Sunday, May 16, 2010

On Alice Feiring's 'Stones'

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of luncheoning with my good friend Alice Feiring. Best known (at least in the wine world, anyway) as an anti-Parker firebrand and leading proponent of the natural wine movement, Alice was in town for the recent Los Angeles Natural Wine Week.

I met Alice in Austria – we were both there with importer Terry Theise and a group of other individuals per the usual Terry Theise Austrian junket. I had recently read her book, and needless to say, we hit it off. So yes – full disclosure – I do love Alice, and yes, we’re friends. So feel free to take that into consideration as you read the following, if you like.

Recently, Alice posted this on her blog – basically, nothing more than a hilarious critique of a recent Jay Miller (of The Wine Advocate) review. Knowing her, I knew right away that this was Alice poking fun; I never initially read it as mean-spirited or vindictive – perhaps a little edgy (hey, she’s a New Yorker, right?), but basically good clean fun - or so I thought. Well, somebody on (supposedly a haven for anti-Parker types, for what it’s worth) got a hold of the URL and skidoosh! – 118 responses; Controversy!

Quite naturally, there was a great deal of idiotic drivel – some of it down-right entertaining – and I actually succeeded in holding my tongue for the first 115 comments or so.

Then, I gave in:

I've been silent for the most part up until now, but this is just too much.

Doesn't anyone see the irony here that those very characteristics which everyone seems to find so unappealing about Alice are the very ones which they tend to exhibit, often rather egregiously, in their criticisms of her?

At the end of the day, Alice is a writer, and a wine writer, and sometimes a critic. And critics are sometimes critical. That's why they're called critics! I know that most main-stream journalism has replaced critics with 'reviewers,' but I think we still need the occasional critic.

I've read her book, various articles published in a variety of publications (including the New York Times, Time, Wall Street Journal Magazine), and probably a couple dozen blog postings. And yes, I happen to know her personally and consider her a good friend.

The fact of the matter is, most of her work DOES talk about what she likes - while not bashing anyone - or takes an investigative tone. The problem is, it is usually only the confrontational, incendiary stuff that gets peoples' attention, and consequently sells books, creates controversy, and creates the ILLUSION that that's all there is to Alice's work.

Has anyone read her recent Champagne article in Wall Street Journal Magazine? The recent Modern Love Columns in the New York Times, or any of her recent blog postings? Does anyone know that she's working on another book which will espouse the positive side of her philosophy and tell the story of the natural wine movement?

Doesn't anyone see the irony here? This silly little blog post - (which, if you know Alice, is clearly just poking fun at the review and Jay, who is not even mentioned by name, BTW) - generated 115 responses on this board?

How many responses, for example, did the rather open-hearted, laudatory posting - about 6 or 9 months ago, I think - about Nikolaihof's wines generate?

Honestly, how many books would Alice have sold if it were instead entitled "Alice Feiring's Positive Manifesto about Natural Wine"? To some extent - and I suspect this idea was not lost on her editor and agent - she made a name for herself and achieved some of her (in my opinion sincerely earned) notoriety precisely BECAUSE she took on such a worthy opponent.

When I first heard her name, I didn't know who Alice Feiring was, but thought that whoever she was, she must have some serious stones taking on Robert Parker, right? And, as many of us are well aware, this IS God's work, and somebody ought to do it!

Haven't y'all heard the cliché about what you're supposed to do on your first day in prison? You find the toughest guy in the yard, then proceed to rip him a new asshole!

At any rate, let’s just say this didn’t put an end to the “discussion” (and I use that term loosely).

And I don’t care what what's-his-name says, I really like the plumber piece in the Times.



  1. A noble effort. Maybe someday you can defend me so well. I've endured a much longer friendship with you, after all; there has to be some benefit.

    The American art of debate and conversation has deteriorated into an obscene hysteria. The problem is, the most thoughtful and articulate participants don't seem to be commenting with as much vigor as the lunatics and morons. But it's always been thus - don't you remember high school?

    And Alice probably knows: there's no such thing as bad publicity.

  2. I think my favorite moment in the whole thing was one commentator's declaration: "Actually, many of the people in the audience liked the YellowTail Shiraz and I thought it showed well." gustibus non disputandum est all day long, but Alice's message is just not for you!

  3. George:

    At the Orange County Register, where I've managed (barely) to survive as a critic for 18 years, I've learned the hard way about writing provocatively to generate feedback. I now subscribe to a variation of the "broken windows" policing policy, at least on the paper's Arts Blog where I have a degree of control over what responses see the light of day. If you let the ranters, trolls and haters in, then the thoughtful correspondents are scared away. The discussion thread is only as elevated as its coarsest member. By the way, congratulations on starting your blog, George! I look forward to reading it and will link to it from the Arts Blog when you get a few more posts in the bank.

  4. Thanks, Paul. Very good to hear from you. I think I will link to the Arts Blog, as well.

  5. JB says that this is a great blog! Keep up the good work :)

  6. Johann Sebastian Bach? He is kind of a big deal.