Interview With Alice Feiring

Alice Feiring’s new book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, details her personal journey of discovering her love of wines, and her fear they are now being artificially manipulated by wineries trying to please influential wine critic Robert Parker. We spoke with Alice about wine and love and the perils of writing about them.

Reading your book conjures up a lot of movie analogies: Stepford Wives, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane. Are you a wine writer or a fledgling screenwriter?

I’m a novelist. I wouldn’t mind the book being a film though. I’d want Truffaut or Mike Leigh to direct.

Some people have called it a detective story, but there really isn’t a mystery. The wineries all admit to the manipulation, even to the point of bragging about it.

It’s not surprising. New winemakers are not looking to older generations as role models. These are people without passion who are just chasing the buck. Making new wine is a rich person’s arena.

I just got back from Oregon and there were hardly any people in the Portland Indie Wine Festival who didn’t purchase their grapes. It creates an emotional disconnect to the concept of terroir and changes the way wine is being made.

Is Parkerization like global warming? Have we reached the point of no return?

I think we have with global warming. With Robert Parker there is still a chance. Things are fragmenting. People are embracing natural techniques. A lot of people are getting palate fatigue. In his last slew of comments he doesn’t even use “jammy” anymore.

Your main problem with Parker seems to be that he won’t admit to his own power. What could he do to change things?

I do believe he is passionate about wine. He has a good palate for finding wines he likes. But it’s willful ignorance to think there isn’t a sameness going on to please his palate. He should abolish the points system. He started it, he can stop it. People won’t stop reading the Wine Advocate.

He could also stop applauding technology. He says it goes too far, then in the same breath says it’s a good thing for wine. Start doing research on what the technology is. Help to acknowledge the fact that people make wines to please him. He’s a smart guy. He could figure out the next steps.

Is the future positive for winemaking?

Yes. For so long I don’t think there were choices out there, unless you knew how to find them. The greater market is going to empower the winemakers who may have been afraid of natural wine. They’ll start to make wines of passion and not wines of fear. The economy is bad and the big boys are wanting to get out, so the land may go back to the hands of the real winemakers.

How should the average person go about finding good wines? Should people be reading wine stories instead of reviews?

Wouldn’t that be nice. People should develop a relationship with their neighborhood wine store. You can buy a car based on Consumer Reports but also do some of your own research. Buy a couple of bottles and see which reviewers match your taste. See which distributors carry wines you enjoy. Learning about wine is a fun thing.

What do you think about truth in labeling?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea. There are ingredients. I’d like to know when someone did a certain technique, partly because I usually can tell. I’d be in less danger of picking up a wine I wouldn’t want in the first place. The industry doesn’t allow that knowledge. Most people think it’s nothing but grapes.

There are a lot of personal stories in the book. Any worries about the reactions of people you wrote about?

It’s something a writer always struggles with, whether fiction or non-fiction. Will people recognize themselves? Narrative is important. Sometimes you stretch things a bit for readability. I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true. You have to be prepared that some people will be pissed off.

Have you heard of any reaction from Robert Parker?

Not yet. He says all the time that I’m a pain in the neck. I think he just wants to make me go away. I am “she-who-will-not-be-mentioned” on the site. I just wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times and some people tried to start a thread about it on the message boards and they were vanquished. Some people say I was way too easy on him in the book.

You say organic and biodynamic are good methods, but you don’t want them to become just marketing tools. Should wines be promoted this way or not?

It’s inevitable. People do need some guidance, but look at the way small companies sell out to big companies. Didn’t Dagoba chocolates just sell out to Hershey? As these small companies grow they dilute. There’s no stopping using it as a marketing technique. And advertising doesn’t allow for truth in editorial.

What about your time with Nicolas Joly?

He’s evangelical. His traveling road show, Return To Terroir, has done great work. He gets a lot of potshots. He himself is very concerned about the whole marketing aspect. It might push him to take a backseat sooner or later.

How will you deal with your newfound fame?

I’m not convinced it’s fame yet. I’m having my ten seconds in a small world. I’m trying to develop a thicker skin very quickly. I’ve been hiding behind a computer for a long time; it’s hard to emerge. The main thing I tell critics is that the book is about my journey, not yours.

Are you more successful with wine or love?

Most people are more successful with wine than love. You can’t single me out.

Purchase The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization at the Organic Wine Journal Book Store.

You can also read more of Alice Feiring\’s writings on her blog, In Vino Veritas.


2 responses to “Interview With Alice Feiring”

  1. I am grossly annoyed by this interview. As a producer, the idea that we have to own vineyards in order to express terroir is ridiculous. Negotiants are not a new concept, and this interview seems to imply that the wine world is going to hell in a handbasket because people buy grapes. It close to impossible for a young person to buy vineyards in order to start a new project… Vineyard land has simply become too expensive. In Santa barbara for instance land can only be sold in 100 acre plots. The author suggests with some cynicism that wine production has become a rich person’s game, while simultaneously slamming producers who can’t afford to own their own vineyards. I feel she is terribly disconnected to the financial difficulties that come with producing wine. I’m sure she’s smart and well traveled, but this is such a turn off…”so the land may go back to the hands of the real winemakers”? Give me a break! The pretension and ignorance is mind numbing. Think I will pass on the book.

  2. tell me about it Avatar
    tell me about it


    i totally understand your point of view. The author seems to be preoccupied with some old-fashioned idea of what winemaking is – all romantic and idealistic, divorced from certain realistic aspects of what it means to make wine today. but, hey, your financial issues are not her problem – she wants wine made pure, sorta a wine Rockwell picture… The title is pretty self-involved too

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *