Q&A With Wine Writer Alice Feiring

"For some reason, wine writing has never risen to the respect given to food."


[Photograph: Annaïck le Mignon]


[Image: Amazon.com]

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be on a panel about the future of beverage writing with the incomparable Alice Feiring. If you're not already familiar with Feiring, she's a James Beard Award-winning wine writer who's contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Food and Wine, and a host of other publications. In addition, her memoir, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World From Parkerization was named as one of Wine & Spirits magazine's top books of 2008.

I caught up with Feiring as she was winding down from a Paris book fete and her coronation as the "High Priestess of natural wine." Not a bad week, not bad at all!

So Alice, what are you up to this week? My weeks aren't always so thrilling, but you asked about a particularly good one. I was in Paris for the French version of The Battle for Wine and Love book party. Now that's something I never thought I would be saying.

Very exciting to hold the book—it's beautiful and the paper feels so goodmm in my hands. And then I was in Spain, a town in Galicia called Santiago, to take part of a panel on wine homogenization, which included a top-dog flying winemaker who is considered the Michel Rolland of Spain. We only had 45 minutes. It was just getting spicy when we had to stop.

Then I spent two days mostly in the Vigo airport trying to get back home. Strikes. Weather. Hotel airports. I do so much traveling I figured my luck with easy flights was bound to run out. It could have been much worse! But I'm utterly knocked on my ass with fatigue right now.

You're also known as an advocate for natural wine. What's the big deal there? Funny you should ask. Someone at the The Age newspaper in Australia just called me the "High Priestess of natural wine"—difficult for me to repeat that with a straight face.

But yes, I'm a fighter on the side of the naturals. From my standpoint, making wine from healthy (no chemical farming) soil, well planted, and made with nothing added or nothing taken away is the only way to truly express terroir, and those are the only kinds of wines that make me willing to sacrifice my liver.

Too many of the wines made today have too many additives or process and maybe they make a beverage but I'm after an experience. Much of my writing is geared towards heightening the awareness out there so people who want a wine that is really made in the vineyard and not in the laboratory can find them.

How has wine writing evolved since you started working in the field? It's an odd one. Ironically, 20 years ago there were fewer wine drinkers yet more columns and words. Now the bulk of wine writing can be found on blogs. In a way, the wine writing world has been in reverse, low on prose and high on wine recommendations.

What do you think the future of wine writing holds? Ouch. I can't be cheery on this as the whole of journalism is going through an awkward post-puberty identity crisis. One can only hope. I think anyone who wishes to be a wine writer, exclusively, is delusional...trust funded.

For some reason, wine writing has never risen to the respect given to food. One can't argue that it is more elitist or less cultural than art, architecture, opera, and the subject is so poetic it begs a significant role in cultural writing. But, I do believe there will be a burst of creativity, through independent wine magazines and periodicals.

What are you drinking these days? The wines of the Jura! White, red and bubbly. I'm in love with Trousseau from Annie et Philippe Bornard.

Is there a "holy grail" of wine—a bottle you've always wanted to try? Yes! I would love to taste a pre-phyloxera wine from the Romanée Conti. 1945 was the last year that revered wine was made from the vineyard before replanting. Unfortunately it's one of the most knocked-off wines in the world. That coupled with a $40,000 bottle price tag make it a burgundy for the feather ball—meaning, only in my dreams.