In Corked, Kathryn Borel Jr.'s French wine-country research trip with her father becomes a fortified lesson in relating
When Kathryn Borel Jr. set out on a trip across the wine regions of France, meeting vintners and visiting vineyards, her intention was to write a book that would be, as she puts it now, "a lot about wine, and a bit about my dad." Instead, she wrote a rollicking, sometimes disquieting memoir about the pathos of father-daughter relations she wanted to call "Chateau Shitfaced," until her American publisher nixed it.
The book was supposed to be "an abstract conceit that seemed really good on paper," says Borel. "I was going to take this trip with my father and write a wine guide for dummies. The info I was to acquire was about soil type and vine orientation and terroir and all this kind of stuff, but when we were on the road, all my notes would be about the problems with the trip and our small glories – my relationship with my father is all I could think about. When I got back and sat down to write, I realized the whole thing had been a completely disorienting experience."
So, Borel, a Toronto-based journalist, (now) wine columnist and founding producer of CBC’s Q, ended up with Corked, an elegantly gonzo road trip with her father, a lusty former chef and hotelier with an oenophilic passion and an unfailing ability to agitate his daughter with his behaviour in restaurants and on the road – to the point where, at least once, Borel comes close to running the rental car into a tree in a near-miss attempt at a patricide-suicide. Hardly the deeply metaphoric cross-generational love-in about genetic legacy and terroir that Borel had hoped for. Except, in the end, Corked is just that.
"Here I was, thinking that I was going to have to spend hours and hours in the library poring over chemistry and the science of it, getting into geology, earth sciences, vine orientation and so on," Borel explains. "But then I realized, before getting into all that, that the [winemakers] we met were all people who were interested in earth sciences but fascinated with transmutation from earth to bottle."
It’s these literal transformations that hang ripe on the vine for a writer to render metaphorical. "My favourite quote of the trip was from the vintner who said, ‘Le vin, c’est le lien entre terre et air.’ I came into it thinking I would learn all about science, but then it was about [the moment] when you drink the wine… You can use whatever words you want to describe it, but first you must have a predilection for experiencing that interesting moment happening in your mouth."