Behind the Scenes, Bon Vivant, Bubbly, Champagne, DC Champagne Week, Drink Well, Environment, Events, Green Wine Practices, Travel, Wine Health, Wineries and Vineyards
In an age when we are ever more cognizant of what we’re putting in our bodies, Champagne is hiding a dirty little secret.
During a visit to the grand cru village of Verzenay last April, I explored the vines to take a look at what the devastating frost of last spring had done to the vines. Due to elevation, these particular vines were spared, but I was distracted by what I saw in the soil.
Verzenay in April, 2017
I thought perhaps that unruly tourists had left trash behind. Only when I looked more closely did I realize there was plastic waste and refuse for as far as I could see. I knew that Paris and Reims had used the vineyards as dumps for ages- it was a practice, upon conception, that benefitted the vines. For a long while waste was essentially organic compost, but in recent decades, plastic was dumped in huge amounts. The practice only stopped in the 1990s. Some champagne houses that take less care with grape sourcing still haven’t cleaned up their act.
However, the future of champagne is bright, led by committed vignerons who are leading the way with sustainable practices in a region that faces more than its fair share of climate challenges. From organic to biodynamic practices, many of Champagne’s grower producers- and even some of the large houses- have taken huge steps to not only clean up the vineyards, but are integrating solar panels, plowing their vineyards by horse, fertilizing with manure and compost.
Ecueil in October, 2017.
In December, I’ll be hi lighting a selection of these exceptional cuvées during a presentation and tasting for DC Champagne Week. If you’d like to learn more about natural winemaking practices taking place in Champagne, please join me at Dio Wine Bar. Featured producers include Louis Roederer, Pierre Paillard, Maillart, Lacourt-Godbillon, Franck Pascal, and Moussé & Fils. Purchase tickets here.
Are you surprised to still see garbage in Champagne vineyards? I was!
I would be remiss to not address my absence from writing. Several years ago I went to wine school and switched my hobby and my career- wine for politics. Like many, I have had a hard time writing about wine and lifestyle during a time when things seem dire. I’ve even considered dusting off my political resumé and getting back in the game to work on issues I care most about. Living in the middle of the nation’s capital can be both exciting and exhausting when tensions are this high. Dear friends and family members are estranged by ideologies in a way that I’ve never seen before.
Many wine and lifestyle writers are wondering if our duties perhaps lie elsewhere. And for some, they may. However, I have been reminded many times that the world needs all sorts, particularly during times of great stress. Our society and our lives would be rather bleak indeed without art, music, travel, the joy of sharing a great meal and great conversation.
And let’s be honest, more than a few of us have been reaching for wine bottles to soothe frayed nerves, regardless of how we feel about world affairs or where one lies on the political spectrum.
I was reminded recently of a lesson I learned over a decade ago in Greece while studying political philosophy and conflict resolution with The Fund for American Studies. I’ve written briefly about my time there. It wasn’t in air conditioned classrooms where I learned the most, but rather over hearty debates with a glass of local wine in under grape vined trellises, on breathtaking beaches over frosty glasses of Mythos, and on terraces watching the sun rise over Chania after staying out all night. There were myriad religions represented that summer. 19 countries. Countless opinions. At first glance there was far more to divide us than unite us- and yet, that’s what happened. I am reminded once again what we were taught that summer. The questions unite us and the answers divide us, which has perhaps never rung truer.
During a recent social media debate over a political issue things got rather heated, as they are wont to do. At long last, once the parties had agreed to disagree, I made a wine recommendation based on something I knew the other person would love. And then the strangest thing happened; I received an apology for something that had offended me in the dialogue. No Greek island required.
And I realized anew that perhaps it’s not just the questions that can unite us, but a shared bottle of a 2012 Brunello. Or a 2008 Champagne. Or a beautiful vintage tawny port.
I recently returned from an outstanding trip to Spain, and while I enjoyed an amazing array of food and wine adventures, one dinner in particular stood out.
I initially opted to visit Mallorca because I fell in love with a wine from the island, but I had no idea that my quest to see the winery in person would lead me to experience the island in such a unique manner.
We were eating at the Michelin starred Cuina De la Terra in Capdepera with our hosts, family friends, and the venerated Mallorcan artist Joan Bennàssar, who has written extensively about local wine. While discussing wine, art, culture, and island history, Bennàssar made a comment in passing that stuck with me.
He swept his hand towards the wheat swaying in the breeze nearby,
“This, we turn to bread.” “Olives, oil,” he gestured to the green tinged oil in the hand blown glass, “and grapes, into wine. And this. This is what makes us civilized.”
It was one of those moments where time stood still for me.
Mallorca is a place that is intrinsically connected to the land. Its inhabitants are fiercely protective and proud of its unique heritage, which gets harder and harder to preserve in the face of overwhelming tourism. The Medieval castle of Capdepera, one of the last villages on the island unspoiled by tourism, was uplit behind me and I was enjoying an outstanding meal with friends I haven’t seen in over a decade, outstanding hosts, and one of the great artists of our time.
But really, it’s the simple things that make us civilized.
Autographing his book, “The Wine I Drink Tastes of the Sea”
With Bennàsar in front of one of his paintings at Cuina De la Terra
We lingered at the table for 5 hours over far too many bottles of wine, and then took a tour of Bennàssar’s works on the property. In this age of smart phones, concrete jungles, and the importance of being busy it was truly a night to remember.
Behind the Scenes, Bon Vivant, Bubbly, Drink Well, On the Road, Rosé, Seasonal Sips, Tried and Trues, Virginia Wine, Weekend Getaways, Wine Tasting, Winemakers, Wineries and Vineyards
Planning a wine tasting trip Charlottesville, Virginia can be a daunting task- there are a number of outstanding wineries and picking just a few is no easy feat!
On my most recent trip with a group of friends, I took my cue from the most recent #VAwinechat, hosted by Frank Morgan of Drinkwhatulike.com at Early Mountain Vineyards. After tasting a selection of their wines I decided I needed to visit in person. Although the winery is a bit of a drive from many of the other Monticello AVA wineries, but the bucolic setting and behind the scenes tour sealed the deal! Other than their own outstanding wines, Early Mountain has one of the loveliest tasting rooms in all of Virginia and serves an Ambassador for other Virginia Wineries with a program called “Best of Virginia.”
The General Manager was kind enough to give my group an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the production facility, where we enjoyed tasting through Thibaut Janison’s bubbly, as well as Early Mountain’s own outstanding rosé. With notes of strawberry, watermelon, white peach and white pepper, the easy drinking rosé cut right through the muggy weather as we made our way through the tank and barrel room.
While Early Mountain is not situated in the main Monticello wine cluster, it’s well worth a visit just to take in the outstanding facility, views and enjoy some of the best wines from all over the state, which they have thoughtfully organized into flights. It’s a great way to experience wines that aren’t so readily available, such as Ankida Ridge’s Pinot Noir. I walked away with several bottles of the Early Mountain rosé, only to regret not purchasing a full case once back in DC.
After our tour at Early Mountain we made our way to the Library room at nearby Barboursville. If you’re looking for quiet amidst the chaos, this is your best bet! Down a hallway and through the Octogan Barrel room, one enters a key code to the library, an appointment only retreat for winelovers that offers patrons exclusive customer service along wine tastings and glasses of wine from the reserve list. There is also a tempting menu of cheese and charcuterie, which are perfect pairings for the fully customized wine tasting. Guests are given wide range to select either a tasting of 6 wines for $20, tasting pours or full glasses of some of the winery’s more exclusive offerings.
I sampled through an outstanding vertical of their acclaimed “Octagon”, mixing and matching the traditional tasting with an additional pour of 2008.
While checking out the terrace overlooking the grapevines, we met grape grower, Fernando Franco, who has been at Barboursville for 16 years. He spoke of the wine like a proud parent speaks of children, graciously offering tastes of the Nebbiolo ’07 as we chatted.
After lingering and sampling for a few hours, we made our way back to town to enjoy the always reliable gastropub, “The Local”. On your way out of town, don’t forget to stop for a sack of Bodo’s Bagels and Raising Cane’s fried chicken!
People often tell me my job is glamorous, but the wine business is much like any other; behind tastings and galas you see on social media there is a life more fully lived.
The past two months have been difficult ones. I sustained a severe concussion that has made writing difficult, memory fleeting, sleep impossible, words lost to thin air.
Shortly thereafter my mother, for whom we threw the Pink Party last June, succumbed to cancer.
In “Pink Party” I wrote that “one must celebrate even in the midst of dark and scary times.”
In the weeks following her death I have found nothing to be more necessary.
While communion denotes a religious sacrament to many, it actually has other definitions that I’ve found integral to life’s slow return to the new normal.
From the Oxford English dictionary: “The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level” and “Common participation in a mental or emotional experience.”
The very root of the words “communion” and “community” are derived from the latin word “communis”, meaning things held in common and fellowship.
Regardless of your religious tradition, there is indeed something integral- even sacred- to the breaking of bread, the sharing of food and wine with loved ones.
It was only recently that our dining table- normally oft used- was cleared of a month’s worth of mail and household detritus. I helped prepare a meal more complicated than a sandwich for the first time in many weeks. Music played and I set the table with the gold and white china I inherited from my mother. The bottle of wine I had been saving from my last trip to California was opened, decanted, savored. Candles flanked a small potted olive tree.
To me communion has come to mean far more than just a religious ritual- it is what saves us in our darkest moments. It is over wine and food that many of my favorite memories are created, lingering with friends new and old. In the clearing of bills and the lighting of candles I made more than just physical space.
Amidst tears, there can be laughter.
Amidst grief, moments of happiness are possible.
Amidst loss, a community of loved ones draws near, reminding us of our better selves and better times.
And so for others that have faced tribulations or loss this season, consider clearing a space at the table and pouring something you’ve been saving. Share food and wine with someone you love. ‘Tis the season and life is short.
This post is dedicated to everyone who’s been there to share a glass of wine or conversation, to everyone currently experiencing the dark and scary parts of life, and to my mother.