Let me take a brief pause from not writing about wine in my wine blog and instead, avoid writing about wine in the context of wine.
Are you with me?
Wine pairing columns are legion, but they tend not to fly under my freak flag. I find them funny: Snoot-heavy, painfully pompous, ridiculously obvious and mostly job-justification grabs from people who barely have jobs in the first place. From a comedic standpoint, the ones that try to get all sciencey are by far the best—trust me, ‘vinosseurs’, if you have to consult a book on biochemistry before looking at a wine list, the battle may already be lost.
The simple truth is, most wine pairs pretty well with most food, and I suppose if I was really desperate for column fodder I could write with equal passion about matching artisan salt to specific dishes: Roast duckling with caramelized beets goes best with Hiwa Kai black lava sea salt, while avocado, tomato and spinach crepes are an ideal match for applewood-smoked pink salt. Tell the truth and shame the devil, now:
On a Robert Parker Jr. 100-point scale, how stupid does that sound?
For me, the eternal witch hunt is to find relevancy in my chosen discipline related to the rat race, not the dinner table; some literary trope assigning social value to fermented grape juice. Otherwise, if I have to read one more column about Robert Parker Jr.’s 100-point wine scale (for example) or red wine with fish, I am going to conclude that wine writers have finally reached that stage of material starvation where the fat stores are all gone and they have begun to digest muscle tissue.
Detropia, My Ass
That is, except for a few months when I was a teenager and followed my dope dealer to Burbank, California; I still recall that when I told people I was from Detroit they looked at me like I’d just announced I was a leper trying to seduce their grandchildren. Shortly, I started asking them if they’d ever heard of Windsor, Ontario and saying I was from a mile north of there.
That was over thirty years ago. If you’d have told me then that not only would I still be living in the Motor City, but that the place would be a bigger nightmare today—and by a factor of 10—I suppose I would have assumed that you were even higher than me.
For some of us, a certain Detroit Dissociative Disorder has set in as we sit back and marvel at the sheer dimension of our own implosion. We have become rubberneckers at a municipal dumpster fire whose ferocity is all the more intense because we lit the thing ourselves after overloading it with years of mismanaged industry, poor corporate foresight, criminal leadership and general public inertia over the whole self-evident collapse.
Despite a taxpayer-subsidized stadium here and a high-rent artist colony there, Detroit in 2015 resembles the day after the Day After Tomorrow; an apocalyptic wasteland where even the zombies have tossed in the towel and moved to the suburbs.
And all the trendy hotspot designer-cocktail bars and stylin’ young chefs in white-tablecloth oases, unbearably precious as they may be, are pretty much taking a squirt gun to the conflagration; the attempt to attract suburban kids to ‘industrially hip’ reclaimed ghetto is like an experiment in cryogenics, like playing Roots backwards and trying to convince people that slavery has a happy ending.
But I’ll grant them this: They’re trying. Really, really hard.
‘Detroit Vegan Soul’
Nowhere does the cultural stab at peaceful coexistence converge more obviously than at Detroit Vegan Soul on Agnes in West Village, where effeminate Caucasian boys in topknots and aprons serve plant-based takes on hardcore Southern Negro standards like mac-and-cheese, catfish and peppersteak made from tofu and bacon made from desiccated coconut flakes.
I’m not a particular fan of either genre, and an alloy of the two strikes me as incongruous as granny porn. So let’s say that my visit was merely a voyeuristic gawk-a-rama and any review I’d publish would be pointless. But the fact that the place has won local restaurant awards in separate categories as both ‘Best Vegan’ and ‘Best Soul’ is indication that the concept is not as illogically hilarious as it first appears.
And that brings us to wine. My visit was wineless, of course, because—perhaps fittingly—neither rural African American food traditions nor the vegan counterculture is particularly interested in the stuff. Soul food originates in Bourbon country, where it’s too humid for vinifera grapes, and vegans (with a few outlandish exceptions producing fish-bladder-free ‘vegan’ wines) are probably aware that with a couple of snorts under their belts their inhibitions would melt and they’d go for that succulent 4×4 In-N-Out burger and hate themselves in the morning.
Take a look at your wine glass, my ebonical chirrens, and see if it is half empty or half full. If it the former, you may look at Detroit Vegan Soul as a plant-based carp pulled from the Detroit river flopping around on the concrete waiting to expire; if it is the latter you may see it as further progress into the drive to re-establish normalcy—even if it’s hipster normalcy—to written-off neighborhoods that had pretty much dissolved into dookie stew.
I can see credible arguments heading either way.
But what is more curious to me, and more relevant to a Detropian renaissance, arises from an interview I did last year with G. Stanley Howell, Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at MSU, the godfather of most Michigan wine programs and a consultant at every one of the original Northern Michigan wineries. He told me that in the 1970s he did a geological and climactic survey of Michigan and came up with a handful of places where sunshine, soil and the number of ‘growing days’ on the Winkler scale combined to make each specific area ideal for viticulture.
All of of these regions are currently growing commercial quantities of vinifera grapes and producing award-winning wines except for one:
Detroiters know what I’m talking about; the thousand acre island in the middle of the river where the Detroit Grand Prix is held. Currently, it contains a beautiful glassed-in conservatory, an aquarium, a zoo, botanical gardens and a half-mile long beach. But to date, what it does not contain is grape vines.
Despite ecological logic and backing from Detroit’s business community, several proposals to establish a Belle Isle winery have been shot down by Detroit City Council, an organization which, in terms of inefficiency, cronyism and sheer short-sightedness ranks slightly above Iraq’s provisional government and slightly below the Lost Colony of Roanoke, which was eaten by Indians. The Council’s reasoning? Grapes are an invasive species and might interfere with the island’s ‘recreational use’.
Really? Well, here’s something that even mah niggas are surprised to learn: Belle Isle is bigger than Central Park.
I think there’s probably enough room for a few rows of Pinot gris.
And the idea of homegrown Pinot gris might be seen as my non-cynical contribution to the cultural fusion of black and white in the heart of city that the French called le détroit du lac Érié—Lake Erie’s straight.
‘Gris’, after all, is French for gray.