Wine Talk: Richard Wiese

The intrepid president of the Explorers Club shares his adventures with wine
May 25, 2005

As president of the century-old Explorers Club—whose members have been the first to step on the North and South poles, the summit of Mount Everest and the Moon—Richard Wiese finds himself in all corners of the world, often with a bottle of wine and a great story to take back. At home, he designs personalized wine labels for friends and is tracking the lineage of grapevines his great-grandparents brought to the United States from Italy. Wiese has also brought wine to the New York-based Explorers Club, in partnership with California's Redwood Creek winery, through a series of public lectures and tastings that pair wine with exotic foods, such as snake and tarantula.

Wine Spectator: Which is more important: What you drink or where you drink it?
Richard Wiese: I'm really big on ambiance—it can make the crappiest wine taste a whole lot better. And drinking wine in the outdoors is such a different experience. Somebody just sent me a photo from the Shackleton expedition [the 1914-1916 attempt to reach Antarctica] of them sitting out on the ice at a table with a bottle of wine, and it reminded me of an experience I had last year. I went to Elephant Island [off Antarctica], and on Christmas Day, I sat there with some friends on the back of an icebreaker. There were these big hanging glaciers around us, and we sat there with a bottle of Argentinean wine in the middle of this spectacular view. We have this toast we always give on expeditions: "to la dolce vita." I've been on all these trips, and we always end with a nice glass of wine.

WS: What's your favorite wine-in-the-great-outdoors experience?
RW: I was on safari in northern Kenya, and my friend and I had rendezvoused with some Italian guys ... and we had a checkered tablecloth and a few bottles of Chianti that they had brought from Italy. That night it was so clear that the stars looked like a blanket of lights—everything looked so much closer and bigger. And in the distance you could hear lions roaring. I remember pushing back from my chair after dinner and saying to myself, "It just doesn't get any better than this."

WS: Any others?
RW: Another time my friend Peter and I were canoeing through the Everglades. We brought some bladders full of wine along, and because the coldest place was in the water, we tied the bladders to a rope and dragged them behind the boat. At one point the rope broke. I have this funny picture of Peter swimming after the wine with an alligator in the background.

Also, I took a digital photography seminar in France, and one of my projects was shooting vineyards in Auvillar. We drank table wine out of milk bottles, local wine that never makes it out of that town. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is really good," and I wasn't sure if it was because I was standing in the middle of a vineyard [because] it just sort of catches you.

WS: Any tips for bringing wine on expeditions?
RW: A lot of times you're somewhat limited to reds, unless you're fishing or something and can keep bottles in the water. Sometimes I use a Nalgene bottle to carry wine. And I have these two-piece Lucite wine glasses. Oh, and remember to bring a corkscrew; a couple of times we've been stuck without one and had to bang the cork through with a knife and fork. That's always embarrassing.

WS: What's your favorite wilderness food-and-wine pairing?
RW: When you're on an expedition, the whole idea of pairing wine with food kind of goes out the window, because you're limited in choice. But I went dog-sledding in Alaska with Martin Buser, the four-time Iditarod winner. In Alaska, you put your name on a list, and the highway department calls you when a moose has been hit by a truck, and you go and haul it out. So we went out on a training run and then had roadkill-moose stew and a nice bottle of Cabernet for dinner.

WS: You're researching grapevines passed down through your family?
RW: My great-grandparents moved from Corleone, Sicily, to the Bronx, N.Y., and brought along some vines. Then, when my grandparents moved to Long Island, they took a cutting and planted it there. My grandmother [who is 98] gave me a cutting, which I gave to Redwood Creek winery, where they are doing a DNA test. I plan to not only make wine [from these vines] but also give it to prominent explorers around the country.


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