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angels & thieves Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Guide to North Carolina WineriesNM:  It's interesting that you bring that up, because it's something that we don't see out here in California or anywhere else in on the West Coast, for that matter: the legacy of moral prohibition of alcohol.  What's more, that which you've just described is juxtaposed against an increasingly viable wine industry in North Carolina.  Can you say a bit more about that?  What has your experience been with the local industry, and how does it compare to the more established wine regions that you've been to in Northern California and Bordeaux?

JM: The North Carolina industry is shifting enormously.  When we first arrived ten years ago, my wife (who's half French, half British) was told a story by a colleague about a British friend, an import who came over from England.  He wanted to try a local winery.  And my colleague, who's really a nice guy, told him, "Oh, no, no… if it's in North Carolina, you don't want to go there; let's not waste your time."  But the import insisted on going, and they ended up in Westbend Winery in Lewisville.  And when he went and tasted, he turned to my colleague and said, "This is the real deal.  I wouldn't mind looking into importing some of this."

So there are a few wineries here, and there have been for a long time.  Now, the industry here, as everywhere else, has started to boom.  Five years ago, when we did the first edition of the wineries guide, the question was, 'There are wineries in North Carolina?!'  And at the time, you couldn't even put up signs on the highway [local anti-alcoholic laws prohibited it].  That has all changed, so now it's recognized as a major tourism industry and the question now is, 'Well, are the wines any good?'  And as the years go by, and they figure out what to grow, the wines are increasing in quality.  So, as somebody told me, it's like watching it happen on the ground floor somewhere; it's fascinating.  And to me, what's fascinating is when you get people coming from California or Washington or Virginia, and deciding, 'Oh, I can go into that budding wine industry and really help put things together.'  You find that happening a lot more.  And that's been fun to watch, as well.

Now, if you drink a bottle of bad California wine, you don't say, 'Gosh, California wine sucks… I'm not going to try that anymore.'  But with the smaller states that often happens: 'Ooh, North California wine — I had a bottle of that and it was terrible!'  But I think it'll get to the point that that no longer happens.  It's slowly getting there; I think we have over 70 wineries now.

NM: Yes, that's a very good point.  In fact, let's be honest, there was a time where the wineries of Washington and Oregon were in that same position before they really began to understand how and where best to grow which varietals.  But as with anything, I think a critical mass of attention begins with individuals — in this case, the consumer.  Speaking of whom, what advice would you have for the novice wine drinker?  What resources would you suggest?

"If we read a bunch of descriptions about wine, we're not going to feel any more competent."

JM: My first suggestion would be to talk to people.  Again and again, people come up to me and ask, 'Am I allowed to do this?  I want to have a white, but I already tasted a red; is that okay?'  People are intimidated and that's a problem.  The first way to get over that is to ask questions.  Though if they're too intimidated to even ask questions, then we have even more of a problem… in which case they should get online or read books.  But most of us love to talk about our past; we love to talk about what we do.  Whether it's at a wine store or across the tasting room counter, or simply asking other people, 'What it is that you're drinking and why?'… you just gather information that way, I think, and not be intimidated.  That said, then, what you do is try to find people's opinions that you respect, but you also look for the writers that you respect.  I love the writers.  But I'm not big on descriptions; I'm not that interested in reading through [them].  If we read a bunch of descriptions about wine, we're not going to feel any more competent.  I think once you develop an interest in the people and the process, and you find writers who've done the same, then you become easily more interested in the wine.

NM: It's interesting that you talk about the importance of making wine less intimidating, by seeking out resources that themselves make it less intimidating.  I actually think that your anthology is one of those.  I say that, in part, because something that struck me with a number of your poems is that you consent to a great degree of vulnerability by providing the reader insight into the rawness of your own process of thought and evolution of feeling in your discovery of wine.  You're very open in admitting things you don't know or don't understand, and what's more, seem comfortable to sit and simply be with that lack of certainty, and not feel compelled to distract from or even somehow fill that void of knowledge.  That was one common thread I found throughout your work, and I found it very endearing… in fact, inspiring.