Here at the Napa Valley Wine Academy, we are firm believers in the idea that when it comes to wine, diversifying your interests and knocking down barriers to curiosity leads to more informed opinions–it also leads to great discoveries. We recently spoke with one such author and journalist who is righteously opinionated and a generous resource of great wine discoveries–she will be familiar to many of you, and for others, a new and exciting voice to follow.
Meet Alice Feiring, author, journalist and stalwart proponent of natural wines.
Alice is a tried and true New Yorker who authors The Feiring Line blog and produces The Feiring Line Newsletter, a “natural wine publication,” that is released eight times per year. Feiring has authored two books: The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization (2008) and Naked Wine (2011). She will be releasing a new book on Georgia’s wine renaissance in early 2016. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal Magazine, Time, The New York Times, Town & Country, Wine & Spirits, World of Fine Wine and Newsweek.
Feiring’s in-depth interviews and commentary on the natural wine scene are incredibly passionate and expertly informed, but also soulful and energetic–they read as if Alice is sitting next to you, confiding in you as a close friend the secrets she’s uncovered in her vigilant journeying–both domestic and abroad. Largely, her writing offers keen glimpses into a world where winemakers (many are French vignerons) are regulars at the dinner table and conversations run the gambit of emotions. We’re particularly fond of her wine reviews, made available to those who subscribe to The Feiring Line Newsletter, where label shots are clear and in abundance, and also because Feiring’s recommendations are fun to read as well as helpful. Her “reviews” include symbols that indicate: “cool stuff,” “for geeks,” “heartthrob” and directions like, “lay down,” as well as details on the Importer of each wine, which is great information to have when attempting to track down on- and off-premise locations where the wines are carried.
NVWA: You have often described your education in wine as “wholly alternative” and your foray into wine writing as “accidental” — but was there a catalyst or series of catalysts that set you on the path to writing about wine?
Alice Feiring: At the beginning it was just because I could. I was writing fiction and plays and needed to see my byline as those avenues are such crapshoots. I slipped into wine as a graduate student and found myself relatively obsessed with it. But it was after writing Food and Wine’s Official Wine Guide in 2001 when it all came together. Immersed in such intense tasting I realized the world of wine had changed. From my perspective, it was turning into dreck, quickly evolving into one commercial, market-driven plonk no matter what the price. Then when I walked into the arena of wine technology and how much can be done to shape flavor and texture artificially, that’s when I truly started to learn about and write about wine with a very different passion and purpose.
NVWA: Have you always been the torch-bearer of “natural” wines? Are you a deconstructionist at heart when it comes to modern wine production?
AF: When I wrote “The Battle,” there’s barely the word natural in there. I was just on the search for a wine that was truly the extension of place and history. I suppose you could say I was a deconstructionist–both in philosophical and literal terms. But I would have to add the world fabricated after the modern for that to be completely accurate, all modern wines are not fabricated. I prefer to look it at as paper bag dramatics. Inside the bag is land, vine, human and vessels. Now, go out and do the best you can.
NVWA: Do you think American wine drinkers are generally more educated than they were in previous years? With respect to “natural” wines, how has that education come along? Is there still a gap?
AF: In years past the American wine drinker who was educated usually had a lot of dough. Wine knowledge is now spread among those on a budget and those with major collections. The knowledge is more democratic for sure. And it’s also in evolution. Because of so many people leaving appellations, whether in France or Italy, and we now have so many lovely wines in Vin de France or Vino Tavola, because Grand Cru and 1er Cru Burgundy’s are so pricey, there’s a growth in a different kind of knowledge. For the past twenty years knowledge for most people didn’t go beyond a grape. Now we’re more producer and terroir driven. By all means the growth in interest in natural wine has powered this.
NVWA: You’ve met, interviewed, spent countless hours with winemakers around the world, and certainly in France — from your standpoint, what are the traits or beliefs that truly great winemakers possess? That they collectively share?
AF: Interesting question. First of all, as in any field, they can do the best work in the vineyard but they must have talent once the grapes come off the vine. Sensitivity, the ability to watch and listen, and a keen knowledge of how to keep grape juice from spoiling.
Follow Alice, sign up for her newsletter and learn more here: http://www.alicefeiring.com/newsletter
A snapshot of “The Feiring Line” Newsletter: