Wine & Food

Snooth User: dmcker

Harrison on a life with wine

Posted by dmcker, May 5, 2016.

I've taken the liberty of posting a portion of Kermit Lynch's most recent newsletter. It's a piece Jim Harrison wrote for them nearly a decade ago on wine's significance in his life, and there are several specific examples of food and wine matching.

Harrison died recently and I mourned him as another of the greats who have passed this decade. Lots of pleasure from such novellas as his Legends of the Fall or Revenge, to name perhaps his most popular and commercially successful stories. They resonate with me because of similar personal experiences in similar regions, or else similar stories handed down within my family, though his skill and craft carried the stories to another level. A bit of a Hemingway descendant, not just because of the Michigan connection, but his art was far more than just that.

And he loved his wine and food. Be forewarned--more than a little of a Francophile, was friend Harrison.




This month we remember Jim Harrison, author, poet,
and bon vivant. Friendly over several years, he and Kermit shared an appreciation for fine wines such as Domaine Tempier and Domaine La Tour Vieille. Jim was also an occasional contributor to our newsletter—his essay below was first published in December 2007.

Please join us in raising a glass to Jim as we celebrate the passion and insight he brought to our world.




by Jim Harrison

Sad but true, but how sad? Ben Franklin said, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Despite this many Americans own a hopeless puritanical streak that makes them beat on themselves as if they were building a tract house. The other day I took out a pound of side pork from the refrigerator, exemplary side pork raised by E.T. Poultry which I favor above all domestic pork. I put the package on the table and circled it nervously like a nun tempted to jump over the convent wall and indulge in the lusts of the body. My intellect warred against this side pork while my heart and taste buds surged. I was again modern man at the banal crossroads where he always finds himself bifurcated like Rumpelstiltskin.

Naturally the side pork won. My art needed it, plus I knew that a simple bottle of Domaine La Tour Vieille would win the battle with pork fat if drunk

Iam intensely knowledgeable on all matters nutritional but somewhat ineƒective in applying this knowledge to myself. A friend, the novelist Tom McGuane, once said to me, “You can lecture a group of us on nutritional health while chain smoking and drinking a couple of bottles of wine in less than an hour.”


speedily enough to get down the gullet to disarm the gobbets of side pork. To achieve health one must be able to visualize such things in terms of the inner diorama.

A number of doctors have been amazed that I am still alive, but the explana- tion is simple: wine. I started out in a deep dark hole being born and raised in northern Michigan which demographically is the center of stomach cancer in the U.S. Up home, as it were, they love to fry everything and when short on staples they favor fried fried. To be frank, the French raised me, though I didn’t get over there until my thirties due to a thin wallet. Since my mid-teens I loved and read studiously French literature so that at nineteen in Greenwich Village I was scarcely going to drink California plonk while reading Baudelaire, Rim- baud, and Apollinaire. Instead I drank French plonk at less than two bucks a bottle, slightly acrid but it did the job, which was to set my Michigan peasant brain into a literary whirl.

Whiskey is lonely while wine has its lover, food. Last evening here at a remote hunting cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we ate an appetizer of moose liver (excellent and mild), goose, and woodcock with Le Sang des Cailloux Vacquey- ras, Domaine Tempier Bandol, and Château La Roque with Joe Bastianich’s Vespa bianco with our cheeses.

Wine leads us to the food that becomes our favorite. It would be unthinkable for a Frenchman to eat his bécasse (woodcock) without a fine wine, say a Clos de la Roche, beside his plate, though this fine Burgundy is mostly aƒordable to mo- guls who unlike me don’t have the time to hunt woodcock, grouse, doves, quail, and Hungarian partridge. Since I love wild food and wine I have been kept active in the sporting life by these addictions. I will shu‰e through the outdoors for hours to shoot my dinner though in the case of woodcock they are better hung for a few days. If the weather is too warm a 42-degree refrigerator works fine, though you keep your eye on how you rotate the birds. I’ve never had a wood- cock turn “high” on me but you must be much more careful with the white- breasted grouse. I have frequently eaten the “trail” of woodcock, the entrails minus the gizzard, on toast, a French tradition that some of my American friends are squeamish about. I insist that the best cooking method for woodcock is to simply roast the birds over a woodfire making sure the breast interior is pinkish red. Much like doves and mallards an overcooked woodcock is criminal. Last year near our winter “casita” on the Mexican border I shot well over a hun- dred doves but when I cooked a few of them minutes too long my wife was utterly disgusted. Perhaps I did something truly stupid like answering the phone.

So wine fuels my sporting life but the hunting season ends and I become a bird-watcher rather than a hunter partly to keep moving and make sure my appetite is revved. Woodcock don’t freeze well but Hungarian partridge and grouse do, plus there are gifts from friends of elk, antelope, moose, and venison, which all cry out rather silently for red wine.

We had a nasty summer in Montana due to a two-month heat wave. I ate

page14image560 page14image728

Richard Olney, Lulu Peyraud, and Jim Harrison circa 1977 © Gail Skoff

sparingly and shed ounces like dandruƒ, sensing that I was becoming too light on my feet for Montana winds. The heat forced me to drink whites, my favor- ites being Bouzeron and La Cadette’s Bourgogne blanc, their Vézelay blanc, too, and also a lot of lowly Italian prosecco which was amenable to the weather. My appetite recovered slightly when the garden flourished in August but it wasn’t until September that I could again fully embrace my first love, French reds.

The City of Lyon has kindly decided to give me a medal and is flying me over in a few weeks. Only by dint of tromping through forests and fields several hours a day can one be physically ready for Lyon, which makes me the man for the job. After each meal in Lyon I will climb the mountain, glance at the cathedral but not actually go inside, and then trot back down. Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon irritated me when in the second century he proclaimed animals don’t go to heaven because they can’t contribute monetarily to the church. I adore the clas- sic bistros in Lyon, also a restaurant called Aux Fins Gourmets. These sturdy folks eat sturdily and I will ferret away a collection of fromage de tête (head cheese) in my hotel room in case I awake in the night disconsolate.


After Lyon I will positively reconstruct the nature of my blood in Narbonne, Collioure, and Bandol. Most intelligent people recall the established scientific victory of the Mediterranean diet over half a dozen others. The eƒect of the south is immediate. Once while writing for a week at the splendid Hotel Nord Pinus in Arles, I became daily less somber and tormented so that what I wrote there was untypically jubilant. Doubtless if I wrote a whole novel in the south of France I would lose my winning reputation for melancholy. Once on the streets of Arles, for instance, I met a very undoglike lassie who was half-French and half-Egyptian. My knees buckled and I had to have two glasses of wine to make my way a mere block to the hotel.

Our last evening at the cabin we had grouse and woodcock again, and a leg of lamb from my neighbor’s ranch in Montana. A friend, Rick Baker, brought along some Beychevelles from the eighties, a Grand Cru Mondot from Saint Emilion, and more Domaine Tempiers. The Mondot was a little muddy, per- haps from shipment.

All in all it was a decidedly non-triumphant summer. In mid-September I made game pies from venison, mallards, doves, Hungarian partridge, ground veal, and pork fat with a lard pie crust. Superb. Unfortunately it was hot again and I had to eat one with a

white Cadette. It worked, but in the middle of the snack it occurred to me that weather is God’s work while wine is man’s. René Char told us not to live on regret like a wounded finch. A few years ago a friend gave me an ’82 Pétrus and I swilled it before I learned I could have sold the bottle and bought a ticket to France where I’m closer to the heart of the matter, wine and its lover, food.



Reply by JonDerry, May 6, 2016.

I like this Jim Harrison guy. Reminds me of my dad, a food first guy, romantic about French food and all types of meat delicacies, with of course wine taking it to another level. Cheered the Clos de la Roche reference, I would like to be drinking it a little more than I do. That, and Bonne Mares. 

Reply by JonDerry, May 6, 2016.

I've already quoted this article on Facebook. Weather is god's work while wine is man' especially well in the context of a poor vintage where a producer still makes successful wines.

Reply by dmcker, May 6, 2016.

I kinda like "I will positively reconstruct the nature of my blood"--understand that feeling and reality. Especially nice in such beautiful places as Collioure and Bandol, of course. I've done similarly in Campania, too. Thailand and Goa, not quite the same...

Reply by rckr1951, May 12, 2016.

As a person who, 25 years ago, had an ex-pat friend that lived in Lyon, I am well aware of the tremendous food scene their....and wine - by the gallons.  Some very good memories returned from my 3 visits there - thanks for this.

Reply by Really Big Al, May 12, 2016.

Very interesting newsletter.  The man truly was able to utilize all that nature provided him.  Any way to find the missing images?

Reply by dmcker, May 13, 2016.

Only one was pertinent, Al, a photo of Harrison with some winemakers a few decades ago. The rest were generic newsletter line art.  Go to the link I posted and you can see the art there. Harrison's piece starts on p. 12.

This Snooth editor hasn't been worked on by the proprietors for half a decade or more. A few tweaks would allow the images to come through, but they don't seem to be allocating resources for such efforts these days.

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