It’s been too long since I have written a significant piece about all of the stunning wine being made today. Life has a way of getting in the way of itself. What a contradictory existence we lead, working so much and so hard to maintain life without often knowing what the is the essential thing we are maintaining. For what do we do all the sacrificial work? For the moments of rest with loved ones in pleasurable settings? For transcendent experiences creating or observing art or music or food or drink? An afternoon in the Rodin museum? A night hike up Stromboli as it shoots its liquid rock into the Aeolian night sky? A bottle of Romanee Conti over an entire roasted truffle? Or for something less epic but equally beautiful, an afternoon snoozing in a hammock? Or do we do it to keep the wheel turning? Is work the point of it all? Is the essential element of life just the force we emit as humans to keep the species mobile and active, to keep society turning in a direction (the cooks make food to feed the filmmakers who make films to entertain the plumbers who clean drains to aid the landlords who manage housing to enclose the dog-walkers who pick up poop to give the accountants time to keep the financial records for the small business owners who sell cheese or shampoo to the techies who make aps to organize the lives of and distract the firemen who put out flames for the landlords who house the artists who inspire the filmmakers who…)
The question I am essentially asking is where do we locate meaning in our lives? What actions do we take meaninglessly (washing dishes? organizing papers?) and what do we practice meaningfully (hikes in the mountains? Reading literature?). Even for those of us working in fields we love there are elements of work that we would rather not do if they weren’t necessary. Wine importers, makers, and buyers get to enjoy this phenomenal stuff being made all over the world and they get to share it with each other but they also have to fill out forms and deal with inventory issues and flubbed deliveries. The bureaucracy snares us all. Bureaucracy definitely feels like a meaningless and highly unnatural part of life but even then there are those who take to that with zeal (and these people may be the most highly developed people in our society respective of their chamaleonic ability to match the basic mechanisms of their surroundings). And so then, I am struck with the question about my opening statement: what elements of my life am I considering to be getting in the way of the others? Which parts do I view as dead space, meaningless and void, and which parts do I consider to be the elements of value? Where is the vacuum of space and where are the planets and if the vacuum (or the vacuuming) takes up a majority of the space is it not indeed the most powerful and essential element afterall? And is it healthy for me to do things I would rather not do in order to support the things I do want to do? Should I, rather, willingly do the things I think I would rather not do and consider them meaningful, destroying the wall I have built between these two fields and unifying my life? If washing the dishes and cleaning the toilet can gain a spiritual/poetic meaning component, I will not have to view it in terms of sacrifice for the moments that I want to support: moments of travel, friendship, leisure, literature, song, dance, etc. Then life could no longer get in the way of itself and it would always just be itself, a unified meaningful whole which sustains me whether painful or pleasurable. Somewhere Eckhart Tolle is smiling; though I suspect that smile is actually the result of the vault of cash he keeps and looks in upon every once in a while to see how much it has grown in his absence.
But would this unified approach to life really be appropriate for a wine writer and lover? Isn’t the pleasure principle of the discerning being the result of a variety of experiences, some more meaningful than the others? If cleaning the toilet is as meaningful as that first glass of the 2011 Arnot Roberts Trousseau I had those few years ago, what would be the point of that glass of wine, it would be just like the rest of my life, dully meaningful. And further, what would be the point of leisure, of self-overcoming, or of reading poetry? Aren’t I dependent on some things being not as good as others, of having to grit my teeth and do that which I would rather not in order to be able to appreciate that which I truly love and to scaffold eventual goals? Illuminating everything somehow seems to dim the light around the profound experiences and make life a great grey overcast sort of day. The life of the slave in this proposed world is just as tenable as the life the independently wealthy man. And even under the umbrella of things I want to be doing there should be gradients of exaltation. I should just like one experience while another should bring me to sublime tears. Without gradation, we have degradation, and Hannah Montana is just as fascinating and just as breathtaking as the Bach cello suites (though I have never heard a Montana song, so I am not speaking from experience, just an assumption that it must be terrible). Furthermore, societally speaking, a life which does not distinguish the pleasant from the sacrificial could support the hegemony of power which would strip people of their right to understand and even possess their own goals and dreams. Not wanting to do things, not liking doing things which we have to do, therefore is a freedom and gives us a certain freedom of vision to understand the truly beautiful in life and to seek it and exist with it. So grumble freely, my brothers and sisters, while you take off your shoes in line at the airport, all the while seeing first class passengers and those who’ve subjected themselves to FBI checks scoot by, for you have the experience of suffering through crap, sacrificing joys and cleaning toilets; on the other side of your 48 hours of travel awaits an island with volcanoes and wine and sea urchin pasta and you will know that you truly love those things because you have allowed yourself to know that you did not love this part of getting to it. Somewhere I think Mr. Tolle is still smiling anyways.
But what I really wanted to write about here was something that I find to be the focus of much wine writing out there: myself (that is to say that writers tend to write about themselves, not that they are all writing about me). Whether it is the grandiose retelling of one’s achievements or pains or the showing of one’s seductive body parts, we wine writers and photographers in this narcissistic age seem to have a hard time getting beyond ourselves and to the real subject: the fermented grape juice. I will not be using the ruse of wine in this post to talk about myself; I will get directly to it (that is talking about myself). I have been inspired by a photograph a friend of mine took of me drinking from a govino after a hike in the Angeles National Forest at sunset. Mr. Arpan Roy has been so kind to withhold these photos from the public until I have had the chance to give them a worthy introduction to the world. I imagine that you all must be awaiting my every word with tightly held abdomens, restricting the flow of air into your lungs, wondering, who is this person of wit, of erudition, whose tongue has been unbound to roll off oracular enophilic prophesies? From where did he come and how did he get here? I will tell you now.
I was born to ditch digging Irish people in Illinois. They worked hard and drank even harder, especially during the brutal winters through which they only heated themselves and me in my infancy with burning corn cobs and soy bean pods they filched from neighboring hog farms. I collected bottles in my childhood and since we lived in an unfarmable wasteland and had enough space to keep an innumerable quantity, I was able to pay for my first year of college at Duke University as a student in their biochemical engineering program. I saw how weak my family had been resisting the cold—my parents collectively lost 17 of the 21 fingers with which they were born to frostbite—and wanted to be a part of making a stronger and better human race through genetic engineering. Unfortunately, I ran out of money and was asked to leave, though I was lucky to have caught the eye of the Russian government who was interested in similar objectives; they funded my research for a couple of years. We ultimately had a falling out, about which I cannot speak and am legally required to accept responsibility, and came back to the states where I found work with the agricultural industry, cloning and splicing my way to an income.
It was here that I found my love for wine as I was working on a drought resistant species of Zinfandel grape which can grow in the desert as long as it is drip irrigated with the equivalent of a cup of Roundup per month (having produced an overload of the pesticide and also predicting dryer and dryer years in California, the big ag companies were anxious to kill two birds with one stone). The tests we did on mice we fed with the wine we made from these vines, which we grew in Death Valley, were astounding. They initially refused to drink the Roundup wine though they took to Manishevitz occasionally and to cru Beaujolais with gusto. We hooked them up to an intravenous method of introduction to the wretched stuff though, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. No mouse survived even the first administration of the Roundup wine; tumors grew out of their glands in under two minutes like pink balloons filling up rapidly with helium and they would all keel over immediately. We killed a couple hundred in the name of science before we suspended the experiments. An unexpected result of the study, though, was that being genetically predisposed to drink, I personally and liberally sampled most of the wines we were using for the study and found a sort of new calling in life. While the Roundup wine was not suitable for drinking, upon my first whiff, I realized that it could actually serve as a reusable hair-removal product as my internal nose hairs disintegrated on contact with the fumes. I also, like the mice, took to the cru Beaujolais with gusto, one of them being a Marcel LaPierre wine and I was hooked. I turned in my lab coat and moved to Los Angeles to work in the service industry to find a place where I could sample as many of these magical naturally made wines I could get my hands on. I got into town just as the legendary and phenomenal Elf Cafe was hiring, they had just gotten their license to sell wine and beer and were exclusively interested in the natural stuff. I quickly weaseled my way into being the wine buyer for the restaurant and have been writing about my experiences here online for the expectant masses, ever since.
The photographs Mr. Roy has taken reflect something special, the smug and narcissistic look on my face is representative of the glory with which natural wine fills my spirit. I was hoping this look would impress Mr. Parker and that I would be appointed the head snob of his magazine, quickly derailing it and repossessing its name for my own purposes, but having already admitted the eventuality of my plans here in this statement, I doubt it will come to fruition. And so I leave it to you, my admirers, my adorers, to tell me which of these two fine photos you love more. I will be going on an Odyssey to Sicily in a few days, and expect for you all to have voted and chosen which of the two photos is your favorite, though I can’t promise your opinions will mean anything to me really, and I reserve the right to choose my own wine-bio photo in the end. Please enjoy and choose well, I will judge each and every one of you for the decision you make.