Friday, December 21, 2018

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottle, but why not take the savvy route and buy a well-price wine featuring a lesser-known, up-and-coming grape variety? I interviewed several of my favorite Washington wineries to find out which new grapes they're watching emerge in 2018 and 2019.

As you might expect when Washington wine is involved, the majority of the grape varieties are big reds; however, some winemakers reported exciting whites, including Alberino and Piquepoul.

This is the second part of my series on the best new grape varieties in the Pacific Northwest. See what's on the move in Oregon in part one.

Without further ado, here are the Washington grapes varieties to look for now and in 2019.

JJ Williams, Kiona Vineyards and Winery

Three generations of the Williams family—JJ, John, and Scott—owners of Kiona Vineyards. [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

"Carmenère and Mourvédre are what first come to mind. Carmenère on Red Mountain has really nice color—it’s violet/blue. It's got a nice pyrazine profile without being downright vegetal as the grape can be in other regions. Here it’s herbal and spicy, with blueberry fruit notes."

"Mourvèdre is producing stellar wines in Washington but perpetually flies under the radar. These wines have a high 'yum' factor and tend to be tasting-room superstars. The grape is fairly common in the greater wine scene but for whatever reason has not gained mainstream recognition from the US wine-drinking population. Look for Mourvédre from Syncline, Mark Ryan, and Helioterra."

"I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lemberger as well, although we’ve been growing it for 40+ years. It’s really a delight. Not a new grape but certainly obscure."

Brad Binko, Eternal Wines

Eternal Wine's Carmenere [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]
"Carmenere is #1, then Roussanne and Pinot Noir. We make all three and the Carmenere is a huge hit. Subtle tannins smooth acidity and a nice spicy finish."

Nina Buty, Buty Winery

In Washington State, we are seeing growth in Rhone varieties: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. Also, we are seeing more experimentation planting new grapevine clones in new locations. We are learning about new sites with huge potential, new methods of growing from tip to tail. It's a very exciting time in the Pacific Northwest."

Paul Beveridge, Wilridge Winery

"Sagrantino, Zweigelt, and Touriga Nacional. We're growing them all at our certified Organic and Biodynamic Vineyard and Winery on Naches Heights."

Rachel Horn, Aniche Cellars

"Albarino, Mourvédre, and more obscure Rhones, like Cinsault, Piquepoul, Counoise, and Carignan."

Inland Desert Nursery, via DavenLore Winery

Davenlore winemaker, Gordon Taylor [Photo: Mattie J. Bamman]
"Aglianico, Albarino, Graciano, Gruner Veltliner, and Zweigelt."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Photos: Driving Across the U.S., Oregon to Maine

I think every American should drive across the United States at least once. My dad's stories of hitchhiking across the country with long hair in the 70s hooked me. The sheer beauty and expanse of our fair distinguished country keeps me coming back.

Three days after Thanksgiving, my wife and I drove from Portland, Oregon, to Belfast, Maine, via Knoxville. We crushed it: 4K miles in five nights, with one day off with friends. We snuck between snowstorms, and, when wind closed the Wyoming highway, we found an alternative route with help from the local DOT. The photos below feature Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine—a tiny glimpse at the experience of actually covering those miles.

Some people think it's uncomfortable to sit in a vehicle for five days, and they're right. But flying sucks even more, and people do it all the time. The reward for seeing the diversity of the United States is worth it. People in this country live a bazillion ways, like that travel center in Kansas selling magnets with the cast of the Wizard of Oz bearing guns and a flag saying "Homeland Security."

I don't care if you drive, bike, walk, or skip. The important thing is putting in the miles so you can actually see America unfold.

On past trips, I've been able to tuck into killer trucker food at mom-and-pop stops. They must still exist. Maybe we were driving too fast. Every truck stop we saw, from the West to the East, featured the same fast-food spots: McDonald's, Subway, Popeye's, Taco Bell. We've got to stop eating this crap so we can get some soul back.

Another huge benefit of driving across the U.S. is the opportunity to reconnect with long-lost friends. I saw two great, great buds I hadn't seen in 10 years. Seeing them for just a few hours one night was like a dream.

We also got to see our good friend, author Kelly Luce, at her new digs, a historic mill where soldiers were quartered during the Civil War.

Our kitty did better than expected, especially when you consider she adamantly refused to swallow the very pills designed to soothe her. We made sure to give her plenty of bathroom breaks—all of which she refused—and we fed her anything she liked—mostly Nashville hot chicken (psych: It was Temptations Classic Tasty Chicken). She liked sitting on our laps the most, and it was super cute watching her watch the tractor-trailer trucks slithering by with endless wonder.

The last night, we arrived at my aunt's house outside of Boston around midnight. My aunt and uncle both waited up for us. We only slept a few hours and then hit the final leg of our trip. My aunt made us three breakfast sandwiches for the road at 5 a.m. What the hell did I do right?

My dad often says, when traveling, it takes your mind three days to catch up with your body. Arriving at our new home, the dreaminess of what we were doing clogged my being. I felt like morning fog. The house we were standing in was supposedly ours. The truck we'd called home for the past week was long gone. We put on bathrobes and rain boots and explored the enshrouding mist.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Why I'm Moving Back to Rural Maine After a Decade as a Travel Writer

"Maine's greatest export is its youth." - My Dad1

I've spent most of my life saying I'll never move back to Maine. I loathed my home state so much I took night classes at community college to graduate high school a year early (Ellsworth High School banned the loophole the following year). Now, after nearly two decades, I'm returning to a stretch of rural coastline about an hour from that thrumming bilious cesspool.

Of my Milbridge Elementary School class of 15, two kids graduated high school. Oxycontin was flooding Downeast Maine. All of the girls in my class had at least one kid before age 18. The poverty in Maine is real. The fact the government doesn't give a shit is blatant. By the time I was a teenager, I was suffocating. I needed an alternative to manual labor and drugs. I needed culture, concerts, art shows, alternative lifestyles. I needed to meet poets, rock stars, winemakers, revolutionaries.

After college I began waiting tables and dedicated my life to writing poetry.2 Because a buddy was headed there, I moved to San Francisco, and soon, I was hanging out at City Lights Bookstore and knew bartenders in every neighborhood. I interned at ZYZZYVA Literary Journal and The Believer Magazine. I chilled with amazing artists no one will ever know and read poems accompanied by the scorching horns and beats of jazz musicians every Tuesday night at Club Deluxe. All that mattered was how much soul you could fit into your shit.

Then I met a girl3—and fellow writer—and, after two months, we hatched a gonzo plan: We'd backpack through Italy, knock on every door4 with an apartment-for-rent sign on it, and write in squalor. I did not have an inheritance or trust fund to fall back on. I used my savings from waiting tables. This was my second calculated risk that paid off. We stumbled upon a historic palazzo for €600/month, and I started making money as a travel writer. But it wasn't sustainable.5

Still searching for a place to be ourselves (or find ourselves [or both]), we moved to Portland, Oregon. It had the untamed forests, rivers, mountains, and grasslands I craved, and a community that valued art, nature, and alternative living. But still, even after a lot of success as a culinary travel writer, I have to admit my quality of life isn't what I want it to be. The problem isn't Portland. It's cities in general.

I rent a cheap duplex located behind another duplex6 in Southeast Portland. My front yard is basically a bunch of other people's backyards. The walls are thin and my upstairs neighbors are heavy drinkers, yelling out their window and throwing food scraps onto the roof of the house next door. I consider myself lucky, watching the crows fight over the buffalo-wing bones out my window: my rent is insanely cheap in a city of rising rents. But I am convinced that in cities, there is not enough of a return on my investment. There is nowhere else in Portland I could move to and expect lower rent and a better environment. Earning enough money to afford a more expensive rent would require participating in the conventional American lifestyle that preys upon America's—and the World's—impoverished communities.

Like my parents before me, I believe American culture is broken. We lack nourishing cultural practices, like the nightly passeggiata in Italy, when the entire community comes out to stroll the streets, catch up, and eat gelato. Where do Americans hang out? It used to be malls... now what?

In place of nourishing culture, we are inundated with lousy job opportunities and chintz—an endless rotation of twerking pop stars, food that does not provide nutrients, products that break after one year. To me, it is obvious that American corporations and their admen have worn us down, having continually stolen our wisdom and strength and taken away our freedom of self-expression, teaching us to forget what we already know in the process. The modern American is no longer self-sufficient and must rely upon products and services designed to keep them customers for life.

The divide between the rich and the poor is unacceptable, and proof that America's overall wealth is a mirage. I have been paying rent every month, and I haven't been adding value to my life so much as paying it off. This is the very nature of American society. Instead of having a direct relationship with the earth and the efforts of your labor, you have a direct relationship with your landlord and your pay stubs. The whole center, the whole reason for being alive, has been cut out of the equation.

It stops here. I will no longer be a part of the problem. After 18 years of trying to find common sense in American society, I am moving to back to Maine, to rural America, to see whether I can live a sustainable lifestyle that will support, not harm, the people and environment around me. I cannot expect a sustainable, intentional world if I am not living sustainably.

As the radical economist, writer, and farmer Scott Nearing said one month before he died at the age of 100:

“Do one thing you believe in. Do it with all your might. Keep at it no matter what. The life we have been living is so far away from the really worthwhile goals of life that we’ve got to stop fooling around and move toward a new way of living.”

Here are the reasons I'm returning to my home state of Maine

  • Nature: Maine will reconnect me to nature. I have never found anything comparable to the volume of reality nature provides while living in cities. For me, the manmade world will never rival the natural world. 
  • Family: My wife's and my families mostly live in New England and New York.
  • The Property Chooses You: Our new home stuck us like a skewer through a chicken heart. It was just what we wanted. We are a 10-minute walk from Maine's crenulated coastline. We have 10 acres full of birds, bees, deer, a groundhog—maybe even a moose from time to time. The house was built in 1998 and had a new roof put on in 2017. How could we say no?
  • Caretaking: In buying property, we become caretakers. I intend to practice the art of caretaking as described by Wendell Berry and leave the land better off than when we found it. This will add real value to the people and environment around me. Right now, I believe this ancient life philosophy—practiced by cultures being systematically destroyed all over the world—is at odds with modern society.
  • Tradition: The radical back-to-the-land values I was raised on have only gained meaning over my life. It's time to put my money where my heart is. Additionally, I learned a lot of lessons growing up in this movement, and I want to share an updated homesteading model for the 21st century. 
  • Food: With land, we can grow our food. This is our main experiment. I want to find out if we can balance the cost of buying groceries with maintaining a garden. The quality of our produce will obviously be higher than anything we could purchase at Whole Foods, New Seasons, etc. If we're lucky, our orchard may have enough apples for hard apple cider.
  • Writing: Some are calling it Maine's Back-to-the-Land Movement 2.0. I will continue to publish articles on delicious and sustainable food businesses, now with a greater focus on the areas around Belfast and Brooksville, Maine.
  • Health: Having the forest outside my door promotes a healthier lifestyle, and working at a computer has wreaked havoc on my spine. Only after six years am I getting a handle on it. Since working at a desk feels unnatural, I hope to dedicate more time to maintaining our home, gardening, and outdoor activities in the surrounding lakes, islands, and mountains.
  • Price: Land is cheaper in rural Maine, the value staggering. I'll go into more detail in subsequent posts.
  • Aesthetics: Maine barely has billboards. When I went to college in New York, I remember being sucker punched by American consumerism. The non-stop advertising, the brand worship, the need to define ourselves by what we own. Advertisers manipulate taste, and, every day, it seems the five senses are losing out to clever slogans. 
  • Maine Culture: Maine has a thriving culture. It may lack a diversity of cultures, but the culture it has is distinct and offers an alternative to the homogenization sweeping the globe. 
  • Giving Back: Similar to Caretaking, I need to give back to my home state. Specifically, I want to inspire kids struggling with the same challenges my friends and I had growing up. I want to share a specific message: Even if you travel the world, you may find Maine is still the best place to live on earth. 
  • Familiarity: As the world continues to change ever more quickly, I find the familiarity of my home state comforting.
  • Talent Over Opinion: In rural Maine, depending on your neighbors is pretty much mandatory. As a result, opinions aren't worth much, but capable hands are. I think people get along more easily when we're focused on practical things. I find the endless in-fighting in cities is a waste of energy.
  • Privacy = Freedom: Rural Maine provides the luxury of privacy. People deserve space to be themselves. Literal space. I find cities inherently constricting both physically and mentally. 
  • Intentional Living: Purchasing land has immediately filled my life with meaning. It is a place where I can live intentionally and make decisions that directly impact the world around me, such as whether to farm organically or use chemical fertilizers. It is as simple as picking up a shovel.
  • Environmentalism: My wife and I will cut down on household waste while improving the health of the environment on our 10 acres. We will hopefully reduce the overall pollution we produce, too.
  • Harming Fewer Animals: I would like to reduce the number of animals I am responsible for killing annually. My wife and I plan on buying a half pig and quarter cow a year from a local rancher to have more control over where our meat comes from. We could never fit a freezer in our current apartment. 
  • Civil Disobedience: Ever penny we pay in taxes funds the actions of the U.S. government. I do not agree with the way the government spends money and will continue to find new ways to support myself that supplant earning an income. A rudimentary example: Cutting down a tree with a handsaw and using it to heat our home does not require exchanging funds and does keep us warm.
  • Darkness: One of the world's greatest luxuries is the night sky untouched by artificial light.
  • Silence: Likewise, listening without manmade sound opens new worlds.

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1 United States Senator Angus King said this first.

2 Boycotting the 9-5 job was a very intentional act of civil disobedience. Even as the editor of Eater PDX (which was a part-time job), I woke up at 6 am every day to write poetry for two hours before starting work.

3 Now wife.

4 didn't exist back then.

5 Living so far away, I started to miss home, and, by moving so far away from America, I discovered our country's strongest strength: the American Dream. I'm not fawning over a tired idea. I truly believe in the American Dream. The Italians I met living in Southern Italy told me point-blank they could never get ahead—no matter how hard they worked. In Italy, you need to know the right people. The country seems rooted in a sort of family-based tribalism, whether or not it's labeled "mafia." I am the enemy of silver-spoon privilege, and this type of favoritism makes me want to puke ragu all over the Sistine Chapel.

6 Our building was actually attached to the front building at one point. With a door leading to nowhere on the top floor, I like to think our landlord cut the home in two using a chainsaw so he could collect double the rent.

Celebrate the Holidays With New Washington Grape Varieties

Looking for a rare and unusual wine to sip with Christmas dinner or on New Year's Eve? It's easy to throw cash at a well-known bottl...