It’s been a few years since Alice Feiring and I first met at the Healdsburg Wine Library where she read from her book, The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.
Though I walked away from our encounter convinced she was misguided and hypocritical in her criticism of California wine (California Wines? Down the Drain), I found her to be “charming and sweet” and noted that “her writing is undeniably good”.
Since then she’s written a new book (that’s her Amazon code in the link – consider buying a copy to support the author!). It’s all about natural, naked wines and the producers who make them. I think it’s a good book, with a good heart.
I’m slightly embarrassed to note that she chose to use our years-old encounter as a way to open her narrative. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I end up wearing quite the black hat.
Here’s a snip:
“In the rear I recognized Patrick and his wife, Genevieve, from the blogger circuit. Friendly faces! They waved, and I waved back. Next to them was a serious, dark-haird man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Robert Parker’s Bitch.” He looked more as if he were there for a lynching than a book reading.”
She goes on to reveal that this dour figure is in fact me, your humble author, at the time a vintner awaiting my first harvest. She relates that I asked her if she regretted writing the op-ed. She said no (unsurprising) for the reason that “it got people talking” (very surprising). Then, in a clever turn, she not-so-subtly accuses me of sexist bullying – basically picking on the girl. Hello left field!
Now, to be candid, I’m fine with this portrayal. It’s spot on.
Well, almost. First, and most importantly, there is the undeniable fact that I’m rarely serious. Just ask Twitter.
Also, usually my wife does the bullying. But Alice claims to want a conversation with people whose wine she has universally panned. Well, when one says those types of things, I think a convo is well worth having – with a boy (Parker – see below and video) or a girl (my dear Alice). Let’s parley!
Then there’s the important fact that I wasn’t wearing the Parker’s Bitch shirt that night. In fact I’ve only rarely worn it in public. Once for this video with Tina Caputo of Vineyard and Winery Management (where I now write an ongoing column entitled Gear), and then later that day when I visited the CIA and tasted 2005 Bordeaux with Robert Parker (he did not comment, others chuckled).
Oh, also: I’m blonde-ish. Dishwater blonde I think it’s called. Because my head is the color of filthy water. But whatevs.
The real question: what to make of all the factual errors?
One is tempted to just chalk it all up to the haze of time. I was in a video wearing the shirt after all. Things could get muddled. Details fade, like photos of the vineyards at Domain Leroy left too long on a South-facing sill. After a while all that’s left is the visceral, emotional memory of what must have been discomfiting moment in the life of Alice. Perhaps she just misremembered.
Yeah, unfortunately, not the case in this instance. In fact, she emailed me on April 13th of this year to fact check(!) things:
Subject: question for you
Hope all is well with you.
I am this second going over the final edits for my new book and you make a
cameo appearance in it.
But just rereading my material, I’ve written you were wearing that t-shirt,
Robert Parker’s Bitch that evening.
Could you confirm? Or at least say it was probably and if I include that
detail it won’t be problematic for you?
I can’t imagine where else I’d get it from but at this point 2008 seems
like ancient history.
Thanks very much,
My response was as follows:
Not sure about the particular circumstances of the meeting to which you are referring, but I certainly wore it on a video that made the rounds about that time. http://vimeo.com/3519159
Hope this helps!
And her final email on the matter read thusly:
It would have been to the reading I gave at the Library. It’s such a funny detail I am hoping it’s true. And it probably is….and as you’re telling me it could have been true, let’s leave it at that. I open the first chapter with that book tour and some of the reactions to that LAT editorial I wrote, so you’re cameo is when you put me on the spot about it, wearing that t-shirt, and then after the event when I asked Kevin H. who you were, and he told me and also told me you were a nice guy. It fits into the chapter well. So, there you go. Hope you don’t mind.
Now, what does this all prove really? Does it speak to some greater issue with Alice’s credibility? Does it discount her portrayal of me somehow as “serious and angry” and itching for a lynching? Does it cast doubt on the verity of other aspects of her narrative?
Who can say, really?
Seriously though. What I can say is that I stand behind my original assessment of her answer to my question regarding her op-ed in the LA Times.
Over-the-top pronunciations that all (or nearly all) California wines are crap are the 100% new oak and 16% ABV of wine writing. Fudging facts are the velcorin, and misrepresenting events are the enzymes.
Alice and I happen to agree on wine styles, where we disagree is where we put the emphasis.
It all comes down to credibility; for winemakers sure, but also for authors and critics. If our wines in CA are inauthentic swill, Alice Feiring’s Mega Purple prose is as spoofulated as a magnum of [yellow tail] Shiraz.
I want my wine writing as naked as my wine. Or at the very least with pasties and a thong.