Wine is so Theoretical

What working in the wine trade taught me:

Humility produces an unlimited return and is non zero-sum.

This is why any phrasing which compares or measures humility is so deeply suspicious. As a signal of virtue it gains nothing and only obscures corruption.

On another subject (not really) – try replacing the phrase “conspiracy theory” with “convergence of interests.” What is the effect on meaning?

Much energy comes from the contrast of words “theory” and “interest.”

“Theory” has an axis of value. “It’s just a theory,” exemplifies one end, and the more strictly scientific usage exemplifies the other – Heliocentrism, Evolution, etc.

And yet, the word “interest” might be more interesting even than “theory.”

“Interest” is shrouded with a shallow semantic equivalence to “curiosity.” And it is stained with the vulgarity implied by the phrase “special interest.” Interest in this sense, unlike humility, is a zero-sum set.

An ideological framework which positions democracy as virtue implies that special interest is illegitimate. But even in such systems, it must be stitched into the fabric. I suppose the data demands it.

Is it a conspiracy or a convergence of interests that causes an insured warehouse full of trophy wines to burn down?

I know I said not to measure humility, but is this sentence legit?:

“I’d like to see at least as many conversational resources devoted to the humble disclosure of interests as to the declaration of virtue.”

In passing I’d say that doesn’t sound like it was phrased after drinking a bottle of wine.

Of course none of this has to apply only to the subject of wine and its appreciation.



(care to map the sarcasm, if any, in the above?)



Rachel’s Michigan

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This Monday 18 April 2016, starting at 5pm, and lasting as long as the weather cooperates – probably the most important wine event ever to happen at Mudgie’s. I say that because nothing else we’ve ever done had the potential to transform so much jaded wine thinking and to expand and perpetuate all of the humane virtues associated with wine drinking and agriculture. And it is timed to coincide with a common service industry off-day. $15. Package deals available for restaurant and retail teams.


Michigan Wine

Are you like me? Did you want to love Michigan wine? Did you try and try and try? Did you find one or two interesting things along the way? I remember drinking a Mawby Vignoles blend under a lighthouse back when Larry still made still wine. And I consider Dan Matthias, Warren Raftshol and Jim Lester brilliant artisans, perhaps moreso due to their perilous grip with Quixote’s ghost.

But then there was the formative experience of touring the tasting rooms and leaving with a trunk full of wine. When I got home and began opening bottles I wondered what had come over me! Trillium? Really?! (It’s tourism bias, and it can happen in any region.)

I grew tired of getting beaten up by civic-minded wine educators for not jumping on the Michigan bandwagon. I even developed a response to the perpetual question: what do you think of Michigan wine, Putnam?

My answer: Michigan would be a perfect place to produce hard cider. (I used the conditional because this was 2004. Now we know.)


Rachel Van Til

Rachel Van Til is the sommelier at the celebrated Hazel Park restaurant, Mabel Gray, where her list includes daring and brilliant selections from all over the world. (The 2014 Chateau Simone Rosé was un-effing-forgettable!)

Rachel is also my oracle for Michigan wine.


Rachel embodies a rare combination of independence, intelligence, and experience. She worked at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and at Bowers Harbor where the Black Label series of wines is produced. When she tastes them she allows herself to be rigorously critical without any cost to pleasure and sentience.

This is how a fertile mind drinks wine. I depend on such people, though I am not sure I can find an equivalence in this case.

On 18 April Rachel will guest-curate a selection of meaningful Michigan wines for Mudgie’s Detroit Deli. There will be about eight wines and we will meet on the big patio beginning at 5pm.

Prepare to have your mind blown. I’m talking to you, orange-wine-drinking slavophiles!


Know Your Importer/Curator

There is a theme developing throughout the series of Mudgie’s wine events. Of course we focus on the usual quality variables – the farmers, the microbes, geology, history, etc. But one of the most crucial variables is the act of selecting, assembling and delivering the wine. This is a creative process; if one wine has meaning, then a set of wines can have the potential to tell a story.

I probably wouldn’t drink much European wine if it weren’t for the curatorial brilliance of importers like deGrazia, Kermit, Dressner, and de Maison. And with Rachel’s help, I can finally love wines from my home state.



of Grace

…today is Easter in the western churches…


Know Your Importer, Vol. 3

Why should a consumer learn the name of a wine importer? Much has been written about this, and over a long time. Short version: know your importers because your wine purveyor knows them. An honest shop or somm has nothing to hide in this regard. Here are my current thoughts:

Making good wine requires two things.

  1. fortune – from the dirt, to the biome, to the bank – and,
  2. humanity – a cluster of virtues combining self awareness with selflessness, and  thriving in a medium of consciousness expanding.

Most important of all is the latter applied to the former: the awareness of one’s fortune and the ability to resist trying to capture it.

This can help explain why so many great wine properties change hands only to fail immediately and horribly. The new regime with all its vigor is no match for the old in situ. Stars in the eyes and rolls of cash are no substitute for experience making decisions with worms.

Wine requires grace.

Vino di grazia.


Know Your Merchant

Some people in the wine trade talk only about the the wine (points! gobs!), and if they are really smart, sometimes about the farmer (a personality cult), but never about the people selling, collecting and drinking it – and by doing so they are really talking only about themselves. It is selflessness serving an egocentric relationship with (the art form).

It is a fiction that great wines are like perfect jewels snatched from space and time, summoned before our poses of supplication, and grandiose tithes, by faces so dim as to be blank. The act of enjoying wine is elemental to its existence in the first place.

Wine tells a story, and the people building collections of it are also telling a story. It might be a remix, a collage, a mosaic, a pastiche or an ekphrasis. Often these people are in the studio mixing the paint.

Ponder, there are 26 letters in the alphabet and never a shortage of new ways to combine them.


A Quotation from the Fine Art Racket

“I select the selectors, so I control the operation,” she says. “You don’t keep a dog and bark yourself. But I know what they know and I know where they go.” -Gill Hedley on her team of curators for the CAS

Emphasis added.


Missing the Point

It used to madden me when I would suggest that a distributor of the great French wines from Louis/Dressner should also carry the newer, but just as thrilling, Italian wines from the same source.

“But we already have Italian wine,” was the answer. Sure,they had a couple things, and a lot of filler, but not these. I was suffocating from Italian wine starvation!

It wouldn’t have been so bad, but at the time I was also lacking steady access to the  reigning portfolio of great wines from the nation of Italy: Marc deGrazia.

Marco de Grazia began importing Italian wine in 1980, a first of its kind in that it eschewed anything but the most gorgeous and authentic of estate wines. By the mid 1990s Marco was a star in his own right – or at least he was amongst the masses of sommeliers and buyers who would attend his tastings and patiently await their allocations of rare and limited items.

If you didn’t know about deGrazia Selections already, please let me introduce you. These are dynamic, diverse, humorous, numerous and sincere wines. Based on the prices they fetch, I can only conclude that the American market is absurdly unaware of their merit as a group of drinks.


Unsolicited Advice

Try sharing credit. It feels good. Maybe it can prepare you emotionally to identify with your guests.

Or don’t share credit. Or share it only with your protected objects of exploitation.


Credit where credit is due.

The Art of Collecting Art. It exists.




Now Offering Degrees

A Wine Monkey degree (WM) from our academy is awarded to scholars who have demonstrated 1) a strong theoretical and personal understanding of homo sapiens in the evolutionary biological order, 2) knowledge of the unwavering rules of cladistics (esp. monophyletic heirarchy), and 3) evidentiary rules for evaluating cultural objects, especially wine, as a monkey. Our graduates know they are monkeys and are appropriately empowered as monkeys.

A Wine Hobo degree (WH) from our academy is awarded to a WM who has demonstrated useful knowledge of a specific non-virtual market environment. Wine Hobos know where to look, who to ask, how to maximize the effective use of resources, and must show an ability to help others navigate their chosen environment. Migration is not required of a WH. A practical understanding of the Hobo Code is required.

A Wine Sherpa degree (WS) is awarded to a WH who contributes to the local wine environment in a way that promotes social, psychic and individual well-being at large, regardless of socioeconomic status, or position in the production and distribution chain. A WS appears to ignore self interest for the sake of summoning muses, enhancing sex lives, and generalizing a state of ecstasy and euphoria for all monkeys.

Our Academy is now accepting applicants. Please submit your application in person or electronically. Enhance your probability of admission to our academy by presenting text in reference to the image immediately below:


Who was Shakespeare making fun of?

How about Swift, Carroll, Melville, Burroughs?


Who was Frank f-ing Zappa making fun of?!

That’s right. They were making fun of you and me. And you love them when they make you nervous, as long as its just a little.

Laughter comes from tension; it’ a banality that deserves its status.

Now I don’t believe I will ever meet the next Zappa. But I make alliances with anyone making fun of the language, our language. The more nervous the audience gets, all the better. You know …, as long as there is an audience.

The laughs are coming.

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(Should I dread the dreary unsaid reply? Shakespeare was making fun of Elizabethans! There’s your answer, pal.)

Archive: text fragment from 2011

I want our wine conversation to acknowledge the role that simply “liking” has to do with, well, that which we like. 

Certainly merely liking or not liking takes us nowhere particularly interesting. These determinations do not lead to understanding, and that is why I avoid wine tastings and sampling exercises in general. “I like.” “I don’t like.” They are like arbitrary binary commitments, self-imposed restraining devices designed for consumer obedience. I live in Detroit in part to escape that system. 

Furthermore, I would not enjoy wine without our somewhat ideological emphasis on “natural wine,” as difficult to define as that term is. Aside from providing meaningful insight into various scholarly domains such as history and evolutionary biology, understanding natural wine lets me skip over enormous quantities of meaningless filler and minor frauds so that I can reliably and routinely enjoy a bottle without sampling it first. Because I don’t want to sample. I want to drink and talk.

But an over reliance on theory runs the risk of obscuring a vital truth: we are, each, a little empire of taste. We are sovereigns of our own intuition, whether connected to our palates or any other sense. It even occurs to me that this may itself be an expression of a preference, for democracy and participation, but I’m going with it.

The most rewarding professional moments for me are when understanding and taste seem to be shared. This can happen in trivial exchanges, such as finding a better-than-average value for someone who prefers something industrial. And it can happen on a more grand scale, developing over time, connected to other distant sentient beings, and in symmetry with a close friendship. Like ours! 

And indeed, the greater my fortune of wine drinking friends, the more aggravating I find those interactions with sellers who seem obstinate in their refusal to “get it.” This is all the more true when a server or rep summons forth some “organically grown” tripe, as if I’m *supposed* to like that crap.

he mentioned that he was not keen on the direction d’Oupia/Heretiques has taken since Andre Iche’ died. He feels the wine now is a concession to the rampant fashion for over-extraction and more-than-optimal ripeness. I can see what he means even if I can still enjoy the wines. We live in different towns, with different wine choices, and I think that can explain the difference in our judgment as well as anything.

On the phone you mentioned Giocato Pinot Grigio. It is something you would

Australian Spider Bites

Spiders deadly to humans. Happy ending. Here’s the cash quotation:

“Dr Sutherland proved his antivenom reversed poisoning in monkeys, the only other mammal affected by funnel-web venom

Ahem. “other mammal”?

It should read: “reversed poisoning in other monkeys.”