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angels & thieves Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Author & Poet Joseph MillsNM:  …Helping us celebrate our humanity.  Which brings to mind my next question: can you name a couple of things that your experience with wine has taught you, things that have stayed with you even as you go about your daily living?

JM:  Good question!  I would say the one thing that immediately sprints to mind is generosity.  The rituals of wine, of sharing with somebody, of toasts, of coming together and saying 'Let's all partake in this' — there's a communal aspect to it.  And that communal aspect has within it a generosity that really appeals to me.  I have found that most people in the [wine] industry, who are in it long-term or doing it seriously, are generous with their time, with their product.  There's a real sharing there: 'Let's sit down and spend some time together, and I will share with you what I have.'  You know, it's funny because, really, a lot of wines I've had, I don't remember the wines themselves, but I remember the moments.  When I was very young — I was probably about ten, perhaps — this old neighbor, 'Grandpa Joe' (he wasn't my grandpa, but we all called him our grandpa)… he made wine.  And every Christmas, he would bring down the crystal glasses, and get out his homemade wine — and we would include me.  And I was very young at the time, but [his attitude] was, "We're all equals here; you have a right to partake in this toast.  It's not to get drunk; it's to share."  And that always struck me, the generosity of his inclusion and treating me, if not like an adult, at least as somebody who should be there.

NM:  Yes, generosity and the act of bringing people together — that's a huge one.  Can you think of another?  Can you think of any other way in which your experience with wine resonates with you in other parts of your life?

JM:  There are things that I've learned in the wine industry that I bring in to my own students.  One of which which is the writing of tasting notes (which I really should do more than I do), the notes being this way to focus your mind.  One of the things that I admire and that I have shared with my students, and try to do on my own, is [to practice] that concentration.  I talked to a chef once, and he said that when he's tasting wines for his restaurant, there's no background music, he's not on his Blackberry or cell-phone, or anything like that; he is concentrating on the wines.  And that element of focus — of sustained focus, where you taste and taste again — I think is a wonderful example of concentration that can be applied to a variety of things, [like] the way we interact with artwork… or with other people.  I tell [my students], "Look, when I ask you a question, you don't have to answer right away; think about it.  Move that question around in your mind for a little while.  See what the implications are, and then come up with some kind of determination."  So, I love that idea of pausing and considering, and then, perhaps evaluating.  I think it's very useful.

"Certainly, wine becomes an actual physical product, but also a metaphor for something else: of aging, of taking care of something, of craft, of all the possibilities of life."

NM:  Hmmm… {long pause}

JM: {chuckling} What would be some of the questions you'd ask if I were a professional, if I were a winemaker?  Go ahead and ask me those, and let's see how I do with them!

NM:  Okay.  Now, here's something you can definitely speak to, given your experience of living in Bordeaux, a wine capital in a very wine-centric country, and (by being U.S. American) your deep familiarity with a culture that's decidedly not wine-centric: What do you feel is the best way for Americans to enjoy wine more, and remove the mystique that can often make it inaccessible to them?

JM:  That's a good question.  There's been enormous changes in North Carolina; they have a budding wine industry now that's really coming along.  And even in the last ten years you see this huge change.  Partly that change is in the cultural distrust of wine: people who have grown tobacco have had moral qualms about growing grapes.  But there's a real shift to this idea of a wine culture — that it's not to get drunk; it's part of your daily life, you work it in as part of your culture.  Accessibility, I think, is part of that; having it simply be accepted: 'This is not out of the ordinary, this is a part of my meal or part of my day.'  I think there are wineries in every state now, and as people become more comfortable with that idea, you start to see a shift.  I've seen it in my own family.  My brother is actually a minister and he's a teetotaler; he doesn't drink wine, nor does his family.  Although now, they're starting to shift — they don't drink wine as such, but they would at least engage in toast to try a little wine now and again.  It's not demonized as much, in their minds.  So, before there's a physical shift in consumption, I think there needs to be a cultural shift in the kind of mindset as far as what wine is and what it's all about.



 

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