Jonathan Gold and Oliver Wang at the Autry in Los Angeles
Food and Ethnicity: A Conversation about L.A. Tuesday, September 5th 7:00 p.m. Dinner
7:30 p.m. Program Begins
Join us in L.A. for our first Fall event! In partnership with the Autry Museum of the American West and their Works in Progress series, enjoy a night of food and conversation as LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold and Cal State Long Beach sociologist Oliver Wang workshop some ideas on L.A. food and ethnicity, which will be published in Boom California later this year. The discussion will be moderated by Boom’s editor, Jason Sexton.
This will be the first in an ongoing partnership between the Autry and Boom.
Undocumented California: An Evening of Readings and Music Thursday, October 5th 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Gather with us in Tijuana at Cine Tonalá for an evening of friendship, readings, and music, entering the complex realities brought to us by the California border. Co-sponsored together with the California Historical Society, we’ll reflect on California border ecology, highlighting our shared identity as Californians, bridge-builders, open to the world.
Come grab a drink, meet Boom writers like Ana Rosas, Tanya Golash-Boza, Zulema Valdez, Ronald Rael, Jemima Pierre, Laura Enriquez, Josh Kun, David Kipen, and others sharing new readings for this Fall’s Boom series on Undocumented California, making a statement together of our collective values as Californians. We’ll close the night with a special set by Tijuana-raised Ceci Bastida who will debut a new collaboration with Haitian refugees living in the city.
Venue: Cine Tonalá, Avenida Revolución 1317, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana, BC, Mexico
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of Marc Flacks’s essay “New Missionaries” from our Winter 2014 issue.
The production of olive oil in California has deep roots. Generations of Californians have been seduced by olive trees and their promise of a liquid bonanza. California is now reported to be in the midst of an olive oil boom or a “liquid gold rush,” but in fact, the state is witnessing its third or fourth effort to establish a viable olive oil industry. The Spanish missionaries began producing olive oil in California around 1803. After that, Italian immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century started producing olive oil when their Gold Rush dreams failed to pan out, and in the twentieth century, entrepreneurs tried to compete against the dominant European olive oil industry.
As this Mission olive tree on the State Capitol grounds grew over the past century, the tags bent and were embedded in its trunk.
Even though California olive oil represents only a tiny fraction of today’s world market, the state may be poised to become a major global player because of the creative efforts of family-run agribusinesses, legislation aimed at defining high quality, “extra virgin” oil, and the implementation of a relatively new high-density growing method imported from Spain. Every new attempt to cultivate this industry in the Golden State has been accompanied by new myths about olive trees and the natural suitability of California for producing the golden oil. As something of an insider to the industry and an academic researcher, and therefore something of an outsider too, I’ve been curious about the people at the forefront of this potential boom and the new myths they are creating.
My own olive oil journey began by accident in Santa Barbara, where I grew up. When I rode my bike or moped down Olive Street on my way to Santa Barbara High School, my tires would slide perilously when braking, and I would wonder why the city allowed all the fruit from the olive trees lining the road to drop and grease the street, instead of harvesting them and putting them to good use. Then, when I moved to the Sacramento area in 2007 to begin teaching sociology at Yuba College, I read in the Sacramento Bee that University of California, Davis, having settled too many suits filed by bicyclists injured in accidents caused by oil from fallen olives, decided to harvest their trees and ultimately establish the UC Davis Olive Center, transforming a liability into an asset. Yuba College, it turns out, sits on the site of an old olive grove and, when I noticed a feral grove near campus, I obtained permission to hold a volunteer community olive harvest there and began establishing 49er Olive Oil, a nonprofit olive oil venture.
My self-appointed olive oil mission has been not only to get 49er Olive Oil up and running, but to immerse myself in the world of California olive oil and to try to grasp its significance in sociological, historical, geographical, and mythical terms. Traversing a California divided into familiar binaries such as Northern/Southern, coastal/inland, organic/conventional, liberal/conservative, urban/rural, government/industry, profit/nonprofit, etc. I’ve talked with many of today’s olive oil missionaries to better understand the ideals, goals, and strategies they hope this time will avoid the industry busts of the past.
Santa Barbara’s Old Missions
Because my curiosity about California olive oil began in Santa Barbara, I started my exploration there.
There is an old myth that California’s first olive tree was planted by Father Junipero Serra in 1769, the year that the governor of Baja and Alta California, Gaspar de Portolá, led an expedition to San Diego to establish the first of California’s twenty-one missions. Aside from shade and food, Spanish missionaries needed olive oil for sacramental purposes. Although the actual historical record of olive propagation and Spanish conquest diverges from myth—there is no reliable evidence that Serra planted the first tree—the evidence that olive trees and their fruit were central to the lives and work of Spanish missionaries is still visible up and down the state.
In partnership with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Santa Barbara’s Old Mission has planted a new olive grove called Stations of the Cross Olive Garden Path. The grove is meant to serve multiple purposes, including providing revenue to the mission and the trust through olive oil sales, providing shade, connecting visitors to biblical history, and simply providing a place for quiet contemplation.
The trust has also partnered with Mission Santa Inés to grow olive trees and involve citizen volunteers in helping to produce nonprofit olive oil. They are hoping to gain state park status for a historic grist and mill, and they are creating new opportunities for visitors to gain hands-on understanding of California history.
Olivos Del Mar
Sample products from the Makela family’s Olivos Del Mar company.
Over the coastal range from Santa Ynez, near Refugio Canyon, is the Makela family spread. The Makelas trace their heritage back to the original Spanish settlers in Santa Barbara and acknowledge that, while planting avocados would probably be more profitable, they consider olives to be their family tradition and legacy. A sign hanging above the entrance to their offices reads, “100 years and 9 generations of Santa Barbara tradition in every product.”
The Makela family’s work blends historical preservation and innovation. Craig Makela, past president of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, led the planting of olive trees at the Old Missions in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. He also has helped plant olive trees to support the nonprofit mission of the Young America Foundation, which now operates the Ronald Reagan ranch, situated in Refugio Canyon in the mountains overlooking the Makelas’ olive ranch.
Aside from the “social entrepreneurship” of planting olive trees to help nonprofit organizations, though, the Makelas are energetic businesspeople. They recently received a patent for Oleavicin, a lip balm made from olive leaves.
Shannon Casey and John Copeland operate all aspects of their olive venture, Rancho Olivos, from planting the trees to selling the oil—and with it, a promise of a Californian lifestyle.
Their mission goes beyond earning money and includes protecting the environment. In planting their orchard, they were careful to plant around existing oak trees, even dead ones. They also see their work as connecting to their community’s history. Antique items are repurposed—for example, an old carriage that was once used for house calls by the country doctor of Los Olivos and is now a sign holder at their farm stand.
Los Olivos, in the Santa Ynez Valley in North Santa Barbara County, was once heavily planted with olive groves, but today there are only a handful of small operations, hoping to capitalize on the winery “agritourism” that has thrived in that region at least since the release of the movie Sideways. As a product, olive oil promises a whiff of the Mediterranean dolce vita that blends labor with leisure. Casey and Copeland are particularly proud of their oil infused with Meyer lemons. They live, work, and play at their olive ranch, and they sell visitors an entire California lifestyle with every bottle of olive oil.
The cemetery at Mission Santa Inés is shaded by historic Mission Olive trees.
Dan Flynn and Selina Wang in the Olive Center’s lab at UC Davis.
The grove at Rancho Olivos is planted around old oak trees.
We asked Allison Carruth, an author and assistant professor of English and affiliate of the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, about what we’ll be eating in 2050.
Boom: In what directions will California cuisine continue to evolve in the future?
Allison Carruth: While fusion cuisine seems to be on the decline, the “locavore” eatery is still going strong. But another culinary movement has been percolating in California: underground restaurants and food trucks that fuse not only different ethnic cuisines but also the high tech and the homemade, or molecular gastronomy and comfort food. With LA as an epicenter for this movement, one direction California cuisine may take in the future is away from the sit-down restaurant and toward the culinary “happening.” At the same time, I anticipate a renaissance of natural foods and vegetarian cuisine that, with cold-pressed juice as a current (if expensive) beacon, would counter the increasingly meat-centered menus at many farm-to-table restaurants.
Boom: What kinds of questions should Californians interested in ethical food consumption be asking?
Carruth: We need to get beyond labels like “local” and “organic” and instead compare the upsides and downsides of different forms of farming and food sourcing. What are the climate impacts of grain-fed versus pasture-raised livestock and of meat production versus legume farming? What are a restaurant’s or farm’s labor conditions? What are the ranges of crops that a farm (or region) can grow in ways that mesh with soil, water, and energy constraints? What foods make the most sense to import, and how can communities build reciprocal rather than exploitative trade relationships with other food-producing regions around the world? In the decades ahead, I hope that the criteria for food sourcing and the metrics for incentivizing different agricultural and culinary practices include an attention to labor conditions and climate impacts.
Boom: How to you think American family food rituals will change in the future?
Carruth: What we eat has a lot to do with how we cook. I could imagine one scenario in which middle-class families rehydrate food vials that deliver calories, nutrients, and pleasurable tastes with no cooking required and then reallocate the time they would have spent cooking and eating to new shared rituals of media production (rather than TV consumption). While sipping liquid meats and salads, the family hour each evening might include designing custom video games and producing multimedia home movies. And yet, I also can imagine a very different scenario (or perhaps type of family), in which home gardening and cooking from scratch are more rather than less valued for reasons at once emotional (a means to “unplug”) and practical (a low-cost alternative to food sources whose prices grow exponentially with climate change and the reduction of arable farmland).
Boom: What would you put on the menu at a Boom dinner party in 2050?
Rooftop-dried, dry-farmed tomatoes with rosemary
Microgreen* salad with lemon, goat cheese, and rock salt
Farmed red snapper* over lentil mousse
Slow smoked, city-grazed goat shank with red wine reduction and in vitro guanciale
Wild berries with sugar-dusted crickets
* Note the snapper and microgreens are produced together in a state-of-the-art aquaculture farm in Golden Gate Park.
Boom: What would you include in a time capsule for 2050?
Carruth: Menus from some favorite San Francisco restaurants; photographs of Point Reyes National Seashore; a fully-charged MP3 player with the recordings of Allen Ginsberg reading “A Supermarket in California” in Berkeley; a bunch of dried California sage; Green + Black chocolate wrappers; a wine cork.
We asked Andy Walker, a geneticist, professor, and Louis P. Martini–endowed chair in viticulture in the Department of Viticulture and Enology in the School of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California, Davis, about the future of California’s wine.
Boom: What is the legacy of the California Mission grape and its role in our state’s wine legacy?
Andy Walker: The Mission grape variety was brought into California in the mid-1760s by Spanish missionaries as they explored California and established the missions. We thought for many years that this grape originated from a collection of seeds from an unknown variety in Spain that Spaniards brought to the New World in the 1560s. Recent DNA-based testing has found that Mission is the same as Listan Prieto, a grape from the Canary Islands—the last stop to load food and water on the way to the edge of the earth or the Americas, whichever came first. They also brought Muscat of Alexandria. Interestingly, the Torrontes grape of Argentina and several obscure relatives turn out to be hybrids of Listan Prieto (Mission) and Muscat of Alexandria, and may have been crossed and created here in the New World. Mission was widely grown until the Gold Rush era when Europeans brought better quality wine grapes to meet the expanding wine demand in the state. It is a very vigorous variety with very high yields and well suited to dry arid conditions with limited rainfall, but it has poor color and is often astringent.
Boom: How are California grape growers and vinters investing in sustainable practices?
Walker: Sustainability has become a key concern for the California wine industry and has focused on soil, water, energy, and labor. Water will be one of the biggest challenges to viticulture in our dry and overpopulated state. Growers are rethinking their irrigation and rootstock choices and considering a time in the near future in which water will be much more limited—perhaps due to the environment but certainly due to political, social, and environmental pressures.
Boom: How is the millennial generation of Americans—those in their twenties and thirties—driving new trends in wine consumption?
Walker: The most dramatic example is the sudden explosion of interest in Muscat wines (apparently the result of a few rap songs)—the acreage of these varieties has dramatically expanded in the last few years.
Boom: What are the possibilities on the horizon for out-of-the-box technological or genomic innovations that will challenge our perceptions of the limits of terroir, climate, and grape varietals?
Walker: One of the limitations in wine research has been the inability of machines to equal the human nose. We are now approaching that ability—and at the same time are in the midst of a genetic revolution due to the dramatic reductions in the cost of and improvements in approaches to genome sequencing. The next step will be to use these tools to understand the role of terroir in quality, or manipulate ripening profiles to combat climate change. I hope we see a movement toward using wine varieties that are better suited for warm climates and a greater willingness to use new varieties bred to be resistant to pest and diseases. Both of these fit the sustainability bill.
Boom: How do you see climate change affecting the California wine industry?
Walker: A changing climate will likely impact the varieties we choose to grow in a given region. It will also change the way we trellis and cultivate vines. I think we have the ability to produce excellent wines in a warmer climate.
Boom: What wines will we be drinking in 2050?
Walker: I think we will be using varieties with mildew resistance. Classical breeding is poised to take advantage of genetic markers for disease resistance and solve many grape disease problems. Foremost among these in California is powdery mildew for which growers apply fungicides prophylactically eight to twelve times (or more) per season. I also hope we are using some of the outstanding Sicilian and Spanish varieties that are well suited for California’s warm and dry climate.
Boom: What would you include in a time capsule for 2050?
Walker: The California Grape Acreage Report for 2012, an iPad mini, and as many of the endangered wild grape species as we could fit! These species are threatened across the United States by urbanization, agriculture, wanton disregard, and herbicide use by highway crews.
Charlie Rossi—better known as Carlo—used to say, “I like talking about my wine, but I’d rather be drinking it.” In those 1970s television commercials, he introduced millions of viewers to California wine as a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, everyday source of enjoyment, one he claimed was free of the cultural baggage and conceit that allegedly accompanied European wines. Dressed in his unbuttoned white shirt on the edge of his vineyard, the Gallo salesman pitched the eponymous label by reaching out to those unacquainted or unimpressed by chateaux, appellations of origin, or high prices. He insisted estates and lore were less important than what was in the glass. While his commercials did stress the hard work and expertise that went into making wine, the popular appeal of Rossi’s message rested on the feeling that wine culture had separated itself from what was real. In his way, he gave voice to a potent social concern: all the rarefied talk of wine character and all the discourse about technique and tradition nevitably adds up to so much noise when it is removed from the immediate pleasures of taste.
Courtesy of David Herrera
But when it comes to wine, it is impossible to simply shut up and drink. Wine requires conversation. It demands stories and explanation. And it always evokes vibrant debate. Wine comes to us infused with elegies and songs permeated with poetry, but it is also freighted with history, scientific literature, and commercial concerns. The very taste of wine is shaped by the shared practices of those who make it, by the cultures of industry, law, and markets affecting it, and by the critical responses of those who drink it. Wine is a social thing. It responds to its time. And it remains a vibrant cultural product even when winemakers and critics emphasize its timeless natural qualities.
Carlo Rossi’s plea to pay sole attention to what’s in the glass can thus be seen as part of a larger socio-cultural movement. Rossi’s straightforward approach encouraged wine drinkers to bypass the conventional critical apparatus of wine. In doing so, his advertisements tapped into the prevailing anti-elitism of the 1970s and joined a growing set of roughly contemporary narratives challenging the wine establishment. These include the triumphal story of California wine in a 1976 Paris blind-tasting, and the 1980s rise of wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr., whose consumer advocacy, powered by his system of awarding numeric scores to wines he tasted blind, also sought to liberate the wine industry from the outworn traditionalist biases of high-end wine merchants and auction-house critics.
Each of these challenges combined to form a populist invitation based on two principles: that the wine consumer should trust her or his own taste, and that wine quality be judged on its intrinsic character, without deference to vaunted labels or reputations. This manifesto for a new taste, one in which California figured centrally, resonated with a new generation of wine-drinkers. It was a message tailor-fit for an industry looking to reinvent itself, too, as California positioned itself in opposition to the snobbery of Old World wine. And although many of the so-called new breed wineries had close connections to the older generation, the image of California as an innovator and a challenger forever changed a trade once dominated by European markets and taste regimes. It opened wine to a wider global audience. It gave encouragement to developing wine regions across the globe. And it gave license to winemakers, even those back in Europe, to experiment with craft and science in the service of wine beauty.
Yet today, the 1970s/1980s Californian wine revolution rarely is portrayed positively. Despite the rich diversity of styles and distinctive regions across the state, California wine too often is described by critics as a monolithic product, one produced formulaically to cater to targeted consumer preferences. According to today’s stereotype, the California wine industry has no soul, no passion, no identity, and perhaps most damningly, no terroir, or place. The intervention of California, thirty years later, is disparaged as a destructive influence and held responsible for the development of a homogenized global style of wine.
The transformation of California from insurgent newcomer to global hegemon took hold slowly. In the mid-1980s, wine writers such as Jancis Robinson began to identify a Napa penchant for ‘big’ wines marked by strong tannins, fruit forward profiles and high alcohol, a style that is criticized today for its lack of regional character. In the late 1990s the critic Andrew Jefford expressed a growing unease about the loss of distinction and place in wines that altered their production to cater to mass demand. These concerns reached full steam with the release of two films in 2004: Sideways, based on Rex Pickett’s popular buddy tale of a trip to wine country in search of life’s meaning, and Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary about the struggle to save wine from the alienating forces of globalization. In each film, the California wine industry is depicted as a leading exporter of the international-style, and its largest producers are characterized as ignorant of wine’s cherished relationship to place.
Courtesy of Ryan O’Connell.
By 2004 wine had become a crucial element in a new kind of personhood. As the wine-drinking public—and everyone else in the deindustrialized US and Europe—became increasingly dependent on precarious careers, and more removed from the production of consumer goods, wine was conscripted to be more than a source of culinary pleasure. Consumers looked to wine and its deep cultural roots for a means to ground their shaky position in a global market society. In this context, the big Napa classics, which brought California alongside Bordeaux, were just as insensitive to a new desire for sincere and personal products as the mass produced low end wines were incapable of satisfying the new social responsibilities that were placed on wine. In this context a new crop of wine writers found an audience by calling for the development of wines that were complex rather than uniform, and by advocating a form of winemaking that could develop a deeper connection between the taster and the story of a wine’s origin.
Nossiter’s follow-up book, Liquid Memory (2009), makes the argument for wines of terroir in a unique and evocative way. He explains how small, local wine production based on tradition, originality, and environmental sustainability can influence the way one imagines and participates in society. Questions of taste are understood by Nossiter to have moral consequences. He contends the big California wines of the 1980s primarily were made to appeal to the vanities of the nouveaux riche. In harnessing their allure to luxury and privilege, these wines are said to have neglected their responsibility to situate the drinker in the world. Nossiter critiques them as “wines of power” with no ethical connection to past or place. By contrast, his favorite wines are humble and earthly, noteworthy for their ability to awaken one’s imagination and memories.
Although Nossiter’s polemics target the processes of globalization, his greatest strength lies in his ability to connect his readers with the social contours of wine’s more intimate communities of taste, whether he is sharing his memories, or bringing us to tables and conversations where sentimental winemakers and friends gather to contemplate the truth of wine. And while these conversations, unfortunately, often end up with the parties commiserating about the departure of wine’s capacity to ring true, the nostalgia he expresses has motivated a quest for a new measure of authenticity in wine.
Alice Feiring’s, The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (Harcourt 2008) is another hallmark in the historic shift in the image of California from wine hero to wine villain. Feiring deploys a cagey confrontational method that takes her argument directly to the wine industry professionals she believes are responsible for the demise of authentic wine. In her interviews, she spars with her foils, asking plant biologists to value intuition over science, and corporate winemakers to trust unpredictable natural forces over controlled production. She also rails against the current state of wine journalism, in particular Robert M. Parker, whom she accuses of reducing the experience of taste to numeric points and bad poetry. Like Nossiter, Feiring explains the state of wine as gripped in a struggle between corporations, who manipulate flavor, and independent local winemakers, who promote wine as a natural product. And like Nossiter, who critiques California high-alcohol fruit-bombs as infantile, Feiring shows a similar tendency to map her aesthetic argument onto New and Old World wines, a geographical caricature which may itself stand in for a broader cultural war between new and old money.
In her latest book, Naked Wine (2012), Feiring does a better job of bringing out the complexity of her argument. There she gives voice to the burgeoning movement for organic viticulture and enology. This time her wit, which may remind readers of Myles in Sideways, is directed in search of additive-free wines and wines that ferment slowly with natural yeasts. Her journey brings the reader into conversations with the movers and shakers of the natural wine movement, including Eric Texier and Jacques Néauport. She also recognizes a number of California wineries for making natural wines, including Coturri Winery, Arnot-Roberts, and La Clarine Farm, and it appears she is at last finding new world wines that respond to the criticisms she and others have leveled at the industry.
The forces that animated California’s wine revolution in the 1970s/1980s have given way to a different set of forces, which have propelled the question of “natural wine” to the center of debate. Wine economist Mike Veseth, in his book Wine Wars: The Curse of Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists (2011), characterizes this shift as a reactionary response to a wine world still only partially transformed by the ongoing forces of globalization. He argues that Nossiter, Feiring, and other proponents of terroir are fighting a losing battle against powerful economic structures. These include economies of scale, which limit a small producer’s access to markets, an information technology revolution that erodes established wine institutions and their control of wine tradition, and the unquenchable modern desire for status acquisition, which drives the circulation and consumption of brand-name wines. The future of wine for Veseth is tilted in favor of large-scale bulk production and differentiated niche marketing, with future wine styles being driven by consumers in non-traditional wine regions, such as China. The advocates of traditional practices and terroir, whom he calls terroirists, will, at best only temper the most homogenizing forces of an economy that, he argues, is driven by its own nature to disrupt tradition as it ceaselessly expands. In essence, Veseth’s message to the terroirists is to ‘get real’ and face the fact that the wine world is changing. Even if some terroir-based wines manage to hold out temporarily against market pressures, he concludes, climate change will finish the job.
The search for a natural and authentic wine does at times resemble quest of an anthropologist looking for the Last Primitive, but the work of Nossiter and Feiring remains attractive because it touches on a current anxiety, one that wine is uniquely positioned to provoke: the uneasiness about the authenticity of our contemporary way of life. The search for terroir resonates because it raises important questions about who we are. It also allows us to test the limits of commodity production and the current relation between science and craft.
If Nossiter and Feiring are guilty of characterizing true wine as the product of purely natural forces, Veseth can be said to treat the economic changes influencing the wine industry in a similar manner, as if they were both inevitable and guided by forces beyond our control. In doing so, he casts the school of terroir as a backward-looking movement, one that is out of step with the future. The movement in favor of terroir is not, however, a movement led by a few dead-enders. A survey of wine culture today shows this movement to be widespread and gaining traction. And despite the divide that structures both Veseth’s book Wine Wars and Nossiter’s film Mondovino—where one path leads to the expansion of industrial global wine and the other to a retrenchment into wine traditions—a fuller study of the way terroir works in today’s economy reveals the importance of local branding within the global economy, a phenomenon scholars of consumption call glocalization.
Rather than a simple return to tradition, terroir offers a crowded wine industry much needed new markets. At the same time, terroir also serves the needs of consumers who have tired of mass production. To those of us looking for ever more effective means to distinguish ourselves through our personal tastes, wines of terroir can provides us with special boutique experiences.
Today, terroir is everywhere. Recently, in a local supermarket, I even saw a wine called Terroir. With so many promises being made in the market place, the question of truth in wine has returned to center stage. Science writer Jaime Goode and winemaker Sam Harrope address this question head-on in their new book, Authentic Wine (2012), seeking to clear up the vague definitions of terroir and natural wine. They begin by arguing that moving towards minimal-intervention grape growing and winemaking is the best way to preserve the interesting diversity and complexity of wine, the very characteristics that differentiate it from other drinks.
The authors unfold the controversies of contemporary wine production, from pest control to irrigation to fermentation to the development of sustainable production sites. In the process, the reader learns that minimal invention is far from hands-off. It requires close engagement at every stage of production. So while the stated purpose of Authentic Wine is to resolutely lay out the case for natural wine, the project ends up doing even more than Vesseth’s book to problematize the way natural wine is currently conceived. The critical demeanor of Goode and Harrope’s writing prevents them from falling for the romance of natural wine. Instead, they reveal naturalness to be the result of a series of careful choices based on site/place/territory of origin. They realize that the touchstone of authentic wine, terroir, cannot be simply adjudicated, imported, or magically brought into being through ad campaigns. Their hands-on tour of winemaking shows how wines of terroir are made, in real time, through experiment and craft. In their book, the authenticity of wine is less a matter of nature than a matter of human intention.
Authentic Wine is part aesthetic treatise and part winemaking handbook. It speaks to a new breed of wine consumers keen to participate in winemaking decisions. By appealing to those interested in the inner workings of winemaking, Goode and Harrope can be seen as reviving the mission of one of California’s most important wine scientists and wine writers, Maynard Amerine, (1911–1998), a professor at UC Davis who helped establish the modern California wine industry after Prohibition. Alongside his academic and industry work, Amerine’s career is noteworthy for his efforts to communicate the complexity of wine science to the general public. Although he has been criticized by some proponents of the natural wine movement for his role in establishing the standards of modern scientific winemaking, his belief in the positive connection between one’s knowledge of winemaking and one’s appreciation of wine’s pleasures resonates with today’s consumer. In Authentic Wine and in Goode’s earlier book, The Science of Wine: from Vine to Glass (University of California Press, 2006), this belief is extended with a new sense of urgency. By explaining the craft of authentic wine, this latest mode of wine writing not only bridges the divide between wine’s nature and its science, it offers the disconnected consumer a deeper, more personal form of engagement with wine. By showing precisely where the natural wine movement bumps up against the strictures of science and economics, this turn toward craft also provides today’s wine enthusiast with a more effective means to share in the questions influencing contemporary California wine, a practical basis from which to ask:, What interventions and practices are necessary to make an authentic wine in our time? And this deeper participation, in turn, leaves more in the glass to savor.
Stories of food and place from Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen
Oakland, California, has long been a place with an embattled food politic. In 1968 the Black Panther Party (BPP), a militant political organization founded in Oakland, initiated a series of “Survival Programs” designed, in part, to improve the public image of the Party and make more visible their work as practitioners struggling for social change within black communities. These “Survival Programs”—food and clothing giveaways, free breakfast programs, free clinics, and alternative primary schools—were part of the BPP’s 10 Point Program. Instituting these programs was central to a growing realization among some party members that the health and well-being of the BPP depended on the health and well-being of “the people” and the communities within which they resided. The “Free Breakfast Program” and the “Free Food Giveaways” received a good deal of media attention and, while the legitimacy of the BPP was always contested, this community work drew a lot of support from the Black elite, the white liberal Left, and political leaders within the San Francisco Bay Area.1
However, over forty years later, the social conditions that made necessary the BPP “Survival Programs” continue to plague many black communities in Oakland—especially the West and East Oakland neighborhoods, which nurtured the beginnings of the BPP. Today, poor and working-class residents of Oakland utilize food banks and other emergency food-assistance programs at disturbingly high rates. Convenience stores selling liquor and fast food restaurants dominate the landscape. For instance, until recently, there was just one grocery store, forty liquor/convenience stores, and a handful of fast food restaurants to serve about 30,000 Black and Latino residents.2 Indeed, the lack of access in this community to fresh and reasonably priced food stuffs (particularly fruits and vegetables) is representative of a phenomenon gaining greater visibility nationally: food insecurity within the industrialized “first world.”3 It is perhaps ironic that many of the foods considered subsistence foods in an earlier era have become increasingly unavailable to poor and working-class African Americans. The consumption of highly processed convenience and fast foods coupled with other risk factors, such as environmental pollution and racism, have been cited as central to a dramatic increase in the occurrences of obesity and diet-related diseases.4
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHIL SURKIS
It is within this context that I am interested in exploring the recent proliferation of both upscale and down-home “soul food” restaurants in Oakland; what a San Francisco Chronicle story termed a “soul food renaissance.”5 Although three out of the four restaurants profiled in that Chronicle story had closed their doors by the end of last year, others, such as Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, were taking root. These restaurants are intriguing locations for thinking through the politics of food and place. They present food rooted in a Black Southern cultural repertoire—fried chicken, greens, sweet potato pie—with a twenty-first-century sensibility—local, sustainable, chef-driven, seasonal ingredients. Brown Sugar Kitchen takes its clues from this “new food movement” by emphasizing its use of fresh, local, and sustainably produced foodstuffs. Chef Holland seeks to bring the culinary influences of the Caribbean, New Orleans, California, and her classical French training to bear on soul food. In many ways, Brown Sugar Kitchen is part of a culinary movement that one might argue has its origins in Alice Waters’s “delicious revolution”6 of the 1970s and the Black Power Movement of the late 1960s.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHIL SURKIS
In December 2011, I sat with Chef Holland in the dining area of her West Oakland restaurant for one of two interviews about her work as a chef, restaurateur, culinary entrepreneur, and nascent community leader. We followed up our conversation several months later, just as her restaurant was being featured in the June issue of O: The Oprah Magazine. What follows is a distillation of our conversations.
Kimberly Nettles-Barcelón: Chef, talk me through your signature dish—the fried chicken and cornmeal waffles.
Chef Tanya Holland: The chicken and waffles came about as a sort of accident, and was in many ways dictated by the space. We have one griddle and six burners, so doing pancakes or French toast for breakfast wasn’t feasible. But it’s easy to plug in some waffle machines. And then we added the cornmeal to the waffle to capture the sense that people often eat fried chicken with cornbread. So it really marries the sweet and the savory sides of the dish well. And then we wanted to make something that sourced good ingredients, like organic chicken, dairy, and so on, and do the chicken and waffle really well. We wanted to make it unique.
Nettles-Barcelón: And what about the vegetarian jambalaya?
Holland: You mean dirty rice … yes, that was also something that came out of being in this place in this area. I know that there are a lot of people who are limiting their meat intake or are vegetarian, and while I love the whole chicken gizzards and liver you normally find in dirty rice, I knew that I wanted to make a dish that had all of those flavors without the meat. That dish is something I actually created before the restaurant happened and I brought it onto the menu because I thought it would work.
Nettles-Barcelón: How did you come to feature soul food? And do you find yourself constrained by the category?
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHIL SURKIS
Holland: Before I started this restaurant, I would say that I was cooking multi-ethnic cuisine. My cooking, like most chefs, has been influenced by cuisines from all over the world. I’ve cooked all over the place in many different types of restaurants and just my own palate leads me to pick-and-choose from the variety of cuisines out there in terms of the foods I prepare. So, ‘soul food’ as a genre. When I made the decision that this is the direction I was going in, I realized that I wanted this to be my mission—to do for soul food what we’ve seen done in other cuisines. To really elevate it, to bring it to a level of sophistication that is not expected for ‘soul food.’ Soul food has the reputation of not being seasonal, of being full of animal fat, etc. And I wanted to show that it is and can be seasonal and less reliant on smoked pork and still be flavorful and true to those authentic soul food tastes.
Nettles-Barcelón: Is doing soul food or the expectation that you will do soul food connected to your being an African American woman?
Holland: Some of it is that. After doing the Food Network show [Melting Pot: Soul Kitchen, cohosted with Cheryl Smith] and my cookbook, I got sort of pigeon-holed. And I think that black male chefs have been able to break out of the soul food genre more so than black women. But really I have found it a marvelous way to make visible a cuisine that is not thought of in certain ways. You don’t see chefs of soul food restaurants being nominated for James Beard Awards, for example.
Nettles-Barcelón: Tell me about the restaurant’s space. You said before that there is often a difficulty in restaurants where either the space is right or the food is, but not both. What does it mean for you to get the “space and the food right”?
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHIL SURKIS
Holland: I wanted to create everyday food for everyday people. I can’t help but bring my background, in terms of my formal culinary training and sophistication, into the food. But, I wanted to make it really accessible and authentic to whatever the dish is. You know how you go into restaurants and food can be off-putting? I didn’t want that; I wanted people to be able to come in and really enjoy and connect to the food and the experience. We inherited the space—how everything is configured—and so we decided to work with what was here and create the sort of atmosphere that would shape the kind of experience people may have been missing in Oakland. We are like a food oasis in a food desert. Something here makes people trek long distances to get here to get our food.
Nettles-Barcelón: I’m remembering that when I came early on a Sunday I was struck by how people were milling about outside waiting to get in. Then, at some point, a guy with a piano set up outside and started playing music. People were sitting on the curb, drinking coffee, talking to each other. It was quite the scene … and this is before even getting inside to eat!
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PHIL SURKIS
Holland: Yes, and there again, that just sort of happened organically. The space itself is small and so during our busy times it can be a wait to get a table. And people don’t just leave and go down the street to the next restaurant—there is no next restaurant—instead, they treat that wait time as part of the experience itself. And so we started making coffee available to folks who are waiting outside… and it’s sort of like an adventure. Like people are saying to themselves: “We’re here in the midst of industrial West Oakland hanging out and socializing!” So the outside serves as an extension of the experience inside the restaurant.
Inside the restaurant I had a vision about how I wanted the space to feel. So I spent a lot of time choosing paint colors, art for the walls—by a local artist, Amanda Williams—new rugs, the music we play. All of that. We haven’t been able to change the table tops yet, but we got new chairs. And then the small things like the salt and pepper shakers. I wanted something in particular—somethingthat could hold the courser-grained sea salt and freshly ground pepper—which we grind ourselves here. Shakers that were rustic, yet elegant. And choosing Tabasco and Crystal hot sauces. All of those small things are intentional. They are designed to create an atmosphere that invites people in and that they know what to expect when they come in.
Nettles-Barcelón: I understand people travel from all over the Bay Area and beyond to come to the restaurant, but I can also imagine that there are a lot of local people who are regulars.
Holland: Yes, yes. I kind of get to do a bit of sociology by being a restaurateur. And what I’ve found is that people are really particular about their breakfast foods, lunch too, but especially breakfast. We like certain things, and once we find them, we don’t like to deviate too much. I think people are more adventurous at dinner time. We’ve got regulars who come in every week and we know who they are sometimes not by name, but by what they order. So like “Here comes two pieces with a side of biscuits.” You know?
Nettles-Barcelón: So, is there a lot of variation in your menu?
Holland: No, that’s the thing that’s been an adjustment for me as a restaurateur. The menu doesn’t change much at all. We have some daily specials that shift in and out, but the core of our menu stays the same. And what I’ve found is that Brown Sugar Kitchen is an exercise in perfection and consistency. And that’s really the name of the game in this business. People have to know that when they come in, whenever they come in, and order their favorite dish, that it’s going to be as good if not better than it always is. So we are seeing ourselves as becoming a sort of institution in this area, through the consistency our food.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AARON BARCELóN
Nettles-Barcelón: I like this idea of your becoming an institution in this town. I know you came to Oakland without a whole lot of planning to be here.
Holland: I’ve lived in Oakland the longest I’ve lived anywhere other than Hartford, Connecticut, where I grew up. And I landed here through a process of testing out various areas in California. I lived for a time in San Francisco, and I just didn’t care for that. I thought about Napa because I just love wine country, but I didn’t think it would be a good place socially; there’s issues of lack of diversity there. And I considered Berkeley for a while. But I settled in Oakland because I feel really at home here in ways that I never felt even in Manhattan or Brooklyn. The thing about the East Coast is that the pace of life is so fast, and it’s more difficult to slow down and really connect with people. Here I feel like the pace is more European. People care more about other people, and there’s an idea that we should strive to cultivate some work-life balance. Of course, that’s difficult to do in this industry—achieve balance—but there’s more of an expectation that we should do more in our lives than just work.
Nettles-Barcelón: How do you deal with people’s ideas about Oakland as dangerous and poverty ridden?
Holland: Oakland has a bad reputation. But, again, I’ve felt so at home here. Ever since my husband and I decided to move into West Oakland and then set up the restaurant here, I’ve felt like it’s part of my mission to bring Oakland good press. And that’s what I see the restaurant doing: creating a positive buzz about Oakland, about it being a good place to be an entrepreneur, a good place to do interesting things.
Pictured from left to right are Mayor Jean Quan; Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel; Chef Tanya Holland, and Phil Surkis, husband of Tanya Holland and co-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF JIM DENNIS
You know, I’m not that politically oriented. Meaning I don’t want to engage in politics directly, but what I do like to do is use my role in the community to empower people. But because I have been seen as someone who can get things done, I have been called upon to host political events and activities, to sit on various boards and be involved in the Chamber of Commerce. I actually have good relationships with the current Mayor, and several City Council members have come to us about issues or asked to use our space. But I try to maintain a very nonpartisan approach. I am for the improvement of Oakland, for allowing dialogue and change to happen organically.
I’ve been involved in two organizations that have meant a lot to me both personally and professionally. I was one of two women of color inducted into the local chapter of the prestigious Les Dames d’Escoffier. I don’t know that there are any other women of color locally or nationally within that organization. That means a lot to me and the work that I’m trying to do here. And, then, more locally I sit on the board of the Women’s Initiative for Self Employment. This organization really strives to empower women to think about what’s possible for them … and provides them with tools to help them make some of their ideas come to life.
Nettles-Barcelón: Speaking of these sorts of leadership roles, how do you approach mentoring within your restaurant? I remember in our last conversation you said that people still walk in and comment on how it’s good to see brown people in the kitchen … that this is not a common sight in upscale or higher-end restaurants. And, then you also mentioned how you wanted to mentor others in ways that you were not always mentored. Can you speak a bit more about that?
Holland: My approach with leadership and mentoring is to lead by example. I always tell my staff that we are an open book here. So they are able to see all aspects of how the business is run, from testing recipes, to costing/financials, to working with the press, to direct customer service. All of that is part of this industry. And since I have been successful in working with the press to get our story out there, the staff are able to see other aspects of this industry—like for instance for the O Magazine spread we had a photo shoot with them and some of the staff got to experience what happens in food styling. All of these sorts of opportunities are available for my staff so that they can see ways to advance themselves within this profession. It’s not always just about the cooking. There’s so much more.
One of my staff members is interested in the fashion industry and she learned of the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment through my work with them and she’s going through their program. My husband and I gave a small business loan to help her pursue that. I recently had some conversations with one of the cooks here who was considering the hospitality program at a college, looking to get his bachelor’s degree. And I was able to suggest people I knew who could talk to him about whether that particular program was a good one, or whether he should consider a different program. I mean we are almost like an extended family here because we spend so much time at the restaurant it becomes like a family. With the way things are now, families are so splintered with people living all over the country or even the world … such that the workplace becomes that. My husband and I work hard to make it not so much a dysfunctional family, but a functional one: one where we can support and nurture each other’s strengths and help people to work on their shortcomings. We try to make it a place where people want to come to work and feel supported in this environment.
At the City Council meeting in Oakland City Hall, 5 June 2012 was named Chef Tanya Holland Day by special decree from the Mayor and Vice-Mayor. Chef Holland (joined by more than twenty of her friends and supporters) received recognition for the community-building work she does as Chef/Owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and the newly opened restaurant B-Side BBQ. The Resolution lists ten actions of distinction (such as employing over twenty Oaklanders, using local/organic/sustainable ingredients, garnering positive media attention for Oakland, and creating the celebrated and much imitated cornmeal waffles) and culminates with the following statement: “The City of Oakland hereby honors Tanya Holland for her significant role in creating community and establishing Oakland as a culinary center recognized through the City of Oakland, the State of California, and the United States.”
1. On the Black Panther Party and its Free Breakfast Program and Free Food Giveaway programs, Andrew Warnes’s brief, but compelling, analysis is worth reading—Hunger Overcome? Food and Resistance in Twentieth-Century African American Literature (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2004). See also the striking photo collection of Stephen Shames, The Black Panthers (New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, 2006) and Alondra Nelson’s meticulous investigation of the BPP’s work on issues of health care in Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011). The politics/pleasures of “soul food” is also well-discussed in Amiri Baraka’s “Soul Food” (from Home: Social Essays. Ecco Press, 1966), Marvalene Hughes’s “Soul, Black Women, and Food” (in Counihan and Van Esterik’s edited volume, Food and Culture: A Reader, Routledge, 1997), Nettles’s “’Saving’ Soul Food” (in Gastronomica, 7, no. 3), T. Poe’s “The Origins of Soul Food in Black Urban Identity: Chicago, 1915–1947” (in Counihan’s edited volume, Food in the USA: A Reader, 1999), and Doris Witt’s Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. identity (Oxford University Press, 1999).
3. Young activists and activist scholars have been on the ground in communities like West Oakland trying to facilitate change, create, and illuminate avenues of resistance through their “food justice” work. See Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman’s edited volume, Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).
4. This is an issue with considerable complexity and has been debated quite heavily in the popular and academic literatures on “food deserts,“ “obesity epidemic,” “urban agriculture,” and so on. Geographer Julie Guthman’s latest work on this topic is quite useful: Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2011).
5. Scott Hocker, “Oakland in Midst of Soul Food Renaissance.” San Francisco Chronicle, 18 August 2004; Karola Saekel, “Long-Cooked Greens Warm the Heart,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12 January 2005.
6. See L. Brenner’s American Appetite: The Coming of Age of a National Cuisine (Harper Perennial, 2000).
Carolyn de la Peña of Boom recently sat down with Randall Grahm, proprietor of Bonny Doon Vineyard, to ask him about biodynamic winemaking, his views on California wines and their aficionados, and the past and present of his vineyard. Grahm is author of Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, winner of the James Beard Award and the Georges Duboeuf Best Wine Book award. He describes organic winemaking as a wabi-sabi approach to the craft, an approach that embraces imperfection as an essential element of the beautiful and the natural. It is through their flaws, he argues, that wines become haunting, revelatory, and capable of directing our attention to new places and ideas. Bonny Doon’s first biodynamic vintages, grown in San Juan Bautista, will debut in two or three years.
Carolyn de la Peña: When and where did your fixation with wine begin?
Randall Grahm: I grew up in Southern California, in West Los Angeles. When I was twenty years old I had the great fortune to accidentally wander into a wine shop two blocks from my parents’ house. The first thing they asked me was, “Would you like to open a charge account?” And I said, “Absolutely, yes, thank you very much.” My calculation was that I would never be able to afford to drink great wines on a regular basis and if I wanted to experience those kinds of wines pretty much all the time, I would have to learn how to make them myself.
CDLP: What do you think of California wines?
RG: In the New World and anywhere else where wine is studied as a science, what we study is how to control the process, and we’re very much in the realm of “wines of effort,” stylized wines. This has been the strength of the New World, our consistency, our reliability. We don’t have clunker vintages; we don’t have clunker wines. That’s the upside. The downside, however, is that because everything we do is so controlled, we also don’t have the radical, revelatory surprises. We seldom astonish ourselves.
CDLP: You sound like you’re bored with California wines—were they ever astonishing?
RG: I don’t know if California wines were ever astonishing, but at one point they were certainly more soulful, more impressive, but perhaps in a quieter way. Right now the wine business is deformed by financial considerations, everything is so corporate; everything is business, everything has to work financially, so that there is an enormous self-consciousness about what one does and this leads to a great conservatism in winemaking style, real aversion to risk-taking. In the old days no one had the expectation of making tons of money in the wine business. You did it just because you loved it. Land was not crazy expensive, and if you didn’t sell your wine one year you’d sell it the next. Winemakers would say back then, “If nobody buys the wine, fuck ’em; I’ll drink it myself.” Nobody says that anymore. Nobody dares do anything without talking to a consultant, and the consultants have consultants. There’s really no room for mistakes or even for experimentation. I think that leads to a sort of homogeneity of product and not to real breathtaking originality.
I don’t think you can make great wine and also do it as a business. I think it has to be a kind of calling, or a subsidized activity.
CDLP: What do you mean when you say that California wines have a “meaning deficit”?
RG: They don’t come from a place; they’re Stepford wines, if you will. They’re technically perfect but there’s nobody home, in the sense that they’re not coming from somewhere discernible.
I think the more personally connected a winemaker is to his or her wine, the more interesting it is. I’m not the only person who’s said this, but God save us from technically perfect wines. I do sincerely prefer slightly flawed wines. Not grossly flawed wines, but wines that are not quite perfect.
Most California wines you can like but not love. They’re not what I would call haunting; they don’t have this deep, infinitely changing, infinitely multifaceted aspect, which I think only comes from the intelligence of nature. If everything is controlled, there’s no room for nature to insert her qualities.
CDLP: Doesn’t nature, in California, just want to give us bad wine? Why should we trust her?
RG: The paradox is that in California staying within the realm of the safe, staying within the realm of the controlled, generally gives you excellent results. So it’s a little bit irrational to try to pursue more “natural” wines. As much as you esteem them—and I do—the path is fraught with danger because the supposition is that you’re going to have the wit to discover an appropriate terroir and you’re going to have the further wit to discover what are the appropriate grapes and root stocks and spacing and trellis system and irrigation strategy and vine orientation and that you’re going to discover this all within a relatively short lifetime, which is dwindling away even as we speak. Are unadorned wines going to be greater? I don’t know. I’ve just reached a point in my life where I don’t have the same need to please people that I once had. But I do have to please myself absolutely.
CDLP: Is it possible to produce good California wine in a way that is ecologically sustainable?
RG: It’d be nice if there were a little more rainfall in the summer; that would really go a long way. As a biodynamic practitioner you really don’t want to import anything from off the site if you can avoid it. Sometimes you have to bring in some specialized biodynamic preps that are just too hard or too tedious to make yourself. But you don’t want to be importing fertilizers or soil amendments in any substantive way. If you’re making any changes to the soil you want it to be done in this very gentle, gradual way, and you’re really doing that through the compost. So your initial choice of a site is very important if you want it to be self-sustaining. And there aren’t that many places in California where everything’s pretty much balanced to start with.
CDLP: What do you mean by saying we need “revelatory” wines in California—and why do they have to be biodynamic?
RG: Well, we always need revelation—about all things. I don’t think biodynamic practice will necessarily lead to the production of wines expressive of terroir—everything else, from the selection of the site to farming practice, has to conduce to that. But it is a powerful methodology that explicitly addresses the question of the individuation or originality of a particular site. When I say “revelatory” wines, I’m talking about wines that will begin to change our vocabulary, the language that we use about quality in wine. I want the language to move in the direction of a discussion of the life force of the wine, the vitality of the wine, not simply in the current parlance: the wine’s voluptuousness or its hedonistic aspects. Rather, does the wine have the ability to age? Does the wine have the ability to change and evolve? Is it going to live for twenty or thirty years? And is the wine wholesome? This is a really dicey area, but wine should not only taste good, it should make you feel good. It should make you feel good while you’re tasting it, and it should make you feel good the next day after you’ve drunk it.
CDLP: Even if you can produce these new wines, the price tag will be well beyond what most typical consumers are used to paying now. Why will they buy Bonny Doon?
RG: Many wine consumers think wine comes out of a wine store and food comes out of a grocery store. When you visit the place where the wine is made or food is grown, you understand it in a different way. I think Napa Valley’s reputation kind of trivializes that. People think, “Oh, yeah, wine country, the place where they’ve got all those spas and restaurants, that’s where wine comes from.” I would love to see a consumer who comes out to look at my vineyard and says, “How come there aren’t any pipes out here for irrigation? And those vines—they look a little different from those other vines. They’re head-trained and they’re kind of close to the ground and they’re kind of small and they’re kind of scraggly. I wonder if that has any relation to how the wine tastes?” Just going into a cave and feeling the physical presence of a cave and how friggin’ cold it is and looking at how the wine is made—this makes an impression that you could never learn from a book or a magazine article. If I could educate people onsite as to what makes my wine different from 98 percent of the wines in California, that would go a long way toward their understanding why it might cost fifty or sixty bucks. Just simply tasting it I don’t think is quite enough to get why it’s distinctive.
Ultimately, you want the vinous equivalent of farmers’ markets; you want to reach people who go to them and who also love wine. The problem is that normally these are two different populations. You’ve got people who buy organic because they’re ideologically committed to organic produce and then you’ve got people who buy stuff just because they like the way it tastes. And these two have not yet merged. If you tell the average wine consumer that the wine is organic or biodynamic, they’ll generally run top speed in the opposite direction. They don’t want wines that are organic; they don’t want wines that are biodynamic. That means funky. That means weird. They want wines that are perfect, or at least wines that won’t embarrass them when guests come to dinner.
CDLP: But didn’t you help create this consumer aversion to biodynamic, slightly flawed and “revelatory” wines in the first place?
RG: I’ve always tried to make wines that were “pleasing,” fruity, maybe not so obviously challenging. And maybe I’ve been more focused on the exterior of the package—the clever labels and marketing. I’m not exactly ashamed, but slightly chagrined by having been such a slick marketer, producing wines that were essentially commodity wines. They were confectionary wines. I’m not saying that they were better or worse than anything else in California, but I wish I hadn’t done it for quite as long as I did. These were perfectly reasonable wines but there was nothing original about them, there was nothing natural about them, and there was nothing necessary about them. The world didn’t need any of these wines. I truly think that original wines—wines that scratch the sense of place—make the world richer. I think they add to the ecological complexity of the world and are therefore worthwhile. It’s like a new species, a new bird or butterfly. The world is better for it. B