Author Q & A
CGP: Your entrée into the world of wine was a unique one. How did you first ‘fall in love’ with wine, and where did you first discover it?
DH: I really discovered wine when first living in Italy. I had learned to appreciate wine as a young woman during and after college, but didn’t really understand its place in the world, in my life, or in a meal until much later. Living in Italy taught me how wine falls into the daily order of things and how it is an integral part of cultivation and harvest, scent and taste, food and culture.
CGP: You’re well known for your work with scent, taste, and cleverly pairing wines with food. How much of this is a kind of sixth sense, and how much is it careful education, or process of elimination?
DH: I think of my work pairing wine to food as both intuitive and learned. I have studied regional Italian grape varietals, the wine they make, and the regional food associated with them for many years. I have trained my nose and palate to smell and taste the varied aromas in wine and spirits, and I continue to study all wine, spirits, oenology, and mixology, and to hone my abilities and deepen my education. And since I have spent a lifetime eating and half a lifetime cooking, I have taught my palate to pay attention to these experiences. With these tools, I am then able to follow my nose, as it were, and to respond to my intuition: which notes in the wine to highlight and call to which ingredients in a dish, or vice versa. Intuition is what allows me to be playful and to stretch my abilities. The education is the foundation, and the intuition is the illumination.
CGP: Pane e Salute, the Vermont-based osteria you run with your husband, chef Caleb Barber, is widely admired. Has working in a restaurant influenced your desire to make wine, and how?
DH: I came to want to make wine through my work at the restaurant. The restaurant has informed so many of the choices Caleb and I have made about our life together. In my work as the wine director for the restaurant, trying to create an unusual and intriguing wine list, coordinating wine pairings to go with the food Caleb cooks, and to encourage our guests to taste and to learn new things about these wines I feel passionate about has led me to this next step. I feel compelled to understand the wine more completely. Learning to tend to grapes and to go through the process of making wine will only give my current relationship with wine greater depth and heart.
CGP: You write about how you are an "unlikely winemaker." What do you mean by this?
DH: I think I am an unlikely winemaker because I do not come from a background rich in the history and appreciation of wine. Wine was not particularly part of my family’s culture; they gravitated more to an appreciation of spirits. I do not come from a background rich in the history of farming; agriculture was not an integral part of my daily life until my own burgeoning interest in gardening as an adult. And I do not have a natural disposition for chemistry or geology; any strength I showed in science was in biology. Given that these elements are all what I consider to be useful and natural guides toward a vocation in making wine, I feel that I have come to winemaking against all the most probable odds.
CGP: If there were such a thing as a "perfect wine," how would you envision it?
DH: Certainly a "perfect" wine for me would be primarily about terroir and balance. The wine would taste very much of the land in which the grapes had been grown. The fruit, tannins, and acidity would integrate seamlessly and hang upon a strong structure that provided a beginning, a middle, and a long end. The grapes would be grown organically and biodynamically on a very small property with the winemaker completely involved at every stage. The juice itself would be handled with finesse and understanding, but with as little intervention as possible. But all true perfection requires at least one imperfection to be sublime.
CGP: Why did you choose Vermont, of all places, as the landscape upon which to make your wine?
DH: Vermont is where I happen to live. I would try to make wine in any landscape in which I found myself! However, I feel very fortunate to be in Vermont and wanting to make wine here. We have a burgeoning wine culture with about twenty or so vineyards working toward making good wines. It is very thrilling to be at the beginning of such a movement in a place where you’d least expect it. No one knows what this land is really capable of. I like challenging stories of the unexpected, and to produce good wine out of Vermont will be challenging--from finding the right grapes, the right styles of wine for our landscape and terroir, to understanding what wines will most effortlessly marry what local ingredients. Since I consider myself an unlikely winemaker, I feel well-matched to an unlikely landscape for viticulture.
CGP: If you had to choose your favorite meal, and pair it with your favorite wine or liquor, what would it include, and why?
DH: This is a difficult question as I love too many dishes and too many wines and liqueurs to choose only one. I would feel like I was cheating myself! But I can think of one of my many favorite meals and wines: a classic northern Italian/French Alpine fondue with salametti, small boiled potatoes, little pickles and pickled onions, raw carrots and celery, roasted beets…..all served with a crystalline Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle from around Monte Bianco to a nutty and round Petite Arvine from outside of Aosta; or a pizza Napolitano with fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, and capers served with a robust yet elegant Aglianico from outside of Naples grown on the shoulders of Vesuvius; or grilled flank steak with a sauce of green peppercorns with a frisée salad and very thin, very salty frites served with a vodka tonic; or.......