The last time I held a zine in my hands was in the late 1990s, at the Doheny Days Music Festival in Dana Point, Calif. It was an adorably lo-fi, black-and-white ska zine given to me by a dude wearing eyeliner and a chain wallet, a bidi nearly burning his lips. (Back then, that was my idea of a heartthrob.) But ever since the Internet came along, self-published, paper-based zines—which found their apex in the 1960s and 1970s, covering everything from politics to sex to punk rock—have mostly become virtual.
So imagine my surprise when Loam Baby, a new wine zine published anonymously under the pseudonym R.H. Drexel, arrived in my mailbox.
I opened the inaugural issue, on California's Santa Barbara County, and flipped right to a bunch of half-naked pictures of winemaker Greg Brewer (of Diatom and Brewer-Clifton) getting ready for a shower. I half hoped that I'd just stumbled across a zine dedicated to winemaker erotica. But, it turns out, Loam Baby is much more than that.
In that conversation with Greg Brewer, Drexel talks with the winemaker about the increasing division and argumentativeness in the wine industry and wonders the same thing I've been wondering: Has it always been this way?
Loam Baby, at its core, is trying to tell us that it doesn't have to be.
"There is a lot of division in the enological scene—high and low alcohol, oak and no oak, and so on," said Drexel. "But wine is this beautiful thing from nature that's about sharing and people; it makes people's lives better. I am just hoping to put a little of that back into the business."
It's a noble endeavor, especially considering that each issue of Loam Baby costs Drexel around $10,000 to produce, and—in true zine form—will likely never make a profit. But Drexel isn't concerned about money.
"Loam Baby," Drexel wrote in the opening letter of the first issue, released in March, "is my modest gift back to an industry that has given me much more than I deserve."
Drexel clearly isn't interested in recognition either, hence the pseudonym. The Drexel in R.H. Drexel is a tribute to Katharine Drexel, the American heiress, activist and philanthropist who became a nun (and a saint!) and dedicated herself and her inheritance to civil rights, specifically for African Americans and Native Americans. (She died in 1955.) The R.H. stands for River House, an old plantation home in New Orleans, which serves as an homage to the city Drexel describes as "my soul mate," because "there is very little ambition." The pseudonym, it seems to me, is symbolic of what makes Loam Baby fresh: a dedication to civility, purpose and, more than anything, wit.
At its best, Loam Baby is a raw look at the lives of American winemakers—what drives them and who they are beyond their work—often tackled from unlikely angles. A piece in the inaugural issue, titled "Little Red Chill Pill," is about a red 1972 Volkswagen Transporter owned by Chad Melville (the winemaker behind Melville and Samsara). It details the winemaker's journey to find zen, let go and not take himself too seriously.
The recently released second issue, which covers the Santa Cruz Mountains, picks up where the first left off. Drexel talks with Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards—and it turns out, Shakti Yoga Shala, a yoga studio located above the winery—about how John Alban of Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley has influenced him, how he discovered 10 acres of his pre-Prohibition vineyard on a bike ride, and how a yoga session is the perfect prelude to wine tasting.
The second issue, like the first, is peppered with anecdotal oddities such as a surprisingly accurate application of grape varieties to the zodiac calendar. (Sauvignon Blanc, it turns out, is a Leo.)
Throughout both issues, Loam Baby embraces a refreshing sort of anti-commercial utopianism, which, it turns out, carries over to the marketing strategy. (The strategy: Don't have a strategy.) Drexel accepts no advertising and is not actively marketing the zine. The hope is that the word will get out organically.
"I want people to discover it on their own, the way people used to discover zines in Greenwich Village in the 1970s," said Drexel.
Each issue will cover a different American region and Drexel plans to release three per year. It's available for free online at loambaby.com or via hardcopy for $11 per issue, a small price to pay to keep the zine alive.