Portraits of people that we love, w/ wine.Continue reading
Portraits of people that we love, w/ wine.Continue reading
by Erica Christian, sommelier and activist
Natural wine and hip-hop make for a perfect pairing. Yet, we fail to make that connection with certain styles of rap music. Yeah, we heard Jay-Z when he said, “ain’t no stoppin the Champagne from poppin” at the end of “Politics As Usual” on Reasonable Doubt. We felt that. People can ride with the celebration, but what about the grittier sounds? It’s easy to pop Champagne when listening to Jay, but rappers like Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and Westside Gunn are rarely associated with wine so directly, especially bubbles. These three rappers and their group Griselda actually make the perfect pairing for pet nat. Is it really so surprising?
You see, hip-hop is terroir expressive; an expression of the holistic natural environment. Griselda’s style of rap is street rap: raw, organic, and gritty. They come from my hometown of Buffalo, NY. It's a poor, segregated industrial city plagued with violence and drug use. The struggle to grow up there is one I have been privy to and this environment is clearly represented in their music. Street rap is often painted as glorification of violence and drug use, but we value wine that's indicative of its home and don’t call that glorification. We should do the same when listening to Griselda, as it allows you a taste of their home, no different than a Loire Valley Folle Blanche/Chardonnay pet nat.
More than being representative of the streets, Griselda is the result of the pressure to survive in that environment and the success of that story. Surviving under pressure is what produces the often soft but volatile bubbles of our favorite sparkling natty wines. We drink them during celebrations and gatherings. We love them because they transform in the bottle and bring artistry to the grapes that grew from struggling vines. Griselda deserves that same love alongside your natty bubbles. Their music is something to both contemplate and celebrate.When we taste and listen, we engage with something new, but also very personal. To drink a pet nat while listening to Griselda's album What Would Chine Gun Do? (WWCD) is to immerse yourself in the extremely personal experience of navigating and surviving under pressures beyond any individual's control. Sit back. Crack a bottle open and enjoy while listening from beginning to end. Let the words and experience envelop you. Let them open your heart to something with which you may be unfamiliar. Let the wine carry you through their hardships and triumphs. Finish the last drop in celebration of their survival as it has truly created a work of art.
We are all so conditioned to fight for our success that we often skip over our missed opportunities. But this is the moment where we should reflect on times where we could have done more, spoken up, and taken action. And I know that I’m not alone in feeling that I have had some shortcomings when it comes to inclusion in wine.
A little background for you: While I claim Pittsburgh as home, I did a bit of growing up in Charlotte, NC in a suburban neighborhood where we were the only Black family for years. Houses had ample yards, and each backyard was seemingly a small forest. At that time in my life, I was known for athletics and academics, which often times gave me a pass that even some of my white friends wouldn’t get. I lived in a world of privilege that I did not care to see or even acknowledge. Breaking into the nearby pool to swim at midnight? Cops drove me home. Smashing mailboxes? The cops laughed and sent me on my way. I was trained not to see that my treatment was different from anyone else’s experiences.
Even my foray into wine has been laden with opportunities that I now see others who look like me have not received. Small things like tasting invites, or larger things like having your restaurant asked to host awards.
Earlier in my career, I never took the time to look around to see that I was either the only, or one of two people of color, instead enjoying and embracing my O.N.I.F.C. status. Or maybe I was just too selfish to care. I was too busy focusing on being in the room to remember to hold the door for anyone behind me. But I’m here now, eyes open, willing to share my past deficiencies to show that we can all be guilty of not doing enough.
What matters now is that we’re shifting the focus to highlight the places and people that we neglected before. We must make up for lost time and failed inclusion—there is a duty for each and every one of us, myself included, to make sure we remember that we did not get here without support, and now it is time to support people who have been overlooked for far too long. Growth is seeing beyond yourself.
Eric Moorer is a sommelier, was part of the opening team at Domestique, and is our Director of Sales.
I'm a born contrarian. Not argumentative, mind you. But just always looking for an alternative approach, a third way. Coming up, I was raised to be Bougie AF. And I often went along with it...at times, quite happily. But when the Elders weren't looking, I was sometimes prone to acting out, trying out, showing out. I was a curious girl who always felt compelled to explore.
When I graduated college, worried that I might be constrained to a life of predictability, I knocked on the kitchen door of a restaurant I adored (the D.C. institution, Restaurant Nora), and asked for a job. They obliged, and my work in food and hospitality (and ultimately, wine) commenced.
I am forever indebted to that opportunity because it validated my natural desire to challenge the status quo, while also demanding that I do so within the professional sphere. As restaurateurs, the Pouillon-D'Amato clan worked relentlessly to address dissonance within American food pathways, and were key players in creating a market for organic, local ingredients. Food should be joyful and nourishing, yes. But food could also be a mission; and food in America was inherently political. This sense of purpose gave me the strength to begin to carve out my own path. And I needed that strength, because as a first-generation West Indian American, great things were expected, and food and service were clearly perceived as a step backward. Yet, I couldn't shake it. I was inspired.
I made my way back to New York, where I was raised, and worked in some fantastic places. A barrage of important restaurants, a bread company, a food consultant...wherever I felt drawn in by feeling part of a community and a larger purpose. Believing that I had already disappointed my family actually liberated me to do whatever I pleased. But wine was not initially on my radar. To me, it reeked of elitism and was filled with people who didn't look like me. But surprisingly, via the encouragement, support and mentoring of many of those people who didn't look like me, white men like Joe Dressner, Terry Theise and Charlie Woods; and white women like Beth von Benz and Anita Katzman, I began to work as a bona fide wine professional. This was before the obsession with credentials and certifications, before anyone dare utter the misguided honorific, "celebrity somm." The business was filled with people who also seemed to be disappointing their folks. And yet they were impassioned, inspired and caring. I had found my tribe.
A life-changing moment occurred at a luncheon with Michel Chapoutier. While he remains a titan of the industry, in those days, he was also a bit of a renegade: the stubbly Braille on dem labels espousing less-heralded varieties like Roussanne and what-not. In those days, I was usually the only person of color in the room, and also one of the few women. As we dined and imbibed in the lovely garden room of the old Provence in Soho, I snuck a peek at his hands. Callused. Pillowy and well-tended, but definitely callused in spots. That sighting was one of a string of road signs that told me that I belonged in this world. His hands reminded me of my grandfather, a farmer in Saint Catherine, Jamaica, whose own callused hands tended to pigs and sugar cane. Honest men doing honest work. Were grapes really so different than bananas? I decided they weren't.
We are currently experiencing a reckoning both in this country and within the wine industry. It's necessary. It's overdue. My path was truly not the normal one, particularly for women of color. I was lucky. I was impetuous. I was strangely confident. I thank my mother and my grandmother for that brash sense of entitlement. But honestly, the path to wine shouldn't just be open to heedless Black girl knuckleheads as some one-off. It should be an open and welcoming job path for anyone who seeks it, whether they run into the "right" folks en route or not. Whether they have something to prove, or just want to earn a paycheck in a pretty fun way. Whether they want to be big stars...or just be part of a tribe, that in its best expression, feels a lot like family.
Lee Campbell is a wine consultant and sommelier based in Brooklyn.
It somehow happened that this week's newsletter is focused entirely on women: Gina, mothers, Sefika. And we wanted to keep the trend going with Meri Lugo. Meri is the GM at Little Serow, my neighbor, and a woman of great taste (and kindness). We asked her to make another list to keep us out of the vicious hamster wheel of mass media.
Jeff's wife, Julia (another badass woman), described Phoebe's list from the other week as the smartest thing we've ever put in the newsletter. Hope you enjoy another copy and paste situation from a brilliant woman.
If it wasn’t painfully obvious already, let’s just say that the importer life is not all that Instagram has shown it to be.
I don’t think anyone can say they’ve truly made it until they've shared dirty futons on the floor in the Loire or quite literally survived off Daunat sandwich triangles from highway rest stops all over France. Grandée all day, that’s our motto. I started my “career” in wine just like so many of us did: we fell into it one way or another. For me it was a restaurant gig at the long-shuttered Mercat in Noho. I was in college, had no real plans - nothing even remotely resembling a vision of the future - and yet something about serving wine to interesting people was the only thing getting me through my shifts. Well, that and the near-certain promise of some sort of raging party afterwards. I wasn’t long for the restaurant world and a slew of menial jobs followed. But somehow I knew I’d have to come back to wine. Fast forward some years later, I’m wrapping up my last few shifts at Chambers Street Wines before starting my new high-powered, glamorous, executive role with Selection Massale.
For me, the highway sandwiches and dirty futons are what has made my job all the more gratifying. It's why I'm willing to jump headfirst into the uncharted territory of spreadsheets, government red tape, and traveling so much that I forget what my girlfriend and dog look like. Because it connects me directly to the backbreaking work it takes to produce these beverages we love.
Right now, the sun is setting over the mountains in the distance and I finally just had my first taste of takeout pizza since this whole thing started. A slice that normally would have been a six out of ten almost made me cry on this who knows what day of being locked down. We've moved out of Brooklyn into a house in the Catskills. It's a pastoral escape planned long in advance turned into a seemingly last ditch effort to get out of Dodge before it all went to hell. I, like everyone I know, am finding out just how uncharted this new territory is. I love this industry dearly. I hope it endures in one form or another, familiar to us now or not. I believe it will thrive once again. Well, until the global ecosystem collapses because of climate change (but that’s for another day that will be fueled by exponentially many more daiquiris).
In the end it will always come back to the things we love to drink and the people we love drinking them with, whether you're in a damp cave in the Loire or still stuck on your living room floor. The glasses emptied around the world and the people emptying them are the glue that holds this whole mess together. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find an industry as tight knit and focused on people as the booze business. For now all we can do is try to stay well, drink some good booze, and love each other. I can’t wait to see you all again.
-Tim Gagnon, General Manager at Selection Massale