Friday, August 28, 2009

in spirits

Last night, Jason, the manager of Solano Cellars, which is my living library of oenophillic study, and where I frequently get drunk, made an Old Speckled Hen pilgrimage to the Pub where I tend the taps. The week previous I tasted Francis Coppola's "Sofia" Riesling. And dammit, it was good, and the price was right, so I ordered a few cases.

I admitted this to Jason when he arrived.

"Hold out your hand." Smack!

But at least, he allowed, it's a Riesling.

I have been well. We've been 'moving' for two weeks now, are perhaps 70 percent finished, and I haven't had time for almost anything else. This project has been paused, but I am going to make more time for it. I'm finally done fucking around. My life is my own now, no more wasted time, no more whine-y namby-pamby bullshit.

But first, I have to box up my kitchen.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Despite my best intentions, life has overrun this project for now. We're moving to Santa Cruz and our garage, respectively, and I've had no time for else. Things should improve next week, marginally.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The revolution in Wine-- thoughts

(This was written two years ago before a research trip to upstate New York. I was then interested in a book on Native American Wine-- to follow up the then unpublished Edges of Bounty. I couldn't convince myself of its worth at that time.)

"To come to terms with the shallowness of the material. Cups and saucers. It is neither the small specific eternal, an axe, much wood use, a thousand hands in its atmosphere, nor a useful catagory-- love, honor, truth.

Moreover, it is corrupted. Surrounded by midge noise black flies gnats mosquito hum. Luxury, expertise, power.

The enormity of the fortunes and the span of empire.

These forces carry a kind of psychic weight. Once can fight or play into or attempt to see honestly. The force is real but the basis is false.

The author's option is to create his own world in story or a personal associative philological texture of expression.

But in nonfiction, every thing is more immediate- the distillation doesn't happen... or that is my fear. A fear of immediacy.

I am discontent.

Wine as peasant craft.
Expression of place, but ignoring the fetish of place, the privilege of it... specificity and distinction without the exclusion of others... kaleidoscope. Non-hierarchical.

I must always return to the thing itself. It is not a redemption- the is no solution- (or, what is 'solution') but it is a touchstone, a grounding moment a method of honesty.

'Discriminating.' Don't forget the larger issue-- this is part of a liberating work. Take this seriously. It is good work.

The thing is, this has not been clearly articulated..."

There is a lot here to cling to, enlarge, and finish. A fine document found while cleaning out my garage.

late night cleaning

"Knowing that it is the earth that we walk, we learn to walk carefully, lest it be rent open. Realizing that it is the heavens that hang above us, we come to fear the echoing bolt of thunder. The world demands that we battle with one other for the sake of our own reputation, and so we undergo the sufferings bred of illusion. While we live in this world with its daily business, forced to walk the tightrope of profit and loss, love is an empty thing, and wealth mere dust before our eyes. The reputation we grasp at, the glory that we seize, is surely like the honey that the cunning bee seems so sweetly to brew only to leave his sting within it as he flies. What we call pleasure in fact contains all suffering, since it arises from attachment. Only thanks to the existence of the poet and the painter are we able to imbibe the essence of this dualistic world, to taste the purity of its very bones and marrow. The artist feasts on mists, he sips on dew, appraising this hue and assessing that, and he does not lament the moment of death. The delight of artists lie not in attachment to objects but in taking the object into the self, becoming one with it. Once he has become the object, no space can be found on this vast earth of ours where he might stand firmly as himself. He has cast off the dust of the sullied self and become a traveler in tattered robes, drinking down the infinities of fine mountain winds."

--Natsume Soseki, from Kusamakura

I'd like to rewrite this section, this entire book, really. But, regardless, what I can only imagine is the beauty of the original is discernible behind the fog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A dirty joke for Kyle

I first heard this from my friend Maggie. We trade jokes.

Every year a pub in Dingle holds a dirty limerick contest, and every year, since the contests inception, Seamus O'Shaughnessy, the dirtiest old man in the county, wins. The prize is gentlemanly- a free pint of porter.

The contest came around again and Seamus scratched his head and arse and downed glasses of malt whiskey until inspiration struck. Snickering filthily and leering at lasses, Seamus O'Shaugnessy took his dirty limerick, yet again, into the pub the morning of the contest. After giving the barman a certain look, Seamus went home, had some soup, and recited some of his thirty or more winning dirty limericks, already savoring victory.

When he ventured back to the pub in the evening and demanded his free pint of porter the bartender shook his head.

"You didn't win this year Seamus."
"Wasn't my limerick filthy enough for you?"
"It made me sick to my stomach, Seamus, but someone wrote something even worse."

Seamus couldn't believe what he had heard. Everything went black, and there was an irritating little whine in his ears. When reason resumed her seat, he had only one question.

"Who is it what wrote a filthier limerick than me? Tell me!"
"It was Sister Mary Agnes, from the nunnery, Seamus."

Everything went black again and when Seamus returned to himself he was walking furiously toward the nunnery.

He smashed his fist into the door until someone opened it. Sister Mary Agnes greeted him shyly and inquired after his business.

"You know very well what I want. You beat me in the dirty limerick contest and I can't believe it. I need to hear the limerick that beat mine."

"Ok," said Sister Mary Agnes slowly, "but I'm too embarrassed to say the really dirty parts. So, if you don't mind, I'll simply say 'ta-ta' for those instead."

Seamus thought this ridiculous but told her to go on, out with it, let's have it then.

Sister Mary Agnes cleared her throat and recited:

"Ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta-ta

ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta

ta-ta ta-ta ta-ta-ta

and they fucked in a river of shit."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

biography perilous

Well, we knew this was going to be weird. I didn't know it was going to sound like this tho.

There is an appendix wherein I'm attaching the clever bios I created for other books, as well as quotes about my work from famous people, and of course a publication list and my cv-- anyway, this is long enough. I'm not sure why I had to tell the story at the end. But I did. And I think it will stay.

A Few Biographical Paragraphs

I do not pretend importance. Though, at twenty-nine, I have four books variously to my credit, have been an acquisitions editor at a small but distinguished publisher, and am five years into the creation of a middle-plains winery, I have not been granted any letters to adorn my name nor made an equivalent fortune. I manage a small pub in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spend a lot of time on the family farm in Kansas, and I write.

I offer, instead, perspective and capacity. Rural Kansas is a hard strange place. My struggle, ongoing, to fit myself into it, has given me a unique lens through which to view the world at large. My time spent as a student of Russian, as a political activist, as an editor at a regional publisher, as a bartender, has given me the ability to address everything from globalization to the pornography of food. I can tell a dirty joke or ruminate on the role of drink in mystic tradition, with, I think, equal aplomb.

I tasted my first ripe pear last year. Our neighbor, from whom we buy hay and who occasionally gives us venison, pulled up the long driveway, parked, and pulled a box of overgrown squash from his the bed of his truck. His mother was dying; the garden had been let go. He’d appreciate it, he said, if we’d take a trailer over and harvest the rest. And the pears, he said, don’t forget the pears.

Most of the tomatoes had already fallen or split. We filled the trailer with butternut squash, zucchini and melons and then moved over to the pear trees, taller than his farmhouse and wild from struggle with the winds. We did as our neighbor instructed: after each pear was picked, we wrapped it in a page from the local newspaper and placed it gently into a box that once held a vacuum cleaner.

They ripened in our storm cellar for a couple weeks. The spiders mostly left them alone. I was halfway through my second pear when I learned that our neighbor’s mother had died. I had just started my fourth when a box arrived from California. The advance copies of my first book were inside, each book carefully wrapped in plain brown paper.

The Logic of History

Jeremy sent me this article by a NYT writer named Eric Asimov. I had to check-- yes, yes, he is the nephew of the grand old man, Isaac Asimov. He's also the chief wine critic at the Times. I imagine he gets to eat free at many places I could never get into.

The article is about one winery in Rioja, Spain's most well-known and fashionable wine region, that achieves that enviable duality of being traditional and avant-garde.

And yet, as fusty and as backward-looking as López de Heredia may seem, it is paradoxically a winery in the vanguard, its viticulture and winemaking a shining, visionary example for young, forward-thinking producers all over the world."

Now, the man has to write weekly features, appear on the radio, travel and research, etc, so the coming criticism is not meant cruelly, (not to mention his aims are different from mine. His readers, essentially, want to know about interesting wines that can be had on the cheap. I'm looking to understand the terrible nature of things) but the issues are much more complicated that the amnesiac lurching of fashionable wine suggests.

First, there are many, many winemakers all over Spain still rooted in tradition. Spain still consumes more wine domestically than it exports. In rural areas, home winemaking is still very common, usually using methods and knowledge passed down for generations. However, for the purposes of this report, if a fact doesn't fit into the 1) hagiography of this winemaker, and, by implication, the trusted opinion of this wine critic or 2) the grand narrative of innovation vs tradition then it isn't a fact at all.

... I realize I am ranting. I will distill. What is missing from this article is the specific politics of this place, and even the slightest hint at economic factors. Spain was fascist until 1975 and economically in ruins-- there was no modernization, and more importantly, no globalization of its vineyards until much more recently. The disappearance of traditional winemaking in Rioja does not date back to post-WWII agricultural 'improvements' but to the 1990's when traditional wine regions all over the world began to be gobbled up by huge international companies. Countries like Spain, who were still struggling economically, were especially susceptible to foreign 'investment.'

This unowning of vineyards and wineries is a recent phenomenon and therefore able to be commented upon and criticized-- and should not be hidden behind a generic narrative of viticultural change that reaches back generations and exudes inevitability.

Fashion is a symptom of politics and economics, not their generating force.

This kind of critique is what I want to do with 365 Crush. I want to know what wine has done to these places, what wine is to these places, specifically... with no other aim but to see clearly.

When I'm not drunk on strange wine.

And another thing! Traditional winemaking is described here as 'backbreaking.' As is any description of agricultural work. Some is and some is not. Running a vineyard, I assure you, is not. For a month during harvest it approaches that kind of work, but there has always been an abundance of labor to ameliorate that condition. I've never seen a brokenbacked winemaker. In fact, they usually look so hale and happy you want to punch them in their cheese paunch.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

the strong do what they can, the weak do what they must

I've had a trying day-- nearly all of it devoted to attempts to reinstate my troubled driving license, most of that nearly all spent trying to navigate various gov'mental automated phone services.

So nothing, save reading a long rich article about the fucked up history of colonialism in Cyprus, has been done to aid or abet my plan.

But I am trying to post every day, at least at first, so here I am. Here's a small beginning of a thought I had at Solano Cellars last week.

"Winemakers, or, rather, the owners of wineries, are like the rulers of independent city-states. Seemingly benevolent, if essentially corrupt in essentially blameless ways, they are apolitically rich. The larger regimes change, the armies march, but they remain. They are secure, behind walls of wine, prestige, and pleasure-- fat, jovial, prone to mysticism and sentimentality, they remain living relics of times gone by."

There are many, many fascinating refutations of this musing-- in Lebanon, in the post Soviet countries (for a while, the State, naturally, made all the wine), but there is something interesting, an assonance, between Mondavi and medieval Venice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This little piggie went to market

Market is a euphemism for slaughter in the nursery rhyme you know.

The trouble with Nonfiction books is the cult of expertise. Readers of nonfiction take extreme pleasure in not only education, but in the creation of formidable opinions. The best-selling nonfiction writers, in nearly every genre, have an ax to grind and a high pedestal, academic, political, or financial, upon which to grind it.

Which is fine, so long as they don't hide behind the disingenuous smugness of objectivity still being taught, even this very day!, in our fine institutions of higher learning!

But, for people like me, who have managed to avoid expertise, selling a nuanced and private matrix of responses on a given subject can be tricky, can be excruciating, can be gloomy, but can be done.

Travel Writing is the genre of nonfiction (not counting Memoir, which I judge as fiction) which most commonly aspires to and achieves literary value, in the same way that a walk up the street can become a poem, but 6 years in graduate school cannot. Travel is thin enough for aesthetics.

Which is all something of an aside to the task at hand. The proposal continues to acquire dark and terrible life.

Positioning/Market Potential

365 Crush is a coat of many colors.

Its conceit belongs to the great tradition of intellectual adventuring. William Least-Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail are stellar examples of this writerly mode. A goal is vaguely and arbitrarily set, while still containing enormous personal importance, and a small but vital set of rules are established to govern and guide the action. The central notion of 365 Crush, a year spent following the wine harvest across the entire globe, would certainly appeal to readers accustomed to traveling with their heads more than just attached to their bodies.

In subject, 365 Crush courts that overlapping triumvirate of interests: Wine, Food, and Travel. The global scope of the endeavor, taken, as it shall be, by a young man with little means through wildly diverse geographical, economic, and political climes, will pique the armchair Magellan.

As the focus of the narrative is on wine as a conduit of culture, as a paragon of place, and due to my lusty gastronomical proclivities and the opportunities they provide for lush prose, food will be an important and constant presence—either that or I’ll starve. Wine may buy the ticket, but Food will schlep the luggage.

Most pointedly, 365 Crush seeks to set-off a series of landmines throughout the world of wine. As the founder of a small, family vineyard and proto-winery in Kansas, I view many of the fetishes, arguments, and fortunes commonly held profoundly askance. My position, and my person, is playful, radical, and rooted in an agrarianism oddly absent from discussions of terroir. Imagine Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, M.F.K. Fisher, and Umberto Eco trapped in Napa Valley, tooling around in a temperamental ’47 Studebaker, and you’ll get some idea of the voices that guide my pen.

The thread that stitches this patchwork together is fine, ample, and seductive writing. Writing that, as the cliché artists invariably demand, must be experienced, and can be, in the sample chapter.


As is probably apparent, I survive this process thru an ever-evolving series of private jokes, grand, ridiculous gestures, and bad puns. I do and do not, in equal measure, believe anything I write in this proposal.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I hate writing copy

These are the guidelines.

The Overview

The overview is probably the most important section of the proposal, as it sets the proposal up, introduces your thesis, describes the concept behind the book and the approach you intend to take, and basically answers the deceivingly generic question: what is the book? In writing this section, it may help to think about it as though you were writing the copy that would appear on the jacket of your book.

This section should describe the content of the book in detail, highlighting its features, its selling points (who would buy it and why would they want it?), where the information will originate (five years of original data, twenty years of teaching a class, ten years of traveling to middle and high schools and talking to students), what perspective you as an author uniquely bring to the topic. In writing your overview, let the following questions guide you: - What is the concept of the book? - What is your intended approach (Practical, how-to? Humorous? Inspirational?) - What is your thesis/point of view? - Where will the information in the book come from? - What unique perspective do you as an author bring to the subject? - What’s the promise of the book? (What will the reader gain from reading it? Even if it is a narrative there needs to be something gained – even if it’s entertainment – in order for a reader to justify spending the money and the time.) - What do you intend to accomplish with the book? It also helps to open the overview with a story or anecdote that illustrates the need for such a book as this.


And here is the first draft.

365 Days of Crush
by William Emery

Sales Handle

One Man. Six Continents. 18 Countries. 25 Wineries. 365 Days of Crush.


Beyond Bordeaux, never mind Napa, the world of wine is not what, and not where, you think it is. Through the vinous conquest of the Southern Hemispheres, and the recent “New Latitude” wines of India and Thailand, every month finds someone out in the fields, picking sheers in hand, baskets in tow, denuding the vines. In his 30th year, writer and toddling viticulturalist William Emery abandoned everything to follow this unlikely trail across six continents, to climb this Everest of harvest, arriving, ultimately, where he began: a small, ten acre vineyard in the rolling hills of Central Kansas.

Through Emery’s prose, which is, at turns, sensual, subversive, mordant, and deadly serious, the world of wine appears as it never has before: on horseback through the ancient vineyards of Uzbekistan, praying the peace holds in Israel’s contested Golan Heights, resting at a trellised oasis in the Peruvian desert.

Whether you think Merlot rhymes with parking lot or you’ve just added a Gascogne wing to your cellar, Emery’s journey will not fail to provoke and surprise, and may just change the way you drink, and think.

Chicago Manuel of Style

(Correspondence between editor friend and meself)

That's the name of my new Latino clothing line.

Hey stranger!

My excuse for writing you is editorial in nature. I'm writing up a proposal for someone and I need some style advice on numbers. I need, god mother-fucking-help me, to create a 'sales hook,' in a sentence or two, for my project.

So I went telegraphic.

One Man. Six Continents. 18 Countries. 25 Wineries. 365 Days of Crush*.

My question: is it appropriate to switch from the Latin to the Arabic vis a vis double digit numbers. Three-hundred and sixty five days of Crush just looks stupid...

So-- what's the professional's take on all this?


*"Crush," just in case you don't know, is the general term for harvesting wine grapes and the first stages of turning them into wine.



If you were going by Chicago, you'd write out everything but 365 (the rule is spell out 0-100 and any very round number beyond that--e.g. 1,000; 400; 3,000,000; etc.). The way you have it now is AP Style. But, both styles make allowances for parallel structure. Frankly, I would do it the exact way you have it, because it would be too weird to say "1 Man."

I like your sales hook. :)

Essaying into existence

In July 2010, I leave for Cyprus. A year later I will fly home from New Zealand, having spent an entire year harvesting wine grapes in vineyards on every continent.

This is a log of the journey to the journey.

My intention is to turn this experience into a book and place it with a publisher. I am currently writing up a proposal for an agent-- bits of that process will also appear on this record.

Expect wine-related rants, tasting notes, quotes, ruminations, and events, as they happen, in regards to planning a year long 'round-the-world trip and finding a place or places for it in the world of print and radio.

And wish me luck! My heavy breakfast and the process of 'selling myself' has made me rather dour...