Sunday, August 07, 2011

Alice's Odyssey

Nudi venimus ~ Nudi discedimus
                                            Playing Tag at Night                       Laurel Casaletto

From the perch of my loft on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island during a recent vacation, I pulled out Alice Feiring's latest book, Naked Wine. Amidst towering trees, some that were saplings before the Renaissance, it was the perfect place to dive into her compact, 200-page tome. Alice sets her sails, back and forth, between California, France, Spain and her five-story walk-up in Little Italy. I don’t envy her the task. She has her critics, some of whom think she writes about wine merely to extend her eccentric arguments about wine and life to a larger audience. Alice writes, looking for something more elusive, some key to her place in this world. And her message is resonating with people.

In the wine arena there are all kinds of players and philosophies. And likely in 500 years there still will be. So to celebrate wines that are apart from the mainstream, whether they are organic or biodynamic or natural or just plain quirky, why not? There are plenty of critics who pay obeisance to the steamrollers of wine, to the tall skyscrapers of production, to the mega-powerfully flavored wines that garner points and awards and big bucks. In fact, to turn away from them for 200 pages might even cause some to wonder where it is we have gone this past generation in our search for bigger, better, broader, bolder.

Not unlike Kermit Lynch, or Neal Rosenthal, or even Andre Simon, Alice, in her very personal and passionate way, is searching for friends to become allies, for love that feels like love and for wine that tastes – like wine. Why the fuss, big guys? Are the Goliaths worried about the range of Alice's throw?

Could it be that through their looking glass, people like Alice and her cadre of rebels are observing not that the Emperor has no clothes, but that naked wine is something to celebrate, to make you dance around a fire until the sun rises, to roust about the sweat lodge until all the little drops of stinky, oxidative, orangeness tips the glass and causes one to mull over life beyond the grape? Maybe even to feel a little more love in these mean times?

While on this island, I walked into a dreary little wine shop run by the Canadian government. On a wall were wines that had been put into plastic-lined pouches and sequestered inside eco-friendly, recyclable paper boxes. On the outside the writing proclaimed the wines were a blend of grapes, already vinted, from domestic and imported sources. Wines with absolutely no identity.

On another rack there were similar wines, with the brand "Naked grape" offering unoaked Pinot Grigio, unoaked Shiraz, unoaked Merlot, Chardonnay, and on. The word natural has a new competitor, the now ubiquitous "unoaked".

Are these new mass-produced wines better than the Chablis Rose of the 1970's, the White Zinfandel and Blue Nun of days past? Yes. Is there an audience for these wines? Without a doubt, yes. They just aren’t wines for Alice and her tribe of wanderers, who are looking for other expressions, a different energy from the wines.

Alice's books make me think about wine differently. They don’t convert me. I don’t think that is the point. It is a conversation she is having with herself and with folks who are drawn in by her voice. And Alice is a good story-teller. She’s a siren, seducing you away from your masts of convention and into her personal anfora.

"Oh, now she's an expert in winemaking," I hear her naysayers spitting out on chat boards. “She's made a barrel of Sagrantino. She talks about fermentation with French consultants. She thinks she's an authority in that now.” Why feel threatened by her? Perhaps it is as simple as Alice reporting what she sees and with love for her subject, sleuthing inside a sensual slurry as an amateur will do. She jumps into the vat. She talks until all hours of the night, notepad at her side. She drinks wine she likes with people who share her passion. She prods; she stirs the lees; she stands up to the giants, unafraid.

"But she's looking for signs to justify her position, to make her precious wines more righteous than Michel Rolland's." So what? Sleight-of-hand aside, we are all looking for that which we identify with and something (or someone) to love. Does she not have the right to fight for her place at the sorting table?

The wine business will chug on, churning out tanks of spoofulated Grand Cru's from St. Emilion, over-extracted reds from Spain, Italy, Napa, Argentina and Australia. Whites that taste more like oak than grape. And more Moscato d'Asti than is possible to make from all of Piedmont. E la nave va. Likewise, in the ongoing odyssey of wine, there will always be an Alice, poking around in the lair of Polyphemus.

Poke on, I say. There is room in the wine world for Alice’s Naked Wine, for one simple reason: passion. Loads and loads of passion. And passion isn’t monolithic or monochromatic – and it isn’t merely for those impossibly perfect, 100-point wines.

Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally
Alice Feiring
Da Capo Press (Release: August 30, 2011)

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy


Samantha Dugan said...

Fantastically put Alfonso. Bravo.

Kirsten Lindquist said...

Love this post. Not because I'm an acolyte but for the lovely writing and rhetorical questions and the sentiment behind them. While I am new to your blog, I hope you don't succumb to burnout to soon (although I understand the feeling.) I really enjoy reading your blog!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Sam!

Thanks Kirsten - burnout isn't a problem after 5+ years of this - as long as one writes what they want and when they want. Thanks for stopping by...

Joanie Karapetian said...

I loved this piece. Beautifully written and an elegant sentiment. "poking around in the lair of Polyphemus". Bravo!

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks Joanie - good luck with new blog!

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