Ashtin Berry is one of the greatest wine writers of our generation.

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Read. Ashtin. Berry. Now.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with minimalism,” she writes in a recent post on Instagram, “but it’s essential to understand how aesthetic trends are always in discussion with social structures. and also note when aesthetics are being used to push harmful biases. Minimalism is an aesthetic and it is also a lifestyle and if you aren’t careful you can end up perpetuating biases about poor and racialized people.”

In my view, there is no eno-focused writer today who is addressing the epistemological implications of wine culture with such unbridled perspicacity and clarity of voice.

Her post yesterday (above) is one in a series where she parses some of the thornier nuances of the contemporary natural wine world. Along the way, she draws from a broad spectrum of critical theorists, some of whom will surely surprise even the informed student of 20th century thought.

I’m certainly not the first to note the power of her voice. She’s been featured in countless who’s who lists by prominent wine-centered mastheads.

Those publications, at least as far as I can find, tend to focus on her utterly vital inner- and extra-industry activism. There is no question that her community work has had an outsized and welcomed impact.

But what intrigues me most about her writing is that she approaches the subject as a critical theorist. She is a Roland Barthes of our wine time, a writer who dissects the aesthetics — the ars poetica — of contemporary wine culture with acumen and deep insight. She is also a Noam Chomsky in her ability to see behind what Nietzsche would have called the “sacred texts” of wine, the cultural hegemony (to borrow from Gramsci) that continues to drive what she calls the “moralized consumption” of wine (and other lifestyle products).

I know those are big shoes to fill but fill them she does… and then some.

She also possesses a preternatural ability to ferment her observations into approachable, highly drinkable language. In a wine writing world where the register of language and the hermetic argot are often used in an exclusionary capacity (she address this trend as well), she seamlessly renders her thought into palatable demotic language digestible by all. It’s a glorious, beautiful balancing act that delivers spectacular results in widening the horizons of lay people and trade members alike.

Can you tell that I am entirely absorbed by her writing? I’m a little late to the game but am glad to be here. And thanks to Tracie for hipping me to her feed.

Ashtin Berry is one of the greatest wine writers of our generation. Read her.

Taste with Alice Feiring (and me) at the Boulder Burgundy Festival 10/22.

Above: Alice (right) and Tracie in Paris in 2009. (Errata corrige: the photo was actually taken at Fonda San Miguel in 2010 when Alice came to see us in Austin; the photo below is from the France trip.)

One of the most rewarding things about my teaching gig at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont has been watching my students’ eyes light up as they discover the work of Alice Feiring. Year after year, it’s happened every time we crack open her first book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (Harcourt 2008).

Teaching her first book over the course of the last six years has revealed how well the work has aged. At the time of its hardback release, her pioneering approach to wine writing was viewed by some as heretical and irrelevant to the wine discourse and dialectic. But more than 13 years later, it has proved to be a guiding and shining light to a new generation of wine writers who have eagerly embraced her style — and her wisdom.

Above: another shot from our super fun visit in Paris while I was on tour with Nous Non Plus and Tracie and I had just started dating.

Not only did she introduce a highly personal and even intimate, some would say, model of wine writing. (Her book could have been gleaned from the New Yorker “personal history” rubric.) But she also provoked — like a tirage — a closer look at wine’s intrinsic moral and ethical valence. She was certainly not the first to ask not only whether a wine was good or bad in terms of its quality and reflection of tradition. But she was among the first to inspire wine lovers to consider whether a wine was good or evil.

Evil is a strong word but it applies here, in my view. Her conviction and ideals often inspired a quasi-bellicose tone in her diegesis. After all, her debut book, the one that put her on the wine world map, was called “Battle” (to this day, her shorthand for the tome is “Battle”).

No high-profile wine writer before her had brought such a May 1968 sensibility to the world of enography. In many ways, she is the Susan Sontag of her generation: someone whom the critical theorist and activist would have said lives their life true to their ideals.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that Alice will be presenting an Aligoté seminar and tasting this year at the Boulder Burgundy Festival on Friday, October 22. I’m not a panelist or presenter at the festival but I’ll be returning to Colorado again this year as the festival’s in-house blogger and media consultant, a gig that I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years now.

Click here for details. And if you do make it out to hers or any of the other events, I’ll look forward to tasting with you!

Dagan Ministero’s room where it happened. Revisiting Terroir SF, a natural wine icon.

De naturali vinorum historia…

My mind teemed with memories as the doors swung open and let me into Terroir Natural Wine Bar on Folsom in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood like an old western gunslingers’ saloon.

The time Tracie and I watched one of the owners chase down a thief who stole two bottles in front of our very eyes. They got the bottles back.

The time my band was playing Café du Nord and we turned Joachim Cooder onto Muscadet. He was our drummer at the time and he loved it.

The countless times that the soldiers of the new wine, the natural wine, gathered there to banter, debate, and deliberate over the new language and new world that they were simultaneously discovering and forging.

It would be hard to overestimate the role that Terroir in San Francisco played in the nascent natural wine movement. Like its counterpart in New York, The Ten Bells, it was pioneer, progenitor, and in a certain sense an ante litteram avatar of the new natural wine culture.

Looking back to 2007 when Terroir opened, when people were just beginning to wrap their minds around natural wine, it’s clear that the venue and its cast of characters — including some of the wine world’s proto-bloggers, and you know whom I’m talking about — populated an early outpost of natural wine’s fourth estate.

At the time, no one beyond a small circle of the intelligentsia had even heard the pairing of “natural” and “wine.”

It’s incredible to think that a word that we once uttered audaciously as a challenge to the wine firmament is now part of the workaday parlance of broader viti-culture and commerce. Terroir was the setting — the context — for the text. Although the words had been uttered however sparingly before that time, Terroir was at once locus and locution for some of its earliest enunciations.

But Terroir didn’t just provide the proscenium for some of natural wine’s proto-dialectic.

It was also a super fun bar to hang out in and a wondrous meta (in the ancient Roman sense) for the wine-curious. Vinyl spun on the jukebox as eno-hipsters streamed in and out. And the wines… oh the wines! There was always something macerated and/or oxidative (back then it wasn’t so easy to find those wines). And the conversation was as high-pitched as it was catholic (with a small c).

And even though one of the things that made it sexy was the slight sense of danger that you always felt there, owed in part to the hyper-urban environment where it is located, it was also a safe and welcoming space for those who wanted to expand their wine knowledge and experience.

Today, as the natural wine world has revealed its sharpest elbows, Terroir was a place where even a wine neophyte like a drummer in a faux French rock band could hang out and let it all hang out.

I was so fortunate to get to sit down with my old friend Dagan Ministero, Terroir owner and founder, last week for what I can only describe as a pseudo-séance.

We talked at length about the many luminaries of natural wine who have sat in his chairs over the years. We parsed the evolution of the language of natural wine in the 14 years that have passed since I first sat there. And we tasted… we tasted and tasted and tasted… just like the old days.

Revisiting after so many years and after the lockdowns, this space still had the same mystical, magical effect on me that it did when I first visited in 2008 (my band was still extremely active then and SF was one of our top cities in terms of our draw). And the wines were funky, cloudy, and great…

Chapeau bas to Dagan who has remained one of America’s essential hosts, soothsayers, and sorcerers. Natural wine — and wine in general — could more humans like him.