An reader mail came in last week from Centcom in Iraq–not the usual place of people needing wine help! It turns out that the author, Bob Krumm of Nashville, TN, is a wine geek embedded in our military. Stationed at Camp Basrah, not only is he making a huge personal sacrifice by helping to protect our national interest, but he has even had to give up wine to do so. I asked him to contribute a “postcard” from Basrah describing what it’s like as a wine lover in a very dry zone.
Greetings from Basrah, Iraq!
I’ve started your newest book “A Year of Wine” and instantly took a liking to what you wrote in the introduction about how enjoying wine is as much about the context as it is about the wine itself. One of my pet peeves is the waiter rushing me for a wine selection before I’ve decided what I’d like to eat. The meal, the occasion, the company, they are all part of selecting the proper wine.
I’m here with the Minnesota National Guard, although I’m not from Minnesota myself. They have a great group of supporters back home. One local organization, Serving Our Troops, flew over here last weekend with 7,000 steaks and a dozen chefs from several great restaurants in the Twin Cities. Needless to say, the meal was the best I’ve had in six months. And while I certainly would have enjoyed a zesty zinfandel with my steak, I didn’t really miss it. Again, it’s about context. I’m not sure that there is a perfect wine that goes well with Iraq. (Although in the dead of summer, a cold Mosel or Bandol might do the trick.)
I’m here on my second tour as an analyst for the Army. The progress has been remarkable since I first arrived, and it looks like most US forces will soon be gone and will have left behind a relatively stable country. The rest is up to the Iraqis themselves.
I first became aware of you through your earlier work, “Wine Politics.” When I returned from Iraq the first time I decided it was time to do something on my bucket list: write a novel. It’s the story of a young man who discovers a love of wine during a trip to Germany in the late sixties and who subsequently moves to a fictional California town to make great wines. While the book’s not finished, the story combines several loves of mine: wine, food, travel, and politics. It was the politics angle through which I found your earlier work. My story’s protagonist finds that making great wine is far easier than navigating the legal and institutional hurdles arrayed against him. “Wine Politics” has been a great resource.
My own love for wine came about partly through being stationed in Germany. More known for its beer, Germany makes some great wine too. I lived a couple years in Franconia, which produces wines that are drier than what most people think of when they think of German wine. Any time I see a bocksbeutel (not to be mistaken for similarly shaped bottles of Mateus [ironically, Saddam's favorite wine--ed.]), I automatically buy it. Unfortunately, they’re so popular in Franconia, that Franken wines are hard to find even in other parts of Germany.
One final wine-related note to show that people all around the world aren’t all that different: Basrah is the largest city in the Shia part of Iraq; hence it’s a very religious town. A few months ago the city council banned alcohol. But since this is also a port city, that hasn’t stopped the drinking. Prohibition has brought bootleggers, and that of course, has brought a bit of violence. Over time, Basrawis will figure out whether or not prohibition works for them. But unlike our own (ig)noble experiment, at least they haven’t crippled a burgeoning wine industry, the effects of which took generations to repair.
Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for an enjoyable New Year of Wine,