Friday, February 5, 2010

Wine Biz Interviews Part Three With Alice Feiring

I first heard her name from a coworker who was trying to get me into this whole blogging thing, trying to get me to read them, post on them and maybe start one of my own…I was resisting. “She has been banned from the Parker boards” now my interest had been piqued. I had tried to read those wine chat boards, wanted to talk about wine with other like minded people…um, the thing was, there were very few people on those boards that talked about or liked the wines that I did, in short…I didn’t fit in there, nor did I want to.

Shortly after having that conversation at work I started reading Alice Feiring’s blog and before long I went out and got her book, The Battle for Wine and Love OR How I Saved the World from Parkerizarion. I loved the book and Alice’s willingness to stand up for what she believed in…her willingness to speak out against the globalization of her (and my) favorite wines. So I thought after Charles, “California Wine Guru” Olken it would be fitting to hear from a wine writer that champions Old World wines.

How many years have you been professionally writing about wine?

Irony. My feature-length piece was in 1990, for Connoisseur magazine. Topic? Long Island wine. I used to write on a trio of subjects: food, wine and design, but I finally got pigeonholed in 2000.

What wine was it that flipped your, “Damn” switch?

A California zinfandel drunk in the Boston Common during spring break in 1976 (?) with my college roommate and the guy we both had a thing for. Back at Stony Brook, we had been hitting the Germans, being mindless about fluffy rieslings but that domestic red forced us into discussion; “Wine or is it gasoline?”
However, the first exalted wine was the one pinched from my father’s mistress’ husband’s wine cellar. A 1968 Scanavino barolo.

How does it feel to be one of the most talked about women in the wine world?

If I take this as truth, I feel both uncomfortable, honored and mystified.

Mystified: I am no Jancis, or Elin or Lettie and they are far more well known than I.
Uncomfortable: I’ve been in shyness recovery for decades—relapse is a part of the disease. It has been a difficult to embrace that I am now a public person. Along with that comes both good and bad. The good (having an impact) is terrific, but the bashing? That one takes some getting used to.
Honor: Outside of academia, the female voice doesn’t usually factor in to the wine discussion. That Jay Miller has more clout that Jancis Robinson is one of life’s injustices.
When I let myself enjoy the fact that some people think I matter, it’s a kick. And if I’ve done a bit to help crack that well- defended territory and pave way for other women, well, hooray.

Boxers or Briefs?

Depends on the body, I actually love boxers though I did spend a dozen years with briefs. They suited him quite well.

I know you are not a big blog reader, (I know because you told me when you sent me and email…ahem, hear that people? Alice sent ME an email…just sayin’) but are there any blogs that are in your weekly/monthly must read pile?

I’ve been bad. I try to check-in every month (or so) to see what my friends are up to. But more frequently I rely on Tweets and Facebook to clue me in to a posting that should be on my radar. The regular reads for me are still websites and not blogs—Wines & Vines, Wine Biz, Decanter, and the like.
Note to self: Spend less time on line, and more time writing and-- dare I say-- museums. I still can’t forgive myself for missing Kandinsky because I couldn’t wrench myself from my apartment. There’s no excuse. I just don’t get out enough.

Biodynamics, real deal or horseshit?

You mean cowshit? It is both cowshit and horseshit
I don’t need science to tell me that many of the wines I love are the off-spring of Biodynamics. Sure, winemakers tell us of healthier pH’s, acidities and claim their vines have greater flexibility under the method.Their experience might not be enough proof for the naysayers but it is enough for me. I just care that about what’s in the glass. To hell with proof.
However, for many reasons, I am not convinced that large-scale Biodynamic farming is relevant or even advantageous; we can take that one up later. It also makes me queasy to see folk sling around manure for the camera. If I see one more cow horn on an advertisement… . Hell, now that Gina is married to Jean Charles, we are sure to see Gallo going for the dung.
Note: if the vineyards and winemakers lack talent, no amount of nettles and 500 will save you from making crap wine.

I heard that Tom Wark made you cry, you want I should beat him up for you?

Bring on the whips. Yes, sweet Tom staged an nocturnal event that choked me up (thank god the night was moonless). Nothing in my past has prepared me to handle that kind of attention graciously. All I could do was say thank you and try to stop from going Sally Fields on the evening.

What is the market like right now for wine writers?

The market is in marketing, public relations and blogging for free. Anyone who sets out to be a self-supporting, independent wine writer in America is delusional. That said, I don’t want to squish anyone’s dreams. The right creative spin can make anything work.
As part of my 2010 Think Positive initiative, I sent off my application to Whole Foods. I was planning on a brilliant mid-life crisis. I was dreaming about raising goats. And then I –against all odds—sold my next book proposal. I have a 1.5 year reprieve.

Have you ever sneezed while peeing?

As a matter of fact, I have, especially when I’ve been around shorthaired cats. But you know for those of us who sit to pee, it’s not really a problem.

Have you ever made out with a winemaker?

I have, though not with enough of them to draw global conclusions. I have to get back to my research.

Are you afraid I will ask you which one?


In three words, “The wines I ache for are”….

Seductive. Expressive. Surprising.

Single worst bottle of wine you have ever had?

Yellow Tail shiraz tasted in 2007.

What would you rather put in your mouth, a roast beef sandwich or Rombauer Zinfandel?

Thanks for suggesting in my mouth and not down the hatch. The Rombauer of course. I have to taste all sorts of things and am quite adept at spitting.

Playing rock chick, Lady Gaga or Pink?

To make an informed decision I just snacked on You Tube. Bitch! Trick question! But, I guess I must Pink-out.

Barolo or Burgundy?

Burgundy. Don’t forget that until they secede, Beaujolais is still part of that region. Lucky as I cannot live without gamay.

Vacation: Cleveland or The Former Czech Republic?

I don’t think my passport works in Cleveland so let’s go for the CR. Even though they still drop tons of gum arabic in their whites, there’s a nascent natural wine scene, so I’ll have something to drink.

Pet: Parrot or Rock?

Last summer I babysat a cockatiel. Posy chewed on my finger the way my mother used to chew an ear of corn. I’ll go with the rock. Make it a fossil from Jura, please?

Airplane reading: Playboy or The Wine Advocate?

That’s a very, very hard choice as they are two iconic publications.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice about wine writing, what would it be?

Become proficient in French, Spanish or Italian.

Hangover cure of choice?

A slice of toast with butter and honey and three aspirin before bed. But for some weird reason, no matter how hard I try, I don’t get hung over anymore.

Do you ever delete comments on your blog?

Yes! If someone is on attack mode and name calling or clearly crazy, I delete. There’s no room for evil in my community.

If I told you that your telling me that you read my blog was one of my proudest moments would you share a bottle of Champagne with me?

If I told you I envied your wit, would you share a bottle with me? I think hammering out which one or two we’d choose would be almost as fun as the drinking.

I would like to personally thank you Alice, not just for granting me this interview, (which was wicked cool of you) but for speaking up…no matter how unpopular the message might be in many wine circles, for wines of place, purity and integrity. Your voice is a very important one to people like me, people that want French, Italian and Spanish wines to taste like…well, where they came from. So um, thanks lady! Oh and when we share those bottles, (and it will be bottles, not bottle…who are we kidding) of Champagne we can swap winemaker stories…I just worry that with as close as our palates are, it might just be the same story…


Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Another wine interview that isn't with me?! What does a guy have to do to get some respect around here? Drop his pants and shoot off fireworks?

"That Jay Miller has more clout than Jancis Robinson is one of life's injustices." Amen to that, Alice. That he has more clout than a circus chimp is an injustice.

Hey, I sit down to pee, why not ask me questions too?

I love you!

Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
You know I adore you, I really do. I think you are cute as hell and I flirt with you WAY more, (well Charlie is gaining on you) than anyone else ever think that maybe part of the reason I have not asked you is that whole, "pants dropping and fireworks" business? I cannot even begin to imagine what an interview with The HoseMaster of Wine would look like.
I do love you though...

Charlie Olken said...

Sam, nice interview. I kind of gave up on Alice because I sometimes find her a bit shrill for my taste, but this interview shows another side, and I like it.

Thanks for giving it to us. I hope you will not be upset if I start looking at another girl now and then (just her blog, mind).

Thomas said...

One of the best answers I have ever read to a question:

"If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice about wine writing, what would it be?

Become proficient in French, Spanish or Italian."

And, like Charlie, I was on the "shrill" side, but I noticed in these answers that Alice may have had a small, what, repositioning. I like it. And just for her sake, I give it a 94...

Samantha Dugan said...

Sir Charles,
Sigh, yeah I guess I can share you with Alice, be careful though...she's a fiesty one.

I was a bit taken aback by both yours and Charlie's comments...never once have I ever thought of Alice as shrill...she may have to shout a little louder to be heard but I am the same way...fuck, I wonder what the hell people are calling me?!

I think it was very cool of you both to really read her, kind of see what I have been seeing all along. I dig her plain and simple, just as I dig both of you.

tom said...

Love Alice -- so no surprise that I loved the interview as well. Great post -- thank you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Hey, may I join you and Alice in a few bottles of Champagne? I promise to behave. Or not.

After all, the amount of horseshit I'm full of qualifies me as Biodynamic.

I love you!

Your HoseMaster

Thomas said...


Shrill in the sense of unrestrained and insistent, sometimes at the expense of facts.

Have no fear, however, the archaic definition of shrill meant poignant...

Samantha Dugan said...

Have to say I agree. Very gracious and sweet woman that I would so dig hanging with.

Et Tu HoseMaster?! Damn, I interview another fiesty wine chick and my dudes are leaving me...sniff, first Charlie and now you. Yeah, I guess you can come...if Alice were to agree, as to my behavior...all bets are off.

Sounds so much nicer when you put it that way my furry little friend.

joannawnyc said...

Alice isn't shrill. She's a woman who knows what she likes and isn't gonna lie about, which is not that common. But I think that you might like it once you get used to it. You definitely ought to respect it, because, hey, it's not easy.

Thomas said...


What, exactly, is this "it" that you refer to?

Nancy Deprez said...

Very cool interview, thank you both for that. I love Alice's book (I'm all first name basis). I think my favorite and most remembered concept from the book is that she said, "I want a tomato to taste like a tomato; I want in February to be reminded of what a tomato tastes like in the summer." or something like that; I'm paraphrasing.

Thomas said...


There are a thousand Alice Fiering sentiments with which I agree. It's the dogma-like presentation that drives me crazy, because it often skirts real life issues to express the ideal. (I know, I know, "physician heal thyself" and all that jazz.)

As I've said, however, this interview shows a softer side of Ms. Fiering that suspiciously smacks of wisdom. That's nice.

Thomas said...

Besides, Ms. Fiering and I have a mutually wonderful friend, and my friend has good taste.

vickibarkley said...

I love Alice's book, and this interview was fabulous! Congratulations, my Dear! You rock, and you inspire me to drimk more, read more, and write more. I adore you. (Hey, the Hosemaster's not the only one!!)

vickibarkley said...

Oh, yeah, and I never heard Alice as "shrill." I have an unfortunate suspicion, seeing as how the "shrill" folks are all boys, that it has to do with Alice's being a member of the fairer sex. Reminds me of many objections to Hillary in '08. Don't wanna start any kind of culture war on your blog, Dear Friend, but....

Samantha Dugan said...

Nancy & Vicki,

I'm thrilled that you guys adore Alice, (I'm all first name too)cannot say as I am all that shocked as you two are very strong women that are not afraid to speak your minds...kinship. It's funny for me to read through these comments, see that some people seemed to pick up on a softer side of Ms. Feiring and others have always seen that side. Must be odd to be such a public figure...have people assume they know about you, (both kind of people) from the snipets that they read or hear. I for one know that I would love to spend a few hours across the dinner table from this woman...listen to her snark, passion and humor, get to know her a little. An interesting person to say the very least.

John M. Kelly said...

OK here's one I missed because I turned off my computer for a couple of days. Sam - simply wonderful interview. It is nice to see a bit of Alice Feiring, the person, rather than Alice Feiring™, the brand.

I think the use of the word "shrill" was unfortunate, but please Vicki don't try to cast this as a gender thing. I believe Feiring has earned the respect, and actually has the respect, of every knowledgable person in the business, regardless of gender.

"Shrill" - no. "Dogmatic" - yes. To me it seems clear that Alice Feiring™, the brand, is pushing a dogma - as Sam notes, one that is not well-received in some winemaking circles. Which is all the more reason for Feiring to be forceful in the defense of her position.

I have long suspected and hoped that Alice the person, like Sam the person, is not as rigid as the dogma. The same cannot be said for some of the other proponents of "natural" and "non-interventionist" wine.

Anonymous said...

"Mystified: I am no Jancis, or Elin or Lettie and they are far more well known than I."

Yes. Those people can write, instead of producing the ego-driven, mindless garbage that you produce. If there are some people who foist modest, little Alice on to a pedestal, it shows how desperate the world is for any semblance of coherent wine writing.

I hope she gets the Whole Foods job. It will keep her from writing.