“A writer’s style is like the identity of the terroir in a good wine”

Inspiring people

12/05/2018

Teacher, writer, photographer, winemaker. Any of these professions would define Mauricio Wiesenthal (Barcelona, 1943), but he definitely goes for writer. “All the rest forms part of my path, my history. I’ve worked in a lot of professions to create my own biography, my own story for myself,” he confesses, elegantly, modestly, and politely during an informal conversation at La Vinoteca Torres.

A life dedicated to literature

His words give off an air of wisdom and culture. Everything he says makes sense and, in turn, every experience contains the kind of implicit lesson that shows someone has lived a lot. His story is gripping. Always related to the pen and to literature. The son of professors, he wrote his first book at the age of just 21, and at 22 he was already teaching classes on the history of culture at the business school in Cádiz, as well as in summer courses at the University of Seville. He was educated in Spain and also at a French school, because “my father wanted me to be educated like a European, and for me to have an international and more open outlook.” That’s why, in addition to his devotion to Spanish literature, he knows French and German literature inside out, and also why he has always defended pro-European ideals following in the wake of the writer Stefan Zweig, who he cites as his first teacher. “I share with him the idea that Europe shouldn’t have borders, or biases, and that it should be open-minded.” A life philosophy that he unquestionably put into practice. He traveled all over the continent, he crossed borders, and he spent long periods living in Paris to follow his dream. “I was living the life to be able to be a writer and to be able to one day tell the story of my struggle and my experience.” He took pictures to accompany the accounts of his travels and offered them to media such as Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue, together with his articles. He has worked with National Geographic Traveler, the Touring Club Italiano, and other international publications. In those days he did everything: From touring Europe, traveling by bike and by foot, following the course of its rivers (together with a circus company), to singing in cafés, and studying everything imaginable, at the same time as meeting many masters and characters that crossed his path, including Anna Freud, Eugène Ionesco, Ava Gardner, Golo Mann, Deborah Kerr, Coco Chanel, and Paul Morand. “I remember as if it were yesterday,” he says with a nostalgic smile.

Wiesenthal has a fine memory. Among anecdotes of his life in Paris and his travels around Europe, while we sip a Jean Leon 3055 Chardonnay, he acknowledges that the book that was most difficult for him to write was the biography of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “I spent many hours of my life on it, and the hard work of studying and researching is even more demanding when you’re already at an advanced age.” Today, some of his works—such as Libro de Réquiems, the novel Luz de Vísperas, and the most recent, La Hispanibundia—are considered cult books. As for the book he most liked writing, however, he cites El esnobismo de las golondrinas [The Snobbishness of Swallows]: “It all started when Paul Morand told me one day that swallows were very snobby, because they spend winter in Marrakech and summer in Paris. The spirit of the book is based on the right everyone has to access the pleasures and treasures of the spirit (culture, education, taste and a good palate), which, in the past, was only reserved for the richest and most fortunate part of society. That’s why they accused those who had the courage to break down those barriers as being ‘snobs’ [a termsaid to have its origins in the term “sine nobilitate,” or “without nobility”].

Getting rid of writer’s block, by writing

Like every writer, he talked to us about writer’s block. “It’s the cruelest thing there is in a writer’s life.” To get over it, he points to his writing process and compares it to that of a painter. “First I get the page dirty with ideas and feelings that come to my heart, without paying attention to a rational order or a project, letting myself get carried away by emotion. The story takes shape this way, and then it takes on a more precise outline. After 10 minutes I’ve already figured out if I’m working with material for a novel, or if it’s a short story, or an essay, or a topic that needs to be encouraged through lots of study. From that moment onward, I can get rid of the drafts and disorganized features, I press the grapes I’ve harvested and from that I get the substance, the color, the aromas, and the must that has to be turned into wine.

As for contemporary literature, he says, “It’s very different from when I started writing. I didn’t have success on the first day, but the complete opposite. And I’m not unhappy about what I’ve had to learn and fight for, because with the years comes strength and style. Just like in the vineyard, since the first flowers aren’t the ones that give the best fruits.

Winemaking, a science that you must know how to communicate

If we look at the beginning of this post, we mention the insatiable curiosity, the capacity for work, and the many professions our interviewee has and has had. One of them, which is just is as important, is winemaker. Wiesenthal has had a passion for wines since he was very young. His father had vines on a small family estate in Cádiz. The person in charge of looking after them was Señor Francisco, a man Wiesenthal remembers clearly and considers to be one of his teachers and idols. “He would tell me the story of the world in harvests. My passion for grape growing was born through his stories. Vines form part of my habitat, my culture, and our memory.

In his quest, and also by virtue of meeting interesting people, he met Miguel Torres. Wiesenthal was working as the manager of a publishing house, and at that time he was also editing wine books. “I was doing everything to try to live off literature, but at that time I was already very tired of my struggle. I’d written around 50 books by then, but I was fighting without any protection. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and I was intent on giving it all up.” Wiesenthal kept working then on a personal dream that would take up many years of his life: Writing a wine dictionary. Today, his Gran diccionario del vino is the greatest lexical treasure on wine and enology written in Spain, and something that few other countries in the world have. And, at the same time, he promised Torres that he would finish a book on the wines of Spain they were working on together, even though he was already determined to give it all up and set out on a new path. But before Wiesenthal took that step, Torres suggested he stay in Spain and start large projects together linked to the world of wine, always with the same idea of extending the civilized values of our culture. Since then, for over 40 years now, many of the texts written about Torres wines pass through the hands of Mauricio Wiesenthal. “Life is about doing things, not giving up, being willing to learn, and taking advantage of every opportunity,” he says.

Wiesenthal is a voice of authority to talk about wines and winemaking. In 1992 he was awarded the Gold Cup of the Oenologists of Catalonia and in 2015 the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts. He appreciates winemaking from two perspectives, both of which are equally important: the science and the communication. “I don’t trust it when they want to reduce winemaking to a wine tasting and a scoresheet. Winemaking is a science that requires caution and rigor, but it’s also a vehicle for civilization and culture that has many nuancessome of which are very aesthetic and poeticthat you have to know how to communicate.” Wiesenthal defines the winemaker as “the person who communicates with the wine and who knows how to communicate the secrets of the wine’s soul. Only the winemaker knows the moment when a closed wine is going to open up and communicate its message. And, if it’s a good winemaker, they’ll also know how to guide the wine and lead it to that happy moment when it soars on its own. The day when you understand how much civilization and culture there is in wine, you then have the calling to be a winemaker.

As for Jean Leon wines, he says, “they have identity and they’re different. In a world that makes us routine, repetitive, and mechanical, only art is art.

Categorías: Inspiring people