Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wine Flaws



  It’s so much easier conversing with the internationally good-looking people of Miami Beach. It's like you don’t even need to introduce yourself, you can just tell right off the bat these are deep and interesting people and you are going to hit it off perfectly. In contrast, in rural cultures such as mine up there in the mountains of New York it’s a total surprise whenever you meet someone of interest. You just wouldn't expect it by looking around!
  Every winter I go down to Miami so that I can relate to people without all those flaws in the way- Big noses, love-handles, crooked teeth and splotchy skin… how is anyone supposed to get to know you? What a relief it is to be in Miami where the men are all sculpted as if by Michelangelo and the women seem painted by Botticelli (except with larger breasts, of course.) They know perfection takes time, but it’s worth it.
  Perfect people don’t have noticeable flaws. They don’t have barriers hanging out in front of us preventing us from digging deeper and blocking us from ever getting to know the person behind the face. I mean seriously, why can’t everyone else in the world just do the work? Maybe it’s because rural people still believe in God and not science? Everyone knows that science has made this a better planet! Or maybe it’s just because they don’t have the money to be perfect? I don’t know, but whatever it is, I hope they evolve soon because it is one ugly planet out there. How are we to ever get to know one another with flaws still not conquered?

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   I wrote this satire after a conversation about ‘wine flaws’ with a notable cider/ wine buyer. Her take on the subject is that flaws are inherently distracting. She sorts through a drink like my East Branch cider as an auditor or inspector would, taking inventory of the notes, rather than experiencing them as flow in an overall story. My argument, or defense to flaws, is that if the apples have deep and positive character then the flaws can even enhance the experience and make the cider more human. It should be noted that this buyers is also well versed on Western European ciders, naturally fermented ciders like in Normandy or Somerset, where "clean" cider doesn't even exist. So to hear criticism of earthy or farmy notes confuses me. I see those qualities as layers in a complex orchestra.

  But let's be clear, we are not talking about overwhelming flaws, or purposely introduced yeast traits. Objectionable issues or contrived yeast styles do stick out like soar thumbs, and yes, they are a distraction from the apple (but in most poorly based ciders (as are most American ciders) that distraction is welcome.) No, what we are talking about in this essay are those faint farmy and earthy notes that you get in any high quality British or French cider, keeved or dry. These notes can also be briney, oaky, or even meaty but they are faint, peripheral and strangely complimentary to the mystery and message of the apple. How is that a flaw?

 Oh, I wish I could write more on this subject! There is so much about the American obsession with perfection and there is so much to our fear of flaws (and are they the same thing?) that I could write for months. For instance, I'm sure our need to conquer flaws in wine is completely related to monocultural farming, personal hygiene, and our national approach to human health! Ah, but the subject is too huge to take on in the middle of the pressing season. Perhaps this winter…

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Voice Mail From a Journalist


“Hello, Mr. Pollock? Would you prefer Jackson?
I’m calling because I’m writing a story about mid-century art and I'm hoping to hit you and Norman Rockwell up for interviews. Please give me a call back at your earliest convenience. Thanks!” 
___________

OK, I’m not comparing myself to Lee Krasner’s baldie, and I’m certainly not comparing cider to fine art, but a situational analogy exists here. How many times do I get calls from journalists wanting to do a story on cider? And although I’ve tried and tried to illuminate the massive depths apples are capable of, in the end the final article is always just an all-inclusive survey of "the cider category." As though cider is a single thing- a single alternative. And if that's all you can report on, I would gladly retire to magazine obscurity rather than see my work, and the life of the trees I work with, reduced to a few sentences in short essay about contemporary commercial cider in America. 

If Jackson Pollock heard his art work put in comparative context with the customer-friendly, child-friendly, illustrations of Norman Rockwell I’m pretty sure some liver damage would follow. But the two “artists” were rarely in context with one another because there existed a separate world for "fine art" and "commercial art”. (Which is really commercial illustration and not art. Sorry marketing team: what you do isn't art!) 

But why is having separate worlds so hard to establish with cider? Why do the lines keep getting blurred when fine art and commercial art are content without mention of each other? The answers are multiple:
    -The small cider producer is too isolated and economically powerless to broadcast the truth; the big and medium-sized producers lie to the customer and steal the verbiage of the artisan producer; the customer is lazy and doesn’t hold producers accountable for their marketing misdirection; Americas apple farmers are complicit with the misdirection because they want their orchards to be viable to a ‘hot’ industry; and journalists lack professional integrity and personal faith in the subject-

I have tried to expose all those other problems with my cryptic and voiceless little blog here, but for this entry let’s focus on the latter problem, the journalists. Why not? You are part of the problem!

    Are you guilty of sweeping a call list trying to hit-up everyone that appeared under a search for cider? Are you trying to tie this story into another story like tourism, the fall season, new businesses in the area, etc., etc.? Does this "cider story" somehow reflect well on the ad space sponsors of your magazine (or maybe it's just plain about them!?) Have you already imagined how this story will unfold even before you made your first call? Is it actually written (!) and now all you need are some press photos from cider producers to add legitimacy your non-expert opinion?
   Does any of this sound like you? Um, That’s because you suck. You are just trying to use cider and someone's life endeavor to promote yourself or the magazine. Wake up! There is an actual story to discover if you stop making everything reflect back on yourself and your sponsors!

In contrast, let me tell you what good journalists do (and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent journalists and writers over the years. You know who you are.)
   They call and set-up an interview expecting to study the subject, not direct it. A good journalist listens to the subject and isolates them without trying to tie them into every little trend happening in the world today. They trust their own ability to write the story with the found material and they do not have preconceived notions or the word-counts in mind while the interview is taking place. They also trust the subject will be news-worthy, but just as importantly, they ditch the project if the subject is not news-worthy! And a good journalist starts months (even years) ahead of time rather then calling 3 days before submittal.

OK, I'm getting a little side-track with my rant here. I don't know the problems you journalists face getting published but I'm tired of going over the same-old Cider 101 stuff with you. And I know magazines are not to blame for the lack of clarity between fine cider and commercial industrial cider but you certainly are not helping (save for a few good reporters) by blurring the lines for the reader. Dig deeper next time, the trees have. (Or should I say, the trees worthy of cider have.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

What gives cider depth

I have seen old overgrown orchards of Liberty, Goldrush and Freedom dotting a steep hillside. And I have seen well-maintained high-density orchards of Yarlington Mill, Somerset Redstreak and Stoke Red.
If the cider industry and apple growers don't understand how the former can produce much more complex cider than the latter then I weep for the future.  
-to be continued in comment section, below-