Saturday, February 25, 2012

Processing It All

“Sam! Welcome home!” I could just barely make out the voices over the whirling of my hairdryer this morning. After flipping the switch into the off position I scurried to my open screen to see, just across the way, my wee neighbor boyfriend and his even wee-er brother, their little heads sporting massive blonde spikes of bedhead, in their jammies belting out their joy that I had returned, palpable through the volume of their greeting….and the sweet grins on their little faces. We exchanged jammie comments and upon the completion of that, the littlest one, Drew, filled up his big lungs and offered his standard farewell, “Bye Dam!” a toddle back inside and the forceful slam of the front door. A shake of my head, the wet hair spilling across my forehead and a grin that was impossible to rid myself of I shuffled back to my bedroom to finish drying my hair before heading into work.

“So? How was it?” the comment that hit me nearly fifteen times today. My customers, staff, my boss, everyone adorably anxious to hear how things went at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, thing was, I didn’t quite know what to tell them. Even now I’m sitting here, trying to process the whole thing. The short answer is it went great. The Meadowood Resort is absolutely stunning. The rooms, the grounds, the fact that they came to retrieve me from my miles-away-from-where-I-needed-to-be palatial mountain perch of a room with its private balcony….complete with ashtray, bed that must have contained some form of heroin for how quickly I nodded out the second my head hit the mound of pillows, yeah, there were like ten. The far from shitty in room coffee, the fireplace, the quiet that both snuggled me and made me shiver as I sipped on my end of the evening glass of wine, in my jammies, alone on that balcony trying to fit all that I had heard into the life I have now, maybe the one I might want someday. The sips of white wine from Friuli, Burgundy and Loire like slipping into my most comfy pair of jeans, the splash of tangy fruit and fierce acid filling my mouth, flicking at my tongue, causing me to groan as if there were familiar fingers tracing my flesh.  Knowing all the while that many of the real journalists that were there were likely either writing or getting their rest to prepare for the next day while I melted into another glass of flicking and fingertips….

I did have one very old friend with me the whole time, one that has been by my side with each and every step and new adventure…my insecurity. Felt like the square peg most of the time I was there. Not anyone’s fault but my own and even though I knew that, didn’t make it any easier on me. It just seemed as if everyone attending the symposium was already a writer. Sure many of them were just learning about wine but they had been writing far longer than I have and had the chops or stance, the willingness to stand and read their work before the crowd, pitch ideas to editors and ask countless questions. I sat nearly mute, scribbling notes but not sure what to ask, pitchless knowing that if I ever wanted to really be a writer I would have to crack open the lock I have on my voice in these kind of situations. Intimidated and frankly, a little ashamed of that.

I learned so freaking much. There is a Grand Canyon sized crater of shit that I didn’t know about the print business. What editors are looking for, talking about and finding trends in a business where honestly, there is nothing all that new to truly talk about. I listened as things like Slovenia were tossed about…obviously a nod to the orange wine movement and crowd that likes to be in the know on new hot thing in wine, and while I dig that kind of sense of adventure I also know just how quickly shit like that dies in the market place after real people, not wine geeks…of which I proudly profess to being, taste them. I just can’t help but wonder where our state of wine would be if people like Kermit Lynch, Michael Sullivan, (Beaune Imports) Becky Wasserman, Rudi Wiest, Terry Theise and Neil Rosenthal had tasted nothing but wines from like Croatia or Austria. I mean, on the world stage of wines there are really only a few countries that have that sweet combination of soil, weather and tradition to hold up over the long haul and no matter how many articles are written about this hot spot and that, they will continue to rise to the top. My very real conflict in wanting to encourage people to try as much as they can, to teach, inspire and invite more wine drinkers into our world and knowing that tossing weird wines at them isn’t likely going to keep them there. Thinking the only thing that I firmly took away from the symposium is I don’t think wine magazines and I are a good fit. 

I met some truly inspiring people. I found Antonio Galloni of The Wine Advocate, (one of my most loathed of publications for their lust for wines that quite frankly make me gag) a warm, commanding, fiercely charming and passionate human. Someone that I honestly believe can elevate many to the next level of wine consumerism…should they like those kind of wines. He was so open and frank and I could have listened to him for hours upon hours. Guy Woodward of Decanter magazine was probably the hardest on the hopeful writers that came to pitch ideas to the panel of editors but he was honest and I dug his no bullshit delivery. He would hate everything I do here and that’s fine, he and I won’t likely ever cross paths other than at that symposium. He is a stanch professional and the fact that he was not willing to sugar-coat anything was refreshing as hell. Jim Gordon of Wines and Vines, not to mention the cat that runs the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers was remarkably calm and collected, present at every event and engaged in a way that makes me want to return. Cool as hell, just this sexy confidence that solidified his “I’m running this thing” status. He was engaging, serious but would crack a smile when warranted and made a special point of telling me that he had not only read my junk before I got there but paired me with a winery with a literary connection which puddled me in a way that I’m still trying to get my legs from.  Then, then there was Eric Asimov….

Eric Asimov of The New York Times…Jesus just typing that now makes this feel even cooler. I’d found out years ago that Eric had not only read my stupid blog but actually liked it and had made comments to the fact that I was doing something different here, something of the more literary nature and upon hearing that, and calling on it each and every time I was feeling deflated I somewhat sheepishly but proudly called him a friend. Anyone that knows my palate knows that Eric and I agree more often than not and I wholeheartedly admire his writing talent. He has this professional yet unassuming voice that I not only respect but secretly covet. A journalist and critic, not a job I want but one that even when I don’t agree I admire, reading Eric has always felt to me like he was talking to me, and maybe because of our shared love of certain wines and styles, he was but meeting him face to face, getting a big, deep hug from him, one of the most important guys in the room for sure, well it was one of those moments I shall not forget. His, “Can I join you?” when I was seated alone at a table at lunch making me sit just a little higher, a hug even deeper and more profound in some way. The way his face lit up, the grin broad and proud making another appearance when I found us some Riesling to drink. He and I both know that he was part of the reason I was given that fellowship, (yeah, Jim spilled on you Eric…and thank you sweet man) and his support humbles me in a way that I find myself at a loss of words to articulate. You sir made me proud, proud of myself and for that there are no words. I can only tell you that it was a true pleasure meeting you and I’ve got a bottle of Sherry, Grower Champagne and Arbois waiting should you ever be out this way. I find myself with tears in my eyes thinking of how selflessly you have embraced this weird chick that rants about Food & Wine magazine and underpants and once in awhile waxes rhapsodic about wine. Thank you.

I boarded my flight home with a head full of information that I’m still trying to sort through, a fire in my belly to share it all with The Wine Country, the store that set me on the path that broke open this loud mouth voice in the first place, contemplating where that voice might fit in the world of wine exploration…knowing that I want to do something and nuzzled into the fact that a handful of others think I ought to be. 

My wees  welcoming me home , the curious and vested questions from everyone upon my return. Never could have dreamed of such a heart thumping out pour of affection and adoration, not ever. If I were the type to toss my hat, (don't wear one) in the air and make a spinning, arm out-stretched gesture this would be the time but seeing as I'm not I can only say

A little overwhelmed but eternally grateful…
Thank you all for riding this wave with me and allowing me to stretch my vocal cords

A special thanks to Alfonso Cevola, you are a wickedly cool cat and without you, none of this would have even happened. I adore you “Gigante”.


Bill Ward said...

This was only the second time in six years I've missed the symposium, but you truly put me there. Grazie! Great characterizations of some truly special, soulful individuals and an amazing place.
Don't try too hard to process it all; I'm still working through last year's stuff. Just keep on writing, expressing yourself, journey not destination, etc.

webb said...

So glad you got so much from the symposium - wondered all week how it was going, while missing your posts. Hope you will share more as you sort it out.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe, sure would have been nice to meet you, bummed you weren't there. There really is so much to take in, and I do hope to share more but it felt so daunting trying to encapsulate it all, thought I better just start with the first things that I told everyone here when I got back. Those panel guests, even the ones that have little or nothing to do with what I might want to do, were so inspiring, talented and passionate. I'm still in awe of their willingness to share and help us fledgling "writers". Very cool gathering that I would very highly recommend to anyone looking to get their writer on.

Gawd that is so sweet. Thank you so much for thinking of me and I'm sure in some ways I carried your concern and interest with me to Napa. I was floored by the sheer number of people that either emailed or messaged me while I was there, all of them wondering how I was doing. I've got the coolest bunch of readers. Thanks again!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

I've meet an awful lot of writers, and believe me they are mostly an awful lot, in my life, and the best of them always have measurable insecurity. It's not just your companion, it's the companion of many folks who chase the art of the written word. Without insecurity you would have less reason to write, which would be a terrible crime.

Eric is a champion of your work because he understands that what you do here is closer to literature than most wine writing. And I could see how much he loved your company and your wonderful and fertile mind. Deep down I suspect he's like me, he wishes he could do what you do just as you wish a little bit that you could write about wine as he does.

Napa Valley has never been more beautiful than when you were gracing its vineyards.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
How is it that you always seem to know just what to say to soothe and comfort me? You never cease to humble me and I'm forever in awe at your ability to read and understand me. Your love, support and enormous amount of time you gave while I was there in Napa was above and beyond anything I could have asked or even wished for. I walked taller when you were at my side and I was proud to be half of the, "funniest couple at Meadowood". The hours of listening, drinking, banter and laughter, these thing I also took away from my time up there and all of those, I owe to you. You sir are a remarkably loving person and I simply cannot believe how lucky I am to have you in my life. I love you so.

Do Bianchi said...

wow, Sam... amazing... I am so envious! Antonio is a super cool guy... as is Eric as is Ace! :)

Samantha Dugan said...

Those guys were all tremendous and I felt so very lucky to be intertwined with them whenever I could. It was a whirlwind of an event and even days later I'm still remembering little bits of conversation and information. Wish you could have been there too!

Hirt said...

Hey, I found out how to win a Free Johnson's Baby Relief Kit. You can get yours here:

Matthew said...

Great post Sam. I'm new to your blog but am excited by its style and focus. I'm hoping to attend the symposium next year, so your post reinforces my desire to go.


Samantha Dugan said...

Well first of all, welcome. Always so nice to see a new, erm, name around these parts....especially in this dying age of blogs and comments. Thanks for taking the time to read and post your thoughts.

I would very highly recommend attending the symposium. The amount of information is damn near overwhelming but I cannot tell you how valuable it really is. The educators and speakers so generous with their time and knowledge. Plus, Meadowood is freaking spectacular! Do it.

Valerie said...

I think the best part of writing is trying to capture the words that do justice to these experiences that move us. Even if we have to express our love for wine, being moved by travel, or food, or whatever via our panty drawer. No one does it like you which is why we read - and love - what you're putting out. So incredibly happy to read about your experiences, tangible & intangible, and looking forward to reading more! xo

Samantha Dugan said...

Fuck, that was sweet too. You guys kill me. I get to write this silly crap of me and not only do you read, you like it and let me know....unreal. Now when you coming out here so we can have a drink?!