Monday, August 22, 2011

the new jerusalem, dude

I have become a glorified Independent Film Junkie—crazy about these humanly significant films.  I recently experienced, and I say “experienced” rather than watched, because these films push and pull and after the physical film is over, the metaphysical remains embedded in your being so much so that they shape thoughts and actions—experience.  Anyhoo, I kept passing over this film titled ‘Sabah’ because it didn’t seem particularly engrossing to me.  So, with a gorgeous case of insomnia looming, I decided to experience the film.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the intended effect but I’m relieved for it became the axis for this scop. (and I loved it.)
Young Syrian family immigrates to Toronto.  Highly liberal Father, who wanted a more open life for his son and two daughters, unexpectedly passes.  As the family ages without his influence, they revert to a Syrian culture:  a male-dominated environment.  Frankly, it makes sense.  Their main influencer is gone.  And I wonder if they had lived in the States would the outcome have been the same?  Would an American culture have had any influence on them? Or is that too broad? Should I have said an east / west United States culture or even more specific, state, county, city or village?
As Americans, how do we shape others?  What sets us apart from other cultures around the world.  We used to be called a melting pot, in use by 1780, the term referred to the assimilation of immigrants into one larger culture.  As much as this was good at the time, flash forward to about 1970 where folks didn’t necessarily think this was such a good idea.  Proponents of multiculturalism proposed something a little different:  the term mosaic, which refers to distinct individuality within the whole.  My grandfather, who came over on “the boat” as a little boy, returned to Ellis Island as a man, a man who carried a wet rag to erase chalk marks the “authorities” placed upon the shoulders of those people who weren’t as good as the rest, those that may not be easily accepted for whatever reason.
For that matter, how do we influence other Americans? And now I can’t help but make the leap to our wine culture.  Do we chalk mark those viticultural areas and grapes that we don’t deem as important as other areas and varietals? Do we discriminate grape varietals?  Do only vitis vinifera varietals make good wine? Are we grouping all of our wines together, and not seeing the varied microclimates?
I asked the above to a new friend of mine, Denise who works at one of my favourite places in the Burg right now, World of Wine, and she said, “the essence of…what is the American culture of wine, I think we need to look state by state; coast vs coast.”  She goes on to quote Kermit Lynch:  “We Americans with our New World innocence and democratic sensibilities tend to think that all wines are created equal, and that differences in quality are simply a matter of taste.  The wines produced by each nation are different…. One understands the style of California wines better when one understands the pioneer spirit, and one cannot appreciate French wine with any depth of understanding without knowing how the French themselves look at their wines…..”
I recently tasted a few Virginia nortons and I thought they were structurally well-made, delicious wines, tasting of salty bacon fat, dusty pez candies, light spice and a haunting savoury woodsiness on the back end.
Norton belongs to vitis aestivalis which is pest resistant and cold-hardy but, unfortunately, is difficult to propagate through dormant cuttings, the primary commercial means of propagation. As one of the oldest known American cultivars, the official heritage of norton is still debated, although most believe it to be a hybrid between aestivalis and vinifera.
According to Jack Keller, the “father” of wine blogging, “If people allowed their senses to taste the wines without engaging their biased brains, many non-vinifera wines would be best sellers.”
The point is this: America is an infant on the stage of the world's wine regions. We have the dirt, the climate and the passion, but in our attempts to legitimize our wines, we give them French and Italian sounding names. We use the grape varieties that spent millennia adapting to climates that are not ours, and with some early success we have developed a façade of culture, one that's not yet earned. In other words, we are the lusty rakes throwing our grappling hooks over the walls of Burgundy's Clos Vougeot, trying to co-opt wine culture rather than evolve our own. And as often happens in fables, the treasures can turn to dust. We want to steal the luster from the Tour d'Argent. We may not have earned a proper American wine culture yet, but we're on our way. All we have to do is take deep breaths, cook our hearts out, and sit at table with friends, food and good bottles (and maybe leave the smartphones in the car). Wine can't be appreciated in a vacuum, it has to become an integral part of our lives.
Those of us alive today aren't likely to see an American wine culture that has divorced itself from Europe. A wine tradition defines itself over centuries as generations of vintners incorporate new grape varietals that, mutating from the cuttings that spawned them, exquisitely adapt themselves to the soil and situation they find themselves in. Understanding how regional wines mesh with local game and produce at the table is what creates an authentic cultural experience, one so primally rewarding it's repeated, and over time becomes tradition. The real sign of progress is not in putting "Chateau" on your label, but in being European with your patience, in giving the American wine scene a few relaxed centuries to evolve. " (Wes Hagen is the vineyard manager and winemaker at Clos Pepe in Santa Rita Hills, California.)
I’d like to think Americans can have a culture of acceptance, a culture of “dude.”  Ooh, I like that.  Seriously, think about that word, by changing our inflections and facial expressions, that one word conveys all that you’re saying, but inherently, remains unchanged.  Dude.


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