Writer Jim Harrison

Legends of the Fall author, poet, screenwriter and wine lover discusses a lifetime of special bottles
Sep 15, 2009

Jim Harrison is an American writer who has worked as a screenwriter and published poetry, fiction (including Legends of the Fall, upon which the 1994 screenplay of the same name was based), and non-fiction on a range of subjects, including wine and food. Many of his stories are set in the wild, and are concerned with humanity and man's moral center. Wine Spectator caught up with Harrison on the telephone from his Montana house.

Wine Spectator: Do you collect wine?
Jim Harrison: There was a lawyer in Southern Michigan who had a nice petite cellar of about 70 cases. He developed cirrhosis but didn't want to sell his beloved collection to a restaurant, so I bought it. I had about 40 cases of premiers crus in there. My daughter even had a '49 Latour and a '61 Lafite for her night before the wedding dinner.

It's basically all dissipated now. But I still get to have some good bottles when I travel, because some people feel ashamed of their wealth and pour nice things for poets. Just a couple of years ago I was hunting at this big ranch in New Mexico and a man there, a friend, tried to give me an '82 Pétrus. I said, "I can't take that." I get home and there it is, stuffed in my duffel bag. It was almost the best ever.

WS: I'll bite: what was the best wine you ever had?
JH: I was in Malibu, cooking dinner for a bunch of fashion models who were drinking cola. [Record producer Lou Adler] offered me two '53 Romanée-Contis which I was able to drink, if you can imagine that.

WS: What was the beginning of your love of wine?
JH: My big break was when I was in the [Florida] Keys, fishing. I was about 28. I was with [author] Tom McGuane, and we met [author] Guy de la Valdène. And I start palling around with him, and fishing. He couldn't conceive of a day going by without a decent bottle of wine. I spent time at [his family's] place in France. His mother had a nice cellar. She packed two '23 Margauxs in our picnic lunch.

WS: Do you still spend time in France?
JH: I found a vineyard that fascinates me in Collioure, down near Perpignan, called [Domaine] La Tour Vieille. It's really fascinating because the terrain—talk about terroir—is sort of straight up and down, overlooking the sea. I got an award last November in Lyon, and I'm just ecstatic for these old bistros [there]. That kind of food really turns me on, whether it's beef, snout, lard or mayonnaise.

WS: What about food-and-wine pairing, do you give it much thought?
JH: Oh, it all goes together: what you eat, how you live, food and wine. In San Francisco, there's a deli called Lucca. The other day I had a Gigondas with an Italian sandwich, which had the best provolone I'd ever had in my life, including in Italy. You know when it goes right up your nose? And sizzles in your ears. What intense pleasure. And here's a wine-and-food pairing: [Jack] Nicholson's not a big drinker, but he really likes nice wine. We went to Gibsons, which is my favorite steak place in Chicago, had an enormous prime rib steak and drank two bottles of St.-Emilion. What more do you want?

WS: You've written about marathon eating sessions. Have you been involved in any lately?
JH: Well Mario Batali and April Bloomfield and Adam Perry Lang came down to Patagonia, Arizona for my birthday last year. They cooked me a little dinner. We had 19 courses. We even finished with a 1937 Chateau d'Yquem and a nice '34 Armagnac.

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