Weekly Apéro Hour: A Tale Of Two Syrahs

Here’s your weekly apéro hour!

DRINKING: This week a friend brought over a wine from the Northern Rhone cru Cornas, where 100 percent Syrah wine is made atop a great granite hill with vineyards as much as 400 meters above sea level. This particular bottle is one I’ve enjoyed before, and loved, from Franck Balthazar, who aside from having a fabulously appropriate last name is known for making extremely elegant Cornas wine, including this completely sans soufre cuvée. It is luscious yet bright, full of black olive notes and a bit of sandlewood or maybe campfire in the tannins. It’s a comforting wine, perfect for these chilly Aussie evenings. This bottle was from the 2014 vintage and it was totally great, but could have used more time.

It was funny, when I was drinking it, how much it reminded me of another wine I’ve drunk recently: the 2016 “Tommy Ruff” Shiraz/Mourvèdre (50/50) cuvée from Tom Shobbrook in the Barossa Valley (who is featured in Issue 2 of Terre Magazine!).

OK, it’s not 100 percent Syrah (if you didn’t know, “Shiraz” is New World for Syrah) — but the Syrah definitely dominates the Mourvèdre in the Tommy Ruff wine, with plenty of olive and cherry pit and leather notes underpinned by a hint of spice. But I was laughing because the wines are both 13 percent in alcohol, both are very soul-warming and somewhat on the fuller-bodied side, yet lightened by acidity from — in the French case, I’d guess, cool nights — and in the Barossa case, I’d guess,  early picking. And both are such beautiful examples of what can be done with Syrah, a grape that can easily tend toward flabbiness and high alcohol.

Where the Tommy Ruff wine comes from, the Shobbrook family vineyard in the Barossa, couldn’t be more different to the steep slopes of the Rhône. And yet, these wines had a similar effect on me. You have to wonder, sometimes, how terroir can trespass entire countries, even continents. Intelligent winemaking can become a bridge across long distances. And for me, this experience of two Syrahs, from two terroirs, was a sort of glimpse into my own fragmented sense of self, at the moment — one foot in Australia, one foot in France, and yet always pulled mentally back to the States, where my family is and where it’s one political disaster after another.

Speaking of that . . .

CONTEMPLATING. Ever since the current U.S. President (I won’t write his name) came into power, there’s been a consistently repeated sequence:

Step 1: President does something egregious, shameful, threatening to humankind

Step 2: Humankind responds by blasting feelings and political statements all over social media

Step 3: Various forms of fundraising and marching occur across the U.S.

And then the aftermath of this is usually someone in the White House gets fired and replaced, or maybe things get passed to the Federal or Supreme Court. Which, now, is definitely going to swing in the President’s favor, anyway. Ughhhhh. How did adults actually let this all happen?

I was in Sydney when the news came out about the detained children at the U.S. border, some as young as 9 months old, guilty of no crime other than trying to make better lives for themselves against all the odds. I couldn’t sleep all night after reading the articles about how these children were being treated. And in no time, it was all over social media — people were posting photos of children crying, and call-to-actions to donate to Raices Texas or the ACLU. And I immediately felt the impulse to do the same. But then something stopped me.

This painting, by Ad Reinhardt (“Abstract Painting,” 1960-66), came to mind. I saw it on display in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York about six months ago, and it recalled the way many people, including me, took to simply posting black squares on Instagram to express our feelings of revolt at the political situation. You can interpret it any way you want, obviously, but consider the decade it was painted in, and that Reinhardt was a civil rights movement supporter and a vocal opponent to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

And reflecting on this work of art, I worried, if we rely on social media as an outlet for feelings about injustice, is that a temporary fix for a much bigger problem? I also thought about my life over the past year: living in France, then Australia, two countries that also have seriously questionable policies in regard to migrants. It’s not just a U.S. problem, it’s a global problem. People are being deliberated excluded from the supposedly all-encompassing notion of human rights.

The sum of all this reflection, for me: I’d like to be constantly doing something to support justice, rather than simply reacting every time there’s a severe crisis. It’s been incredible to see all the money people raised to support work at the U.S.-Mexico border. I hope I can find a substantial way to contribute, as well. Guilt and anger are not productive emotions; I’d rather be constructive rather than in despair.

That said: if anyone knows of an organization who works with refugees, anywhere on the planet, who is particularly in need, I have an upcoming project and I’d like to donate some of its revenue to this cause. Thanks for any tips you can share!

READING: I’ve dug into Sheila Heti’s latest book, Motherhood, pictured above with the wines. Wow. I really want to tell you more about it, but I’m going to wait until I’m a little further in.

MORE READING AND DRINKING: wild fermented, barrel aged aleI mean, I guess that’s basically what this blog is about? So, Wildflower Beer is a new project based in Sydney, Australia, where brewer Topher Boehm has translated his love for Australian flora — the reason he, being a Texas native, decided to live in Australia is that he fell in love with the stunning native flowers — into beermaking. I’ve been enjoying his this weekend alongside an indie mag about beermaking, called Hops & Barley, from the UK. the magazine has a really cool feature about brewers with winemaking backgrounds, which looks at other ways that wine and beer intersect — namely, with the use of wine barrels for ageing beers. Another cool indie mag discovery!

I’m looking forward to collaborating with Topher on an article for Pipette Magazine, which is set to come out in October. I’ll be working on that nonstop over the next few weeks. I have to say, living out here in the hills, surrounded by clean, fresh air and friendly people who make amazing wines, is not a terrible setting to be in for editing and writing. Every day I take the dogs for a walk, and I marvel at the simple beauty of a pinecone covered in dew, with water droplets on the edges of the pines, sparkling in the morning sunlight.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods is eternal youth.”

TRAVELING: Oh my gosh, Tasmania was beautiful! (Proof above!!) I went there for a wine tasting called Bottletops, hosted by Franklin Bar & Restaurant, but I was also able to get out into the wilderness a bit, foraging for incredibly delicious, meaty native oysters in the cold waters on the south end of the island, walking in the woods, picnicking by the blue lake.

I’ve posted some highlights from the wine tasting on Instagram already, and I’ll share a few more in coming weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to mention something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: hospitality to travelers.

I used to run an AirBnb in New York. We made special effort to provide a cozy space, with nice art on the walls, chocolates on the bed, and sometimes even a vase fresh flowers in the guest bedroom. These days, I use AirBnb frequently, as a guest — and too often, the apartments are completely soulless, designed purely to provide basic needs for a visitor. I always have trouble sleeping in these spaces!

So I really appreciated staying in the cutest AirBnb ever in Tasmania’s main city, Hobart — the host had installed all sorts of funny vintage knick-knacks giving it character, and there were lovely drawings on the wall, a really nice French press, and a shelf full of secondhand books. I spent an hour diving into this amazing publication Journal of a Novel, from John Steinbeck, who wrote and kept letters to his editor while he was working on the massive tome East of Eden. I loved reading about Steinbeck’s struggles to produce the book he’d go down in history for — from the day-to-day, like managing to do laundry, to the ongoing and infuriating creative challenges, the sense of disappointment when the writing wasn’t going well, all the things that we forget about or aren’t aware of when we read the finished work.

To all the hosts out there who put thought and time into providing welcoming spaces: hats off to you. I felt like the Steinbeck book appeared in my life for a reason, as I am working on a small fun little book manuscript. Steinbeck’s letters were a reminder that nobody is exempt from the ongoing challenges to writing — but we have to do it anyway! While my book is certainly no 600-page modern classic, it is still taxing to put something together and have the confidence to share it with the world.

I’ll be able to announce that project very soon!

And for those of you eager to learn more about the forthcoming Pipette Issue 1, consider signing up for the occasional newsletter. It’s the first place where announcements come out about pre-sales, events, and discount codes for purchasing magazines and for tickets to wine tastings around the world. The link is here.

Have a lovely finish to your weekend! xxR

P.S. If you enjoyed this week’s apéro hour, take a peek on the right side where you can sign up to receive this blog directly in your inbox (if you’re on your phone, you have to go back to the blog’s home page, rachelsigner.com, to find the sign-up).

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The First Thing I’m Going To Do When I Get To Paris

Joan Didion: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.” – “Goodbye to All That

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When I moved to New York, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, I’d forgotten all about writing as an artform, and was totally focused on an academic career.

But I grew up with writer parents, surrounded by books, our household first on the block to have a computer (or a “word processor,” rather, made by Epson–yes, they did computers before printers!). I couldn’t stay away from the life of words for long. Nobody ever said to me, “Hey, did you consider journalism, or writing?” It was like I was pulled to it, the métier spoke to me from a place beyond my control.

And as I set out teaching myself the basic skills of reporting and producing a story (nut graf, intro, body, conclusion; the foundational structure of everything), I realized that New York was going to be hard on me as a writer. Money was short, and student loans were heavy weights. I traveled to the Bronx at 5:30am to substitute teach in charter schools. Had almost no furniture. Ate lots of uninspired pasta and bulletproof Chinese food, drank cheap beer and Trader Joe’s wine, and often cried at night in a bathtub with a neat whiskey in hand: how am I going to do this, here, in this city?

Over the years, New York has not gotten any easier on me. I’ve gotten tougher, probably. I’ve learned to let the drive to write overcome everything. But other kinds of obstacles come into your life, if you stay in New York. Your relationships are strained. Dating, as a woman in her late twenties/early thirties, is an excruciating task; somehow I do know people who have met and fallen in love in New York but it has only presented itself to me a few times, and always accompanied by heartbreak. Money in New York is a contradiction; we never have enough of it but somehow keep on spending, because the city demands it.

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In ways, New York has been very good to me. I’ve eaten some incredible meals, met brilliant people, had the chance to interact with some heavy-hitting winemakers and chefs and editors. I’ve learned fiction writing–which has made me a much better journalist–from some of the best editors and publishers in the city, and that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

But, having now found a niche (or a passion? an unwise obsession? a devotion?) within the world of wine and food writing (the path to that is too long to recount here, but this earlier blog post touches on it), it is no longer satisfying for me to be in this concrete jungle, too far from the vineyards that most inspire me at this time.

I am a hopeless francophile. I first tried to learn French when I was 12; for whatever reason, Madame Fox strongly disliked me (OK, I was a rambunctious and probably rude kid), so after one semester I switched to Spanish. But I always wanted to learn the language. When I was 20, I was living in Spain and went to visit a friend who was doing a semester of art studies in Paris. Walking in the Latin Quarter one day, I needed to use a bathroom and waltzed into a restaurant as it was just opening. The waiters tried to push me out, but I persisted. One of them, in his starched white shirt and suspenders, raised a chair overhead and threw it toward me, yelling something I didn’t understand but was probably like putain americaine de merde avec votre président du merde (effectively: screw you, American with President Bush!). Since then, I was absolutely determined: I would learn French, move back to Paris, and take that city by its literary teeth, breathing in the ghosts of all those writers and thinkers of centuries past. I would write a book in Paris.

At 20, I had no idea that I’d be writing a book about wine in Paris, but that is now what I intend to do.

making olfactory love to Matthieu Barret’s Cornas

This is my last week in New York. I have no idea when I’ll be back. Possibly this fall, but I’m not sure. I also don’t have every detail of the next year of my life figured out–but I am headed to Paris with a small amount of earthly possessions, most importantly this laptop and a dog-eared copy of A Moveable Feast that my brother gave me (have you read about the latest Hem biography?) and will be based there.

Believe me, I know that living in Paris will be different than visiting for a week here or there. And I also know that Paris will offer its own set of challenges and complications (such as: greetings, with the French–are we kissing once, twice, seven times, a handshake?). But I have to give this a try. The world is too unstable, corrupt, sanitized, to not at least try to pursue what you think will make you happy. If something is calling to you, the only choice is to push aside the obstacles and go toward it.

In Paris, I’ll be working on Terre Magazine, as well as writing for wine magazines in the U.S. I’ll also be trying to do some more cultural writing; I used to cover art and film openings in New York, years back, and would like to return to that in Paris. I’ll be visiting lots of vineyards this summer, you can be sure. Will be headed to Greece next week, in fact, and then to Burgundy, later in June. Slovakia and Croatia are in the scheming, also, as well as the Jura and the Loire this fall.

And I’m working on the book, I am. But first and most importantly, as soon as I get to Paris, I’m going to call my friend and ask him to pick me up on his motorcycle, and head to Septime Cave in the 11éme for an apéro. I’m going to sit down with a glass of Champagne and listen to him tell me all about what it was like to be in Paris during the recent election. I’m going to have a snack of anchovies on toast. Or maybe, we’ll grab a bottle and bring it to the canal, to soak in the sun. And I’m going to relish in the experience of feeling at home in a new place–and in the fact that if somebody does throw a chair at me now, it will hopefully be because my French is too good, but I haven’t yet lost my ability to be sassy. Madame Fox would be proud.

Terre Magazine Featured In Edible Brooklyn

I’m still so high off the incredible excursion earlier this month in Georgia. Stay tuned for my full story on the country’s wine and food culture soon on Vice MUNCHIES, and in the meantime I’ve put up some detailed tasting notes on this blog.

But this month has continued to be a gem, because the Terre Magazine fundraiser on Kickstarter has not only taken off successfully, but it has already reached its funding goal, and we are beyond thrilled. We knew there would be support for our project, but we didn’t anticipate that we’d reach our initial target in under two weeks, and then continue to raise money beyond that. Wine retailers around the country have pre-ordered copies in bulk, and people as far away as South Africa are ordering copies to be delivered to their homes. Working on the editorial calendar now, and I’m personally so excited about the articles and artwork we’ll be putting out.

I could not do any of this without my incredibly talented and brilliant co-founders, Katie June Burton and Erika DaSilva. Their artistic perspectives balance out my journalistic approach, and I have to say, it feels really good to say that Terre is a women-run publication. 

To learn more about who we are, what Terre is, and what it means that we are women-run, check out the recent feature on our magazine by local writer Alicia Kennedy in Edible Brooklyn. You can still support the project on Kickstarter (link HERE) until June 8th; the more funds we have, the more we can offer our contributors in terms of compensation, plus we’ll be able to hold launch events to support our retail partners.

We are really looking forward to sharing Terre with you, and already the process has been so creatively fulfilling and challenging in all the right ways. We have a newsletter via Tiny Letter where you can sign up for occasional updates from Terre, and we’re also on Instagram.

Cheers to you all for your early support of this endeavor! Bon weekend!

Meet Terre Mag This Weekend At #FOODBOOKFAIR2017

It’s been many months in the works–and it all started at that damn wine bar, Wildair, where I keep going back, again and again, unable to resist the funky wines, the fried shrimp dish, the raucous tattooed kitchen staff.

The hostess, as well, was incredibly friendly, and as I showed up more and more regularly, she always blessed our glasses with a much welcomed splash of Les Capriades pét-nat as we waited for our seats. Over time, I got to know her: Erika, an artist; I discovered her Instagram and fell deeply, madly in love with her wine- and food-themed gouache paintings. 

Finally, I got up the courage to blurt out, as she was ushering me to my seat one night: “I’m obsessed with your work. We have to collaborate!” Being modest, she blushed and adjusted her eyeglasses. Then she said, “Sure! Give me a call,” and filled my glass. We worked together for this article about natural wine on the Lower East Side for Food Republic, but we knew there could be something bigger. We began scheming, planning, brainstorming over coffee, grain bowls, and of course, wine.

Months later, Erika and I found our third counterpart, a talented food photographer and pop-up chef named Katie (she took the fantastic photo you see here, as well as most of the shots on our Instagram/Kickstarter) and we formed Terre Mag: an indie print mag about natural wines and heritage foods. 

This coming weekend, we will be representing Terre Mag at the Food Book Fair, taking place on Saturday and Sunday 12-4pm both days, at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan. For $5, you can pass through and meet tons of indie food mags like us. We’ll be giving away beautiful wine tote bags, printed with one of Erika’s original paintings, to a select handful (if you mention you saw my blog post, you’ll totally get a bag). Honestly, it’s a fun event–I’ve gone several years in a row–and a great place to meet people. So, get the F off Tinder, and go to Food Book Fair to flirt with some cool people who love to eat and drink well!

And more importantly, we need some early support for our Kickstarter! Check it out here. We have less than a month to raise $10K to get this biannual magazine going. Please go check out the Kickstarter and if you can, at least pre-order your copy of Terre Mag, and spread the word on social media (you can start by following our Instagram). Shout everywhere and anywhere about Terre Mag; your help is much appreciated.

Thank you so much!

Over and out, your fellow lover of sincere, wild, delicious terroir.