Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Province of Fine Wine in Today’s Disrupted World

Writing about wine is at a turning point. If the writing is well done, it can serve to lift us out of the constant sea of disruption, of all we see that has become the new normal, and give us a moment for fresh air and hope that the cosmic fireball truly isn’t hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. “No guarantees on that one,” said the seer in the desert, who tracks the midnight sky with her trained eye.

This past week, some fine wine writing has appeared to give me hope. Even if our celestial rendezvous with kinetic bombardment is inevitable, until then, we can cherish and celebrate that which is good about being human, even if it merely seems like building a cathedral with toothpicks.

Elaine Brown, who came onto my radar in the fall of 2011, and through intention and will has blazed across the wine community sky like a hitherto unseen comet, recently wrote a piece that hoisted me from the dystopian world that has been stalking my eye. The post, “Vignerons as the Mediators of Modernity,” relates a transcendental moment she recently had. With caution, she writes, It is difficult to translate the profundity of a moment like this to the page.” If you haven’t already done so, read the piece. (Here)

For those heartened moments when I read it, I was reminded of all the connections in my world of fine wine. Yes, in the business world, there are sommeliers and restaurateurs, wine shop owners and grocery clerks for whom I am invisible at best, and a nuisance when they let their guard down. And as well, there are sommeliers and winemakers, farmers and wine shop owners who have welcomed me into the world of fine wine, as Elaine writes, where “culture is both formed, and spread.”

I have resisted words much of my adult life. When I am in Italy and my friends are chattering away in Italian, they sometimes pause and look at me and say, “We can switch to English if it would be easier for you.” What I tell them is that “I am not listening in Italian or English, I am listening with my eyes. Please continue on in whatever language you would like. I am following all of this in my way.” All the time with wine, Elaine says, as the “vehicle.” It’s not the barrel char, or the malo, or the concrete egg or the trellising, it’s something other. And we have the other senses, the eyes, the mouth, the heart, for everything which wine and humans need from each other. This is real wealth, something a legislator can never take away – it is our lifetime of health care and pension till we die. It is not of this world, not of the world that constantly tugs for our attention saying, “Look at me, look what I can give (or I can take away from) you.”

As if coincidental (as if any star in the sky is an accident), I saw another article in my feed, by Dorothy Gaiter, with the unlikely heading of “Why Some Wine Writing Today Reminds Me of a Woody Allen Movie.” In her article, she aims her bow in the direction of wine writers, expertise and criticism. While this piece doesn’t swing for the fences in the way Elaine’s did (for me) her arrow pierced my heart. I think of colleagues who labor over their words when writing about wine, and know many of them take this task seriously and with full commitment. And that world has flowered and grown and we are all the wealthier, in mind and in spirit, for their contributions. But you have to kiss a lot of frogs along the way.

Why shouldn’t commenting on a wine seem to be as equally important as hand scribbling a note, last minute, on a 500-page document that can change the lives of millions? Indeed, it does, from our fire ant hills. From the perspective of the comet that is somewhere out there, stalking all of us, potentially heading this way though, both are equally significant and infinitesimally of little consequence, in geological time.

In Ms. Gaiter’s post, she asserts we’re “at a flex point now, where some are questioning the role of experts, their mores and the validity of types of expertise.” I was called an Italian wine expert at a holiday party last night. I wanted to step out into the patio and jump the fence (full disclosure: it was a full moon).

Under my watch, on the wine trail in Italy, I have been observing winemaking families who live in little rural villages, and who now see more of the world, whether it be the US, Canada, Asia, Scandinavia and northern Europe (including England). And these travels reshape their idea of how to represent their farm products from that small rural point of view, on a world stage. This was unthinkable 40 years ago. Yes, 30 years ago, the Jancis Robinsons and Robert Parkers and Terry Theises of the world were putting on the miles and bringing us the stories. And they still do. But the vignerons now are going out and coming back and an experience on a beach in Phuket Island can have as much influence on where Brunello is going, as a 100-point review from James Suckling. Again, what Elaine calls “encircling the globe…changing each other’s understanding of the world around us.”

Albeit in disparate approaches, both Elaine Brown’s and Dorothy Gaiter’s pieces moved me, as to the essence of what fine wine means to me in today’s disrupted world. I can’t march enough or send enough emails or letters to our leaders. They aren’t listening to We the (little) People. But what they cannot disrupt is that timeless connection those of us have, to one another in our little worlds (of fine wine). I know you’re all out there – I can feel your hearts beating – every time I open up one of your bottles. And I say to you all, I am listening with my heart, please continue on in whatever way you would like. I am following all of this in my way, sempre dritto.

Thank you, Elaine and Dorothy.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Moxy Castro-League said...


Under the Influence said...

I have long admired Dorothy Gaiter for her writing and impeccably honest understanding of wine. She is tops. As for Elaine Brown’s article, I must have gotten tangled up in her metaphors and the professor’s abstractions. I have no idea whom she is writing for or about what, for that matter. Wine does lend itself to pretentions. But let’s not forget that it’s ultimately a farm product.

Hawk Wakawaka said...

Yes, much as wine is just a farm product, my site is, after all, just a blog.

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