What Motivates Our Hunger for Wine?

hungryforwineI left my casual meeting with Cathy Huyghe a little bit miffed at her for being late. She was traveling from Saint Helena to meet me at Peet’s Coffee in Napa and was a half hour late (she didn’t factor in traffic). As I sat outside Peet’s waiting for her and got her email apologizing for her tardiness, I didn’t really care. My work was done for the day, I had a cup of coffee and something to read. I could wait.

But after spending that half hour with Forbes’ online wine writer and the author of “Hungry For Wine”, I realized I wanted more. So I got a little miffed she was late. I’m over it.

Cathy is not a typical wine writer. Like most wine writers she is smart and she possesses a pretty impressive body of knowledge and experience in other subject matters. What makes her different however is her willingness to approach wine writing and to approach her audience by pursuing meaning well beyond the contents of a bottle, the characteristics of a wine region or the nature of a grape. Cathy uses wine as a periscope that looks upon the world and people around her and beyond her.

That seems like a hefty bit of pressure to put on wine. But when you learn her story you realize that she’s not actually asking the wine to do this kind of heavy lifting. She’s doing it all on her own.

Huyghe is a Harvard graduate with a Design and Journalism degree. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and twin boys. She writes about wine for Forbes Online and has been published in numerous other venues She’s quick to smile. She’s curious. She’s perceptive in ways that many wine writers are not. In addition to being toward the end of a cross-country tour to promote “Hungry For Wine”, she is currently in the midst of an “experiment”: for a month all she is going to do is drink mass marketed, every-day, inexpensive wines (she calls them “Blue Collar Wines) like the vast majority of Americans do and like nearly no wine writers do. So, she’s also a brave woman.

Huyghe began her wine career with a blog: “365 Days of Wine”. She lived in Boston at the timeHuyghe and discovered through writing about wine every day for 365 days that it was an entrance into a community, a city and friendships. From here she went on to further explore the digital realm of wine through creating a wine app that connected people to wine events and wine culture, by founding and organizing events and by spreading her wine writing wings beyond her blog.

In “Hungry For Wine”, Huyghe is really looking at what hunger, what motivation, lies behind the work of various wine people around the world and in very different circumstances. Syrian Christian winemakers. Greek winemakers. Urban winemakers. Natural winemakers. The short chapters are profiles of these people, their fixations, how wine (mostly their own) reflects their place in the world and their challenges and their loves and their hungers as they relate to wine—or otherwise.

Huyghe style of writing is very conversational and even modest. Her’s is not a style that delivers hard and fast declarations. Her prose read quite a bit the way she sounds when chatting outside a Peet’s Coffee. It makes her writing very easy and pleasurable. You realize your are not reading a Wine Writer but a writer on wine.

The people who will read and should read “Hungry For Wine” are those who are much more interested in wine than your typical drinker of blue-collar wines. And this is good because in the end, “Hungry For Wine” plays a trick on us. Upon finishing the shortish book the wine lover and wine aficionado isn’t pulled even further into the world of wine. The wine lover is not made more intent to explore wine further.

Rather, upon finishing “Hungry for Wine” the wine lover is pushed away from wine and ends up, at least for a while, contemplating how wine exposes our desires, how it connects us to other people, how it makes us feel and how wine cements us to communities. Instead of asking or urging us to delve down into a wine and understand its parts and origins, Huyghe ends up goading us to pull our noses out of the glass and look at the world and people around us, if through a wine glass.

The final chapter, appropriately entitled “Conclusions”, helps cement this effect as Huyghe questions her own relationship to wine and riffs on how difficult it is for her to not analyze a wine, not tasting-note-to-death the wine, but rather just let it please her. Her time as a wine writer has not trained her to do this. In the end, Huyghe does understand how to be simply pleased and accompanied by the drink.

This last chapter was an interesting read for me as I’m one of those people who find the greatest pleasure in wine when I am analyzing and comparing and breaking it down. For me, the warming pleasure and the simple company a wine provides and the sensual pleasure of the wine is entirely secondary to the analysis of  the wine and understanding the context of the wine. This is what draws me to the drink. I can’t really, truly enjoy a wine for its own liquid, warming sake. I want to know it.

But, for the sake of argument, I took Cathy’s advice given in the concluding chapter of “Hungry For Wine” and tried to “just drink it”. I got as far as my cellar where the question of what to drink confronted me. A 2008 Three Valleys Zin from Ridge. But which Valleys? How was the 2008 harvest? Is it a protest against the idea of terroir? Hmmm. Or the 2011 Pinot Noir from the Petaluma Gap. Wet vintage. Pinot ripens early and that was good thing in ’11. Is there a real singular character to these Petaluma Gap wines?

I retreated to the bar and poured bourbon, threw a cube in and shook some bitters.

The subtitle of Huyghe’s book is “Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass”. Huyghe’s writing in Forbes and in this book is worthy of our time and consideration for a number of reasons, but primarily because she offers a glimpse of what’s beyond the glass that many of us have a hard time seeing.

Hungry For Wine: Seeing the World Through the Lense of a Wine Glass
By Cathy Huyghe
Published by Provisions Press (September, 2015)

One Response

  1. mike - November 13, 2015

    duh! wine for 95% of consumers is not just about over analyzing the intricacies of the flavor nuances for sure, and probably not for 80% of the producers. It’s about how the day was, who you are with and who helped you get it there. I know its fun to tease apart and name the aromatics and flavors(and for those with way too much time, the vintage) but most just want an easy pick in the market and an “ah ha, that’s nice” as they get their moment in the easy chair or when cooking. Still a passion, just a different drive. For most of us in the industry we enjoy delivering to that big crowd and agonize over the reception of the anal analytical reception. Cheers

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