Miscellany

Writing as Writers

selfishly stolen from Michael Alberty who no doubt selfishly thieved it from someone elseLast week wine writers and editors from around the world flew to Napa Valley for the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium to learn together how to better our work as writers.

We were urged by Dave McIntrye, wine writer of the The Washington Post, to remember that wine is the adjective that modifies the noun writer. Our job first is to write well.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal urged, “If you want to keep your writing fresh, you need to read widely.” Then, continuing, he chided lightly, “keep your writing fresh, enthusiastic, and bright, but that will only get you so far. You also have to research.”

Writing About Wine

Turning specifically to our work as writers of wine, S. Irene Virbila, food critic and wine reviewer of The Los Angeles Times, pushed into the personal, advising us, “find a way to go back to that emotional core when you first discovered wine. Give people that experience somehow.”

For Virbila, one way to accomplish that is to consider that we “have a relationship with wine. It is not the same with every sip.” (Cathy Huyghe explores this idea in her review of a fictitious good wine below.)

As lovers of wine, that relationship is no small piece. Our love of wine pulls us back again and again, elongating those moments of our nose in the glass. We can deliver that intimacy to our readers but go too far and our work becomes too precious.

Considering her work writing for a general audience in a daily newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, Virbila reminded us to “never forget how many people never think about wine.” In a position like that of a newspaper wine writer, she explained that we are asked to “convince a wider audience why they should even be interested in wine.”

Remembering Relevance

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, reminded us at the end of his keynote speech that for writing about wine to be accessible to that broader audience we must remove it from its privileged lifestyle.

Wine becomes relevant when we take it out of the wealth and comfort of the finest wine country, and return it to the tables of any home.

To explicate, Collins (half joking) pointed to the most relevant of writing, the obituary. “I know obituaries very well,” he said, “better than wine.” His point, ultimately, “break that circle. Reach a non specialist audience.”

The Billy Collins Writing Challenge

Finally, Collins presented the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium with a writing challenge. The point was to generate quality writing while also making fun of our own conventions.

The assignment? He invited every attendee (there were 50 of us, along with 20 or so speakers and coaches) to write an over-the-top wine review for an imaginary wine in one or both of two categories.

(1) A good review for a wine that gives “spiritual transcendence,” is “orgasmic,” and “life transforming.”

(2) A bad review for “an absolutely damning” wine “demeaning to your spirit”

At the end of the week he selected both a 1st and 2nd place winner for each category. Here they are.

Over the Top Wine Reviews

Billy Collins Writing Challenge Bad Asseswinners of the Billy Collins Writing Challenge
from left: me, Fred Swan, Billy Collins, Kort van Bronkhorst, Cathy Huyghe

Second Place: the Good Wine, Cathy Huyghe

In the glass, there is a nuance of color. On the nose, it evolves as time passes. It’s meant to. It’s meant to breathe, and expand and contract, and stretch its legs. There is something on the nose that rings a bell in my memory. In the mouth, it has something to say. It takes a stand. It has an opinion, and it is not afraid to say it. Sometimes it wants the spotlight — it earns it, and deserves it. But, over time, it takes a step back too, to self-deprecate, to tease, to hide, to beguile, to make me want to come back for more. And every time I do come back, every sip, is different. That too is how it’s meant to be. It leaves me with a taste in my mouth of, “Oh.” And “Oh. Yes, I get it.”

Second Place: the Bad Wine, Elaine Chukan Brown

Reeper Vineyards 2013 “Chariot” Sauvignon Blanc – pungent presentation of sea cucumber, grandma’s feet, and the dust from Shakespeare’s first edition. 14.5% $120

First Place: the Bad Wine, Fred Swan

It starts with a cringe-inducing, sphincter-puckering screech of rusty iron on rusty iron. Then comes impact: a sudden, heavy blow to the mouth. There’s the taste of blood and gravel, the feel of shattered glass on the tongue. Burning diesel, overturned soil and the pungent earthiness of one hundred pairs of pants filled by panic assault the nose. One’s throat burns and, eye’s watering, victims drag themselves along the floor looking for safety and water. The 2009 Chateau de Plonk is a a Bordelaise train wreck. 65 points.

First Place: the Good Wine, Kort van Bronkhorst

Toasted Head Cannabis Sauvignon

Oh Em Gee. This is a mind-blowing wine! Wooooooo! In the glass, it’s like a magenta kaleidoscope of shimmering, uh, wineness. On the nose, it reeks (and I mean that in a good way) of stoned fruits and wet earth. And if ever a wine was herbaceous, it’s this one. In the mouth, it turned my tongue into Playland at the Beach. Especially the Fun House. Yeah. Wow. Look at my head in that mirror! And Dudes, you really must pair this wine with food. Lots and lots of food. Like especially Taquitos, and Cheese Puffs, and that Munchie Pack that Jack in the Box serves after 11pm. Awright awright awright! Best of all, it’s only $4.20 a bottle, but I highly recommend getting a magnum so you can pass it around at your next party.

***

Thank you to Cathy, Fred, and Kort for letting me share their pieces here.

Funny thing. It occurs to me only now that Kort and I both wrote about Sauvignon though with entirely opposite reactions. Cheers!

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

3

Happy Holidays from Jr & I

with Jrwith Jr this spring

It’s time to take my end of year break here on Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. I’ll be slowing down my time on social media as well, only occasionally sharing updates from work elsewhere. You can still reach me by email.

In the meantime, I’ll be tidying up other work projects, and most importantly spending time with my little family — Jr, and our dear pets.

My heart goes out to those grieving the loss of loved ones this holiday season. My thoughts are with all of us as we face the unrest that comes with important change. May we each find our way forward to peace.

See you in 2015!

1

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air…. A riot is the language of the unheard.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In recognition of the mourning our nation continues to face after the Ferguson verdict, this week’s column has been postponed until next week.

May we all find within ourselves the courage, calm, and compassion needed to face these challenges honestly, and move forward for positive, equitable change.

My best to everyone who is enjoying time with family and friends during the holiday this week here in the United States.

***

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For those looking for ways to help, here are a few donation sites that can assist people in Ferguson.

Schools are closed right now in Ferguson. Donate to the Ferguson Public Library, which has remained open for area children. Every bit helps. http://ferguson.lib.mo.us/

Schools in the region suffer massive under-funding. Though schools are closed this week in the midst of the turmoil, they reopen after the holiday. Choose from a range of classroom projects to assist area teachers. http://www.donorschoose.org/help-right-now-in-ferguson?id=20522545&active=true

The Foodbank has greatly increased its aid in the Ferguson area to help people particularly affected by the events of this week. To learn more, visit the St Louis Food Bank website, and to donate write “Ferguson” in the comments section of your donation. http://stlfoodbank.org/

For those looking for more information on the reality of the situation, excellent, very real coverage can be found by Antonio French on Twitter. He is live tweeting events from Ferguson, while also retweeting information from others worth following. https://twitter.com/AntonioFrench

***

Post-edit:

Help small business bakery & shop looted during the Ferguson riots continue and rebuild: Natalie’s Cakes & More. http://www.gofundme.com/NataliesCakesnMore

2

Brown Bag Wine Tasting

Brown Bag Wine Tasting

I’ve already mentioned here how much I enjoy William Shatner’s new series, Brown Bag Wine Tasting on Ora.TV. It’s interesting for its thoughtfulness. I’m as curious about what Shatner picks up on in the person he’s speaking with, as I am in what he or she shares, as well as the irreverent stuff they end up saying about wine.

The following episode though is my favorite so far. It’s one of the earlier editions, thus the claim for Throwback Thursday. Here Shatner interviews a marijuana dealer named Dominic learning about Dominic’s business model, and how he came into that line of work. Finally, Shatner introduces Dominic to his first taste of wine — the arc of discovery Dominic takes there is both hilarious and sort of fascinating for its honesty.

More than all that though, the rapport between the two men charms me. It’s something not often seen between a celebrity and a regular Joe — Dominic calls Shatner on things he says a couple times and asks him questions like Dominic’s leading the interview too, he’s up front about where he’s coming from, and Shatner clearly enjoys it. The subject matter of course is provocative, but my interest in the interview is more about the dynamic, the ease between the two men. In the midst of it little insights of human character (and, yes, eventually wine too) pop up all along the way.

The opening when they’re first discussing each of their views on herbalization is hilarious. Check it out.

 

Cheers!

 

5

Biodynamics Posters

Interested in a Biodynamics poster?

I’m picking up poster samples this week of the following image. It will be available for purchase here.

If you’re interested in buying one, email me (lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (d0t) com). Biodynamics Poster

For those of you curious about what biodynamics is all about, here’s a look back at some comics that explain the ideas behind the farming philosophy, including more on the treatments shown in the poster.

Biodynamics & Wine: or, What poop, crystals, and the moon have in common

(click on images to enlarge)

Biodynamics in the Farm Biodynamics in the Cosmost Biodynamics in the Vineyard Biodynamic Treatments

Cheers!

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

1

Brown Bag Wine Tasting: William Shatner interviews Misha Collins

Misha Collins beats up the innocent William Shatner

I’m a fan of William Shatner‘s new Ora.tv interview wine show, Brown Bag Wine Tasting.

When the show started, Shatner traveled around doing short-segment interviews with regular people asking them about their job details, then he’d blind pour each of them some sort of wine and get the person to describe the wine quality in the terms common to the individual’s job. It was hilarious.

As the show’s still-cult-status success has increased the interviews have become more and more about celebrities.

(And I mean, look, when it comes down to it there is only one reason this is disappointing. When it was still everyday folks I could still fantasize about someday being an interview guest on Brown Bag Wine Tasting sitting across from Shatner for no good reason except that I’m an everyday folk too, getting asked to describe wine in terms that brought together commercial fishing, camel training, philosophy, Sci-Fi, and wine all at once. Generally speaking, I don’t give 2 bits for being on TV. It’s fine for other people. It’s just not my thing. But the idea of meeting Shatner and then talking wine. Oh geez… Anyway, I digress.)

I’ve posted on Twitter about my love for the show. Today, the folks at Brown Bag were kind enough to send me the embed code for the current interview that is so up my alley it’s ridiculous — seriously, guys, thanks for paying attention.

Misha Collins, of Supernatural fame, appears on the show most primarily to discuss his charity work.

The idea of Shatner interviewing Collins is hilarious largely because on Twitter Collins and Shatner act as nemeses to each other. You can see why — each massively famous for Sci-fi shows with a huge fan base, but of two different generations, one indebted to the other… (Push me and I’ll back Shatner everytime…)

Anyway, if you haven’t checked out Brown Bag Wine Tasting before, give it a look. Here’s the link to the show in general. http://www.ora.tv/brownbagwinetasting

And here’s the current episode. My favorite part is when they describe the wine. It’s deliciously absurd.

The direct link: http://www.ora.tv/brownbagwinetasting/misha-collins-0_qn1o2fec0r0

Thanks to William Shatner, and Dana Steere
Cheers!

3

Jr Makes a Movie: Go Jr!

This summer Jr, aka. Rachel, had a heck of a summer. It started first with a month on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska working with a life long friend of ours. She then joined an OMSI summer camp for two weeks making a documentary in the California Redwoods.

Along with her team of three other high school students, Rachel filmed a documentary on burl poaching in National and State parks. She conducted the primary interview with Ranger Jeff, as well as filming, editing, and planning with her team members for the rest of the film.

Check it out!

 

Burl Patrol from NW Documentary on Vimeo.

What do you think of the movie? Feel free to let Jr know through comments here.

Cheers!

5

A Look at Napa Valley

Visit Napa ValleyRachel and I walked downtown Napa yesterday taking pictures. A room from the second floor of the building that held Carpe Diem, a restaurant that hosted a bitching locals’ night making wine bottles half-off on Tuesdays, now sits on the sidewalk below. The roof dangles over it. Around the corner the County building is closed, unable to issue permits to people needing to do home repairs after the earthquake, because the County building itself suffered too much damage.

Mixed between such scenes are long stretches of businesses already open. Owners of restaurants and wine bars in downtown Napa after the earthquake discovered red wine streams rushing their hallways, and cellars feet deep in glass. In merely three days they’ve already cleaned. Losing days for a small business isn’t an option.

Along 1st, Oenotri opened two days ago with its seasonal menu, and a full bar. Their food is excellent. They’re known for their cocktails. One block over, the brand new Cadet Beer & Wine Bar re-launched last night. The hand-crank prosciutto slicer is turning. Most of the wine list (awesome wines from all over the state) are still represented.  Two blocks down, Backroom Wines shop already has its bottles shelved and ready for sale. Wines by the glass are also resuming.

As much damage as has happened in Napa Valley, and it is significant, the biggest cost and long-term damage could come from loss of tourism. Harvest in the Valley proves the most important time of year not only for the wine it produces, but also the tourism revenue it generates. Numerous businesses are reporting reservation cancellations for weeks from now. Images seen in the news and online have convinced some the Valley as a whole is a demolition zone.

But, structural damage to the Valley has occurred in pockets centered primarily in South and Western Napa. With only few exceptions, wineries are still operating and open for business. Even wineries that have gotten ample coverage from damage to infrastructure, like Trefethen, and Hess Collection are ready for tasting room appointments. They’ve simply changed the building they’ll be pouring and hosting in.

Napa Valley does need help. Speaking with businesses hit hardest by the earthquake several things are obvious. It is small businesses, and everyone’s employees that have suffered the most devastating losses. Many larger wineries are providing time off, and assistance to employees who lost homes. Small businesses, as mentioned, can’t afford to close. They need the transformative strength of consumer buying power.

Here’s how to help.

1. Buy, and drink Napa Valley If you can afford it, don’t just pop open bottles of Napa wine you already have in cellar. Order bottles of Napa wine from your local wine lists, wine shops, and through online stores. Winery business models depend on bottles being sold through multiple channels. That means, every purchase you make of a Napa wine, even when not directly from the winery itself, will help keep that winery operating.

2. Eat, and drink Napa Valley If you are anywhere within proximity of Napa Valley, find a day you can drive up and enjoy a meal at any of the restaurants in the area. Everyone in the Valley suffers from loss of tourism revenue. Your visit to the Valley, anywhere in the Valley, makes a difference. As mentioned, downtown businesses in particular need your help. Restaurants along 1st, and also along Main are open. Oxbow Market is also open.

3. Stay Napa Valley If you had a trip planned for Napa, keep those reservations. Everything you need as a tourist is still here. The wine industry is still cranking through harvest. The harvest experience is yours to be had. The truth? Everyone in hospitality is going to be happy to see you. You can expect service friendliness to be up a notch. Driving through the Valley there are few visible signs of earthquake damage. The Valley is beautiful.

4. Community Contributions As mentioned, it’s employees, and individuals in the Valley that have been hit hardest. Many people have lost homes. Some are in homes without water. The Red Cross has provided temporary housing. The Food Bank is feeding people. Aldea Children & Family Services is providing counseling, and crisis relief for people affected by the earthquake. All of these groups can use your donations. Following are links for how to donate.

Aldea Children & Family Services http://www.aldeainc.org/get-involved/donors

Napa Valley Food Bank http://www.canv.org/donate.html

Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter https://www.redcross.org/quickdonate/index.jsp

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Exploring Wine Perception with Jordi Ballester

Black Wine Glasses for Sensory Deprivation Tastingimage found: http://www.redcandy.co.uk/images/upload/productpics/artland-midnight-black-wine2.jpg

Jordi Ballester, professor at Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, led a special add-on seminar at International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) that happened this weekend in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Ballester has devoted his career to studying the perception of wine, and the cognitive processes behind it. The session highlighted the intimate influence of visual cues on our experience of aroma and flavor.

To open the session, attendees were presented with the following task. We were to smell the liquids in each of three black wine glasses (thus removing any visual cues for the liquid themselves) and then vote on whether or not each of the three liquids was a white wine, a red wine, or a rosé using only the aroma of the liquids (no tasting).

The black glass tasting we participated in was purposefully designed to remove the advantages or influences of our other senses, and make us focus only on our sense of smell. In previous studies, Ballester explained, it was found that both wine experts and novices judgments of wine are influenced by the appearance of the wine they are tasting.

It has been shown in studies that adding scentless red food coloring to a white wine will radically change the descriptors used by a panel of wine tasters (“The Color of Odor” Morrot et al 2001). In 2001, a study was done with a panel of 54 enology students tasting wine that they then had to describe. The first flight gave them all the same white wine. The panel members’ descriptors tended to hover around notes like lime, pineapple, and pear. The exact same white wine, except with the odorless red color added, was then served to them for the second flight. In that case, the exact same panel described the wine with descriptors like strawberry, or blackberry. In other words, when the wine looked like a white wine, hallmark white wine descriptors were used. When the wine looked like a red wine, classic red wine descriptors were given.

With such a study in mind, Ballester asked us to identify the color-type of the three wines just based on aroma. In our group of 49 participants the wines were largely identified correctly. Wine 1: 6 voted white, 35 voted red, 8 voted rosé. The wine was a Crowley 2012 Pinot Noir. Wine 2: 28 voted white, 13 voted red, 8 voted rosé. It was a Wooing Tree 2012 Chardonnay. Wine 3: 15 voted white, 5 red, 32 rosé. It was a R. Stuart & Co 2013 Big Five Dry Rosé. In formal studies, it has been shown that wine experts tend to succeed at such a task, predominately guessing the correct wine color-type based on aroma alone.

Ballester used this exercise to explain two types of cognitive processing that relate to wine tasting — Top-Down Processing, and Bottom-Up Processing. In Top-Down Processing, previous knowledge leads our expectations. So, in the case of the Morrot “The Color of Odor” study, it is as if seeing what appeared to be a red wine in the glass activated the participants’ knowledge of red wines, thus bringing to attention the range of descriptors for a red wine category. The range of fruits they could use to identify the wine, for example, went from hallmark white wine fruits like pear and pineapple to classic red wine fruits like raspberry and blackberry. In Top-Down Processing already established knowledge guides our interpretation of an experience.

Top-Down Processing appears in other ways through wine tasting as well. Ballester also gave the example of a tasting of chardonnay. The first flight the panel members were asked to taste and describe a young pale chardonnay. In the second the exact same wine had scentless golden color added to it. In that case, the taster panel went from giving the descriptors of a young chardonnay — fresh fruits — to giving classic descriptors for an aged white wine — secondary and/or tertiary aromas.

The second cognitive process mentioned is Bottom-Up Processing. In that case, knowledge is lacking, and thus cannot get in the way of how one describes a wine. One simply has the experience to describe, without expectations being informed by already established knowledge. As Ballester explained, there is no pure Bottom-Up Processing because any of us are always informed by previous experience. Still, the black glasses tasting experience removed layers of sensory information to lessen the ways in which such information can activate and direct our expectations.

To push the experience even further, Ballester then had us score a flight of five red wines in a simple way. We were to smell and taste each one and vote on whether or not the wine was from Oregon. The experience proved interesting for me for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the group vote was predominately wrong for the first wine, split for the second, and then predominately correct for the final three wines. Wine 1: 31 voted as from Oregon. 19 not. It was actually an Akurua 2012 from New Zealand. Wine 2: 29 voted Oregon. 21 not. It was Adelsheim 2008 from Willamette (Oregon). Wine 3: 8 voted from Oregon. 42 not. It was a Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits St George 2007 Clos des Forrets St Georges (France). Wine 4: 16 voted Oregon. 34 not. It was Kosta Brown 2006 Amber Ridge Vineyard (California). Wine 5: 13 voted Oregon. 37 not. It was a Domaine Michel 2005 Laferge Volnay Les Mitans (France).

The fifth wine at first look stood out as strange while fascinating. Once the wines were revealed, however, and thus the fifth wine had a context behind it, it moved from merely strange and fascinating, to also pleasurable. The wine being given its appropriate context of information helped shift expectations for it to more pleasurable. Two of the wine experts sitting beside me described a similar sort of experience.

As Ballester explained, for this sort of tasting test, experts tend to identify wines correctly to broad location categories, where as novices are less likely to do so. This makes sense as experts have more experience to draw from in order to identify such wines.

***

Thank you to Jordi Ballester.

Thank you to Amy Wesselman, and all the people that make IPNC happen.

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I believe that appreciation is a holy thing– that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at that moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred. – Fred Rogers

The moon came up tonight like fire behind the trees, almost full, carving a silhouette behind Northern firs of Willamette Valley. Still, it’s not quite visible.

I’ve spent the last two years devoting my self to a life I can barely describe. It came as a response to the realization that for my health it was time to leave a different career I gave everything to. The change in direction? Social media has enabled almost all of it.

I’d studied then taught philosophy, the latter for a university in Arizona. Somehow I found my way to wine. More than wine, though, I found lovers of wine also giving themselves to what they love.

Alder Yarrow now finishes his book, The Essence of Wine, an early culmination of his already impressive work writing about wine via his blog Vinography. He’ll surely not make money from the book. Print media doesn’t have it these days. Yet he devoted his time to ensuring the hard cover version be beautiful, the electronic version clickable.

Fredric Koppel just celebrated his thirtieth anniversary writing about wine, first for newspapers, now his site, Bigger Than Your Head. Mary Orlin launched her background in television and interest in fashion into writing about scents in wine (alongside scents of perfume). Richard Jennings keeps a full-time job while managing to travel near-full time to write about wine internationally. Fred Swan opened his education with a love for Egyptian archaeology, now teaches courses in wine, purposefully keeping up with wines of California.

This last week the annual Wine Bloggers Conference took place. It’s an event it’s easy to be critical of. The agenda sometimes reads, from the outside, unclear. The awards we’re always sure could be awarded differently. Yet, it calls devotees from around North America (and beyond) earnest to discover the region that hosts it, eager to connect with bloggers otherwise met only online. In its origins, Tom Wark hoped to draw attention to, and point out the substance of people writing about wine online.

But people’s lives extend beyond the screen. In leaving academia, I threw myself into, what turned out to be (at least until the last few months), an impoverished prosperity — time spent making almost no income while eating and tasting with some of the finest chefs, and chef de cave, winemakers, and viticulturists in the world. There have been days I’m unsure I can afford the gas to the ten-course meal I’ve been asked to attend. More than the seeming indulgence of the meals or wine though, it’s been the people that have risen from the glass.

Jason Lett in Oregon carrying on the torch of his father, David’s instigation of an entire Willamette industry, while simultaneously accomplishing more than merely a family enterprise. Steve and Jill Matthiasson turning their love for vines and peaches into their business. Even Charles Banks, the investor people love to doubt over the speed of his acquisitions, transforming success in athlete management into an interest in building small wine labels. Throughout these visits or interviews in wine there have been glimmers of a person’s every day life.

I’ve been critiqued recently, and perhaps otherwise, for being obsequious, too willing to thank the people that meet with me. My role, if I am critic, would seem to be to remain distant. Eric Asimov, in his work, makes clear the absurdity of such a view. Ethical limits can be kept, yes, but to be an effective writer, and astute taste-lover of wine, openness is demanded.

Vinny Eng, in his work with both wine and food, and his teaching of wine, or Gwendolyn Alley‘s cacophony of writing, teaching, and wine, both give example of people loving as hard as they can in the midst of their work. Or, there are Jameson Fink, and Jamie Goode, both writers that house the critical acuity to focus on flaws and failings but choose to write about success.

In the online wine community, it is hearts like these lit afire, carving, through their love for what they do, a light around the substance of wine. It is in gratitude I find myself among them.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com