Monday, November 23, 2015

The Church Of Amy Semple McFeiring--Holiday Edition

I wrote this piece more than two years ago, when Natural Wines were all the talk of the industry.
It's Thanksgiving week, and I'm sure few are paying attention to wine blogs, and even fewer are paying attention to me, so I thought I'd drag this old piece of dung out of the compost heap. Nothing better than Thanksgiving leftovers with Natural Wine. 

I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving. Remember to be grateful, especially for not being a character on HoseMaster of Wine™.

I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a miracle. I never expected anything like this to ever happen to me. I attended the revival meeting innocently enough. I simply wanted to witness this strange and burgeoning cult firsthand. Experience the hypnotic and numinous leader in the flesh, just one in the sea of her admiring acolytes. I didn’t expect to be converted, to be healed of my many enological sins. But those hours in her company, listening to her speak, recognizing her inarguable spiritual truths, have brought me to the Light. Many have called her a charlatan, a nimble-tongued purveyor of half-truths, a self-proclaimed prophet of the pure, who preys upon the dimwitted dipsomaniacs and the mouth-breathing Millennials, whose calls to consume only the Natural, the Real, and the Authentic are clarion calls to the weak-minded and easily befuddled. I was one of those who berated her. No longer. I have seen miracles with my own two eyes. I have awakened as if from a long, sulfite-induced coma. I am newly baptized in the Natural Wine Church of Aimee Semple McFeiring. I’ve been reborn.

My epiphany began under a large tent on a warm summer’s eve somewhere in the South of France. As I entered, the congregation was singing Natural Wine gospel songs. “Fight the Good Sulfite,” “What a Friend We Have in Chauvet,” and “For He’s a Joly Good Fellow,” were sung with heart and conviction. The tent was filled with love—love, and anticipation of Aimee Semple McFeiring’s long-awaited entrance. I was welcomed with warmth and open arms, and a glass of natural wine that had a nose married perfectly with the overpowering aroma of the devoted deodorant-free throng. The worshippers grew quiet, the hymns stopped, the lights in the tent slowly dimmed to the oxidized color of a sulfite-free current release, and Aimee Semple McFeiring walked slowly onto the stage.

It was only then I noticed the people gathered at the very front of the crowd, just a few feet below Aimee Semple McFeiring, their eager and open faces turned to her brilliance. “Brothers and sisters,” McFeiring exclaimed, “is there anyone here who wants to be cured tonight?” What happened next is almost too unbelievable to relate; and if I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it either. But as Steiner is my witness, every word I write is true.

Wine people with every kind of horrible affliction, those people in front who had seemed the most eager to see McFeiring, began to line up on the steps leading up to the stage where Aimee Semple McFeiring was bathed in that oxidized glow, a glow which seemed to radiate from her purely natural hair color. At first, the sight of all of these terribly deformed wine lovers was horrifying to behold. The first man in line was wearing a Hawaiian shirt with the Trader Joe’s logo, and at the sight of him the congregation gasped and collectively turned their heads, a few attempting to muffle the sounds of gagging. There was a middle-aged, Humpty Dumpty-shaped woman wearing a shirt that had shiny beads spelling out the words “Got Wine?” I tried not to stare, but it was horrible to behold, and I was riveted to the sight, amazed at the woman’s courage to appear in public looking that inhuman and disgusting. A man was holding up a copy of The Wine Advocate, dog-eared and covered in highlighter, and people left a wide swath around him as though he might give them a disfiguring communicable disease, something with scales, a deadly form of 100 Point psoriasis. There were no fewer than a hundred of these pathetic souls in line, and from their dishevelment and grotesque appearance, I knew many of them were winemakers.

“Do you believe, brother?” Aimee Semple McFeiring asked the poor, misguided soul in the Trader Joe’s shirt (a woman next to me whispered to her friend, “He drinks Charles Shaw,” whereupon her friend wet her pants in fear). “I believe! I believe!” he shouted. And with that his Hawaiian shirt vanished, simply vanished, I have no idea how but for the power of Aimee Semple McFeiring, and he donned the hair shirt of the true believers in the Natural Wine Church. (McFeiring told him it wasn’t necessary to wear the hair shirt, but he replied, “It’s cilice I can do.”) Well, it’s not really made of hair, I learned, but of old filter pads cast aside by reformed winemakers. The grotesque woman in the “Got Wine?” shirt crawled on her knees to Aimee Semple McFeiring. There were tears in her eyes as McFeiring placed her right hand on the top of the woman’s head and shouted, “Be gone, Satan! Go back to Hell, Shanken! Leave this woman, Spawn of Heimoff!” The woman’s eyes rolled up in her head, she dropped unconscious to the floor, the crowd inhaled deeply as one. Then she began to levitate. McFeiring’s hand was still on her head, and it was as though she were lifting her with the strength of her will, with the power of her belief, with the pureness of her vision for the True Wine. And when the woman awoke, now alert and on her feet, her shirt now read “God Wine.”

But the man with The Wine Advocate was a different problem for Aimee Semple McFeiring. He held the issue in front of him, arms fully extended, and it was clear that McFeiring was frightened. She hissed, a long, sibilant syllable that made the congregants gasp. “Be not frightened, brothers and sisters. There’s no need to fear the forces of evil as represented by this steaming pile of lies.” She approached the man. “Do you believe, brother?” she whispered, the crowd growing silent in witness to her passion. “I want to believe,” the man replied, his arms beginning to tremble, “but I don’t know that I can.” “Put the ratings from Hell down!” Aimee Semple McFeiring commanded. The man’s voice broke, tears streaming down his cheeks, “But how will I know what to drink? Without the Book of David, and the Book of Neal, and the Book of Lisa, I’ll have nothing!” “You have nothing now,” Aimee Semple McFeiring said, and with that The Wine Advocate burst into flame. The man screamed and cast it aside. His loneliness was palpable, the emptiness of his life flashed across his face. Aimee Semple McFeiring walked slowly to the man. She slipped one strap of her dress off of her shoulder, in the dim light of the tent her breast was exposed, and the man suckled at her breast. A woman behind me whispered, “He drinks Cornelissen Rosé from her teat, it’s the greatest Natural Wine there is.” After a few pulls, the man stood straight up, he seemed six inches taller, and he glowed! Light radiated from his every pore. The tent lights were dimmed, but you could have read “Naked Wine” by his Light. It was a miracle.

And that night I also saw the Light. There is no wine but Natural Wine. All the rest is lies. To let it pass your lips is a sin. But we’re human, Aimee Semple McFeiring teaches us, and we sin. Chauvet died for our sins, so we will be forgiven. But we must strive to be without sin, to taste only what the Natural Wine Church of Aimee Semple McFeiring says is Authentic and Real and Natural, or we shall forever live in Ignorance and worship False Wines. I, for one, believe.


Carl LaFong said...

I saw this today on Alice's blog

2015 is the International Year of the Soil. Did you know? And as the creator of The Feiring Line newsletter, I was asked to help celebrate the soils of the world at the Ballymaloe House Literary Food and Wine Festival.

Since I couldn't make it to the festival, I made some of my own soil while I read the blog. Natural, yes. Smelly, yes to that too.

Sybaritewino said...

Funny then, funny now. Happy T-Day.


Natural Wine remains the talk. Did you hear of the event in SF on Nov. 14? Califermentation?

Aaron said...

Don't worry Ron, I've got you on RSS so I never miss a posting!

@Carl LaFong
Indeed? Well, there's a reason they night soil ;)

Really, wow. Well, anyway they can attract as many people as possible to a big room to all get drunk together.

Although looking at the list, I literally just had Deux Punx last Sat for the first time, loved their white blend. I also very much like Two Shepherds, he makes some very nice wine.

But Methode Sauvage and j.Brix Wines, really? Really?

Aaron said...

Heh, and apparently it's Carmenère Day. I guess they're trying for the Beaujolais Nouveau marketing trick. I don't think it'll catch on. It needs a good hook, and simply being Carmenère, while good, isn't enough. It needs the kitsch of bright colors, the harvest feel good of "just finished being made", and crazy Japanese bathing in it.

Aaron said...

Back again. And yes Ron, I'm reading and thinking about wine when I should be working. I only wish I could be drinking wine at the same time.

Thanks to Blake Gray linking to, apparently Natural Wine is clocking in at rule number 3 for wine these days. Oy.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Ballymaloe, according to their website, just hosted a seminar with Maximilian Riedel. So there's that... I guess you need a little manure for the soil.

Oh, Natural wine is still around, but a few years ago it was the topic of endless blog posts. The intergnats has moved on, but for those who always and only write about natural wines. Or, maybe it's that I just don't care anymore. I love wine. I don't need any adjectives at all in front of "wine" to appreciate, or hate, it.

Shocking that I wasn't invited to that tasting.

At one point I saw that #CarmenereDay was trending on Twitter. So I thought it had died. I may have been right.

Charlie Olken said...

Yes, and oldie/goodie. Cerebral. It demands reading and rereading.

We will always have some "holier than thou" concept to contend with whether it is natural or authentic or certified organic or honest or biodynamic. I am waiting for 99 and 44/100th per cent pure--great to clean your hands with but don't put it in your mouth.

gabriel jagle said...

Funny to think how much my own opinions on the subject have evolved over the past few years. I still believe in the concepts of natural winemaking, and think that too much intervention can make a wine fall apart like an old movie star with too much plastic surgery. But now that I am out beating the street doing sales, I have been amazed how many wine buyers have no idea what the f*ck they are talking about, and how many wines are sold based purely on b.s. Just last week, I met with a very reputable somm who asked if we were organic, and when I said we weren't, she said, "oh, so you spray pestisides?" (1) no, because you don't have pests in the vineyard, but we do spray fungicides. (2) organic vineyards also spray, they just spray organic fungicides which are less effective, so you usually have to spray twice as much. (3) just because an urban winery says their grapes are organic, that doesn't mean they're growing organic grapes, it just means they are buying them. nothing natural about that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I keep thinking that it's the new version of "cult" wines, which seem to have become rather passé. And, anyway, I do need subjects to lampoon, and that's been a very fertile, even biodynamic, territory to make fun of. People can be so sanctimonious about wine, it's just perfect comedy compost.

I don't think any knowledgeable wine lover would argue against minimal intervention in winemaking being preferable. But then it's how you define how much is minimal. It's always treacherous ground. And, as you point out now that you've been out in the real world trying to sell wine, there is no end to the bullshit that's peddled as truth in order to sell wine. It was but a decade ago, when I was a sommelier, that almost no one tried to sell me organic or natural or biodynamic wines--but every day I had winemakers and salesmen telling me that their wines were unfined and unfiltered. That was a Parker mantra, and I heard it on a daily basis. Now it's organic and authentic and natural. And as I've often said, when did people start believing that winemakers and wine writers don't lie? We know how that worked out with priests. For every winemaker who is actually pursuing the goal of making wines with very little human intervention, there are ten lying about it, and there are twenty people buying it who don't know shit.

I try to judge wine in its own context. Not judge it on its imaginary credentials, or by what someone tells me about it. There are many Natural Wines that I love. And there are many other wines, in whatever other categories there are, that I also love. Wines aren't made to be better than other wines, to compete. You don't, I assume, try to make wines better than your neighbor's. You just make the best wines you can. Are Natural Wines better than other wines? It's a stupid question on the face of it. They're just trying to be the best wines they can be in the vision and belief system of the person who makes them.

People who only drink "natural wines" are simply misguided fools. They believe everything they read, and understand little of the actual process. And they're missing out on a lot of other great wines in the world. They live in a sheltered cult that sees the rest of us as lambs who have lost our way, ignorant wine drinkers who haven't seen the Light, and their leaders as visionaries. There's no harm in them. They're just wine's Amish people.