Search & Distill: In America, Wine Is Just a Piece of Meat

It’s not holding up much better in France.

2008 was the year I fell out of love with wine. I know the exact moment. It was a 90-degree day in Napa, and I stood agog in front of Darioush, the Persian-themed faux-shrine of a winery columned to within an inch of its life. We rechristened it the Temple of Douche. I had to explain to my family that not all wine people flaunt money like first-round draft picks, and not all wineries look like a theme-park reject.But I felt like an enabler. I knew this moment would happen, because there's a danger to working with something you love. I looked around and thought, "I just don't know you anymore," and I was through making excuses. Sure, wine's romantic and wonderful if you only ever see it on the table, but the business of wine?—not so much. Wine is made, bought, and sold, just like any number of consumables. Food becomes commodity. Bottom line replaces romance. The world of wine becomes the wine industry. You can have it. I adore wine for the human effort and expression of nature I taste captured in each bottle, not for the name on the goddamn label.Our local winemakers still run their own tasting rooms and make plenty of time for the public, but they are blips on the radar. The sales side of wine is still primarily driven by the corporate, and America is not alone in its fight against globalization and the moneyed. That's why I was so relieved at the publication of Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country by Robert V. Camuto (University of Nebraska Press, $24.95), a three-bath read about the author's tour into the heart and soul of French wine as told through various French winemakers—holdouts, eccentrics, and mutineers all. If you saw and liked the film Mondovino, get this book. Like a collection of love letters to wine, each chapter showcases a winemaker who has carved out a niche for himself amid the encroaching corporate tide, sprawl, or commercialization. In a world of oak chips and cost-benefit analysis, these are the winemakers who must endure, even in beloved France.As goes France, so goes the world. When you learn about wine, you necessarily learn about France, keeper of the paradigm for all the go-to grapes used in New World wines. Camuto writes from the traveler's perspective, albeit an educated one; he often contributes to Wine Spectator and the Washington Post on topics relating to wine and France. He moved to France eight years ago from Texas, where he had started the Fort Worth Weekly (no relation). "When I moved to France, I saw that on the one hand there were the same modern trends of standardization here, but there was still part of the soul of France that expressed itself in those Sunday lunches where people still enjoyed great food and wine," says Camuto. But this idealized view of France is changing rapidly as family bakeries, restaurants, and wineries face impossible odds, squeezed by French policies and EU regulations.I asked Camuto how he viewed American wine culture, having lived abroad these past few years. He said, "I still think Americans look at wine as a way to show off," he said. "And Americans like easy handles. They want 'the best,' or they want a label." This book discusses wine as an agricultural product, not a luxury good.The book's assertion that "organic" is just common sense, and its harsh criticism of Bordeaux, warmed my cold heart. In 20 years, what the hell will Bordeaux mean? Camuto's book has no answers, just an assembly of people facing modernity on the front rows.mdutton@seattleweekly.comCamuto will read Tues., Feb. 17 at noon at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St.). That evening he'll be at The Local Vine (2520 Second Ave.), discussing his book over some of the bottles featured in it.

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