It's hard to read the title of Alice Feiring's new book without construing the work as a well-aimed character assassination on the world's most prolific wine critic, but she makes it fairly clear throughout that she is crusading against on an icon, and not the man himself. For a war-monger, Feiring writes charming prose, extolling the virtues of simple, natural wine-making, and exposing the cruel, technical methods that have robbed many wines of character. In parts, it reads like a Sinclair exposé of the horrors of modern viticulture, and in others, she reminisces over the fleeting loves of her life, be they vino or vir.
In The Battle for Wine and Love, or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, Feiring's travels and discussions with hundreds of wine-makers points to a truth that has been lodged into conventional wisdom for many years: much of today's wine production is geared for the palette of one man, Mr. Robert Parker. Throughout her travelers, Feiring was accustomed to being asked what Parker would think of a wine, whether she could arrange a visit, etc. Homogeneity is a standard when it comes to processed foods in America, but applied to something delicate and complex like wine, and you have a sacrilege. This is how Feiring sees it, anyway, and she tells tales of reverse osmosis, drip irrigation, genetically modified yeast, and poisonous fertilizer, all incorporated and engineered to cut costs and please the Parker palate.
As for Feiring's remedy to the whole mess, it is simple, reasonable, and fair: veritas in vino. She doesn't suggest the banishment of highly technical practices in wine-making, on which the Californian, Australian, and increasingly European wine industries may be highly reliant. What she demands is clear print on the bottle: what techniques were used? what kind of yeast? were there actual grapes involved? I personally support the move for openness; more data for us to get our Snoothy hands on!
For voicing a dissenting opinion and advocating natural wine-making, the likes of Matthew DeBord have branded Feiring a “Terroir Jihadist”: a fear-mongering, post-9/11 pejorative offensive to anyone with half a sense for decency and rational thought. She believes that many modern techniques rob a wine of its essence, the natural characteristics of which the earth expresses itself. In expressing this belief, she has come out against much of the California industry, and in doing so, garnered some rather serious enemies. This is an indication of success by some accounts.
In rattling the Parker cage, Feiring may have gone too far. She recognizes that Parker holds a great power in his hands, and in one of the final chapters, she considers him a victim of his own toasty machinations, a man who has unwittingly become a symbol, and now must take responsibility for his influence on the world of wine. She could have made that idea clearer in the title; it was reported that Parker considered this book a “disgrace”, and refuses to comment on it. He further suggested (hoped) that Feiring would “fall into obscurity.” For the world's most powerful critic, his skin isn't very thick.
Perhaps Parker would take solace in the fact that Feiring thought of him as her own personal “Moses,” and had a great potential for winning her admiration, if only he would accept the burden of great power. The fact is, both of these individuals are in the wine profession because they are passionate about the product, and a healthy dialog between the two would be good for those of us who prefer great wine to mediocre drama.