It was a dark and stormy night...
The intro to a story you know is gonna be moody, broody, and probably thrilling. Also the time to open a bottle of equally-thrilling red wine and hole up... probably with said book. I couldn’t think of a better match for that scenario than Donkey & Goat’s Grenache Noir and Samantha Hunt’s modern, neo-noir, magic realism, coming-of-age cum romance novel The Seas (I know that’s a lot of descriptors, stay with me).
The Seas was first published in 2004 but has since gained a new following, and was reissued with a new forward by none other than goddess Maggie Nelson. It had been hyped up by a few friends, and I was excited to begin it. When I started, I naturally imagined pairing it with something saline and minerally. But once I got into it, I knew there was no way that would be right. The book is set in the Pacific Northwest, in an unnamed, dead-end town “built on a steep and rocky coast so that the weathered houses are stacked like shingles, or like the rows of razor wire in a prison, one on top of the other up the hill,” noted for being the highest per-capita alcoholics in the country. It follows an also-unnamed narrator, a girl with a missing father who believes she’s a mermaid. For years, she’s been in love with Jude, an Iraq war vet with PTSD thirteen years older her senior, and the novel tracks her obsession with him, their abnormal non-consummated love affair. As they flit from his apartment to the multi-story, clittered home she share swith her mother and grandfather, the town begins to drives them into a state of delusion and love-driven insanity (her) and depression (him). “There is little else to do here besides get drunk,” she says, “and it seems to make what is small, us, part of something that is drowned and large, something like the bottom of the sea, something like outer space. Drinking helps us continue living in remote places because, thankfully, here there is no one to tell us just how swallowed we are.”
Ending with a murder and a twist so satisfying and beautiful that I cried, this might be one of the best books I’ve ever read, certainly a favorite of this year; I completely understand why Nelson, in her forward, said she read it three times straight in a row. But after finishing it, I knew a light and bright white—the kind you’d normally describe as oceanic—would never do. I need something darker, dank, complicated, like their isolated fisherman’s village but light as Hunt’s deft and contemporary voice.
Enter Donkey & Goat! This natural California producer, run by a husband-and-wife team, is one of my favorites, and I was fortunate enough to visit their tasting room in Berkeley while out west (and while reading The Seas!) and try a bunch of their wines I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to find or afford in a New York. The Grenache Noir was an instant standout; Grenache is one of my favorite grapes as it is, and D&G’s expression proves that there can be so much more to this wine than the light- to -medium bodied, easy-drinking reds that people tend to associate with the grape. It’s dark ruby, earning the “noir” label, and musty, like wet leather and potpourri and maybe some of those strawberry candies with the red and green foil that grandmas always have. (I love those candies.) But it’s not heavy; the tannins have just a bit of grip, and the acidity is high enough to keep this from feeling overburdened in any way. Parallel image to this wine: The protagonist of The Seas eating wild strawberries in the dark like an animal, juice running all over her face, not stopping to wash off the dirt, as thunderheads loom over the dark ocean and the moon rises. I have to thank this wine, as well as Martha Stoumen’s “Post-Flirtation”, for getting me on my current California wine kick.
Don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to enjoy this wine on a dark night. It would be nice with a light chill, for an afternoon cheese plate, or at dinner with a nice piece of pork. And this book isn’t depressing as it sounds; it’s terribly engaging, the kind of story that you’ll never forget and want to return to over and over. Coincidentally, The Seas was published in 2004, the same year Jared and Tracey Brandt founded Donkey and Goat; I’m not sure what that says about 2004, but I do know that both this book and this bottle will be long time favorites, ones I’ll return to when I want comfort on a dark night… or to be properly thrilled.