I am sitting here in the middle of the night reading the label on a jar of Gourmet Collection Cajun Style Spice Blend wearing an expression between bemused bewilderment and baffled miff, since apparently, in its inimitable wisdom, the FDA requires that the good folks at GC list the spice blend’s nutritional information on the bottle.
Which, you may be relieved to learn, is 0% fat, 0% carbs, 0% protein and 0% everything else. Information which is, of course, 100% useless.
But now, at least, I can sleep—unless the drumbeat of transparency keeps me awake.
Unfashionable Literary Mismatches
Before I go further, let me take a moment to discuss literary terms like mismatched synesthesia, chiasmus and bildungsroman. They are, of course, part of an academic lexicon used by language scholars with a high tolerance for boredom to pigeonhole figures of speech, plot archetypes, literary genres as well as to shame ninth graders who don’t know the difference between a simile and a metaphor. They don’t help you write better any more than knowing that the Latin binomial for a whitetail deer is Odocoileus virginianus helps you to hunt better—although should the DNR decide that your twelve-point buck is actually a Bos primigenius, you are probably in for a long night and will likely to be told to wake up and hear the coffee.
To which you will inform the underpaid and overworked conservation officer that he has just committed a faux pas of formality known to English professors as ‘mismatched synesthesia’—which is a specious conflation of the senses.
And you will find that there is nothing closer to the heart of a pissed-off DNR agent than having his grammar corrected by a smart-ass wine writer who’s just shot a Hereford bull.
BTW, ‘Moo’ is an onomatopoeia.
I’m Sure Randall Grahm Doesn’t Much Care For It Either
Were I to write, “I like Grahm crackers,” I would be guilty of two distinct literary indiscretions: First, misspelling—because in this case the word is spelled ‘graham’. And second, syntactical bullshit, because I actually hate graham crackers.
Whether or not Randall Grahm likes graham crackers is beyond the scope of this column, but the sentence ‘Is Grahm cracking up?’ is a fairly decent example of phrasal irony (‘cracking’ vs. ‘crackers’), euphemism—wherein I have substituted the less offensive expression ‘cracking up’ for ‘losing his fucking mind’—and rhetorical understatement, because Randall Grahm has been slipping away in measurable increments ever since he started burying dung-filled cow horns in his vineyards and harvesting grapes based on phases of the moon—all with the intention of engaging non-physical beings and elemental forces to revitalize the soil structure.
These are, in fact, some of the less strange tenets of purist biodynamic agriculture—a singular subset of organic farming that stirs mysticism and cosmic spirituality into the dynamized dilution of composted cow shit sprayed over the grape vines every spring.
Essentially, most of this stuff comes from the writings of Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher, mystic and self-styled ‘esotericist’ from the early twentieth century. Interestingly, he was also a literary critic who probably knew that if your daughter starts vomiting up green puke while her head spins around, an esotericist is not the guy you’re supposed to call.
Randall Grahm, proprietor and winemaker at Bonny Loon Doon Vineyard, refers to Steiner not as a mystic or an esotericist, but as a ‘polymath’, which is an even stranger literary term than esotericist, although it is an anagram of ‘psychopath’.
Personally, I’ll stick with the taxonomic binomial for Mr. Steiner, which is Wackadoodlus kooki.
Which is not to say that Randall Grahm does not make excellent wines. Superb, even. He does, and has so for years—even the years preceding his slow descent into madness.
Let’s Talk Foreshadowing
In case you spent your sophomore lit class in a stupor of hemp, hormones and horniness (alliteration) and forgot, foreshadowing is a device used by writers using hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in a piece. Were you to re-read this column (as if), you would see that I opened with an apparently random reference to FDA ingredient labels.
Now, as mystics like Rudolf Steiner are wont to say, ‘All will be revealed.’
Five years ago, in a quest for publicity transparency, Randall Grahm opted to voluntarily list ingredients on his wine labels. These include such non-esoteric items as tartaric acid and sulphur dioxide, ‘meh’ information really, since these are, respectively, an acid enhancer and a preservative which are not only table stakes throughout the industry, but also indispensable to any home winemaking operation.
It’s like listing ‘water’ as an ingredient in Evian.
But Grahm is being lauded for such a ‘brave and principled stand’ by respected critic Eric Asimov of the New York Times, who says, ‘I like to know what’s in my food.’
Well, to each his own and to own his each (chiasmus).
Me, I would just as soon not know that my ham and cheese sandwich contains extract from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach of slaughtered unweaned calves, flesh from tormented pigs forced to live in their own cow-hornless feces and Exorcist-quality vomit, and that the FDA allows an average of one rodent hair and 75 insect parts per fifty grams of wheat flour, which commercial bakers are pointedly not required to list as an ingredient.
In any case, Asimov applauds Randall for ‘taking a bold step in favor of ‘consumer transparency’, apparently foreshadowing a later Grahm quote about transparent drumbeats.
Just So There Is No Mistake…
Personally, I am in total brave and principled opposition to consumer transparency, especially when it involves one of those full-body backscatter X-ray scanners at airports.
I am, however, all in favor of Randall’s luscious wine portfolio, especially the Roussanne/Viognier, grenache-driven Clos de Gilroy and especially, the wine that put Grahm on the map, Le Cigar Volante, whose cryptic image of a flying saucer on the label was approved not only by the FDA, but likely, by Eric Asimov’s uncle Isaac.
So, since it’s all in good fun, I have no trouble yanking the chain (figurative circumlocution) of Grahm, who appreciates a good—or bad—turn of the phrase as well as any winemaker I’ve ever met. So, if he wants to believe that transparent pixies are hovering over his vineyard warbling Damhsa Sna Crainn while he sprays microscopic crystals by moonlight, so be it.
One thing I’ll say about him: He’s committed. Or perhaps, at the very least, he should be.
(…Examples of anastrophe, hyperbaton, euphemism, foreshadowing: ‘To the nut house went he’).