Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making Wine Your #Life - And Making It Matter

We are now officially in the post-ferragosto dog days of summer. The kind of days where, if you walk outside to get the paper or the mail or jog around the block, when you come back inside you are soaked to the bone – and not cold soaked. A warm, mushy, oatmeal kind of smotheriness that doesn’t abate for several hours. There are reasons why grapes do not grow so well here in North Texas.

What does grow well, though, is the wine community. In the past week, 1,000 or so have braved the heat of North Texas to witness, during a long (ponte de ferragosto) weekend, a full-immersion of wine!wine!!wine!!! at Texsom 2017. Texsom has become a Big Thing, now entering the terrible teen years from its natural birth in 2005. There are many interpretations as to how it got here from there, but the reality is that there are hundreds of people who come to the event, and there are hundreds more waiting to get into the event. It is three days of critical mass, an introvert’s dread, an extrovert’s frat party, and for the rest of the folks, a time to soak up all they can about wine, reading about it, tasting and drinking it, rubbing shoulders with masters (and not just the ones with the letters after their name) and gazing into the light of aspiration. A dream, perchance to become someone who can make wine a Big Thing in their life.

Making a life of wine – to an outsider it’s such an odd notion. But if you look into the eyes and the hearts of the catechumens, this is not a flippant shuffle of their life cards. This is deadly serious.

So I pondered, on an abandoned tollway in the south of Texas, between San Antonio and Austin, this week, reflecting on those lives. My little German engineered car (made in Mexico) clipping at around 135 kilometers per hour, soaring past grazing herds of cattle, longhorns and mother cows with their young babies, chewing on the sweet green grass, wafting through the vents, exotic, heavily perfumed on a dry, hot, classic Texas summer day.

Earlier that day, inside an erstwhile (and once iconic) Texas brewery, which has been re-purposed as a hip boutique hotel, a band of (wine trade) brothers and sisters set up a couple of tables, showcasing a portfolio of Italian wines to trade invitees. The first one who arrived (on time) was a young man who went through the lineup, wine by wine.

Every once in a while, you see one that sticks out from the new crop who have made wine their life. The young man is one of them. A one-time Texsom Best Sommelier awardee, who had moved to San Antonio from Austin to set up a wine bar in the neighborhood - crazy, brave, hopeful, and intentional. He’s in for a long harvest.

The long harvest. A seasonal and perennial cycle of time. Winter, preparing the plot, cleaning up the place, whether it be weeds or inventory. Spring, seedlings, both in earth and in the minds of the buyers, maybe getting a wine list replanted with young new energy. Summer, the fat months, when the fruit grows and sometimes hangs. And hangs. And Autumn, the harvest, bringing the fruit in, and also moving more product out, into the stores, into the restaurants, the wine bars, into the mouths (and hearts) of the humanity that coalesces around a glass of fermented grapes, is fascinated by it, and like many of us in the trade, is draw to the light, close, very close, to the intense bright light of wine.

Yes, it seems silly to those for whom wine is just a beverage. “Don’t make such a big deal out of it,” I hear a long-gone uncle screech in my inner lobe. And I get that. But I’ve also witnessed, countless times, how someone can fall into this rabbit hole and be totally enmeshed within the cellars, caverns, chateaux and castelli of the wine world. Yes, it isn’t the “real world.” But how has that “real world” thing been going for the real world lately? Why not make a big deal out of it?

Red wine. White wine. Rosé wine. Orange wine. Sparkling wine. Dessert wine. There comes a point, when looking at all of this from the sky box of the Hindenburg, when one can see that every one of these wines matter. French wine. Italian wine. German wine. California wine. Texas wine. Virginia wine. Even the ones you don’t prefer.

Look, as a broke, young, working-three-jobs “hippie” in Altadena, California, I’d go down to my local health food store to access organic vegetables, the best possible milk and cheese we could get, whole grains (and whole grain bread) and eggs from the local farmer. And, if I had any money left, I’d occasionally end up at the wine store (the original Trader Joe’s, and a good one at the time) and buy funny little wines from producers from the Loire, Jerez, Tuscany, the Rheingau and Morgan Hill. Were these wines uber-pristine, in regards to their provenance? Looking back now, I’d say I got pretty lucky. These were wines that the mass markets couldn’t care less about. They didn’t love these wines - these wines didn’t matter. But to this “hippie” they were my bridge to a culture and a tribe that has been nurturing this soul for what seems like forever (in human, not geologic, time). Those wines mattered to me. And they mattered to the women and men who worked the fields, the cellars, and quite possibly to those who worked the trade channels.

Do I love wine like Eric Asimov or Raj Parr or Alice Feiring? Probably not. They are spearheads, one-of-a-kinds, each in their own way. They kindle their followers to get closer to the light, singe-those-wings closer. And we should celebrate those people, for they are fervent, in their obsession, that wine matters.

I doubt they would (or should) agree on the “all wine matters” ideology. That’s perfectly fine. But from the International Space Station, those differences aren’t so readily observable. The large swaths of land mass, this gorgeous orb we have sprung from, people, grapes, longhorn cattle, garlic, flies, fears, hopes, hate and love, all spinning, while careening at unbelievable speeds through the universe. That we can pour a glass of wine into a glass without it flying out, along with us, to the nether regions of the universe, is a wonder. A bloody miracle.

So, all fired up from a gathering or just the solitary wine trail that many of us trod, where now? Whether you are at the beginning, the middle or near the end, just keep going, keep moving forward. Keep loving what you’re doing. And if it suits you, love the wine that you’re with – make it matter.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

1 comment:

Bob Rossi said...

A very thought-provoking piece. And this is the best line of all: " But how has that “real world” thing been going for the real world lately?"

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