Author Archives: Stuart

Berlin Wine Diary: Day 11 – My (56th) Birthday Backstory

Every story has a backstory, and the backstory to my 56th birthday yesterday was one of the hardest years I can remember. For anyone who wants to know what that means I recommend my recently published e-book “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story”, about which there is plentiful information below (just scroll down). People keep on telling me that I should make the message here on my blog, in my e-books, and on the social media super-positive, consistently upbeat and be as cool as humanly possible in cyberspace. I’ve nothing against any of those things, but for me the most important things in life and art are honesty and compassion. Remove them and very quickly everything descends to a low level where greed and opportunism dominate everything else. That is a place I am anxious to avoid at all costs.

The photo shows me in the jacket that Berlin-based fashion designer Vita Datura, a.k.a. Viktoriya Zyubyairova, just custom made for me. It was completed in the early hours of my birthday morning at her studio, so dinner at Nobelhart & Schmutzig in Berlin last night was its debut. Needless to say, it turned some heads. The photograph was taken by my mother under less than ideal circumstances, so it is neither technically perfect nor a great artistic statement, unlike the jacket! The Fornasetti tie I am wearing in the photograph was also on its last legs, and I was glad to get home last night without it falling apart around my neck. All of this was in the Vita Datura spirit best summed up by her slogan: Manuscripts don’t burn and Couture never dies: both can fly!

In spite of the enormous practical problems, the emotional turmoil and suffering of the last year was very productive. Looking back I feel confident that my first three e-books are the best things I have ever written in the English language. This is gonzo wine journalism as I first conceived it when during a press trip to the Atlantic island of Madeira in the summer of 1991 a colleague called Dee Lite said those words to me. Some of the books I wrote between 2003 and 2009 also realized that goal, but they were all in German and almost nobody outside Europe read them. Now the ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA series of e-books is making this wildly intoxicating, highly addictive and extremely dangerous substance available to an English-speaking audience around the world.

No doubt some of you are wondering what my birthday dinner at Nobelhart & Schmutzig in Berlin was like. Here is the white asparagus course from the menu with a super-intense wild garlic sauce on the left and fresh cheese on the right (Spargel / Knoblauchkrauke / Quark) that was also surprisingly intense. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about this revolutionary reinvention of one of the Germans’ favorite spring dishes. But, hell, this is the kind of reaction my e-books are aiming to achieve, so I can hardly complain, can I? In spite of that I definitely preferred the char with onions and dill flowers (Ike jime Saibling / Zweibeln / Dillblüte) and the oats with fresh goatsmilk cheese and sorrel (Nackhafer / Ziegenfrischkäse / Sauerampfer), both of which were extremely delicate. At the full-throttle end of the scale it was the potato soup with blood sausage and mustard (Kartoffel / Blutwurst / Senf), another reinvention of a German classic, that blew my mind. It was also amazing with the wine in my glass

And what did I drink? My mother can’t really drink at all, but she treats herself to just one glass of sparkling wine in a situation like last night. Billy Wagner of Nobelhart & Schmutzig opened the Éloquence Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut from Champagne Marie-Courtin to pour my mother and I a glass each and I ended up finishing the rest of the bottle. Billy also poured me a couple of tastes of other wines of which the 1992 Riesling Auslese from Martin Müllen in Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel, and that still lively, only slightly sweet wine was my only sip of Riesling yesterday. However, every day, also every birthday, doesn’t have to be a big Riesling day. The world of wine is very large and colorful, and that’s why I love it!

THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR BEST WISHES!!!

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 7 – The Missing Pieces of the Great FLXtra Puzzle

 

There has been some criticism of “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Song” because of things that are missing from my latest e-book, and not without some justification. The problem is that it had already ballooned from the planned 100 manuscript pages to 125 pages. I decided to stop it there before it resembled a 19th century Russian novel more than a piece of 21st century close-to-the-ground / gonzo journalism! There are already a couple of dozen major characters and the range of subjects that is at least touched upon is vast. I wanted to avoid massive overkill and the widespread yawning I feared that this would lead to.

One of the things that definitely gets too little space is the snow and ice of winter. I only hinted at that by comparing the mild conditions of March 2016 with the arctic ones of March 2015. The impressive thing about the FLX community is how resilient it is in the face of major snow and ice, nearly all the roads remaining clear. The price of that it is high banks of snow at the sides of major highways and a miniature version of the Himalayas along the sides of smaller streets in places like Geneva (something I did mention in passing).  Life and business continue, even if the life of some wines stops dead in its tracks during the Big Freeze.

The picture above of KJR (Kelby James Russell) was taken in March of last year and shows him with the outdoor tanks at Red Newt Cellars where he has been winemaker since December 2012. The wine in those tanks was partially frozen for many weeks, which is pretty unusual on Planet Wine and would have deserved some serious examination. Basically, much of the water in the wine becomes a thick layer of ice directly behind the stainless steel skin of the tank, with highly concentrated liquid wine in the center of the tank. (No, I don’t know what that stuff tastes like, but I will find out at the next opportunity). This is then diluted back to its state before freezing when spring comes and the ice in the tank melts. That’s a dangerous process, because around freezing point wine is most susceptible to oxidation. I know that all sounds a brutal attack on the fragile thing we imagine wine to be, but some of my favorite FLX Rieslings went through all that!

Another criticism made was that I didn’t spend enough time eulogizing the beauty of the region, which is considerable. In this case my preferred method was understatement, and I think that in an understated way there’s plenty of  graphic description of the region’s landscape, most of it positive. Of course, poverty isn’t pretty, there’s some of that in the FLX, and I didn’t pretend there wasn’t. However, there’s no doubt about the fact that I avoided writing pages of luscious description of my favorite ravine and/or lakeshore, since I figured this stuff is widely available on the Internet and on those most old-fashioned of things, postcards. I’ve never been out on one of the lakes on a boat so I would have had to set that up to describe it, and every serious gonzo journalist avoids set-ups like that on the grounds that they are predictable and boring.

What I do think is missing without good reason is some more detailed description of the domestic worlds of my main figures. For example, the above is the political button collection of Julia Hoyle and, of course, this says something important about her. Here too space was the first problem, and in this case there was also the desire to avoid repeating  things I reported Julia saying to me. I did mention that her and KJR’s cat Cannonball likes to sit inside their fridge, and there were requests for me to show what that looks like, so for once this very serious gonzo journalist has caved in and is posting a cute furry animal photo. But, remember, I’m not doing this trying to ratchet up the number of hits on this website or of my Facebook “friends”!

There is much else to say about the FLX that I couldn’t fit in my e-book, and there will be more about that shortly on this page. May the FLX Force be with you!

WATCH THIS SPACE!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 8 – Vita Datura is the Epilogue of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story

Manuscripts don’t burn and Couture never dies: both can fly!

Writing this e-book was a very special experience because the events described were still unfolding as I was working, and sometimes it felt like they were tearing me apart. I was lucky though, because then this story grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me along with it. Again and again I stumbled as I struggled to keep up with its relentless progress, but I gladly abandoned myself to its will, knowing that it was saving me from a collapse that often felt imminent. The paradoxical thing about this situation was that it poured more light into my story, rather than pushing it into some horrible dark corner. However, there are still enough shadows that I can’t imagine anyone accusing me of writing covert FLX PR.”

Those lines are from the introduction to my latest e-book ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story, and give a good idea of what it was like writing what some friends have rather bluntly called a “brain dump”. The truth is that my e-book tells of some of the greatest highs and lows in my entire life, and sometimes flips dramatically from one to the other. In case you haven’t read it yet, hat’s how the story starts and ends.

For most of the time I was writing the book I was deeply depressed, which definitely isn’t the ideal state for any writer to be in. The tortured artist is a tired cliché and total bullshit. I’m really thankful for the way manuscript pulled me back to it again and again, demanding my attention, because it repeatedly saved me from collapse. That’s more than I can expect from any manuscript and I’m really grateful to it for that.

For a long time I was worried that the story about me that was interwoven with my story of the new generation of FLX (Finger Lakes) winemakers was way too negative. Then I realized that love found and love lost maybe as old as hills, but this kind of story has a beauty that no other kind of story the world has come up with in the five thousand year history of writing has been able to top. So, I embraced the bitter-sweet aspect of my story completely, and from that moment it gained something which a wine story that remains firmly a wine story can never have. That’s when I added This is a Love Story to the title.

The turn that events took after that was a bit spooky. When I arrived in Berlin from Vienna on Thursday, April 7th I was still seriously depressed despite having taken that important decision. The friends who I saw during the six days I spent in my European HQ can report how down I was and how bleakly I saw my own future, both professionally and personally. It really was as if a spell had been cast over me (by myself?) during the early hours of January 1st, 2016 and however much I had twisted and turned since then I had been unable to escape its grasp. Then I had an amazing experience that might strike you as not being entirely believable.

Since the fall of 2012 I’ve seen an American cognitive therapist in Berlin called Dr. Brian Pheasant. During those three and a half years I must have seen him about thirty times, and he helped me enormously to reduce the negative effects of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) upon me. Rather early on I told Brian that he was my witchdoctor, because I couldn’t explain how with so few words he could have such a great effect upon me, and he really liked that description. Often he’s just my confidant and good my conscience, the listener who then tells me how much better my life would be if only I could drop those negative patterns of thought and the behavior they result in. It helps that I know he’s nearly always right!

On Wednesday, April 13th Brian was all those things for me, first listening patiently to my turgid tale of woe, then lapping up my daring plans for a revolutionary new type of wine bar. Finally, as the session was nearing its end I flipped back into the negative mode in a way I find gruesome to remember. How could I paint myself and my world black like that, when I know full well that the world is always fifty thousand shades of grey?

Brian told me that I must drop this way of thinking right now, and I said how I wished I could, but none of the things I’d tried to do that had worked. “It’s like a heavy suitcase you’re lugging around with you. Kick it out!” he told me. I lamely repeated my statement that nothing had worked, but he kept hammering away at me with his demand that I kick the suitcase out as I pulled on my jacket and put my bicycle helmet on to leave.

As I cycled away down the small street in Berlin’s Prenzaluer Berg district back towards my new place in the city I sensed that something had just changed dramatically. It wasn’t that there weren’t any more shadows in me, but suddenly they weren’t pressing down on me any longer. What had happened? I still can’t explain that, except to repeat that Brian is my witchdoctor and he had just exorcised a demon.

However, this is far from being the end of the story. A couple of days earlier when my American friend in Hamburg, Rienne Martinez, had told me that I must try internet dating and I had put up the same kind of resistance to that idea as I did to Brian’s demand that I kick the suitcase out. So, immediately I got home from my appointment with Brian I signed up with the dating site Rienne had recommended, OKcupid, although I felt very silly doing so. The response was way more than I’d expected, and although all the women you sent me messages looked good and sounded interesting one of them stood out from the crowd: Vita Datura, a fashion designer who modeled her own creations on OKcupid.

A week later we had our first date, which was more than a little crazy and probably even more confusing for her than it was for me. However, it’s not an easy process for two strong and complex personalities to find their way to each other, and with each meeting we got closer. Right from the beginning it was clear to me that she is enormously talented and will have a major international success. Here is the proof of that for anyone who has the patience to immerse themselves in the most striking new fashion I’ve seen in years:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhe6UMOjZvs

By the time I returned to NYWC (New York Wine City) on Tuesday, May 3rd the story of love found and love lost that I was telling in ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 had taken another dramatic twist. Either I would have to add the most recent events to the book or find another way of incorporating that twist into my story. Because I was already up to 125 manuscript pages after promising myself I would keep FLXtra down around 100, I decided simply to add a dedication, but to place it chronologically, i.e. at the end of the book.

Obviously the end of one story is the beginning of another, and this is also the nature of love. However, it’s very important as a writer or an artist not to get into the habit of thinking it’s been done before so there’s no point in repeating it, because giving to that perspective is the road to artistic nowhere. For me FLXtra was a long path from darkness to light and writing it really was cathartic – more stuff as old as the hills! – and my big hope is that this shines through in the result. My work is undoubtedly imperfect and cracked, but as Leonard Cohen sang in his song Anthem, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

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New York Wine Diary: Day 6 – Accusations Fly, but so does ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story

The novelist and co-inventor of The New Journalism, Tom Wolfe, famously hates understatement. He once said that the problem with understatement is that people can mistakenly think you haven’t said anything at all. Obviously, I’m on the same page as Tom about that, as my new e-book for Kindle, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 with KJR: FLXtra – This is a Love Story, proves. The problem with being as loud as I have and sticking your neck out as far as I’ve done, is that people realize you really said something, they more or less get what it was, and some of them want to hack your head off for having dared to write it!

A second, fractionally less rabid group of opponents, are trying to talk my book down by making gross accusations about it. Firstly, the unashamed sexual aspects of RCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #1 and #2 have lead some people to claim that #3 is also just “wine porn”, in spite of the introduction explaining that it’s not. #3 does not carry the “PARENTAL ADVISORY: Explicit Content” sticker. If it was a movie I’d want a PG rating, because it certainly isn’t the stuff of Walt Disney cartoons. However, all I’ve really done is be honest about what life is like if you’re not in a stable and harmonious long-term relationship. The idea that the highs and lows of love would not affect the way wine tastes strikes me as absurd. Then there’s the striking parallel between my sexual love story and the story of my love for the FLX. It would have been dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. So, yes, there’s plenty of sexual tension in my new book, and I try to describe the emotional truth of love lost and love found, but there’s no graphic sex.

The next allegation is that all I did was to picked out a handful of my favorite young FLX winemakers, most notably KJR (Kelby James Russell of Red Newt Cellars, pictured above left in Berlin), and idealized them. It has been suggested to me that this lack of a critical perspective makes the book one-sided and flimsy at best. Possibly it isn’t up there with Dostoyevsky or Tom Wolfe, but I suggest there are far too many winemakers featured in the book for that particular accusation to be true. Then there are other figures like Bob Madill (pictured above right) who just don’t fit into that young winemaker mold. Bob’s not even a winemaker, but he’s been a tremendously important loose cannon in the FLX wine industry for many years. The idea that he’s somehow a safe and uncomplicated guy – he’s a Canadian outside/insider with a radically alternative perspective to other local industry figures of his age – so his presence in the book doesn’t count is ridiculous as the photo of him with his trashed old car below proves.

My goal was to portray as many members of the new generation of winemakers in the FLX as possible, and to do so in a way that accentuated their enormous diversity, rather than homogenizing it (a common fault of wine journalism). For that I had to get close to a bunch of the youngsters, and some of the old hands too. That required as much patience and as little ego as possible, then a razor-sharp quill – gonzo journalism! – but I couldn’t have done it if they hadn’t accepted me and taken me into their circle. If this indirectly led to some idealization, then I accept as a necessary “evil”!

I worked very hard to present each of the people featured within the network of their wine community. The wine community of the FLX, and particularly of the town of Geneva, is the real star of my book. I tried to become its medium, so that when I tell its story I did so from the inside. If there is too little critical comment – that accusation has also been made – then the reason is that I was focusing on a community of tremendously talented and positive people. I did taste some poor wines, but not from those who I portrayed. That’s the reason no wines described in any detail have been sharply criticized. It just wasn’t necessary. OK, some people want me to shit on some wines and their makers. I accept that I could go out and seek victims, but is that serious journalism?

Of course, my story has some weaknesses, but when you are describing real life it rarely gives you a story with a progression of events that has a compelling emotional logic to it that sucks the readers in and makes them sweat and shake with excitement as they turn each of those pages. I did my best to get there without falsifying anything, and I don’t think that you can tell where I took a few liberties with the chronology of events to accentuate the emotional logic. If you can let me know and I promise I won’t take that as an accusation!

 

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New York Wine Diary: Day 6 – The Truth in “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story”

Let your light shine on me

The truth in my new e-book, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra – This is a Love Story, did not get in there by accident. One of my most deepest held beliefs is that it’s the journalist’s responsibility is to tell it how it is, that is to achieve the highest possible degree of truth in her or his writings.  If there’s as much truth about the new generation of FLX winemakers, the FLX and my life in my new e-book as I think there is, then that’s because I took that responsibility very seriously. A great deal of determination, far more than most people are familiar with, also played an important role.

Truth is a complex and many sided thing, even if some factual statements look painfully simple. A perfect example of this would be, “the Nazis, their collaborators and enablers murdered 6 million Jews in the Shoah / Holocaust.” That’s undeniably true, however, once you start reading and listening to the stories of survivors and perpetrators, study the documentary evidence, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and so forth, then you realize that this statement only hints at the enormity of what happened. I think it’s also been rightly argued that this kind of bald statement also denies the victims their individual identities and the respect they deserve as complete human beings. Of course, in our daily lives we often have to make do with true statements about important stuff that are as grossly over-simplified as that one (although this is always preferable to the many crude lies and myriad slippery half-truths that are circulating). Frequently the reason for that is that there just isn’t the time to go into all the detail. But as an important old English saying goes, the devil is in the detail. That is what I took years working on, my first visit to the FLX having been in October 2004, the last one in March 2016.

Gonzo journalism is my way of getting at the many-sided truth in as much detail as possible, and its ideals are extreme immediacy and complete openness (both very difficult to achieve). A gonzo journalist like me is determined to break down all the barriers in this world to get at the truth, and is keenly aware how many of those barriers are actually illusions. Of course, the first place that those illusions exist are in the gonzo journalist’s own mind, so my research inevitably demands that I first work upon my own mind, only turing to the people around me. I always try to be compassionate and respectful towards those I’m researching and that I write about, but never to the point of accepting falsification or enabling it, much less making this mistake myself. Leaving things out of the story without telling the reader that, although the journalist knows they are actually vital elements of it is a particularly insidious form of falsification.

Another name I use for what I do is three-dimensional journalism. The first dimension of journalism is the facts, but which facts are the really important ones, that is, which combination of facts is the one that communicates the vital truth to the reader. This is a matter of context, the second dimension of journalism. As the German 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “the context is the facts,” that is the two are utterly interlinked like Einstein’s concept of space-time, and directly shape each other. A journalist who is aware of these things and working accordingly is already doing a good job, but then comes what I consider the decisive third dimension of journalism, which is the question of how and why the writer came to the conclusion that these were the right combination of facts and the context(s) in which they should be seen. That’s what gonzo journalism is all about.

It was in this spirit that I wrote #3 FLXtra and the result has already upset a bunch of people. He or she who is in denial, who tries after shining a searchlight on something and recognizing its shape clearly in that light pretends that it can be ignored out of existence, will, of course, hate me for shining my flashlight in that direction. Even the statement of rather simple facts and the use of conventional journalistic description can become dangerous to people who anxiously struggle to keep everything in what they consider its proper place. Of course, their goal is power and control!

I know this might sound a bit abstract and philosophical, but I promise you that in my work this is all very concrete. I would always rather sacrifice good style and/or neat story construction to tell it how it is. And if you do that as a writer, then I think the people you write about come over to the readers as three dimensional individuals, rather than stock characters imprisoned in a stock narrative. The latter’s what much regular grade wine journalism is like, much other journalism too. To find out what this all really means I suggest that read my new e-book, or consult the works of the inventor of gonzo journalism Hunter S. Thompson. Of particular relevance to the current political situation is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972, his masterpiece. Hunter had to dodge some bullets because of what he wrote, and it seems I will too!

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New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – Meet Kelby James Russell, the Star of “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story”

This is Kelby James Russell, the KJR in the title of my new e-book on Kindle, and one the FLX (Finger Lakes) Rock Star Winemakers the title refers to. The unlikely hero of my new work is pictured in the lab of Red Newt Cellars, the wines of which he’s only been fully responsible for since the 2013 vintage. In that short time Red Newt has gone from being an extremely reliable producer of elegant and charming Rieslings, mostly in the medium-sweet style to a daring innovator in the field of dry and medium-dry Rieslings. KJR is also responsible for making most of the wines for Bruce Murray’s small, but very ambitious Boundary Breaks winery, for the Empire Estate dry Riesling brand launched with the 2014, and for his own Kelby James Russell label. Taken together these wines have already exerted a significant impact on the perception of FLX wines in the Northeast of the US, and this effect will increase significantly during the next few years. The situation just a few years ago in which Hermann J. Wiemer was (rightly in my view) regarded as the sole star producer in the region has changed for this reason, but also others that I will go into over the next days. Given that Kelby is only 28 years old and gained his first experience of winemaking at Fox Run Vineyards on the other side of Seneca lake from Red Newt in the fall of 2009 this is an extraordinary achievement. This is the main reason that I chose him for the cover and title of my in-depth study of the new generation of FLX winemakers.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have already read the quote from Clarke Smith (the author of Postmodern Winemaking) that follows, but it’s so important I think that you should read it again along with everyone else: “The revolutions in winemaking are not the work of scientists, but of lunatic heroes who try stuff which orthodox thinking says never should be tried.” Clarke then added some further explanation that makes it clear he doesn’t regard this as being something specific to winemaking, but a much more general phenomenon: “Any paradigm shift is caused by such people. But the Scientific Method does not generate new hypotheses, rather merely tests them – a mopping up activity that constitutes the bulk of scientific enterprise. Revolutions are risky behavior for which you have to be a little bit nuts.” Although he doesn’t scream and shout about it, as you can see from the above photo of KJR he’s on the same page as Clark Smith. He certainly isn’t the only one of the new generation of winemakers in the FLX to see things that way, but he struck me as the right figurehead for this movement that might well be the Second Great Wine Awakening in New York State.

No revolution was ever the work of one woman or one man alone, and in this case the owner of Red Newt Cellars must take a very substantial amount of credit for recognizing KJR’s talent, seeing that this represented a great opportunity rather than a ton of complications, and giving him all the support he needed to realize his ideas. The results speak for themselves and would have had a great success in the marketplace even if I had written nothing whatsoever about them. However, maybe “success” is way too simple a word for the myriad reactions to the new wines from Red Newt Cellars. I have already noted much astonishment on the faces of leading Riesling winemakers like Cornelius Dönnhoff of the Dönnhoff estate in the Nahe, Germany, critics like Stephan Reinhardt of the Wine Advocate, and experts like Lisa Granik MW in NYWC (New York Wine City). As the wines get tasted by more and more people some critical voices are bound to become loud, because wines with this kind of dramatic personality are polarizing. I like the way that both KJR and Dave Whiting have a relaxed “so what?” attitude to this, because it’s inevitable and by no means will it always be bad publicity for them.

Great wines are impossible without excellent quality grapes, and with Riesling there’s very little possibility to hide inadequate fruit quality with winemaking bells and whistles. What you see (when the grapes come into the cellar) is what you get (in the bottle) when it comes to quality. The rise of KJR and Red Newt wouldn’t have been possible without the man pictured on the left in the above photograph, Harlan Fulkerson, a.k.a. The Big H, of the Lahoma Vineyard on the western bank of Seneca Lake. They are standing in a block of the vineyard that KJR christened The Knoll, because although the vineyard has several knolls this is the one planted with Riesling. From the 2013 vintage Red Newt  have produced a very special dry Riesling under the name The Knoll, and that first vintage is just coming into its own. Soon to follow from Red Newt is a new top medium-dry Riesling called The Big H. from another block in the Lahoma Vineyard.  The praise for these wines will be a vindication of Harlan’s precise vineyard cultivation no less than of KJR’s winemaking. Harlan also gets a big splash in my e-book, but a larger than life personality like his is incapable of making a small splash!

For more information about Kelby Russell go to

http://rednewt.com/ww4/?page_id=217

And for the full, unexpurgated story of the new generation of FLX winemakers and much, much more head to the Kindle Store on Amazon and purchase my book:

https://www.amazon.com/ROCK-STARS-WINE-AMERICA-FLXtra-ebook/dp/B01FBI0STS?ie=UTF8&keywords=stuart%20pigott&qid=1462714774&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

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New York Wine Diary: Day 5 – “ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story” is finally published on Kindle!

I write these lines in a state of exhaustion and euphoria after a two day marathon completing the latest e-book in my series ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA and publishing #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story on Kindle late yesterday evening. It’s subject is the new generation of winemakers in the Finger Lakes (FLX) in Upstate New York and the events described in this roller coaster work of gonzo journalism span the period June 15th 2015 thru March 17th 2016. KJR is Kelby James Russell, the 28 year old Rock Star Winemaker of Red Newt Cellars on the eastern side of Seneca Lake, and it is his face on the cover. More about him tomorrow. Once again the cover art was drawn and stitched, then the cover designed by Angelyn Cabrales. I must thank her for giving the cover a very different look to either #1 or #2 that communicates the daring, optimism and openness of the new generation of winemakers in the FLX. They deeply inspired me.

In spite of increased media coverage of the FLX during the last years – a reflection of the rapidly improving quality of the wines – I don’t think any of my colleagues really wrote a comprehensive portrait of the new winemakers that captured their spirit and society. Nor did anyone describe in detail how they are part of a network of creative exchange between older and younger winemakers. This is not a sales pitch – I need several days of R&R before I can write anything resembling that! – merely an observation that this subject was rather inadequately covered, because nobody considered it important enough to invest the considerable amount of time and effort that I did. However, during the months since I began writing it on a flight from Berlin to New York on December 18th 2015 I was often a bit worried that I might be scooped by some colleague. The FLX are about to be discovered by the mainstream media big time!

Look at those dates and you will see that I was writing for almost full three months before the events described ended. This alone makes #3: FLXtra gonzo, for I was often writing about what had just happened, lifting quotes and impressions from my notebook into the text the very next morning. This meant the text was developing as the story happened, and I decided not to shy away from telling that story with all its highs and lows. Those who have read #1 and #2 will note the absence of the PARENTAL ADVISORY: Explicit Content sticker from the cover of #3. This is a risk I’m taking, because there is some sexual content in #3 (I’m rating it PG), but the more unusual thing for a wine book is that emotional intensity. In recent years several colleagues (most notably Alice Feiring) wrote wine books that went some distance in this direction, but I don’t think anybody did so in the radical way I have done. By the way, I tried to do so in a spirit of compassion rather than to be judgmental of others in any way or form.

#3 is gonzo in a more fundamental way too, for I worked hard not only to be accepted by my subjects, but also to become part of their world, so that when I wrote about it I would be doing so from the inside. Many of the new winemakers of the FLX trusted me completely, and that made this dissolving of boundaries possible, so help me God. Here is the outrageous result. The price is $4.99 and all you need to do to read it is download the free Kindle app onto your device before purchasing, that is if you don’t already have a Kindle or an iPad/iPhone/etc with the Kindle app on it. ENJOY!

https://www.amazon.com/ROCK-STARS-WINE-AMERICA-FLXtra-ebook/dp/B01FBI0STS?ie=UTF8&keywords=stuart%20pigott&qid=1462714774&ref_=sr_1_1&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

 

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New York Wine Diary: Day 1 – Castello di Morcote is One of the World’s “Grand Crus” for Merlot

This is Gaby Gianini the owner of Castello di Morcote, and although those names will be unknown to most readers I am convinced that this place is one of the world’s great Cru for red wines from the Merlot grape. I call it “Anti-Petrus”, because Chateau Petrus in Pomerol/Bordeaux – the most famous Cru in the whole world for Merlot-based red wines – is almost flat and has a heavy clay soil that retains a lot of water, whereas Castello di Morcote’s vineyards are on steep slopes with a weathered porphyry soil that retains very little water. The contrast could hardly be more striking, but it goes much, much further than these facts, however fundamental they are for the business of winegrowing.

Due to their location on the plateau of Pomerol from the vineyards of Petrus you can barely see beyond the immediately neighboring properties where the vineyards look much the same. “Dull” was the first word that occurred to me when trying to describe this location. And no, I’m not anti-Bordeaux, for example, the nearby town of St. Emilion and the surrounding vineyards are stunning in comparison. Castello  di Morcote stands on an isthmus projecting into Lago di Lugano from which the views are truly spectacular. On three sides of the property lie the waters of the lake lie and, depending which way you look from which location on the property, you can see for somewhere between several miles to some tens of miles. Most of what you see is densely forested hill country that is unchanged since thousands of years (see below). I know of no other vineyard location in the world exactly like this, although the bluff of Keuka Lake in the FLX of Upstate New York kind of resembles it.

Then there’s the architecture. The Chateau at Petrus is little more than a 19th century farmhouse, and it still looks like that although a great deal of money having been poured into making it look grander (and avoiding some taxes). In contrast, Castello di Morcote is a massive fortress dating back to around 1450, and although it is partially in ruins this only adds to the impressive effect. However, the age of this place is much greater than the fortress you see when you arrive, for it was built around the remains of a Roman tower that are still visible (the Roman well is pictured below).

I’m going to stick my neck out a considerable distance and say that there’s no department in which Morcote lags behind Petrus except in wine prices, although it does that by a huge margin: the latter is one of the most expensive wines in the world. Morcote costs between 5% and 10% of the price of Petrus depending on the vintage (for the latter).  Of course, the statement of with which this paragraph begins means that I consider the red wine from Castello di Morcote to be remarkable and extraordinary. In my opinion, since the 2011 vintage it has joined the L’Apparita of Castello di Ama in Chianti Classico as one of the two most elegant Merlot red wines in the world. They both come from high altitude vineyards with rocky soils that are not only a great contrast to Chateau Petrus, but also to the almost flat vineyards with loam-based soils from which Masseto (Italy’s most famous and expensive Merlot red) is produced in Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast.

This is all down to the vision of Gaby Gianini who was convinced that her family property was capable of producing special wines when she took over responsibility for the vineyards and winemaking in 2009. In Michele Conceprio (pictured above) she has found an ideal oenologist for this project, not only because he has great experience growing Merlot around the Lago di Lugano, but also because he is fanatical about turning vineyards into complex eco-systems through bio-dynamic methods. It has been this and more rigorous selection of the grapes used for red wine (the property also makes interesting dry whites based on Merlot) that have moved quality up and up since 2009. Already the 2011 wines (the current vintage) have the dry elegance and subtle fragrance that is Gianini’s goal, but the 2013s take this a step farther having even more energy (that which Merlot generally misses), and the 2015s that are still in barrel are sensationally expressive and unbelievably vibrant considering how hot last summer was.

The idea of Cru, that is of unique locations in each of which a particular type of wine achieve both a remarkable quality and a high individuality of flavor is not new, although it is less old than is commonly supposed (it very rarely goes back much more than 300 years). However, this idea is often only applied to a few select regions, as if in the distant past the Great God of Wine had written in stone that terroir could only exist in a handful of places. In fact, the way the Cru idea has spread very considerably during the 30 plus years of  my career, most obviously in the German-speaking world, but also, for example, in Piemont. Back in the 1970s there were very few single-vineyard Nebbiolos from that region and they were often considered oddities. Since then there has been a great blossoming of the culture of single-vineyards in Piemont. I am sure that this will also happen in the region that is Castello di Morcote’s home.

Where is that? Although the names are all Italian, it is just the other side of the border in the Italian speaking Swiss province of Ticino. Yes, I’ve been talking about a Swiss wine the whole time! And how could a Riesling lover get so excited about Merlot of all grapes, because here too are elegance and vitality, subtle aromatics and a balance that draws me back to the glass again and again.

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Berlin Wine Diary: Day 3 – BE HERE soon for ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra

This is where it all started. I took the above photo at almost exactly the moment when the story of my forthcoming e-book begins. Finally, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra about the Finger Lakes (the FLX) in Upstate New York is almost ready for publication. Pictured above is the team responsible for the Empire Estate brand of dry FLX Riesling, Kelby James Russell, the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars on Seneca Lake and Thomas Pastuszak, the sommelier of the Nomad Hotel on Broadway in Manhattan. I took it just a few blocks from the Nomad Hotel at the launch of Empire Estate on the evening of Monday, June 15th 2015. The story of FLXtra spans the nine months from then until March 15th 2015, a period during which I experienced incredibly personal highs and lows as I researched the new generation of winemakers in the FLX.

Now the question is WHO are the Rock Star Winemakers that my book praises most highly and WHO is the winemaker pictured on the cover? This blog posting is low on text, but introduces you to some of the most important candidates.

The Dr. Konstantin Frank / Chateau Frank winery was the pioneer of high-end wines from the Vitis vinifera  (think Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also Saperavi and Rkatsiteli!) in the FLX, and Meaghan Frank (on the left) is the fourth generation of the Frank family to direct the family winery on Keuka Lake. She’s pictured with her father Fred (on the right) at the 30th anniversary celebration for the Chateau Frank sparkling wines on July 5th last year.

Fred Merwarth (above left) and Oskar Bynke (above right) have done an amazing job of taking the already highly regarded Hermann J. Wiemer winery to the premier position in the states along the Eastern Seaboard of the US.  Their Riesling are the benchmarks against which ambitious young winemakers measure their own achievements.

Tom and Susan Higgins (above left and right) left NYC and the computing business less than a decade ago to found Heart & Hands, a small winery on Cayuga Lake dedicated to Pinot Noir reds (for which they already have quite a reputation) and Riesling (for which they’re not so well known). Tom also introduced me to some of the extraordinary geology and wildlife of the FLX.

Bruce Murray is an even more recent arrival in the FLX from NYC where he was a market researcher. The first vintage for his Boundary Breaks Vineyard Rieslings was 2011, and it was amazing for me to see what he’s achieved on Seneca Lake without actually having either a winery of his own and working with a team of winemakers. Regular readers will already know how highly I regard the 2014 vintage wines from Boundary Breaks.

Mark Wagner of Lamoreaux Landing winery on Seneca Lake is an old hand compared with the new winemaking immigrants, but the steadily rising reputation of the FLX during recent years has a great deal with the consistent high quality of wines like his medium-dry single-vineyard Rieslings: Yellow Dog, Round Rock and Red Oak. And he’s also the inventor of the un-oaked style of Cabernet Franc rapidly gaining ground in the region.

Peter Bell of Fox Run winery over on the other (western) side of Seneca Lake not only made the first FLX red wines that I found completely convincing, for example, the stunning 2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve. He also played a vital role behind the scenes in training a large part of the new generation of FLX winemakers. For this alone somebody should give him a medal!

Julia Hoyle, now the assistant winemaker at Sheldrake Point winery on Cayuga Lake, was one of Peter Bell’s best students. She is one of the new winemakers to watch closely during the coming years, and already her example is inspiring other young women – some with no wine background like her – to enter the NY wine industry.

August Deimel (pictured above in a scene from FLXtra) took the more conventional route of the Oenology Program at nearby Cornell University, but I don’t think anyone could accuse August or his wines of being conventional. I thought that I was done with Gewürztraminer until I tasted those he makes at Keuka Spring Vineyards on Keuka Lake. His Dynamite Vineyard Gewürztraminer really is (dry) dynamite!

California star winemaker Paul Hobbs and Mosel star winemaker Johannes Selbach (pictured above right with Paul’s younger brother David, left) recently started the most daring new vineyard project in the FLX. They are pushing more envelopes simultaneously then I could cope with, but this is how you find out what’s really possible in a young wine region like this (the first vinifera was 1962!)

I wish there was space for everyone in this blog posting, but there isn’t, and I have to admit that the above selection was also influenced by photo quality. To find out who the biggest Rock Star Winemakers of the FLX are for me you will have to head to the Kindle Store on Amazon sometime from Sunday, May 8th and purchase ROCK STAR OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra for $4.99. By the way, only then will the full title of this most daring of my wine books be revealed. Perhaps you can sense my own excitement about this impending publication in the above short texts. WATCH THIS SPACE!

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On the Wine Trail: Day 6 – The Low Down on 2015 in Germany (General Overview)

Yes, that’s my handwriting on the label of this wine from Peter Lauer on the Saar!

I must apologize to you all for the lack of postings during the last couple of weeks, but I was completely distracted by work on my forthcoming e-book ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra in order to try and meet the deadline I set myself of publication on May 2nd immediately before I return to NYWC (New York Wine City). However, I just spent several days on the road very intensively tasting the young German wines of the 2015 vintage and I was also able to catch another bunch of them in Berlin during the week before I set off. This now adds up to a good general overview and a more detailed appreciation of certain regions whose wines are widely exported around Planet Wine.

I’m sure that this is going to disappoint many of you, but what I’m not going to do is write a shopping list of the wines that you have to buy. First of all, each of you has a different taste and such a list would only work with extensive notes, secondly any list that accurately reflects the nature of 2015 in Germany would have to be very long. This is because almost everywhere the fall was nearly perfect for an extended harvest, there being little or no rot problems (which were major in 2013 and 2014) and the acidity being very healthy (more than  2014 or 2012!) That meant even less talented winemakers made some good wines, and the high flyers could get close to the optimum possible. I am now going to disappoint the group of you looking for power wines by saying that the great majority of 2015s from the leading producers are remarkable because of their subtlety of aroma and flavor, their brightness and delicacy. There are far fewer imposing wines or showy wines than in some recent vintages. And 2015 is not only great for Riesling there are many excellent Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Silvaner (Sylvaner), just to name the most obvious success stories.

The biggest problem for the vintage is probably going to be that the euphoria about it (not entirely justified, because nearly all the producers who made exciting 2015s also made the best wines in 2013 and 2014 too) will probably result in most of the wines being drunk before they’ve had even a few months in the bottle to open up. Then, a couple of years down the line there will be widespread moaning about how the producers should have held back some 2015s, and how terrible it is that they don’t have many bottles even for themselves. If you want to drink 2015s in the future PUT THEM IN YOUR CELLAR!

The label above was not my idea, but it seems to be a good idea. A few weeks ago in NYWC Florian Lauer of Weingut Peter Lauer of Ayl on the Saar told me that since his mother’s recent death he had nobody to do the handwritten texts for his labels, and asked if I might be able to help him with that. This is my first attempt – part written on my NYWC desk and part on my Berlin desk – and it appears to work. I first visited this producer 25 years ago and I liked the Lauers very much for our first meeting. Florian has revolutionized the drier Rieslings since he took over the winemaking just over a decade ago and the sweet Rieslings are as good as they ever were. It is an honor for me to be able to put my swirls and curls on these labels.

 

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