Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis with K'sa Tete Pineau D'Aunis
Often I look to the books I’m currently reading and loving as a litmus test of sorts: a map to my conscious and unconscious moods. The particular season of my mind reified through underlined sentences, pages read and re-read, a growing pile of books to be obsessed by. But occasionally, my mind’s mood is so particular it will send me toward, or perhaps pull me into a certain type of novel. The types of novels I find particularly pleasurable in these moments are those that move with an understated strength; those both “contemporary and ancient” at the same time, depending on how closely you perceive the “seams.” The books I seek refuge in are those that move the way a mind moves—or perhaps with enough spaciousness to allow my own mind to fill in the gaps. To read Chloe Aridjis’s Book of Clouds is to go on a journey, but one with no beginning and no end. To observe the novel’s mind as it moves, makes connections, and—despite holding us at arm’s length—pulls from what exists there something larger than its isolated parts. It’s a novel about paying attention, an act we might also call beauty. Which is perhaps what I love most about Book of Clouds, the beauty that comes from attuning our attention, which despite “this relentlessly lit world of ours that is never turned off,” provides an unexpected moment of quiet: a shifting angle of sun that, for a time anyway, transcends those phantoms lurking behind the clouds.
This month’s wine is a grape possessed by phantoms. Pineau D’Aunis is a mercurial, shapeshifting grape and consequently one of my favorites. A strange grape, made stranger by how it takes on the particular soils and seasons of where it’s grown. It’s almost unnerving how different this grape tastes from place to place, bottle to bottle, soil to soil—so much so that even as I describe what I think you’ll taste in this month’s wine, I’m not even a little bit convinced that we’ll taste the same thing. I taste a blackberry bush (or the restlessness of how I imagine an entire bush of blackberries would taste in my mouth), dirt, a bit of spice, and something unidentifiable and lead-like. I’ve also tasted bananas and something vaguely peppery. Which is to say, when I drink this wine I taste the memory of the previous sip—the past mingling with my assessment of it in the present. But, we pay the closest attention to the things we love.
Chloe Aridjis is a Mexican-American writer from New York, Mexico City, and the Netherlands. She is the author of three novels: Book of Clouds, Asunder, and Sea Monsters, all three of which would most certainly fit my mood for a novel that observes; one that thinks more than acts. Book of Clouds won the prestigious Prix du premier roman étranger in France in 2009, and Sea Monsters won the 2020 Pen Faulkner award. I’m struck by the fact that these novels bookend a financial and public health crisis, but my imagination is restless and likely making connections where none exist.
Manoir de la Tête Rouge is a certified biodynamic winery in Saumur, France. Winemaker Guillaume Reynouard took over an abandoned vineyard in 1995 of several hectares of Cabernet Franc and one hectare of Pineau D’Aunis, a grape that was nearly extinct in the region. The K’sa Tete 100% Pineau D’Aunis is macerated for 18 days in concrete and then aged in old oak for six months.