Alice Feiring of In Vino Veritas, Interview

Ξ June 29th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine News, Winemakers |

Alice Feiring, fierce gadfly of erobertparker boards, world traveller, bonne vivante, she speaks her mind. Alice was very kind to agree to an interview for this humble blog. I’ve been a reader of her work for a long time and have found her first book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, to be funny, informed, and brutally honest. My method here was a kind of supplement to the book itself, asking some questions the fuller answers to which may be found in her text but also on her web site. The idea was to coax even more detail from this worldly soul. I am very pleased with the results.
Admin Have you ever tended a garden?
Alice Feiring I’ve always been an unstudied guerilla gardener (as well as an ardent forager of certain things. “Alice, don’t put that in your mouth!”). But my best gardens were when I co-opted friends’ backyards up in Cambridge. Community gardens in the same town, and now is relegated to herbs, greens and cherry tomatoes on my fire escape.
Do you cook? Specialties? What do friends cook for you?
Alice Of course! But I go in and out of remembering how to cook. Specialities..hmm..Indian spiced wild bass, vegetarian chopped liver, ginger ice cream, soups of various kinds, Arabic okra. What do my friends cook for me? Funny question. Whatever they want. Give me a great piece of bread and cheese (wine, of course) and I’m happy. I’m easy.
When you were a child was wine served at the family dinner table?
Alice Only on Friday nights and Saturday afternoon and it was the kosher sweet stuff cut with seltzer until I was old enough (and stupid enough) to want it full strength. There were no alcohol taboos. Often sipped my father’s beer, tasted his highball and my mother’s (extremely!) occasional martini.
When was your first sensation of intoxication?
Alice I was about five years old. It was Friday night. I was giggling uncontrollably, lying on the floor kicking myself. I still remember thinking, Alice, you’re acting like a baby. I didn’t like that sensation. I was careful after that. The next time when I was 17 was a far more interesting story. Southern Comfort, “Oh, THIS is what they mean by staggering.”
What is your take on the Locavore movement?
Alice It’s an extreme extension of seasonal eating. The Vietnam war wouldn’t have ended without SDS’s help. Extremity is needed in order to raise an awareness of what ‘local’ actually means and hopefully will encourage more diversity in farming. But I’m all for importation. There are some foods/drinks that I’m just not willing to rely on New York State for. We can’t all live in a food paradise like California, Tuscany or Provence.
Perhaps you can tell us about your early drinking history. How did your palate develop?
Alice Kosher wine led to the local wine bar on Grand Avenue, Foncy’s, that meant pitchers of Mateus and Lancers. First taste of zinfandel purchased in 1975 in Boston and drunk in the Boston Common. I was intrigued, but it tasted like gasoline. Moved to Boston in 1978, I had already discovered some great CHEAP rieslings and cote de rhones. Roommate worked in a wine store. Had a dancing friend who was starting a collection. All of the sudden I was in weekly intensive tasting situations in my apartment, learning about wine inspite of myself. Developed a speed tasting method just because I wanted to get to the wines I liked the best before anyone else. Self-preservation to drink the good stuff. After two years of just drinking and not caring I was at Pondicherry with a wine list. I saw the Trimbach Gewurtz and recognized it. The end of the beginning. Bought my first case of wine for $36. It was a Domaine Peyrousse Cote de Rhone. After that wine was a key part of my life and that exploded when I ditched dance therapy and moved back to NYC to write.
[Some details included from "The Age of Innocence", chapter one of her book. See link below.]
The most important development of [my] palate? Probably when I became aware of the taste of meat, decided it didn’t taste like a steak but a cow and I couldn’t deal with it. When I stopped I started to cook, discovered Indian food and my mouth went on a wild adventure of sensation. But the animal reflex of smelling started at birth. I also constantly train my nose at the spice rack.
You’ve been a steady, if subtle, promoter of Biodynamic wines. What is your interest in this movement?
Alice It’s funny. I don’t view myself as a promoter of BioD at all. IT just happens that most of the wines I like to drink farm accordingly, in whole or in part. But I do view it as the only organized body that could promote natural wine and I am invested in trying to keep it safe from nefarious interests. Which reminds me, I must write that email to Jim Fulmer who heads up the organization in Oregon [Demeter-USA] to urge him to add micro-oxygenation to the banned practices.
Which US State shows the greatest promise for the production of wines with restraint and complexity? Name names! Which US producers do you follow?
Alice I would love to see more good producers go into the Fingerlakes. I believe in the area. The only producer I’m wildly enthused about, however, is Silver Thread. It’s a difficult growing season, but I think it could be the American Loire. I would love to see them grow more cab franc and gamay and chenin. I really think California was sidetracked in the 90’s by flash instead of substance. Would be great to see a pull back there on fruit and technology and then, let’s see what the state could do. It’s a little like taking a person going into a pysch ward off their meds to discover their baseline.
As far as following? I’m interested in Wells Guthrie, Kevin Kelley, Steve Edmunds, Cathy Corison, Josh Jensen, Gideon Bienstock, Jason Lett, John Paul Cameron and Doug Tunnel of Brick House and Christophe Baron in Washington State.
What did you drink tonight? Was it a recommendation? A name you respect? A find?
Alice Camille Saves NV rosé. What a gorgeous champagne! And a 2005 St. Epine by Romaneaux–Destezet, which is the domaine of Hervé Souhaut. This is a St. Joseph. He’s out of the vin naturel school. Brilliant wine. Was disappointed by the synthetic cork, but still. Definitely decant it. Needs several hours of aeration before it peels back its layers. $44.
And your cellar? Do you have one? What’s in it?
Alice Some misbehaved man on the ebob board once ridiculed me for not having a proper temperature controlled cellar. Some of those people forget that writers do not have the income of lawyers or investment bankers. Because of the income deficit, all 200 bottles are in my apartment. I wish there was another 0 at the end of that number. I use my A/C on economy for the summer months and have removed all of the radiators. Mostly Loire, Burgundy, lots of Beaujolais, Northern Rhones, and some Barolo. Favorite producers (I can afford!) Paul Pernot, Chandon de Brialles, Domaine Bart, Domaine de Pepiere, Dard & Ribo. Herve Souhaut, Clos Roche Blanche.
What is your monthly wine budget?
Alice Is my tax lawyer reading this? About $340, unless I’m buying for assignment. Out of that meager amount there are always a few bottles for longer-term aging.
How do you choose a wine to purchase?
Alice Mostly trade tastings. But I constantly buy the same producers. I support them in any vintage. I do shop online at my favorite store, Chambers Street Wines, see what they have new, and then it miraculously gets delivered to my door.
What is the percentage of wines you’ve bought locally as against on-line?
Alice I actually never bought anything on-line, that wasn’t within delivery range. But I’m ready to expand and add to the carbon footprint.
What will be the practical effect on wine sales when and if Robert Parker retires?

He’s not already retired?

People are drinking wine. They’re not going to stop because he’s not driving the market.
Are there voices in the blogosphere that you find encouraging with respect to wine reviews?
Alice It’s the future and the future is now. Readers are finding the wine people they want to follow. The palate that most resonate with them. Granted I have a very narrow palate, and you know what? I’m not alone. I’ve gotten so many emails from people like—”help, I’m going to Barcelona. What should I drink. Are they all dreck?” Or, “I’m disgusted with Burgundy but I know the wines I want are there”. This one guy took my recommendations. I thought he was going to maybe dump a couple of hundred. Turns out he spent 5k. I had an anxiety attack. What if he didn’t like them? Turns out he was very happy. I bet you’ve had similar experiences.
You recently made unflattering remarks about the bulk of Cali wines produced. I find it very difficult to keep up with new winegrowers here! What is your method for selecting Cali wines to taste?
Alice I ask friends, sommeliers, and winemakers in California whether there’s anything that should be on my radar. Most of the best importers really do have what is considered the best of the new of California. I try to taste their recommendations at tastings to see if someone is working in an interesting way. I’m sorry to say, mostly not. Their idea of restraint and my idea of restraint is totally different.
Have you ever worked a Crush?
Alice Yes. I guess, I worked the vendange in the Loire. 2006. Mostly grape picking, a little bit in the winery as well.
Thinking of making you’re own wine?
Alice This year I should be out in Oregon at Eyrie doing just that. They’re giving me my own small fermenter, access to their grapes. I’ll nurse it all through the end of alcoholic. I’ll leave the elevage up to them. Jason said, “do it the way you want, foot-stomped, no sulfur, 100% stems, no cold soak. No nothing.” And with any luck it won’t go to vinegar.
Your new book, The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, is a fun read. How has the book tour been going? How have your audiences been?
Alice Thank you. That is so sweet of you to say.

I wish there was more of a book tour but I was grateful that my publisher saw fit to send me anywhere! The different venues in California were fascinating. I loved them all. The one at the Ferry building was the hardest. The one at Healdsburg the most stimulating. The one at Readers Books in Sonoma the most heartwarming. The one at Terroir Wine Merchant and Bar in SF and Lou on Vine in LA the most fun. And I’m really looking forward to the Commonwealth Club on July 16th.

Audiences in California ranged from the curious to the hardcore. One woman at a party in Napa sneered at me when we were introduced. “Alice Feiring? Yes, I’ve heard of you.” Sneer!

Speaking of Napa, I find it extremely interesting that there hasn’t been one invitation from Napa but several from Sonoma. Shall we read into that?

Favorite review?
Alice A few. It is just so thrilling when someone ‘gets’ me and ‘it.’ Beppi Crosariol from Canada’s Globe and Mail, Peter Hellman from the New York Sun and Patrick Comiskey from the LA Times. The recent one in Forbes, where they snared a quote from Parker about me and the book was great.
Where do you go from here?
Alice Meaning? For a while, back to the freelance world. Looks like I’ll be winewriting for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. More travel. Hopefully the next book will tap me on the shoulder and ask me for the next waltz. Finishing up first draft of a novel so I can quickly rewrite. Rechurning the never ending existential angst. I’m pondering teaching—writing not wine, though a few seminars here and there wouldn’t be bad.
Thank you so very much, Alice. Great fun!


One Response to ' Alice Feiring of In Vino Veritas, Interview '

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  1. Paolo said,

    on July 1st, 2008 at 5:49 am

    I am totally with her regarding a necessary ban on micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis practices, and some wine critics lovers of wines that have the same complexity of a 2 by 4 and taste pretty much the same.
    For long time I thought I would burn forever in hell after being tortured by the vinquisition. Now I know that there is St. Alice and St Clive (Coates) and I know there is hope…

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