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Journal

Bulles au Centre


The best wine event that I've ever been to was Bulles au Centre in 2018. It took place on Sunday, July 15th that year. Organized by méthode ancestrale GOAT Les Capriades, Bulles au Centre is the only real wine fair dedicated entirely to pet nat. It features producers from around the world, although, of course, the majority of them make wine in the Loire. That's also where the fair is located; the 2018 edition took place in a 19th century cave (aka dank ass cellar) in Montlouis.      
 
I'd just arrived in France, so I remember driving the outskirts of Montlouis that morning in a bit of a daze. It was a really sunny day, probably a bit over 80 degrees, with spectacularly blue skies. Having spent enough time in the Loire during days that reminded me of going to college in Michigan (read: 42 degrees, drab, "low ceilings" as pilots like to say, very wet), this felt like a fucking godsend. My trip was already made. After I parked my cream-colored rental junker and found Guilhaume, who was killing time smoking by the entrance, we bought the essential wine fair breakfast: a few fatty, meaty sausages with good mustard. Reinforcement for the day to come. Then we went into the cave to start tasting. It was a little after 11am.
 

Most wine fairs feel a bit like a business conference. Natural wine fairs are like that too, just with more tattoos and people speaking Danish. Bulles au Centre feels like a county fair though. A bunch of big deal natural winemakers (like Thierry Puzelat, who I vividly remember wearing a beat up Detroit Red Wings hat that day) stand around shooting the shit with their families and friends. Kids play tag, or help their parents to clean up glasses. Everyone drinks everyone else's wine, nobody complains about flaws, some people pour wines of absolute brilliance, some pour absolute garbage. Not surprisingly, people get pretty drunk. By 3pm or so, one Loire winemaker (he shall remain nameless forever, don't ask) who'd been stumbling around for a while decided to tattoo a grapevine in veraison on his bicep. An hour later, he was 100% blackout drunk, and carried out of the cave by three other winemakers and his girlfriend, one person per extremity. I worried about him but heard the next day he was alive, and his new vintage just hit the US so I think he's doing alright.


A bit after that, in the late afternoon, people started getting really animated. I was operating on no sleep and a six hour time difference and my French is spotty, so I wasn't exactly sure why. Then some winemakers pulled out a moderately sized TV and some speakers and stuck them on the grass outside and everyone immediately left the tasting tables, bottles of pet nat in hand. They got more sausages, some people put on jerseys, and the entire fair came to a halt to watch the World Cup final. Streamed on top of a stone wall, with a delay, next to a cave. For the next 90 minutes, a bunch of winemakers I idolized (and their families) became crazy French soccer fans and displayed a sort of nationalism that, as an American, is always both inspiring and a little worrisome.
 
France beat Croatia 4-2 that day. After the game ended, Bulles au Centre just continued on. People went back into the cave and started pouring pet nat again. At some point, Cyril Zangs began mixing mojitos using his Double Zero apple brandy (sort of his wine fair party trick), which makes both a surprisingly good and extremely potent drink. A DJ set up in the front of the cave and spun American records. I think Guilhaume and I left around 5am, some 18 hours after we'd arrived. 



I woke up at noon, totally alone in a giant country house Airbnb with too many bedrooms and not enough windows. Everyone else was back at work. I spent the next week in France. On my way home, at Charles de Gaulle, I bought my son a Kylian Mbappe jersey. The old lady at the register said "allez les bleus" and quickly turned to the next customer. I don't give a shit about soccer but I’ll always remember the 2018 World Cup. We often overthink wine and sports alike. But sometimes the best both have to offer is just a bunch of drunk (and incredibly talented) farmers screaming at a TV streaming a soccer game next to a dank ass cellar in the middle of nowhere.

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Dadaism and Surrealism

Q & A with owner Jeff Segal about art, wine, and retail
***
Art seems to have been part of your life / a value of yours for a longtime. Could you briefly touch on its role in opening Domestique, if any? 
I've been "into" art and "into" wine (at least, they've always taken up space along the sidelines of my existence). But I don't think that I actually thought of them together (specifically, that art started to frame wine for me) until I became obsessed with natural wine. The expression and abstraction in natural wine made me consider wine in a more aesthetic light than I ever had before. And since then, I can't think of wine outside of art. I couldn't have opened Domestique without considering art as part of the process, because wine and art now live together in the same part of my brain.
In the art world, there are waves of 'taste' or movements in aesthetics... do you think the same could be said for wine? Where are we now?
The wine world definitely goes through waves of taste, just like the art world. I'd say right now we're somewhere in between Dadaism and Surrealism. I'm hoping we can speed up this part a bit and just arrive at Pop Art already.
*
The last landscape you saw that amazed you? 
I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to landscapes. I think the world is full of shockingly beautiful places. I've been thinking about the mountains a lot recently. Colorado in the spring is fucking magical. But I often just find myself amazed looking out of my third-story bedroom window at Washington DC and all of its trees and beautiful row homes. 
*
Is a winemaker an artist, artisan, or maker....does it even matter? 
Good winemakers are many things: farmers, tractor mechanics, janitors, and, yes, artists. 
photo by: Naoko Wowsugi 
drawing by: Nat Segal

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Do you drink at openings?

A short interview with Naoko Wowsugi about wine and a zine. 
Do you drink at openings?
Why not? I go to openings sometimes. When I go, I drink wine or bubbly water. Some drinks like PBR make my joints hurt. Do you know why?
*
You recently have been trying to learn more about wine. How is that going?
I enjoy tasting wine. I am training my tongue to get the subtle differences of white wines. To be honest, my tongue is wasting all good wine since I have not cultivated my senses. I text Mr. Baguette to ask for good wine suggestions... I should have a natural wine mentor who knows biodynamic, as well. I am interested in learning about biodynamic farming. I have volunteered at an organic farm for [D.C. nonprofit] Bread for the City for a while. They have used a biodynamic method there. It was very interesting coz they believe if you talk to strawberries, they get sweeter. I would talk to wine to make it tastier. Could Domestique help me to find my natural wine mentor for me? Tell them I am vaccinated.
*
One thing you are reading right now?
I am reading a Japanese book "Saibai Shokubutsu To Nōkō No Kigen (The Origin of Botany and Horticulture)" by Sasuke Nakao, Japanese botanist. This book talks about how horticulture is the root of all creative culture. This book is as inspirational as "The One-Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka.
*
What was the inspiration for your zine?
"Empathy Zone" was originally planned to have on-site group exhibitions in both Beijing and D.C. in 2020. Once COVID-19 entered our realities, we had to shift the project into a virtual format. We held virtual space for ongoing, in-depth conversations among four artists from Beijing: Li Linlin, Duan Shaofeng, Ye Su, and Yin Yadi as well as four artists from D.C.: Sobia Ahmad, Antonio McAfee, Joseph Orzal, and myself. Despite the travel ban, twelve-hour time difference, and language barriers, this project facilitated the artists making genuine connections on a human level and creatively collaborating to represent the globe as a large “Empathy Zone." This bilingual zine brought our online experience and exchange into a physical publication. The project was produced by majority Asians; this past week has been difficult for many AAPI peoples, as well as the rest of America so we hope this zine will foster the spirit of solidarity and harmony amongst all races and cultures.
***

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Refrigeration Voyeur(ism)

Refrigeration Voyeur(ism)

An Ode to Our Fridge 
Everyone has a piece of furniture or special utensil that means much more than its utilitarian use. For us, it's the Migali refrigerator. Eric helped push it through our tiny doorway on a hot summer day after it was dropped off on the corner of North Capitol and Florida. Rebekah plastered it with drawings and goofy notes. We've all stashed lunch in the back, forgot about Jam Doung leftovers, and for two years battled the continual struggle of keeping 100+ bottles “organized." Part-timers who have since moved on to open taco spots (s/o Gus) spent lifetimes hunting through its deeper-than-needed shelves.

The fridge (who we call Ms. Migali) had a lot of changes this year. The beginning of the year was really scary for her — she was emptied completely and, for a few months, forgotten. For the first time in two years, she moved … four inches to the right (it was life changing) and was relegated to holding totes and wine carriers. Slowly, as weeks turned into months, she accepted a new, more domestic life. She's held lots of samples in tiny bottles, much needed shift beers, and some more beer, filtered water, fruit, yogurt, milk, a lot of iced coffee, and quickly became full again.

We love you, Ms. Migali. We can't wait to see you stocked again. Until then, thank you for being patient with us this year.
***
 
Jeff Segal: Owner - Domestique (DC) 
Always: Pampelmousse La Croix, vermouth, multiple mustards, yogurt, hot dogs (for Nat and Cam)
*
Bryn Molloy and Jeffrey Sherwood: Winemakers - Ellsworth Winery (CA)
Always: Salami and Cheese, too many hot sauces
*
Saman Hosseini: Spirits Guru, Baguette Hunter - Domestique (DC)
Always: Gatorade, Tecate, white wine, Duke's, Red Boat, lard, Fage 5%, carrots, citrus, sourdough starter
*
Oliver Pastan: Cook and Wine-o - 2AMYS (DC)
Always: a cucumber (not pictured). 
*
Quentin Borse: Winemaker - Le Sot de l'Ange (Loire, France)
Always: beer, butter, cheese, charcuterie, Vache qui rit, olives, and tonics. And truffle.
And homemade magical butter. 
*
 

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Baroque in its Own Kinda Way By Peter Njoroge

Baroque in its Own Kinda Way By Peter Njoroge

Ludovic Chanson Implicite

Bach the Goldberg Variations Glenn Gould

by Peter Njoroge, Domestique young gun

One of the (only) great things about being alive in 2020 is that for a pretty minuscule amount of money you can summon, like a deity, pretty much anything in the history of recorded music at all times. Music can be like wallpaper that follows you and your headphones around anywhere that you go. I try pretty hard to use this awesome responsibility to check out as much new material as I can, but I always seem to gravitate toward the things that never seem to get old. Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of The Goldberg Variations is one of those special albums that I rarely miss a day without listening.

Gould’s playing here is non-sensational, unromantic, and the music is really baroque. Even as far as classical music is concerned, nothing here jumps out at you or, maybe, is even supposed to jump out at you. It’s not very cool, Gould isn’t very cool, and yet it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. His revisitation of the Goldbergs (he recorded the same variations in 1955) is so clear, so stylized, so full of artistic conviction that I can’t really get my head around what’s happening, and the music sounds brand new every time I listen to it. If you’re not paying attention, the temptation to check out can be overwhelming. In all honesty, to be very reductive, the album contains a lot of similar-sounding solo piano. But, if you really tune in, you get to be a part of something that was a lifetime in the making. 

This is what my favorite producers do and why I love their wines. I’m similarly floored by the dedication to craft and the manifestation of nuance that my favorite winemakers are able to create. In the same way as Gould, they marry expertise, understanding, and individual personality in a way that’s truly singular.

So, they might not all have the most beautiful labels, they might not all have the coolest story and, honestly, someone might just have to tell you about it. But, like few other things in this world, all my favorite wines inspire the same kind of ecstasy that listening to Gould’s playing does.  

WINE I'M DRINKING RIGHT NOW: Ludovic Chanson Implicite, baroque in its own kinda way
LISTENING TO: A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, exploratory and meditative

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Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

Ritual, Celebration, Alcohol

I've been thinking a lot recently about rituals. As humans, we perform rituals because they help us structure and control our inherently chaotic existence and confront the illusion of time. We make coffee at 7:05am every morning, we purge our closets when spring arrives, we always read the Style section first on Thursdays. 

Celebrations are built upon ritual. My older son, Nat, is going to turn five years old in a few weeks. He's at that age where birthdays take on supreme significance. He's been looking forward to his birthday for six months now. About two months ago, he started telling me, "Dad, Coronavirus will definitely be done by the time it's my birthday." And then a few weeks ago, it changed to, "Dad, I think it will be okay if I can't have a big party with my friends, as long as we celebrate at home and I still get a Nerf blaster."

The other day at our house, we saw our next door neighbors outside playing a game with their kids and one other family. They were all wearing the same color. Nat stood at the window watching intently, not saying a word (which never, ever happens) as the small party pinned tails on paper dinosaurs and ate cupcakes and danced. He seemed shaken, pensive, but also oddly accepting, despite the fact that he hasn't seen a friend in person in almost three months. That acceptance was crushing. Eventually Nat walked away from the window and quietly sat down to dinner. We realized it was the neighbor's eldest son's fifth birthday that day.

Alcohol and ritual go hand in hand. Champagne toasts at weddings, beers after a long bike ride, whiskey shots on birthdays, bottles emptied onto the street for lost friends. Business deals and Roman sacrifices alike revolve around the presence of alcohol.

One thing that we've been focused on learning more about recently is sake. I'll readily admit that sake is the area of beverage that I know the least about. It's always intimidated me somewhat. The other week, I was having a discussion with Lane Harlan of Baltimore's Fadensonnen, a beautiful natural wine and sake bar, and she touched upon the value of serving rituals for sake. Lane explained how, from ceramic drinkware to how it's poured to careful manipulation of temperature, ritual is closely tied to the sensory experience of sake. That ritual is likely much of the reason for my intimidation.

And below we're lucky to have Monica Samuels, one of the world's leading sake experts, writing about the confluence of Japanese sake and natural wine. She picks out a few sakes to help guide any natural wine drinkers, like us, who may be newer to the experience.

One of the many things we've lost because of COVID-19 is ritual, especially the ritual of celebration. There are no weddings, bars, or funerals. But we have a chance to find some new, slower rituals these days. At our house, we'll be having "corn-a-macob" and steak for Nat's birthday, at his request.  Because a June birthday also means the beginning of summer, and all of the rituals that that entails. Hopefully we'll carry some of these smaller rituals with us when the old ones come back too. 

-Jeff Segal

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MUSIC X WINE

MUSIC X WINE

In Good Taste 
At Domestique, we are always and forever fascinated with the concept of taste. Our own perceptions of taste and beliefs around taste are constantly shifting. And we like that. Change makes you experience things differently.

Now is a time of great change. That change requires processing and conversation. So, for the next couple newsletters, we're going to focus on the role of wine during a time of crisis. Beverage has always been a backdrop for processing and conversation during moments of change (Hemingway in the Parisian cafe, Patti Smith in the New York coffee house). We want to look specifically at how art can shape perceptions of taste, especially during a time like right now, and how wine lends a frame to that process.

We asked Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, the founder and president of Now-Again Records (the source for much of our absolute favorite vinyl at the shop), to make a playlist in response to COVID-19. As Egon said when I reached out to him about the project, "I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and listening and, yes, sipping in this time. So, I know the importance of reminding people that what they might think of as an indulgence is probably more necessary than, say, hoarding six cases of paper towels."

We're excited to listen to what Egon has put together. If you want, listen alongside a wine of your choice. Maybe choose something that you normally wouldn't drink. Does the music shift your perception of the wine or does the wine change the music? Does it all feel different because you've been stuck at home for a month with your stack of paper towels? Let us know.

LISTEN HERE.

-Jeff

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Quarantine szn\holding pattern. Can’t look to the future. I'm leaning into platitudes. I’m letting go.

Quarantine szn\holding pattern. Can’t look to the future. I'm leaning into platitudes. I’m letting go.

Quarantine szn\holding pattern. Can’t look to the future. I'm leaning into platitudes. I’m letting go. 
Yeah, I'm losing my edge.
To all the kids in Tokyo and Copenhagen.
I'm losing my edge to the farmers market foragers in jumpsuits and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered nineties.
I was there at the first La Dive Bouteille in Saumur.
I was there when Frank Cornelissen set up his clay amphorae.
I told him, "Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime."
I was the first guy pouring wine in Mason jars to the tech staffers.
I was the first guy playing Mulatu Astatke to the finance bros.
I played it at Four Horsemen.
Everybody thought I was crazy.
I was there in Jules’ cellar with the Gang of Four.
I was at the first #rieslingstudy at Roberta’s.
I hear you're buying cow horns and valerian flowers and are throwing your egg whites out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a sans-soufre piquette.

I hear that your winery has sold your oak barrels and bought concrete eggs.
I hear that your wine project has sold your concrete eggs and bought qvevri.
I used to work at Passage de la Fleur.
I had everything before anyone.
We all know.
I was there.
I've never been wrong.
But I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better graphics and more clout.
And they're actually really, really nice.

Losing My Edge by Saman Hosseini

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Finding Meaning In Wine

Finding Meaning In Wine

Does wine matter at all? I mean that seriously, not as a bullshit rhetorical opening. That question has pulled at me, skimming the surface of my consciousness, for the past 15 years. In many ways, I've devoted my life to it. Wine has taken my money, commandeered my memories, dictated my friendships, and monopolized my attention ever since this one night where I scribbled out a tasting note on a napkin at a little wine bar in New York.

But it's easy to think that wine is meaningless. It many ways, it is. It's something that washes down meals, it gets you drunk, it's what happens when a bunch of grapes sit in a container for a while and start to fall apart. It's a beverage. And that's what I think about when I question why I've devoted my life to a beverage. 

The past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. My friends are hiding out with their families wearing masks, learning how to homeschool their kids, and registering for unemployment benefits. We may be undergoing a period of societal change (less gathering, less restaurants, more individualism, more social unrest) that could last for a long time. And that's led me to question wine and its meaning again.

Here's where I've ended up, at least for right now: I don't know that wine has to have meaning. Maybe it just is. I love it, I love the people who make it, I love the people who sell and champion it, and I love that other people love it like I do. And maybe during times like this, that love is enough.

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