Q&A with Alice Feiring: Part Two!

Alice is a journalist, award-winning blogger and author of several brilliant and provocative books on natural wine.

Tell us about the Feiring Line. What was the original intention behind this site? Has it changed over the years?

Blogging was not sustainable. If I was going to continue in my profession, I was going to have to move over to a payment format. It was also necessary to be able to give my readers what they wanted from me, wine recommendations and stories about interesting winemakers, places and issues. I started out with a downloadable PDF but in four years it was obvious that a data base was needed so I moved it over to a serviceable website which might now have the largest database of natural wine reviews. I’ve also broadened to include other voices. It’s very fun to assign pieces and work with other writers to get the stories. For example, Deirdre Heekin did a beautiful piece on why some natural wines can taste cidery. Aaron Ayscough did a lovely piece on the dark secrets of filtration in natural wines and Sophie Barrett did one on reduction. More coming. There’s a terrible talent deficit in the wine writing world, and I’m doing my part to support and mentor the field. This has been an enormous pleasure.

Which of your books gave you the most satisfaction to write? Why?

Can anything ever be better than the first? The Battle For Wine and Love. I wrote it as if it were going to be the only book I ever got to publish, I wrote it as if I were writing a novel. I’ve never been happier. The reception was a little disturbing though. I wasn’t prepared for the hate. Lots of love too, but lots of hate. But that’s the fate of delivering an unpopular message…even if it did end up having a positive impact.  

Is the current appellation system a busted flush? Why did it move so far from its original premise (defending integrity and authenticity) to become more about homogeneity and instant recognisability?

I’m not sure it was ever intended to protect authenticity and integrity the way you and I see it. Of course, it’s gotten way more cynical as it has become a marketing machine instead of a supporter of quality. Back in those days, yields needed constraint, that was important. But many wonderful grapes were banished in this insane hierarchy of what is a fine variety. Some lovely grapes banished (e.g. why not Romorantin in the Touraine outside of Cour-Cheverny?)

Is there room for a free-thinking individualist in appellation systems? Will artisan growers leave or challenge the system to accept their wines (even if they are deemed commercially atypical)?

You might well ask if there’s room for free-thinking individualists in any bureaucracy. As yet, no. And I don’t see it changing. The Appellation systems will become the domaine of the large houses and lose any real meaning. At that point there will be some sort of inclusivity or compromise situation as they try to quantify outsider tasting wines.

“The same vine has a different value in different places.” What is your definition of terroir? Is it more than the way the wine relates to soil and climate?

The grape and vine doesn’t have terroir, it expresses it. So yes, a talented piece of land that is a great match for the climate. But it’s a trio; a place that needs the minimum effort to achieve the greatest result, and in the end has a unique expression.  As Patrick Meyer of Alsace says, minimum effort, maximum result.

You wrote a book called The Dirty Guide to Wine – There is a lot of discussion of minerality in wine and reclassifying wine in terms of the specific influence of terroir. Do you use this word (minerality) to describe wines and what does it mean to you?

I avoided it in that book just because of the controversy but in the new book, Natural Wine For the People, I took it on thusly. “A maligned but useful term to describe a taste reminiscent of minerals, such as iron, slate or salt.”