As most of my readers know, Seraphic Secret does not drink. Not wine, nor any type of liquor.
That’s because alcohol, even the smallest amount, is a sure-fire trigger for a migraine.
So, you ask, why is Seraphic Secret reviewing a book dedicated to wine? Well, it’s simple, the author of this elegant and fascinating volume, an odyssey though the wine culture of Georgia (the republic, not the American state) is my first cousin with whom I grew up in Brooklyn. I love and admire my cousin Alice.
Besides, Alice’s book is not just about wine. Like any good movie or novel, there is plot and then there is the all important subtext. Alice writes about wine—natural wine, and the people who cultivate, produce and consume it—but what she’s really writing about is the importance of family and tradition.
Subtext of subtext: Alice’s beloved older brother, Dr. Andrew Jonathan Feiring, passed away two years ago. Andrew and I grew up together in Brooklyn. We were more like brothers than (fraternal) first cousins. Even when Alice and Andrew’s parents moved to Baldwin, Long Island, Andrew and I remained close. Our relationship yielded the happiest moments of my childhood.
Andrew was dying of pancreatic cancer as Alice was traveling through Georgia and writing her book. This volume’s most affecting moments are when she is in a Georgian synagogue during Yom Kippur and reflecting on Andrew’s mortality.
The book is touchingly dedicated to Andrew.
And I wept at the dedication.
Georgia’s wine culture is the most ancient continuous wine producing society on earth. And unlike most modern wine cultures, the Georgians overwhelmingly favor natural wine, which is to say a wine that has no chemical additives or preservatives.
The details of the war between natural and, um, unnatural wine producers are exhaustively detailed in Alice’s book (and her other books) but I’m not going to go there. Suffice to say, Alice views this schism as a war between the children of light and the children of darkness.
Alice’s Georgian odyssey is, as Jerry Garcia said, a long, strange trip. She falls under the spell of winemakers who cling to the ancient Georgian tradition of making wine in qvevris (clay fermentation vessels) and wine lovers who tear off their clothes, drink the home brew from horns, all the while weeping solemn oaths and reciting loooong toasts.
“I hate communists and communism” declares one Georgian wine maker.
Not surprisingly, during the Soviet occupation, Georgian winemakers were pressed into one preposterous and ruinous five-year wine plan after another. All the might and brutality of the communist state was brought against “inefficient” wine producers. The communists attempted to eradicate the Georgian wine culture and replace it with more modern methods. Alice even manages to interview Stalin’s wine maker. No surprise, Stalin loved good Georgian wine. What was good for the masses was shunned by the communist butcher.
Of course, the Georgians, a fiercely independent people, resisted the Soviet war on wine, and managed to preserve their ancient and precious traditions.
My cousin worries that free enterprise does not allow room for the natural wine movement. She fears that the quest for profits will, ultimately, dilute the purity of Georgian wine.
But Alice underestimates the power of the free market. The Soviets brought all the power of the state, a ruthless army of bureaucrats, against natural Georgian wine producers. But the free market is, well, free. And as Warren Buffett has noted, the free market is brilliant at convincing people that they need something they never knew they needed.
My cousin Alice is small. I doubt if she weighs 100 lbs. But she is fierce. She is, like the biblical Deborah or Jael, a Jewish warrior woman who does not shrink from controversy or her enemies — in this case, enemies of natural wine. And though the movement Alice Feiring writes about might, at the moment, be small in numbers and modest in profits, I am confident that the natural wine movement Alice champions will ultimately find a business model which will allow it to flourish and, yes, take over the world.
Here’s Alice’s website, The Feiring Line
The WSJ just ran a story about Alice.