Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bung holes and book research

Michael Lundeen, Winemaker for Illahe Vineyards,
tries to pretend I'm not the most immature
person he's ever met as I snicker about
bung holes.
I arrived home late yesterday after three days of touring the Willamette Valley drinking wine and taking such copious notes that I required more wine to ease my aching hand.


I know I’ve blathered before about my great passion for book research, but this trip reminded me why there’s no substitute for getting up close and personal with the subject of your novel.

Sure, I could have opened a bottle of my favorite Sineann wine at home and jotted my impressions about the flavors and aromas.

But I would have missed seeing owner/winemaker Peter Rosback’s face light up as he discussed 100-year-old Zin vines and glass corks and the feeling of rain slithering down his neck in the crush bed.

I could have perused online photos determine that Van Duzer Vineyards comes closest to my mental picture of the setting for LET IT BREATHE.

But I wouldn’t have heard the squawk of Canadian Geese and the thrum of rain on the roof as tasting room guru Danielle Blanchette kept my glass filled and viticulturist Rebecca Sweet explained the delicate balance involved in combating vineyard threats like powdery mildew while remaining Salmon Safe and LIVE Certified.

I could have learned wine terminology by reading a book on winemaking.

But I would have missed watching Illahe Vineyards winemaker Michael Lundeen struggle to keep a straight face as he showed me how to remove the “bung” from the “bung hole” on a barrel so he could use his “wine thief” to sample an aging Pinot Noir.

More importantly, I would have missed sampling said Pinot Noir.

Now that I’m home, I have a pile of notes covered in wine-stains and hair that smells faintly of fermenting grapes.

I also have a renewed appreciation for a passage I highlighted in Steve Roberts’ WINETRAILS OF OREGON before we embarked on this trip:

“Most people don’t realize that winemaking involves hundreds of decisions: when to pick the grapes, what equipment to use, what strain of yeast to inoculate with, when to rack, and when to bottle.”

It’s true for both winemaking and writing.

Some of an author’s decisions are small – what color is my heroine’s hair? What is her house like?

Some decisions are bigger – who are her family members and how does she relate to them? What challenges are they facing in their vineyard and how do they impact her life?

I’ll figure it out as I go, but I know this is a part of the process non-writers don’t really appreciate. To be a good writer, you not only have to arm yourself with research, but use that research to make a million little decisions each time you sit down at the keyboard.

For now at least, I feel well-armed. I’ve got pages of notes, hundreds of photos, and 12 bottles of excellent wine.

That should hold me for at least a couple days.
Heading into the tasting room at Van Duzer Vineyards.

12 comments :

LS Murphy said...

Sounds like a fruitful trip.
The pictures are great.

Mason Canyon said...

By you (the author) having the hands on research, your writing will enable us (the reader) to feel as though we have experienced it too. That makes a world of difference when selecting to read. You can share with us the smell of the cork or the sound of the gulls that we would not know otherwise.

BTW, I'm glad you optioned to go for the bottle rather than just one glass. Never hurts to be extra sure of how something taste. :)

Liz Czukas said...

Now that's my kind of research. And your title made me giggle sophomorically. tee hee!

Now, let's see the product of all this sampling and researching! Get thee to the keyboard.

- Liz

Linda G. said...

So, Pythagoras drove and you drank? Sounds like your marriage is the perfect partnership.

I know you're going to have a blast writing this book. Heck, I'm already looking forward to reading it. So get going on it already!

Candyland said...

With all that wine, how do you get anything done? I'd just want my jammies.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

How true, nothing gleaned from a book or online comes close to firsthand experience. Capturing smells, sounds, colors, and feelings is as important research as compiling a working glossary of technical terms. Your trip sounds awesome -- rewarding and FUN!

Speaking of wine country, I'll be spending three weeks in France in June/July, so my envy for your trip is somewhat buffered. I used to live there (hubby was born and raised near Lyons), and this will be our third trip back since moving the family to the States in 2000. It will be the first time I'll go since becoming serious about my writing. Your posts remind me how fortunate I am. It's such a great opportunity to gather grassroots research.

My current WIP has nothing to do with Europe...so maybe I'll spend the next few weeks pondering the next project...

Great post!

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Sounds like my kind of research. Maybe I'll hit up a winery around here and send you my notes. I mean, it would be for a good cause right? And I'm almost out of Riesling.

Tawna Fenske said...

LS Murphy, LOL, I'm a big fan of puns. Fruitful indeed!

Mason, I like to think I'm giving the reader a more authentic experience. Then again, I may just be a lush.

Liz, sheesh, you're the second person today to order me to start writing. The first was one of my critique partners, though you were much nicer than she was. She beat me repeatedly with an iron pipe and left me crying in a gutter.

Linda G, there are definite advantages to marrying a guy who doesn't drink much. I always have a designated driver handy!

Candyland, oh, was I not supposed to do the wine tour in my jammies? I thought they looked at me strangely in the tasting room.

Nicole, your trip sounds AMAZING! How long do you get to be there? Have a glass of wine (or twelve) for me! I love using writing as an excuse to travel. A sailing adventure in Australia was the original inspiration behind the first book in my contract (MAKING WAVES). The best part is getting to write off travel on your taxes if you DO decide to write about your Europe trip. Have fun!

Karen Amanda, I could definitely use some good Riesling research! Incidentally, the heroine of this book is named for that varietal (though she goes by Reese).

Thanks for reading, guys!

Tawna

Melanie Sherman said...

Oh my! What a fun time you had. I was right there with you the whole way (when I read the blog post). Love it. You will come to the "green" side of the state for a book signing, won't you?

JM Tohline said...

Your thoughts on research highlight the difference between writers who "tell" and writers who "show." It's difficult to show if you've never seen and experienced for yourself. When writers research from books and studies, they often feel good about the knowledge they've gained and want to tell the reader all about it - bad, bad, bad!

Claire Dawn said...

Like you, I'm a hands-on researcher. So I write what I know: places I've been or places that only exist in my imagination.

But a book set in a vineyard is about the best thing I could think of to research hands-on. :)

Tawna Fenske said...

Melanie, I will most definitely venture to the green/rainy side of the state for book signings! My heroine in MAKING WAVES is from Portland, and the whole story in BELIEVE IT OR NOT is set there, so all the more reason to market in PDX!

JM, want me to "show" you what the dump smells like? That was one of my favorite research locales.

Claire Dawn, setting a book in a vineyard was no accident! I've been looking forward to researching this one for awhile!

Tawna