I met the MUTINEER Magazine team in 2010 at the Hospice du Rhone, in Paso Robles, California. They were there promoting the magazine, emceeing tastings, and otherwise trying to raise the energy level in the room. The temperature of beverage industry was rising, consumers were excited – about wine, mixed drinks, and micro-brews – but very few bloggers and journalists knew which direction to focus. The MUTINEERs knew exactly what they wanted to do. They wanted to turn up the heat.
Eight years ago, in Executive MUTINEER Alan Kropf‘s first open letter to readers he set the tone for the magazine in this way:
… The Mutineer is based on the idea that the world of wine, beer, spirits, and all fine beverages has been somehow perverted within the void that exists between maker and drinker. This is a void that has overstayed its welcome, and it is a void that has now found itself in our crosshairs.
It is of our opinion that the people, ideas, and culture surrounding the world of fine beverage are far more relevant and interesting than count-less pages of beverage ratings. We, the Mutineer, will NEVER reduce something as complex and beautiful as a fine beverage to a mere number.
We don’t presume that we will change the landscape of fine beverage, but we can do our damnedest to try, and you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish with a little raw passion, blind optimism, and reckless resolve.
Now, MUTINEER Magazine has stopped the presses. In a recent open letter to their readers, Kropf ceased publication of the award winning publication which over the course of 30 issues featured more than 120 expert contributors and a range of subjects: sommeliership, distilled spirits, craft beer and wine, clean water rights, non-alcoholic sodas, gastronomy, haute drinking, and in particular they focused on the personalities that are driving the global beverage industry forward. However …
“We have come to the conclusion that we’ve accomplished what we’d like to accomplish with the magazine,” Kropf wrote. “And in true Seinfeld-ian fashion, we are opting to leave the party a bit early rather than late.”
I was surprised by the announcement, but not shocked. The current landscape for publishing is not conducive to even the bravest or best-funded endeavors. Speaking from my own experience, it is an exercise in absurdity, a blind man’s streetfight, a hot-dog’s chance in a den of rats … Magazines that are still afloat are digitizing to cut costs as fast as the beverage industry is learning to market directly to consumers through our personal devices. There is no need to sit down with a magazine anymore. All you have to do is turn on your Flipboard app and troll your personalized content.
I’m not complaining. I feed into it and off of it as much as anyone. But I prefer the inside the story. I prefer the dirt. That’s why I joined the mutiny.
MY MUTINEER DISPATCH
In July 2010, after returning home to California following a whirlwind trip across Europe, I pitched an article about Romania to the editors of MUTINEER. In the January/February 2011 issue of the magazine, they published my story.
Our team arrives in Romania like a band of gastronomic nomads. Fourteen days spent eating and drinking our way through London, Sicily, Greece and Bulgaria have taken their toll.
Nadine, my wife, is asleep in the back seat with “fatigue-like” symptoms, and our guides, a retired Sicilian merchant marine captain and his wife, a Romanian linguist, are not talking. They’re not even fighting anymore. I’m just happy I figured out the GPS system.
We disembark in Eforie Nord on Romania’s Black Sea coast, and for the next few days, Nadine and I relax with a few of our favorite pastimes – cooking, eating, and sleeping. Platters of mititei and mamaliga, bowls of ciorba, and medallions of aspic are consumed with homemade alcoholic beverages – visinata (sour cherries, sugar, alcohol), tuica (Romania’s version of plum brandy), and sweet table wines. But something’s still missing.
Disappointed by the wines we were finding on the market shelves, I contact Doru Dumitrescu, President of the Romanian Sommelier Association, to ask for the names of a few quality wine producers. We have no frame of reference here because it is difficult, if not impossible, to find high-quality Romanian wines in the United States. They’re simply not being imported yet. When we speak, Dumitrescu’s enthusiasm is contagious. The next afternoon, Nadine and I are on a bus to Bucharest to meet him and taste some proper Romanian wines.
We check into a room at the luxurious Grand Hotel Continental in the historic city center. Our window opens onto Revolution Square where, on December 21, 1989, a popular revolt against President Nicolae Ceauşescu initiated a series of events which led to the Christmas Day trial and summary execution of Ceauşescu and his wife.
“It was a confusing time,” Doru says while walking through Revolution Square. “No one knew what was going to happen.” Today, that dust is settling, and there is a collective focus on a brighter future. The wine industry has been particularly driven to elevate the national beverage experience.
On the leader board, Baron Kripp and Baroness Kripp-Costinescu of the Prince Stirbey lineage are in the process of restoring the family’s 74-acre Dragasani wine estate. This is an undertaking of genuine Romanian passion and perseverance. The couple has had to reclaim vineyards “donated” to the country during communism. A centuries-old premium wine brand, the Stirbey Wine Estate’s portfolio is highlighted by international and indigenous varieties – cabernet sauvignon, novac, feteasca, tamaioasa and cramposie.
WineRo [ aka Domaine Bessa Valley] is another player in Romania’s changing wine trade. An international concern with holdings in Bulgaria’s Bessa Valley and Aliman, Romania, WineRo’s investments are proving the potential for powerful premium and ultra-premium wines from Bordeaux varietals.
Davino, a small-but-influential winery in the Dealu Mare wine region that makes intensely concentrated white and red blends of indigenous and international varietals, proves equally intriguing and satisfying.
Davino owner, Dan Balaban, who spends a portion of his time in the United States, says “The perception of Romanian wine is out of date. We are not Murfatlar or burgund mare anymore.”
Burgund mare is the Romanian name for the black grape, lemberger. Murfatlar is a wine region on the Black Sea coast. Both burgund mare and Murfatlar are synonymous for very cheap, sweet red wine.
“You are about to see an explosion of quality wines coming out of Romania,” Balaban says enthusiastically.
Domenille Clos Des Colombes (Wall of Doves) is an enological tourist destination (winery, restaurant, bed and breakfast) in Olimp on the Black Sea coast. Led by Anne-Marie Rosenberg (in photo above), the boutique winery and estate produces very small quantities of international and indigenous varieties with an inimitable style.
The day before our arrival, Rosenberg received word from the control board that her application to make syrah had been approved. Even with positive progress like this, Rosenberg echoes sentiments from each producer I have met.
Every step forward is a struggle. If it’s not bureaucracy slowing progress, it’s corruption on myriad levels. That evening, as if to emphasize the point, the Romanian Parliament voted to obstruct a European Union anti-corruption policy. This is par for the course – good people being led by troublemakers.
It’s obvious to me that Romania is poised and ready, just behind the curtain of the European wine scene. There are those who can almost hear the call for an encore. First thing’s first though; it’s got to step on stage.
Since this story was published, some of the Romanian wineries with whom I tasted have closed up shop, been forced to shut down, or grubbed up their vines. It’s a shame to hear, but the reality is that progress is never always a foot forward. Sometimes, progress means stepping to the side and doing what has to be done.
To emphasize this point, I’d like to include make one addition to this story. Unfortunately, it was a scene [a paragraph] that had to be cut from the original article because of space issues. It dealt with corruption. I opted to use the Parliament vote (in the second to last paragraph) rather than this:
I was having dinner with Doru on my last night in Bucharest. The sommelier at the restaurant brought us a bottle of wine. It was a wine and winery that Doru knew well. But the bottle that was presented to us was a fake.
The bottle, label, capsule all resembled the product, but it was a knock-off – the equivalent of a fake PRADA bag being sold on a Milan sidewalk for the price of a PRADA bag. Doru called them on it. There was a scene. They tried to fool the wrong customer. The manager was called. The owner was called. I’m sure the police would have been called, not that they would have done anything about a fake wine. A fake PRADA bag, maybe …
“False wines are big business,” Doru said as we walked away from the restaurant. “Consumers are being tricked into spending millions of leu on wines that aren’t real. It’s devastating the market that we are trying so hard to improve.”
It was one of those unforgettable moments for me. The Romanian wine industry that had looked so glossy and polished and promising only hours earlier had a smudge. I remember thinking, This is the real story.
Today, as I read the last post of the MUTINY, I wonder where the real stories will go now. What’s more, I’m curious if anyone’s listening.
[At the time of publishing, I had not received comment from the MUTINEER staff. If they become available, I will add them and note the changes.]