Adventures on the Wine Route is mandatory reading for anyone interested in wine. Loaded with raw profiles of now-famous winemakers, humorous tales of their occasionally violent exploits, and critical insight into their motivations and philosophies, the 1988 travelogue by Berkeley-based importer Kermit Lynch continues to light the path for many vintners, writers, and everyday wine lovers alike.
It was also the book that made Dan Keeling, former managing director at Island Records, click with London wine buyer Mark Andrew back in 2013, when the two conspired to start an energized, cheeky, personality-driven wine magazine called Noble Rot. Two restaurants and 25 issues later, the pair are publishing Wine from Another Galaxy, a 352-page book of their own. After the first third, called “Shrine to the Vine,” is spent on introductory material — colorfully designed 101s on grapes, winemaking, tasting, labeling, pairing, cellaring, and so forth — the rest, called “Rotters’ Road Trip,” reads like a modern spin on Lynch’s Adventures.
“Kermit is such a legendary figure and somebody who’s perspective on wine has always been driven by joy and passion, and never been about one upmanship or ego,” said Andrew over a Zoom call from London last week. “Wine has always been something that’s woven into the culture of the people and places he goes, and he reflects on that in his own way. We like to think Noble Rot shares that same approach.”
Accented by photography both ethereal and charming, these 30 Rotter chapters recount expeditions to explore hallowed places, meet passionate people, and imbibe unicorn wines across Europe. The stalwart regions show up — Bordeaux, Rhône, Champagne, Piedmont, and, especially beloved, Burgundy — but the real nuggets of insight come from their visits to up-and-coming or rediscovered corners, such as Abruzzo, Ribeira Sacra, Sierra de Gredos, and Northern Greece.
“We have never approached wine with a very deliberate, specific agenda,” explained Andrew of how they determined which producers to feature. “We love artisanal products. That goes for food; that goes for clothing; it goes for furniture. Dan and I have always shown love for great workmanship. Wine is absolutely no different than that. So it happens that the wines we have had the most enjoyment from are wines that are made in a very sympathetic way.”
In a unique strategy, the book is written in the first person throughout, even though both men are listed as authors. “The process was to try and get a unified voice, a personal voice — that’s a very important part of how Noble Rot is presented as a magazine, because wine is a personal experience,” said Andrew. “The whole thing was born out of us becoming friends, drinking together, and wanting to communicate in a very similar fashion.”
Like many prominent voices in today’s wine world, the duo are proponents of wines that are grouped under the umbrella of “natural,” but the book shows what that really means. It’s not about cool labels, ideological talking points, cloudy wine, and anti-classical winemaking — it’s about growing vineyards in a healthy way, making wine in a simple manner, and approaching the practice with both respect for tradition and openness to change.
Will that ethos ever dominate the wine industry, which still floods grocery store shelves with industrially made plonk? “The idea that everyone on earth will be demanding more natural wine is a bit of a pipe dream,” admitted Andrew. “I would love the industry in general to move in this direction, and for people to be concerned with leaving vineyards in better condition than when they came to them. This is part of a wider conversation, and wine has a big role to play, because it is such an important agricultural product.”
But it’s not just producers. It’s up to all of us, said Andrew, explaining, “Consumers have a responsibility to make sure that what they’re buying is something they’re happy to stand behind.”
Prior to Noble Rot, Andrew worked for an importer and visited Santa Barbara a few times. He came to love the wines of Sashi Moorman, Gavin Chanin, Graham Tatomer, and Au Bon Climat, among others, and was excited to see new projects popping up regularly. On one of the book’s final pages, Wine from Another Galaxy lists Santa Barbara as the only New World entry on a list of “Ten Beautiful Wine Regions to Visit.”
“We absolutely are very enthusiastic about the wines of California, and Santa Barbara in particular,” said Andrew. “It’s great to see that things are moving forward in Santa Barbara.”
411 | Wine from Another Galaxy authors Mark Andrews and Dan Keeling join Santa Barbara County sommelier/winemaker Rajat Parr in an online discussion on March 13, at 2 p.m., hosted by Now Serving. Register at noblerot.splashthat.com. For more on the book, see noblerot.co.uk.
Every day, the staff of the Santa Barbara Independent works hard to sort out truth from rumor and keep you informed of what’s happening across the entire Santa Barbara community. Now there’s a way to directly enable these efforts. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.