Hungry for wine

Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass

Hungry for Wine is maintained by Cathy Huyghe, wine writer for Forbes.com and author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass.

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First Impression of Hungry for Wine, and Why it Bowled Me Over

We're a few short weeks away from the publication of my first book, Hungry for Wine, and I've been sharing a few chapters with close friends whose opinions I value and who know viscerally how very much this book means to me.

One of those people is my friend Ms Julie who lives up the street. I gave her the Introduction and first chapter, about living a wine life with no regrets, and after reading them she said that she feels like she knows me so much better now. (The Introduction explains quite a lot about how I came to devote so much of my life to writing about wine.) And then she said this:

"I felt like it was something that I could do, too."

Which made me go, Ah...

We talked more about this, and I don't think she meant that writing about wine was something that she could do or was interested in doing per se. I think she meant that she could see herself growing into something, something that's other than what she's doing now, a little at a time each day. (That is also something I explain in the Introduction -- that I wrote my first drafts on wine topics in little snippets of time, in the 20 minutes or so that I could snag here and there while also being a new Mom to twin boys.)

I never intended this to be a reaction to the book, and I was frankly pretty flabbergasted that it was a takeaway for Ms Julie. This happens with writing: you don't know, until you write. You don't know how something is going to work itself out in a piece of writing until you're in the thick of it. And now I see that you also don't know how that writing will affect a reader until you release it into their hands, until they're in the thick of it too.

Hearing Ms Julie's takeaways -- whatever they might be -- was one of the reasons why I shared the chapters with her in the first place. Sure, she belongs to my "target demographic" and I'm curious about the impressions of that particular group. But I also knew that Julie would tell me what she felt in her gut. And if what she felt was connected to the process, even a process where wine itself isn't involved, then I'll be moving toward one of the reactions that I did intend for this book: for readers to see what's universal about wine, and to see some of the ways that wine is interconnected with the private and global interactions of our days.

If a reader gets the resonance of that... it would be Wow.

When Writing about Wine Isn't about Wine...

I’m in the midst of writing my first book, called Hungry for Wine. It is exhilarating, and extremely hard, and every time I work on it something prickles… in the best way.

The idea is to tell stories, unexpected stories, that open a whole new set of touchpoints for people who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book about wine. Each chapter is a touchpoint, and each touchpoint is illustrated (so to speak) by a particular bottle of wine.

There is the chapter about meeting a bunch of migrant workers in a vineyard, who had just caught a rabbit to take home and cook for dinner. 

There is the chapter about families in the Middle East who continue, determinedly, to produce wine despite the war that is literally at their doorstep.

There is the chapter about my elderly friend Arthur, who for 50 years kept saving wines for “just the right occasion.” And there is the moment when he realized that all those occasions seem to have passed him by.

Each chapter, in other words, is an Aha! moment. A moment of clarity, and understanding. A moment when wine becomes that thing that opens the world’s door and lets in a slice of light.

When I talk with “wine people” about it – people who are also wine writers, or winemakers, or who otherwise work in the industry – they right away think of what has brought wine to life for them. A particular family in Spain, for example. Or a mentor who opened a specific (usually old) bottle for them that changed the course of their life. Or etc.

The common thread is that their stories about wine aren’t really about wine. The wine matters, don’t get me wrong. But their stories are largely (largely) about memory, and occasion, and most of all people.

A similar thing happens when I talk with “non-wine people” about it. Since this is the primary audience for the book, I’m especially sensitive to what they say. Even more than the “wine people,” this group is interested in narrative, in the story, in the arc of events that move them from here to there.

Wine, in other words, is the clay. The people who sculpt it into something beautiful are themselves what's beautiful, and faulted, and therefore compelling, and the reason why someone will pick up the book in the first place.

The thing – the catch, for me! – is how many of these non-wine people want the main narrative to be mine. [Mine? Pause for GAH effect.] How did you get to do what you do, they ask. How do you make a living doing this? How do you make wine relevant, every single day? How do you go from not knowing anything about wine – my own starting point, and most often theirs too – to traveling to the farthest reaches of earth and society to write about, of all things, wine?

Hmm.

I admit, it’s an interesting question. (If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it!)

But.

Immediately what jumps to mind is a piece of advice given to me by a mentor, Molly O’Neill, Pulitzer Prize nominee and long-time food writer for the New York Times. You must write for at least ten years before using the word “I,” she said.

What she meant, what she was advising, was to keep my writing non-solipsistic. I think it’s what I’ve do, or have tried to do, by and large these past years.

Yet I definitely do understand, and very much appreciate, the feedback from my potential audience. So writing this book has become for me a question of balance, between memoir and world events and inner personal narrative and outer commentary.

It is practically the hardest thing I have ever done. And I love doing it.

So please, tell me in the Comments or shoot me a message: if you’re a writer, how do you deal with this issue? If you’re a potential reader, how do you suggest I deal with it?

It would help me to hear from you.

Wine Travel GAH

The title of this post should really be Wine Travel YES and, by the end of saying what I need to say, it will be.

But let me work something through first.

I'm at that moment of a trip, at the very beginning, when I've said good bye to my husband and children, when I'm on board the plane, when I'm leaving on the first leg of the journey. The physical side of me is ready to go.

This particular trip, however, isn't to Napa or Oregon or Switzerland or New Zealand. It's to Turkey. And for that reason, it's taken the emotional side of me a few ticks longer to be ready to go.

Partly it's because the trip was almost canceled last week, when political protests intensified in some areas where we planned to be and, rather than postpone the trip entirely, we rearranged the itinerary around the sites of those protests.

Partly it's because of the sharp contrast of news coverage, between the sources I consult at home in the US and the sources my husband consults back in his native Belgium. He reads his news on the Belgian newspaper's app on his phone, and this morning he told me in detail about a US general's presence in Turkey, trying to convince Ankara to intervene in an aggressive takeover attempt of Kobani, a town along the Syrian border. (Belgium is home to a significant number of Turkish expatriates, and their national news addresses that population.) However, I had to dig -- deep -- for similar coverage in the US news sources that I regularly consult, which includes a website that claims to prioritize international news.

Maybe the US news sources are oblivious. Maybe the Belgian news sources are alarmist. Probably some of both. The bottom line is that I've got to cobble together information, which heightens my anxiety.

[several deep breaths and a take-off later]

There's something about starting, about stepping off, that adjusts my perspective.

This train has left the station and, since I'm along for the ride, my emotions need to recalibrate along with my physical location. It's a subtle shift but a critical one, from being anxious to being eager.

When I travel I am focused. I accomplish more work on the road than I do at home. I attribute this largely to my husband who, when we're both at home, is the biggest soaker-upper of my attention! (See what you get for marrying an incredibly interesting person??) And of course I miss our children, but the truth is that they've got fun and highly responsible people taking care of them. They are fine. They will be fine.

And so will I.

This is the kind of trip I adore. It is unusual. It will be challenging. I expect to learn things I won't learn anywhere else on the planet. I expect to meet people -- and taste wines -- that are distinct and unique in the industry.

So, yes, we have arrived at Wine Travel YES!

And for that I am extremely grateful.