CONFLICTs & Convictions: A Vinous Retrospective
Goodbye, 2016. I loathe a forced introspection, resolutions declared on a set date like some dog obeying the master for a treat. Lay down, roll over, shake. Look how well she complies! Yet here I am, playing along, and with no promise of a salty snack in sight. Ironic that I should hate the ritual which I personally indulge on a weekly schedule; I'm always coming up with a new plan, big ideas, renewed convictions. This past year has been a fighting tangle of internal certainties and antilogies for me, over my future, my craft, my art, my truest desires. Just like every year! Still, 2016 was more tumultuous for humanity as a whole.
What's to say about the past 12 months that hasn't been said? We lost so many icons who did so much to open minds and move us forward. Carrie Fisher reminded us women that we don't have to wear the slave uniform, and to us all that mental illness needs to be acknowledged, not feared and dismissed. Prince and David Bowie showed generations how to embrace their own freakiness and defy the status quo. I hold vivid memories of my first experience with both artists, where I was and who introduced me to them.
Sitting on my aunt's twin bed in her teenage bedroom adorned with horse paintings and plastic saddled equines, she taught me about Prince and The Revolution. I was far too young to appreciate what gloriousness was before me, though I later grew into it. But I was late to Bowie, in my mid-twenties and living in New York when a very crushable older friend declared her love of Bowie with such immutable passion that I went immediately to Virgin Records in Union Square to find out for myself.
Wham! was a constant on the grade school sound track, waning only slightly during those lonely, acned junior high years when Heavy Metal took hold. "Freedom '90" was released my freshman year in high school. The powerful video images of George Michael's rebel badass motorcycle jacket ablaze, which MTV played on the hour, etched their way into the mind. Surely those lyrics impressed upon our generation an entitlement to love who we want; a not-so-shy coming out anthem with mass radio play was clear permission from the gatekeepers. A few years later, Attorney General Janet Reno drew far more scrutiny about her private life than invited, and when people aimed for insult by declaring her a lesbian, I secretly thought, I hope so. The more the merrier.
Did you know Leonard Cohen wrote fiction before turning to poetry, songwriting and performing? His 1966 Beautiful Losers is experimental lyric-infused sensual prose, tangible evidence that precedes the apt moniker, "master of erotic despair." I read it a few years ago, and while it is indeed beautiful, I struggled to follow. As usual with poetry, I make the mistake of trying to understand more than feel. Gay Talese, who's thankfully still among us, wrote "Ali in Havana" for Esquire in 1996 that depicts, fly-on-the-wall like, an awkward meeting between Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro. I recommend tracking down a copy.
Yesterday morning an email from The New Yorker announced a story about "intellectuals for Trump." I couldn't help but notice my eyebrows rise above my hairline. The cold tide of nationalism drowning the globe is terrifying and inevitable, like a tsunami after a submarine earth shift. Maybe we did move too fast for the fearful. Too much progress and they pulled the damn Jake brake, right as we bleeding heart liberals, feminists and humanists had closed our eyes for a night's rest.
Last year I announced an impressive list of creative projects and intentions, which I mostly did not deliver. I'm not going to do that for 2017. You'll have to wait and see. As far as excuses go toward those failed promises, for one, I completely forgot how much a move to a new city can throw you off course, especially when you work from home for yourself. It takes time to find your footing, and loneliness, directional confusion - both streets and spirit - and mastering the local dialect requires an output of energy that's difficult to measure. To further complicate, though in honest effort to mitigate, I took a couple of part-time jobs - social experiments, really - that again proved I am not cut out for restaurant or retail work. Unfortunately, it seems the longer I keep at this writing bit, the less fit I am to do most anything else. It's a tad frightening, and I do worry.
My dear friend Donnie Fritts, who at 72 produced his best record to date, told me to avoid making a Plan B. To do so is admitting to yourself that you don't believe Plan A will pan out. So what's the point? The end game is the same for us all. Donnie isn't swimming in money, though his song "We Had it All" has been recorded about ten million times. But he has done exactly what he wanted to do his entire adult life. Author Mark Vonnegut wrote of his late father, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., in a forward for Armageddon in Retrospect, "A little kid coming of age in Indiana in the Depression decides he wants to be a writer, a famous writer, and that's what ends up happening. What are the odds? He threw a lot of spaghetti up against the wall and developed a keen sense of what was going to stick."
So if I make any resolutions for the New Year, it's to be the same stubborn Amy and to keep throwing pasta at the wall. With any luck, the path will get wider, or longer. Which metaphor is best for the unlikely pursuit of getting paid for something that's severely undervalued? Girth or length? I guess it depends on the payout. I'm only asking for a little... In the meantime, I'm adopting this prayer from Susan Sontag, who also eschewed an annual self-evaluation, favoring instead a more frequent practice.
"Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year's prayer, not a resolution. I'm praying for courage."
The 2016 Vinous Retrospective
Since I teased you into this post with a promise of wine reflections, here you go. I wrote nearly 100 blog posts for Pig&Vine in 2016, started a podcast creatively titled Pig&Vine Radio, went to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, was shortlisted for a writing award by said conference committee, and met some badass wine ladies I'm proud to call friends. In early December I learned that I've been awarded a fellowship to the Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa next month. I'll let you know how that goes.
My audience has grown considerably and PR companies regularly send me samples for review, which is both exhilarating and strange. Who doesn't love free wine? Though a sense of obligation presents a hurdle in the effort to be completely honest. I won't say unbiased, because I am absolutely biased toward the wines I write about here, thus many will never get a word. I'm not much for reviews anyhow. I like story, and facts, and high acid, low alcohol, artfully made wine. Some of the free wine I receive is awful, at least stylistically, but many other samples, meetings, and invitations to visit wineries were among my favorite posts from 2016, and which I wrote about with inspired enthusiasm, even in some cases, endearment that suggests a preciousness. See? Conflicts and convictions.
Getting on with it, my Top 10 list of favorite Pig&Vine posts from 2016. Ordered by publication date.
Happy New Year, friends!
"The Steve McQueen of the Loire Valley," this beauty was just as fresh and delicious six months later when I shared it with musical engineer and Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner on Episode 03 of P&V Radio.
The first of a new series of Industry Interviews started back in March. Spanish/French wine importer André Tamers talks about Spain as a new & old wine country, illogical and unfair labeling laws, and the rise of Grower Rioja.
This most unusual rosé was one of my favorites over the past year. There's a history of place and AOC law entwined with the story of the wine itself that made for interesting research. But to actually experience the wine, is a step to the next level for the thinking-drinking type.
Part of an ongoing and unexpected conversation about California zinfandel over the past year. Notes on one of the most famous and longstanding, plus thoughts on what's really in the wine, and should we be privy?
More existential wonderings from yours truly and notes on a truly delicious Austrian quaff. Biodynamically grown and cleverly sold.
Where I take a stab at public speaking and wax poetic about some of the awesome wine bloggers I met last summer. Also, bonus image of me dressed as Groucho Marx, circa 1985. You're welcome.
An essay about my visit with Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope wines in California's Sierra Foothills. He's doing very strange-cool things with atypical varieties. This is also where I fulfill my lifelong dream of stomping grapes with my naked feet.
Oregon pinot blanc that should be selling more quickly than it does. Freaking delicious juice, plus thoughts about cultivated yeasts.
Dude, my dream of being a radio host realized. I talk music, art, writing, whatever with a guest, and drink wine while doing it.
Seriously one of my top three rosés of the year. Also a photo shoot with my cat, Alice. Because I don't want anyone to mistake me for someone who takes herself too seriously or thinks she's somebody bigger than a crazy cat lady, which may be my truest calling.