has been writing about wine, love and life since… whenever. However, starting in the year 2000, she became known as a champion of natural wines. She has three influential books behind her. Her next, The Dirty Wine Guide, will be published in summer 2017. In addition, she is the creator of The Feiring Line, a newsletter dedicated to real wine and the people who make them.
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On November 9th 2016 there was an exceedingly un-harmonic convergence: my brother’s second yarzheit, my mother's ninety-second birthday and the day after the election. Given two out of the three, there was no way I could avoid seeing seeing the birthday girl. I was dreading it.
But the night before, for two seconds I balanced another choice: watch the unfolding electoral disaster with friends or pop open bottles with winemakers. Easy. I lit the candle for my brother and then sprinted over to the lower east side wine bar Wildair where I hooked up with Rudolf Trossen of the Mosel, Sepp Muster and Franz Strohmeier from Styria, and Christian Tschida from Neusiedlersee.
They had been in for RAW, the smash hit wine fair, and this was their last night before heading back to Europe. For a while we were successful in avoiding the obvious. So, we laughed. We drank bottle after bottle. We talked shop, we dished on RAW. To be sure, I gulped more than sipped, giving myself over to the wines. With each sniff and swallow I pondered what each of the vignerons had accomplished, showing their respective countries another kind of wine. Farming? Biodynamic. Sulfur? None. The wines and the spirit and commitment behind them are rebellious and so genuine they have already influenced the existing paradigm. Their wines are the sort that ignited change.
By the time we segued from pet’nat to the 2011 Tschida Felsen 1—blaufrankisch out of magnum with its powerful sumac exotica and turmeric life—so had our conversation. Brows furrowed. How could Trump win? “He can’t,” I said—it was more of a plea. I wanted to have that audacity of hope, but I understood too well that this election was going nowhere good fast.
Tschida agreed with the same kind of dejected disbelief. “How could he win? How? How is this possible? This is not just a tragedy for America, it is for the world.” The irony did not escape us. Seventy years ago, we would have had a very similar conversation, yet the sides would have been reversed. With the clock approaching eleven, I could no longer take the anxiety. I kissed all of those wonderful men and went home.
I had no television so I turned the radio on. Then snapped it off. I couldn't stomach the inevitable. Having not drunk enough to have courage, I willed myself to sleep. Without an Ambien, a desperate need for escape kicked in. It was dark when I opened up my eyes, clutching my pillow, staring at the ceiling. I saw my phone spring to life. It was 5:00 a.m.
"Are you up?" a friend texted. Groggy, I immediately grasped the message. A family coarser, more ignorant and far less appealing than the Beverly Hillbillies was moving—not to a big white house, not in California—but to the White House in D.C. I would have to watch self-centered and dangerous people being vain, self-centered, and dangerous for four years. The ghostly flicker from the yarzheit candle danced from the kitchen. I missed my brother.
By noon it was time to pretend cheerful and see Ethel. My mother worked a few blocks away so I often sprint over with her lunch. That day required something special, but she said, “Bring a yogurt. You know, the one with the pocket of honey on the side.”
I walked to Whole Foods and was struck that the world was almost as quiet as the day after 9/11. People were talking in hushed tones. Talk of the cataclysm dominated all else. Stores were empty. Where after 9/11 toxicity stank up the air, on the day after the election the toxicity was in us. I found myself feeling dystopic. We were our own flesh-eating virus. By the time I crossed the Bowery I could feel the mutations, the lesions, the eyebrows and pubic hairs falling out. We were condemned.
I bought her birthday yogurt. I picked up flowers. I rushed down the Bowery to her tiny jewelry cubicle where she’s sold gold and diamonds and watches and whatever since 1972. Her blouse was festooned with bright bows instead of buttons. She was packaged like a present.
"Happy Birthday," I whispered to her, lest anyone else hear. Mom was birthday phobic, but the man she loved was the PEOTUS and that’s why she signaled celebration.
It took her seconds to start to kvell, "Now we'll see some action," she said. "Look at this place. There's no business here. The phone doesn't ring. The economy is in the toilet. But now, everything will pick up."
My mother’s secret to a long life is denial. She did not mention Andrew. Instead she started to nag me, "Mameleh, we need to talk. I need to knock some sense into your head,” she looked angry. I admit it; I took the bait.
Pussy-grabbing locker-room talk? What was I talking about? Trump an anti-semite? Ivanka married a Jew. “Didn’t you go to yeshiva with her mother in-law?” she asked.
I did indeed.
And then came the completely irrational belief and her need to take a prisoner—me. "He is good for Israel!" Never mind the hatred, the bullying, the lies, the fascism and racism. Never mind Roy Cohen. Never mind the hidden taxes. Never mind the infidelity.
But infidelity, Mom. You can relate to having been married to Dad. Right? I thought, not having the cruelty to say it out loud. So she carried on unstopped, "I used to be a Democrat," she declared.
Indeed, she had been one. A Roosevelt Democrat. Yet she married my father who during Kennedy became the kind of lawyer who worked on Civil Rights cases in Montgomery. Now, the woman he divorced under Nixon, 40+ years later evolved into the kind of person who voted for Trump. And my brother, the only man who could ever temper my mother’s temper, was dead.
So what happened to the woman who always voted down the Democrat line? Right wing radio. Sometime in the late 90s she started to listen to Rush and Hannity on her up to four-hour commute to and from Long Beach.
"Why do you listen to that?" I asked, more than a little horrified, trying to switch to NPR.
"Because it makes me so angry," she said indignantly, swatting my hand away. "It's really good to know the other side. Hannity? He loves wine. Did you know that? You should call in to his show! You’ll sell a lot of books."
Hannity and wine made minimally with no herbicides, additives and a whole lot of freedom? I didn't think so. He would have found the wines so very un-American.
It didn’t take long: only a few years later, like a stone giving into weathering, my mother, still a registered Democrat, voted for Bush.
Not giving up trying to convert me, she looked up at me with her vivid emerald eyes, the wrinkles around her chin deepening, “Churchill said,” she started to quote,” If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.”
“There’s absolutely no proof that Churchill said that,” I said impatiently. “None.” I was trying to keep calm but failing. She didn’t know that she was a victim of false news. And because Hannity told her it was Churchill, it so it must be so. I realized that was how the right-wingers took their willing victims, with repetition and falsity. They took their victims by becoming the mouthpiece for decades of anger and frustration. Trump had become the false messiah of those who wanted one. I hated to admit it, but my mother was among them. I had to get out of there.
But how was I to leave? She was 92. I could no longer get angry with her and argue with her, not talk to her for weeks. I no longer had the luxury of time. So trying to stifle my reaction, I kissed her and said goodbye just as she started to accelerate how beautiful the world will be under the new regime. I took my mourning—for the country and for my brother—home.
I live in a tenement on a fancy block and my steps were covered with plaster dust. I reached the top flight and opened the door. Several open bottles from one of the hardest drinking weeks in a long time stood like sentries on my table. For some reason, unlike after 9/11 when everything tasted of sawdust and tragedy, the wines I tasted at RAW and at Wildair seemed optimistic.
There has been a wine revolution in the past decade; it unfolded at the moment real wine seemed practically extinct. Change happened in ways impossible to predict except that it happens. A quote came to me from a late wonderful winemaker: “The more there is fake, the more the world needs real.” While my mother always looked at my career partly with horror (and part respect) at how I could do this trivial thing, write about wine, I knew that while I could do little politically, wine was an arena I could impact and that world, with legislation, agriculture, and culture—a metaphor for truth—was not so trivial after all.
It was only 1:00 p.m. I spit and taste plenty, but rarely drink before 7:00 p.m. I grabbed the open bottle of Trossen’s Lay Purus from my fridge, took out my elitist Zalto glass and poured into it a wine so subversive, so free, it could have been called a partisan. There was a lesson in that bottle of riesling. I won’t forget it.