experimental vineyard that’s never been sprayed or pruned.

And there are some AWESOME wines made here in the Basket Range, a cool climate, hilly region located in the Adelaide Hills, just above the city of Adelaide. The natural wine scene is strong! I’m slowly getting to know the different growers and winemakers here, and will share more stories as I can. Right now really into some of these:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before coming here, I was lucky enough to have a glimpse into some of the other wine regions around Australia, and I look forward to sharing those stories with you all soon! Visiting Mac Forbes in the Yarra was definitely one highlight, and it was also great to visit Tom Shobbrook, whom I’d met in Europe several times, in his home base in the Barossa.

Let’s stay optimistic and positive moving into the new year, as much as we can. That’s what Terre was founded upon: we were motivated to celebrate small producers of wine and food, as well as emerging and talented artists, photographers, and writers around the world–to make our network feel more international, and to strengthen it. We believe very much in critique, but we also want to create a fresh platform for such discussion. In the wine world, it seems that, again and again, we are asking the same, tired questions, and getting already-heard answers, rather than developing a wider range of topics to investigate. There’s no need to recycle points that have previously been made; let’s push forward and work together to challenge old ideas, and see what emerges from that. If Terre can do that, and also provide some enjoyment for people who like to read thoughtful work about wine, food, design, and the world’s most interesting entrepreneurs in these spaces, then I can’t imagine being any happier.

Already, Issue 1 of Terre has been more successful than we could’ve dreamed–retailers in Paris, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, and more, far beyond our home base of New York!–and we are gearing up now to take it further. Stay tuned for details about subscriptions and contributor’s guidelines–sign up for our occasional e-newsletter to be in-the-know!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Hopefully with a bad-ass bottle of Champagne. On that note, I’ve got some words up on the Wine Access blog about how to throw a wine-soaked dinner party, if you or some friends need any good party-hosting tips.

Hugs from Down Under.

Terroir Is Boring, And Other Gems From Austrian Winemaker Christian Tschida

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.

Tschida I.JPG

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

Some Sneak Peeks (Or Peaks?) Of Terre Magazine Issue 1

Here’s how tired I am: I nearly wrote “sneak peaks.”

I’m exhausted! It’s the middle of harvest here in the Loire Valley, where I am working for the wonderful Mosse family in Anjou. (More on that soon.) While traveling all summer, I’ve managed to put together an entire magazine. There are some really complex, in-depth features in Terre Magazine Issue 1, which is now for sale on our website. Here’s a few of just the tiniest glimpses at what’s between the covers:

  • Deirdre Heekin of Vermont’s La Garagista delivers profound thoughts about hybrid grapes, with her signature prose style
  • One of Italy’s most prominent natural wine consultants, who is also making his own first vintage, is profiled
  • A first-person “day in the life” of one of the U.S.’s most exciting natural wine bars
  • The “beyond Pinot Noir” movement in Oregon
  • Cheesemaking and why terroir is a marketing scheme
  • How one Long Island winery made its first pét-nat

That’s only part of what’s in Issue 1. And you should see the artwork. We’ve collaborated with super talented painters, photographers, and illustrators around the world, and our designer is currently putting the finishing touches on the layout, all of which has happened via my talented artistic co-founders, Erika DaSilva and Katie June Burton.

If you haven’t already purchased your copy of Terre, grab it on our site. Copies are limited, and no content will be posted online. Potential stockists, if you have questions, please reach out to us at terremag@gmail.com. We’re planning some launch parties in NYC and Oregon for November–stay tuned! Follow us on Instagram or Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter

Can’t wait to share Terre Magazine with you all, so so soon . . .

And now, back to bottling some Chenin Blanc. (It’s a rainy day, so it’s cellar work time here . . .)

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.