A wine lover’s postcard from Camp Basrah, Iraq

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.

Dr. Vino,

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,

Bob Krumm

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13 Responses to “A wine lover’s postcard from Camp Basrah, Iraq”

  1. Thank you for sharing that, Tyler. Not something you see on a wineblog too often. To Bob: brought a smile to my face to hear you are writing a novel, keep at it. And lastly, thank you for serving. Lindsay

  2. Yes, indeed thanks for sharing the personal connection of wine around the world. Thank you, Bob and to your peers for serving to protect our amazing country.

    Josh @nectarwine (twitter)

  3. Cheers Bob- heres to hoping that you are home safely and soon to enjoy some good wines!
    thanks for all that you have given.

  4. Very interesting postcard…also definitely interesting to see how such context impacts the plaisure of drinking wine. At the end, Will you keep your best bottle for the last night before returning home…and which wine will you pick?

    All the best,
    Philippe – catch me on http://www.twitter.com/Phil_Lejeune , it’s not Irak here…

  5. Right on — thanks, Bob, for all you and your colleagues are doing there, and much good luck with your novel — I, for one, can’t wait to read it! (I am flat-out fascinated by the intersection of wine and politics, and that’s a pretty darn busy intersection!)

  6. Great post, Tyler and Bob,
    Thank you for sharing all this with us,

  7. this is one of my very favorite dr. vino blogs, thank you, bob krumm, for writing to all of us! and thank you, tyler colman, for posting!!!! christmas greetings from switzerland to all the readers, caroline

  8. This title caught my eye and I couldn’t resist commenting… I just joined the site today. Debra was my college professer at RIT and she is just a wonderful and lovely person, aside from all her obvious talents. I too am in Iraq at VBC and cannot wait to get home and have a celebratory sip of wine. So, hello Bob -I feel your pain 🙂 Happy Holidays to everyone reading this message and great job Debra -you deserve the best!!!

  9. Duuuuude – that’s awesome!!!

  10. My father is from Franconia — Franken as the Germans say. Mr. Krumm is right, the wine is bone dry and quite good — classically served with forelle, a breaded trout dish. Unfortunately its also quite expensive (for a little known German white) usually costing 25-40 dollars if you can find it. I believe its generally made from Mueller Thurgau or Sylvaner grapes.

  11. YOUR COMMENT “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 must have gone to another country recently?? All I recall is road checks and security systems everywhere that make you wonder whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel. Took me nearly an hour to get through the last kilometer on the way to Baghdad airport. Thankfully you can still get wine in Baghdad, much of it left over from the Saddam era, but many white wines looking distinctly heat effected. I suspect that story about Saddam and Mateus is apocryphal. Not even Saddam wuld sink that low.

  12. First of all, thanks Bob for your sacrifice and serving our country!

    Next, I’ll be heading to the middle east soon, not Iraq but Israel, for business. Anyone have any Israeli wine recommendations or maybe some wineries I should visit while I’m there?

    There is obviously not a lot of wine coming out of the middle east, with Israel being the exception. Still, I haven’t found many good articles on this region from a wine lover’s perspective.

    Any thoughts?

  13. Oddly, General Order 1 says alcohol is prohibited for consumption by US Service Members in Iraq. Another reason to support your troops!


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