Wednesday, August 12, 2009

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.


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