Posted: Aug 22, 2018
The adjective “borderless” evokes images of doctors working tirelessly in conflict-addled regions without concern for political boundaries. So, what is “borderless wine”? That’s the question I posed to Peter Weltman, a San Francisco-based sommelier, author, and global thought leader in wine. Next Monday, August 27, 2018, he’s hosting the first Borderless Wine symposium in Manhattan. The topic: How Wine Impacts Global and Local Landscapes.
The event’s roster of speakers includes four well-known women from the wine industry. Nicole Hakli, Wine Director Momofuku Ssam Bar, will discuss the history and challenges of winemaking in Turkey. Deirdre Heekin, winemaker La Garagista, and Krista Scruggs, winemaker Zafa Wines, will speak about confronting bias in grapes and location. And Lisa Granik MW, will deliver a key note on the value of supporting The Republic of Georgia's 8,000-year wine history.
Yet how do these actors and their stories relate? And how did this symposium evolve from an idea planted in The Republic of Georgia to reality? Peter Weltman answers these questions, while sharing some of his favorite moments traveling the world in search of wine, across borders.
At its base, Borderless Wine is about being adventurous and open-minded as to where great wine comes from. It should lead to a more well-rounded and holistic view about wine. It presses us further to use wine’s privileged cultural standing to say something bigger in the world. Wine buying can truly be a form of activism, where purchases can help advance regional peace, give regions economic stability from a prosperous wine trade, provide support for farmers in war-torn regions, have a voice in geopolitics, aid in economic recoveries, and give insight into many hard to access places. If you keep an open mind to where great wine comes from, then that can trickle into an open-mindedness into all parts of your life.
How and when did you have the idea to start Borderless Wine?
A small seed was sown in The Republic of Georgia in 2015, when Lisa Granik MW (my mentor and first Borderless Wine advisor), mentioned that each Georgian wine purchase pushed the country one step closer to rebuilding and fostering its independence. That was a radical notion because I had never thought of wine in such terms.
But, Borderless Wine truly on my expedition to the West Bank during summer 2016. I was in Jerusalem participating at the ROI Community Summit (through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation) which is an intense four-day seminar that fosters our capacity to critically think, especially taking risks towards a more inclusive global society.
Then, Food & Wine magazine gave me an assignment on the native grape awakening in Israel driven by Recanati. After I learned they were making wines in their Israeli winery, while collaborating with growers in the West Bank, I knew there was more to uncover.
I heard about Cremisan Winery just outside of Beit Jala, who had made wine from autochthonous grapes for over ten years. I had a pull to go there like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It confronted my own conditioning, bias, and notion of what was important in the world. As an American and a Jew, I’d never really considered going to Palestinian territory. In the world’s eyes, I was not supposed to be there. Also, would I be accepted? This was why I knew it was important to go, and it was wine that forged that shared language.
What are the goals of the Borderless Wine Alliance?
When you see a border, do you find boundary or possibility? Borderless Wine is about creating an entire mentality shift, which means finding new ways to think about wine. I’m seeking to report on stories from around the world, as well as deliver talks for both trade and consumers.
Writing is a tool to give these underserved regions, grapes and people a voice, but it’s all driven by my underlying compulsion to act. So, I took a new step and will be importing the first Borderless Wine Alliance wine from Mexico called La Casa Vieja. This tiny estate is in San Antonio de las Minas, Baja. It’s proprietor, Humberto Toscano, makes wine from 120-year-old Mission and Palomino vines. Following the lessons of his father, not a trend, he makes what the industry classifies as natural wine. Through wine, I’m making a statement that I support cross-border collaborations in the face the negative rhetoric around the US and Mexican border. Historically, I support a wine, farmer, and grapes who represent the history of American viticulture, as Spanish Missionaries planted Mexico It’s in a partnership with Terra Sancta Trading Company, an importer owned by a Palestinian American. Talk about intersectionality.
Most of all, Borderless Wine is a platform. It’s a voice for wineries and regions in countries that have deep histories but are just starting to get back on their feet. We are working together to connect these disparate places, and set-up exchanges for winemakers and communities around the world.
Can you talk about the upcoming symposium? What its purpose is and who will be there?
The theme of the Borderless Wine Symposium NYC is: How Wine Impacts Global and Local Landscapes. It’s about taking a 360-degree look at how wine industries have real, lasting, and strong impacts in their locales.
When I began talking about wine being a vector towards a borderless world, I sought brilliant thinkers in governments, NGOs, activism, design, technology, VC, and everything in between.
For the symposium, four women who are leading this initiative in their respected areas came to mind as speakers: sommelier Nicole Hakli’s devoted work to Turkish wine culture despite a challenging political climate (especially for wine); winemakers Deirdre Heekin and Krista Scrugg’s pioneering Vermontese hybrid viticulture; and Master of Wine Lisa Granik’s scholarship in The Republic of Georgia’s wine history. In looking at the entire industry from different angles, we support not only diversity regionally or in grape material, but also in the voices delivering the message. To me, diversity begets diversity, so these themes are one in the same.
How did you first get into wine and what does it mean to you?
If you let it, wine can be a passport to communities in the most unexpected places that our world has to offer. Wine is a form of currency, and not just to gain access to the societal elite. As such, wine for me is about crafting a new global wine route, while being a lens to places that aren’t always viewed favorably for wine. I’ve entered places many others in the wine business or those interested in wine haven’t ever considered from a viticultural aspect. By using wine as the gateway to a new perspective, shouldn’t that translate into thinking more open-mindedly every day? I’ve seen this happen, time and again, using wine as the port of entry. I get messages frequently from people in the forgotten nooks and crannies of viticulture thanking me for being a voice or asking for opinions on their work. I am privy to some groundbreaking insights into some of the most intense conflicts of our time (more on that, soon). To be trusted like that means everything to me.
You travel all over the world tasting wine in unusual places. Can you share the story of any great surprises: unexpected wines, regions or people you've met along the way?
In 2016, I attended a natural wine festival in Japan called Festivin. It was a pretty wild experience mostly because the Japanese have a profound appreciation for natural wine. There were plenty of examples of producers experimenting with their native grape Koshu, a variety well known through history on the Silk Road trade route.
Then, I visited what must be the most secluded wine bar in the world on Sado Island. After a ferry ride from Niigata, a vintage bus across the island through rice fields, I arrived at La baroque de Dionysos. Jean-Marc Brignot, one of the Jura’s former leading natural wine zealots, relocated to the quiet shores of Mano Bay with his wife Satomi, and their children. He now runs a wine bar and has begun making wine, too. We stayed up all night drinking wine from his former collaborative label, Brignot and Steen, all while eating local delicacies: the sweetest raw ama ebi (shrimp) marinated in yuzu-kosho (chili-infused yuzu), and various preparations of the purest aji (mackerel) with soba (buckwheat). Even while the Typhoon Malakas cast rain and clouds outside, the cozy indoor scene went well into the early hours of the morning.
By Lauren Mowery
August 22, 2018
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