Photo Bettina Keller
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“For a great many Americans California is the one for wine, just as Florida is the one for oranges and orange juice. The stats seem to confirm that picture of those states. About 90% of the nation’s wine comes from California and if wine is a niche beverage compared with orange juice why bother with the also-rans?
My answer to that question is that the wines of many other American states are at least as fascinating as those of California, and they’re drastically under-exposed in the media due to the way of thinking that I’ve just described. Sure, some of the locals know about the wines being made in their hood, but most Americans don’t even begin to realize there’s a Wine America out there! Of course, it’s completely absurd that an Englishman in New York like me should be a serious explorer of this largely uncharted territory, but should I really pretend I didn’t discover something about America because of my nationality?”
Thus begins the introduction to the third and latest installment in my e-book series on Kindle ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA. It’s an on-going exploration of the little-known America that revolves around grape growing, winemaking and wine consumption. Clearly, I am attracted to underdogs and that’s one of the most important reason I’m writing about the 21st century Underground Rock Stars of the United States of Wine. I’ve been actively seeking these people out, then shining a powerful searchlight on them and their world in a way that the established media are not doing. And I have every intention of continuing to do that for a long time to come!
The fact that I’m a foreign body in America who’s really familiar with many of the mainstream views Americans have of their own nation gives me a special perspective. However, I think it’s the combination of my gonzo approach to wine journalism with that special perspective that’s decisive. It enables me to have a much fresher view than most insiders – beware the somm in a box! – and to get much closer to the reality on the ground. I am a fully paid up member of what Karl Rove famously dismissed as the “reality-based community.” Of course, the truths I put into print don’t agree with everyone, and certainly drive the Karl Roves of the wine industry half-insane, but so be it!
There is nothing that I believe in more strongly than immersing myself in the wine sub-culture that’s the subject of my current research…until the line between inside and outside at least blurs to the point that I don’t really know where it is or which side of it I’m on. In the case of ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3 circumstances threw into the deep end of the FLX (Finger Lakes in Upstate New York), and I became a fully-integrated if temporary part of that world. That was really ideal, but gonzo research only has to work half that well for me to come up with an original story far removed from the banalities and conventions of wine journalism.
When I began thinking about this project late in 2014 I was planning to do it as a printed book with perhaps five sections on different states scattered around the nation that would be researched and written over a two-year period. Then I realized that this was an outdated model and it would be better to publish each of those stories as a self-contained work. From that outdated perspective each of these stories is way too long to be a conventional book chapter, but far too short to be considered a regular book. On the other hand, each of them is long enough for me to tell a serious story, but not so long that you couldn’t read one from cover to cover during a coast to coast flight, or a long evening at home. I now feel so comfortable with this format that it fits like a made to measure suit for my writing. That’s why I’m making a long-term commitment to this project.
There are other even more compelling reasons for publishing on Kindle, rather than printing these stories (although I too would like to have copies that I can hold in my hand) of which the financial aspect is of major importance to you and I. As printed books these stories would probably have to retail for $14.99 instead of $4.99 as e-books. Working with a regular publisher would almost certainly mean that my cut of that $14.99 cover price would be $1.49. However, when I publish e-books through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) system my share of the $4.99 cover price is $3.49! So the economics of the thing work in your favor and in mine.
Better still, there is no publisher, no publisher’s legal department and no editor to censor my stories in any way. I therefore enjoy complete artistic freedom. I think I first heard those three magical words as a teenager with reference to the movies of Stanley Kubrick, but already shortly after that it was a concept I associated with rock music and journalism. On top of this, the publication process on KDP is so quick and direct. ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2 about Arizona appeared just four days after the last events described in the book. The time delay on #3 was longer, because this is a much more complex work, but it was still only about six weeks. To my mind this also fits the basic principles of gonzo journalism. So here are the three titles I published so far, beginning with the latest:
ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #3: FLXtra with KJR – This is a Love Story, was published May 8th, 2016. It is all about the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, although a number of scenes occur in New York City. The cover features Kelby James Russell, the winemaker of Red Newt Cellars, also for the Empire Estate brand of FLX Riesling, for most of the wines for Boundary Breaks Vineyard and for his own Kelby James Russell label. Sure, there’s a lot of Riesling and Riesling Spirit in this story, but also a bunch of Cabernet Franc (as a red and as a rosé), plus a smattering of others ranging from sparkling wines to dry Gewürztraminer. The human diversity is even greater than that of the wines, and yes it really is a love story! It bears no warning stickers, but I rate it PG.
Here’s the link to the Kindle Store for #3:
ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #2: AZ with MJK – I Could Drink a Case of You, published November 22nd, 2015. It is all about the rapidly developing wine industry of Arizona and the cover features a real rock star, Maynard James Keenan (the singer of Puscifer and Tool), because he is playing a major role in moving up the quality and reputation of those wines. Because most of the action takes place in a semi-desert environment this story is heavy on big reds, but there are a couple of important whites in there too and the amazing rosé in a can produced by Dos Cabezas. The final scene is Puscifer’s New York City concert during their tour for the Money Shot album. This e-book carries the PARENTAL ADVISORY: Explicit Content sticker due to some graphic sexual action. You have been warned!
Here’s the link to the Kindle Store for #2:
ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #1: Point of Entry featuring Very Bad PR was published September 24th, 2015. It tells the story of my first trip to America that began on September 11th, 1985 when my destination was Baltimore, so that’s me on the cover. Really, wine book that takes place in Baltimore? Yes, but please understand that this is the backstory to how I got obsessed with wine and with America. Please note the PARENTAL ADVISORY: Explicit Content sticker on the cover, and it’s there for a good reason. This is dangerously racy romp featuring lots of sex, various bodily fluids, corpses and staring two cockroaches!
Here’s the link to the Kindle Store for #1:
ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #4 will have the “other” Oregon, i.e. the non-Pinot Oregon as its theme and research will be concluded in late July this year, publication probably following in late August or early September. WATCH THIS SPACE!