Let us go back to Amherst, town of poets, where JFK celebrated the legacy of Robert Frost. President Kennedy, of course, being Irish, reminded us that 'where power corrupts, poetry cleanses.' Indeed, poetry is a thing of moderation.
Let us go to the doorstep of Emily Dickinson. Her poems cover the broad range of emotion, including those that come against our will. She uses nature, birds, flowers, the wind as her images. She knows what it's like to have a funeral in the brain, with the formality... An inebriate of the air, she knew, apparently, what sherry was. A non conformist, nor a church goer, she finds for us the substantial in the flux of the world. She'd seen it all, felt it all, and like Frost, knew the midnight of the soul. Heartbreak, certainly.
Bored at home, the moon full, I go out for a glass of wine, into the ever changing river that is any establishment, and life itself, inside a barroom and out, I look for what is substantial, as I read from my little book of her poems, sip from a Bourgeuil, and then a Langhe Rosso. Things come and go, there is background buzz, and I have a Valpolicella, from the description Cork offers from their good selection.
I reflect what I've learned about wine in the course of the last week or two. There was the visit from Charles, the wine expert of Williams Corner Wines, his suggestion of the wines of Sicily, and the subsequent attempt to appreciate the wines of the slopes of Etna, some of the vines higher up in volcanic ash survived the original phylloxera blight. The wines he brought were strange, odd blends, but this man is smart, and he's made wine.
A rating system doesn't seem to me to be the way to go, if one is in search of reality and the earth that ties grape vines and humanity together over the course of many years. Traditions are upset, wine making styles change to please, whereas California Bordeaux style wines were doing just fine back when in the day.
As a boy I'd take long walks and bike rides through the rolling farmland. Cows back then forty years ago were out in the fields. Their reaction to a passer by can be indifference, sometimes defensive, looking up, back to chew on the grass, letting loose a bodily function. But once, after a trek up through the fields, above a run-down farm where there was a shepherd dog who chased the school bus, I came upon a cow that glowed with friendliness toward my presence. She beamed at me, it was as if we had conversation. She looked at me as your lab might, almost tremble with pleasure, like the cat hearing the can open. Would a rating system for cows have led me to such a wonderful creature? No, I think the rating system speaks of where cows are now, kept in a factory barn all day, grain in one end, waste channeled away, milk in between. No more room for personality, for the observations of the cows returning from their pasture.
For a poet looking to unwind, the big score Reds can be too much. American oak, vanilla--why? At the end of the day, I must admit, I am homesick, for France, for my own cows, and for that particular sweet one who likes me like I do her. The one who says, hi, I'm nobody, who are you... A friendly balance in the glass to be enjoyed on its own. I'll return to home ground, to, maybe a red from Cheverny in the historic Loire, wines no one can tamper with, because of so many chateaux and royal tradition. But I must admit, that Frappato from Sicily, purchased as an experiment, not liking it at first, is now delicious, having spent a couple of days open in the fridge even. It must be a wine not tampered with, not micro-oxygenated, given a quick big life at the cost its longevity.
I ask my friend Ron, of Winebow, who always brings us great wines, about sommeliers. The restaurant gets a magazine about them. The movie Somm was to me just as much a turn off as anything else, as if somewhere along the line the whole point of wine had been missed. He tells me about Jancis Robinson's interview with sommelier legend Larry Stone, mentioning the new sort of elitism rising in the ranks, the sommeliers overdoing their extensive knowledge, such that a list has nothing you've ever even heard of. "I go to a place, great restaurant in San Francisco, and six orange wines on the list by the glass... why? Really?' After all, wine is a comfort as a beverage.
I take hope. There's an excellent piece in The New York Times about Raj Parr, somm turned winemaker, center of a new trend in California against the over-ripe fruit and oak that gets the points that gets the sales. Wines that are all about terroir. It makes me have some hope after all my years of tending bar, that against the loud, overbearing and overripe, trumpeting their own achievements, there is still a place, a hopeful chance for subtlety to shine on through.
As a writer, I believe that, like wine, all a text need be, is terroir. Nothing more, nothing less. Not a corporate for-profit message, but a spiritual thing, something people will always do, despite obstacles and impediments and burdens of labors. Different, apart from the same message we get in media over and over again, that a story need narrative arch, a resolution of conflict, a conclusion that people will feel happy about, in a clear way, the good guys finally win, the guy gets the girl...
Writers are writers because of a particular kind of personality. The personality is first, and it is only fulfilled by the writing and the habit. They are, I suppose, kind of like the grape vine. They grow in a certain place, extracting what they do to support the embellishing fruit. Their roots, where they stand, are in the collective subconscious. And this is as a barman is primarily my effort, to stand before people and encourage them to delve deeper down past conscious thoughts to a clear moment.
Like the vine, I use my emotions to create. Emotions come on their own. Emily knew this well. (For me, a photo of Robert Kennedy might do it.)