Châteauneuf-du-Pape Makes Wine from Stone with Blood From A Stone’s Adam McHugh



How did one man make a complete career pivot from working with dying in hospice care to living among the vines and writing about them? Why is French oak so treasured and so expensive? Which historical events led to the development of what we now know as the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region?

In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Adam McHugh, author of Blood from Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead.

You can find the wines we discussed here.


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  • What’s it like being a hospice chaplain?
  • How did wine help Adam to connect and become more grounded?
  • How did Adam find the balance to lighten – but not trivialize – the serious topics he covers in Blood from Stone?
  • What was it like to transition out of being a hospice chaplain?
  • Why is grieving an essential part of many life transitions?
  • What’s the difference between change and transition?
  • How did a trip to France inspire Adam to turn his love for wine into a career?
  • What’s behind the book’s title, Blood from Stone?
  • How were the iconic rounded stones found in the Rhone region formed?
  • Which historical events led to the development of what we now know as Châteauneuf-du-Pape?
  • What are the multiple meanings behind the term “blood of the vine”?
  • Why is Adam fascinated by the process of fermentation?
  • Why did France plant the forests that have now become the source of some of the most prestigious oak barrels?
  • Why is French oak so treasured and expensive?


Key Takeaways

  • I loved hearing how Adam made a complete career pivot from working with dying in hospice care to living among the vines and writing about them, especially his insight into the renewal and the miracle in the phrase “blood from stone.” The ancient connection between blood and wine was interesting as was his observation that grief is not just about big losses like death. We grieve lots of smaller things throughout the course of our lives.
  • I also found his discussion of why oak from different forests in France creates different seasonings for wine. The tighter the grain in the oak, the more subtle the impact in the resulting wine. Then fermentation unlocks a lot of aromatics we revel in with wine.
  • The history of the popes and the development of the Chateuneuf-du-Pape region were also intriguing.


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About Adam McHugh

Adam McHugh is a wine tour guide, sommelier, and Certified Specialist of Wine. He is the author of The Listening Life and Introverts in the Church and a regular contributor to Edible Santa Barbara & Wine Country. He lives in California’s Santa Ynez Valley.




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Adam McHugh 0:00
I was on a wine tour with up to a guy named Antoine. Chateauneuf du Pape had been one of my favourite wines before I got to this area. And it was the climax of this entire trip for me. So you have all these little trees coming out of these huge round rocks. I didn’t really understand that there was actually soil under there at the time. I thought it was just rock all the way down. And so I asked Antoine, how in the world can you grow anything out of these rocks? And he sort of winked and he said making wine is like squeezing blood from a stone. Not only is that a revelatory phrase for me, there’s miracle, there’s renewal, there’s resurrection in that. I was searching for meaning. And that trip I’ve kind of felt like it raised me from the dead.

Natalie MacLean 0:53
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started.

Welcome to Episode 221. How did one man make a complete career pivot from working with the dying and hospice care to living among the vines and writing about them? Why is French oak so treasured and so expensive? And which historical events led to the development of what we now know as the Chateauneuf du Pape region? You’ll hear those tips and stories in my chat with Adam McHugh, author of Blood from Stone, a Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead. He has a great story to tell and some fascinating connections between wine and religion.

Now a quick update on my upcoming memoir Wine Witch on Fire:  Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much. So one of the challenges in most memoirs, including mine, is weaving in a dual timeline. So there’s the story that took place in the past and then the present day reflections that helped make sense of it. Without the story, you don’t have a book. Without the reflection, your story won’t appeal to anyone beyond your friends and family. That’s because what happened isn’t the main thing for most readers. It’s what you did with it, how you felt, and what you learned that makes the story universal. The trick is making the transitions between the past and present smooths so that the reader doesn’t have a jarring sense of getting bumped out of the narrative flow. This technique made my memoir far harder to write than my first two books which had linear narratives. Very straightforward literally.Learning to do this made my brain hurt, but my mind expanded.

Here’s a review from Carla Richards, a beta reader from Calgary, Alberta.”This memoir not only dives into the experience of wine, the taste, smells and pairings, but the unexpected darker side of the world of wine. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Natalie’s story of struggling through divorce, the misogynist wine industry, and modern day dating shows the human spirit can really survive anything, especially with a good glass of wine. The which metaphor Natalie uses throughout is so poignant on how women’s history and her current world are not so far apart. But she does this with such insight and wit it makes for an addictive read. Extra bonus points for wine pairings that go with the book. I really think that should be required for all books.” Thank you, Carla. I posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at This is also where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at the manuscript, email me at [email protected] Okay, on with the show.

Natalie MacLean 4:45
Adam McHugh is a wine tour guide, sommelier, and Certified Specialist of Wine. He is the author of The Listening Life, Introverts in the Church, and a regular contributor to Edible Santa Barbara and Wine Country. And he joins us now from his home in California. Welcome, Adam. We’re so glad you’re here with us.

Adam McHugh 5:03
Thank you, Natalie. Thanks for having me on the show.

Natalie MacLean 5:05
Awesome. So before we dive into the book, let’s chat about your career as a chaplain, if I understand that as a pastor or priest. And you are ministering to those who are dying in hospices. So maybe check me on that if I’m correct on those assumptions, and why did you go into the field?

Adam McHugh 5:22
I did. I worked as a hospice chaplain for about eight years. I was living down in the Pass, I say down because I live in the Santa Barbara County area about two and a half hours north of LA. And I was living down in the Pasadena area and I was driving from home to home and facility to facility often in the middle of the night. I often work the midnight to eight shift. And I was with terminally ill patients and their families who were sort of grieving them and watching them die. And then I did a lot of bereavement counselling after the death of our patients as well. As far as how I ended up in that field, it’s a little bit of a mystery in a lot of ways. I went to theology school after college because I wanted to go get a PhD and teach theology or church history or something along those lines. Kind of burned out of academia and becoming a minister was actually a backup plan in a lot of ways. I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and sort of backed into hospice chaplaincy. I had had to do a chaplaincy as an intern. But as part of my ordination process, I interned at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the city of Orange, California, which was part of my training. And so I at least had some experience with chaplaincy. But it was a lot of sort of personal upheaval, as well as the Great Recession of 2008, that sort of led me into hospice chaplaincy. And I never intended to stay as long as I did.

Natalie MacLean 6:59
Did you come from a devout family, like a really religious family?

Adam McHugh 7:02
My family was sort of like it was, I think religion was, sort of a ritual or tradition, not necessarily the source of that much devotion. And it was actually so I grew up Lutheran, and we went to church like I don’t know once a month. But it was actually my senior year in high school, when I developed a crush on this Southern Baptist girl, that I ended up going to church a lot more avidly.  To a Southern Baptist Church of all things which they were extreme teetotallers. And I never bought into all of that. But that’s sort of what led me into a little bit more deeply into my faith. But you know I didn’t stay in the Baptist tradition for very long.

Natalie MacLean 7:40
Got some religion due to a girl. So what did you like most about your chaplaincy work?

Adam McHugh 7:48
It was incredibly meaningful work. And it’s something that most people just never get a chance to see, to have people and families invite you into the most sacred and meaningful moments of their lives when you’re, you know, you’re a stranger. And I often only saw my patients and their families one time. But to be invited into that and see all of the sort of love and compassion and also other interesting family dynamics that are at play in that sort of situation. It’s just a unique situation. And I held the hands of many people as they took their last breath. I listened to the stories of family members talking you know all about the person that was in a hospital bed or in the hospice bed. And you know there’s sort of like there’s something sacred about people remembering and telling the stories of their loved ones that felt like really holy ground in a lot of different ways.

Natalie MacLean 8:45
Wow. It must have been emotionally draining.

Adam McHugh 8:47
It was incredibly draining although it was kind of more like a slow drain, like a slow leak on your soul is the way I described it. Because I wasn’t in an E.R., they weren’t like acute situations. And in most cases, it wasn’t a big shock that someone was on hospice care. And so it just sort of like slowly gets to you, when you you know you spend all day long, eight hours being with you know three or four different people on terminal illnesses like it gets to you. After a while, the shifts that really got to me which for about three years I worked full time in the midnight eight shift. And those were the ones that really got to me, not only because of the nature of the work, but just the nature of the time and the darkness. And that just kind of starts to seep into your soul. That darkness can’t even describe to you unless you’ve worked in the middle of the night regularly. It’s kind of hard to know. It’s like this world inverted and a lot of ways and you sort of start to lose yourself a little bit.

Natalie MacLean 9:43
Wow. And I think you wrote that it’s sort of separated you from your senses.

Adam McHugh 9:48
In some ways. I mean when you’re in the dark for sure. When you’re working in the middle of the night all the time and you know, you don’t see a lot and you don’t experience a lot. But I just think in general, I’m someone who’s thought sort of intellectual, which is why I went to go get a PhD and sort of why I ended up writing books. But I was so sort of up in my head that I feel like I sort of lost my ability or I didn’t ever really explore sort of an earthier part of who I am. An earthy or spirituality or just the way of gathering information through your senses, because I just like to have my big like conceptual thoughts. And I think actually getting into the wine industry has really helped me to sort of round that part of myself out.

Natalie MacLean 10:30
We have that in common, Adam. I left high tech. I’m a refugee from that. And that was all inside. late nights. I used to joke we were the Mole People. We didn’t go out into the sunshine. We lived in our heads completely. But yeah, I found new grounding and earthiness too with wine. So I totally resonate with what you’re saying. So even though you deal with really serious topics in this book, when you talk about the chaplaincy work and then even when you get into wine, you still maintain your sense of humour, which I really appreciate. So the book might be kind of dark without it. But how do you find that balance between dealing with these serious subjects, trying to lighten them but not trivialize them?

Adam McHugh 11:09
I knew the book could get fairly gloomy if I didn’t keep the tone a little bit lighter. I mean I’m talking about death and grief and that sort of identity loss and not just grief from dying, but sort of grief from losing a career. And I also lost a marriage in the process. And so I knew there were a lot of very heavy topics in the book. And so I resolved to keep the tone just a little bit lighter to try to break up some of like the heavier conversations with good humour. But that’s just the way I’ve always been you know. I grew up in a family that didn’t necessarily talk really deeply about emotions, but there was always a lot of humour in my family. So that comes fairly natural to me. The hard part, as you put it, is trying to find some sort of balance in between. You don’t want to come across as making light of really you know serious situations. But at the same time, you don’t want to delve so deeply into it that you can’t get back out of it. That was a big part of the book.

The editing of the book took me a full year and a half. And I feel like the first draft was almost faster than the editing part. But the editing was all about trying to weave in the different narrative threads and to try to tie it all together into some sort of whole so that the humour would sort of blend into the more serious conversations and then take you back out of the more serious conversations. But I’m not sure I have an answer to like how exactly to find the balance. But I do know, as I’ve sort of matured and gotten older, I use humour and humour less as like a defence mechanism, which I think was a technique a trick that I did when I was younger to sort of keep people at arm’s length. Whereas now I feel like I’m able to use humour in a way that sort of welcomes people into my presence rather than push them away.

Natalie MacLean 12:59
Oh, I love that. I love how you put that. And again, oh my goodness, so many parallels. I mean I do think that people who have faced grief or have had tough times use flippancy almost humour as armour. But yeah I love that the humour that welcomes people in instead of keeping them out. Wonderful. And so how did you reconcile perhaps any feelings of guilt or whatever you were feeling about leaving hospice work, which is so important, and going into kind of the pleasure business of wine?

Adam McHugh 13:30
Yeah. I don’t know if I felt guilty. But it was a much longer process of transition that I realized it was going to be. I had so much of my life, you know 15 years, sort of preparing for ministry you know going to theology school, jumping through all of these different hoops to become ordained, and then working in various fields, and eventually in hospice. For most of that, there was so much of my identity that was wrapped up with that you know. I was Reverend McHugh. And that’s how people refer to me or Pastor Adam or whatever. But it took me a long time to come to terms with letting go of that identity. And that’s where I feel like my knowledge about how to help people grieve was actually really helpful. Because grief is not just about like the big loss you know death. But I think we grieve lots of smaller things throughout the course of our lives. And when there’s a career change or a transition I think it’s critical on an internal level to acknowledge the end of a phase of your life or a previous identity or a previous person that you used to be before you can truly step into the next role, the next you know person that you’re becoming in the new situation.

Natalie MacLean 14:52
And why is that? Like you just need some sort of closure? I hesitate to use cliche, but why is that acknowledgement or closure?.

Adam McHugh 15:00
There’s a great book by a guy named William Bridges called Transitions, which is like the classic book on transitions. And I always have to pause and say the guy’s last name is Bridges and he’s an expert on transitions. But he’s the one that yeah blows me away. But he’s the one that. I’ve read that book I don’t know I’ve read it many times actually at various the transitions of my life.

But he’s the one that said there’s a difference between change and transition. And I think this is critical distinction. And that changes are the outward changes that you make, whether it’s a new job, a new relationship, whether you’re moving to a new place, etc, etc. And we all do that. But transition is the internal process by which we acknowledge the end of a previous job, previous career, previous relationship, previous identity, previous stage of life. And we have to acknowledge that ending internally and sort of grieve the loss of that – that’s my language – in order to fully step into the next role on an internal level. So you can actually be in a new job. And I experienced this in the wine industry. For the first year or even two, I was in a new job. I was in a new career, but internally I’m not sure it ever really made the shift. And it really acknowledged the end of who I was before that and that took some time.

Natalie MacLean 16:19
Oh I love that. That’s a lovely distinction between change and transition. I’m going to use that in life. So what was the moment you realized you wanted to go into wine? Like I mean there’s a world out there you know. You may have been feeling like you needed to leave hospice work. But why wine?

Adam McHugh 16:36
I’d always loved wine. I grew up in the Seattle area, and my dad always had a pretty good collection of Napa cab when I was growing up. That was definitely the wine of choice in the McHugh household when I was growing up. So I always had a suspicion that I would drink and enjoy wine, though obviously I wasn’t drinking it then. So that was on my radar. And as I got into my 20’s and started drinking you know wine, I started realizing how much I enjoyed it, how much it sort of brought people together, the conviviality, and the joyfulness of that whole experience. And plus I just felt like being able to order off a wine list was important when I was learning how to date. I wanted to you know be a little bit more impressive.

Natalie MacLean 17:21
Back to girls or women being your inspiration.

Adam McHugh 17:23
Right, I wanted to be a little bit more impressive than like ordering you know like Corona off the wine list. You know so that all kind of came together. But I always kind of knew I would love wine. But it was a trip to France that I talked about in the first six chapters of Blood from Stone that really I feel like a lot of people go to France. And at the end of their trip, they want to just devote their entire lives to food and wine. But I resolved that I was actually going to do it. And I stuck with it for the next, you know, five years after that. But it was really being in France and seeing not just the wine and food culture of France, but seeing the history behind all of these great wine growing regions.

I’d always loved history. And it was particularly in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this is back in 2010 when I took this trip, I spent a week in Paris, a day in Champagne which is not enough, and week in Avignon. But it was really in the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape that I really kind of felt my epiphany moment of it all coming together. The wine and food and conviviality and joy in life. And wine, which was so different from the death I had experience in hospice, as well as the history and even sort of the spirituality that was present in that area, and even the history of the church that’s so prevalent in that area that all came together for me. And that’s what made me want to get into why I love it.

Natalie MacLean 18:46
And do you feel you have as strong a calling to do what you do today? Versus when you first became a chaplain? I’ll have to just admit up front, I mean I call myself a collapsed Catholic. But you know, that’s why I talk about guilt and calling and vocations right. But do you feel that calling toward wine? That the strength of it in the way that you did to become a chaplain?

Adam McHugh 19:07
I would say I feel a calling probably first and foremost for writing more than I do to wine at this point. But I definitely especially back in those vineyards of France and in kind of coming back home and starting to explore wine more seriously than I had before. I definitely felt I don’t know if calling is the right word. But there was some sort of internal pull within me that felt quite a bit stronger than simply Oh, I’m going to go make a little bit more money in this particular career or I’m going to change jobs for the convenience of it all. And there was definitely something within me that felt more intense than that.

Natalie MacLean 19:50
I’m not sure if I’m quoting accurately but I love lines your lines along these lines I think: how can I live when others are dying? How can I not?

I just found some of your insights there so inspirational. So in retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently to get on this path? Or I mean, or did it all sort of contribute to who you are and you wouldn’t change a thing?

Adam McHugh 20:13
The story that I tell in the book is you know it’s a roller coaster. It’s a little bit tumultuous. And there are parts of me that wish that wasn’t quite so much upheaval in my story. You know I went through a divorce. Like I moved from Pasadena to Santa Ynez and then moved back and went back and forth for a while. But ultimately, it was all part of the story. It makes for a good story to write about, but I don’t think I would I don’t think I would change any of it to be honest, because it all sort of shaped where I am today and how I am today. And I think so much of it you know that wine is obviously a central part of the story. But in some ways, it feels like even a bit of a backdrop in some ways. And sort of the act of sort of becoming who I am now is really what the story feels like it’s about. And I’m just not sure we can shortcut any of these roads in order to become who we are.

Natalie MacLean 21:14
That’s true. Yeah. Your book is set in the world of wine, but it’s not about wine per se. Although you do weave in all kinds of interesting facts and as you say history and that sort of thing. Let’s go back to the title Blood from Stone. What does that mean? What’s the inspiration? I mean I’ve heard you can’t get blood from stone sort of the opposite.  Are you saying we can get blood from stone?

Adam McHugh 21:37
So blood from a stone is a phrase that I heard in the south of France in Chateauneuf-du Pape and. You know read the book. You’re gonna read all about it. But I was on a wine tour with a wine tour guide named Antoine. And we had finally arrived because Chateauneuf-du-Pape had been one of my favourite wines before I got to this area. And it was sort of the climax of this entire trip for me. I grew up assuming that I’d be drinking mostly Napa cab because that’s what my family always had around. And so I think my palate like at first sort of went towards bigger, bolder, blockbuster reds like Chateauneuf. And I had gotten recently into Syrah like California Syrah. And obviously Chateauneuf was mostly Grenache based but also has you know other Rhone varietals like Syrah and Mourvedre in there. And so I think I just like the intensity and the power of those wines. Now, I’m probably a little bit more like Burgundian. And but back then, I wanted something really mouth coating. And so anyway, we had gone through Gigondas and Vacqueyras and driven all around the southern Rhone, and finally got to the demarcated region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

And if you’ve ever been or seeing pictures, which I really hadn’t at the time, the unique feature of the soil are these big round rocks called galets –  I’m not sure how it’s pronounced –  these big flat round rocks that look like small hamburger buns to me. And they’re covering all the soil in these vineyards. And the vines are not trained on trellises. But they’re like head trained, they’re goblet trained. They look like little trees. So you have all these little trees coming out of these huge round rocks. I didn’t really understand that there was actually soil under there. At the time, I thought it was just rock all the way down, all the way down to like the subsoil. And so I asked Antoine, I said, wow in the world can you grow anything out of these rocks? grow anything here? And he sort of smiled and winked, I think, and he said that’s why the local expression here is making wine is like squeezing blood from a stone. And that was my revelation moment. And people think I’m making this up just for the sake of the story. But one of my first thoughts after hearing that phrase – it hit me like a tonne of bricks – was I’m going to write a book by the name of that phrase.

People think I’m making that up, but that was actually true. I was like not only is that a revelatory phrase for me that you know there’s miracle, there’s renewal, there’s resurrection in that, and you know there’s miracle. But I’m gonna write a book by that title. So I back in October.

Natalie MacLean 24:13
It is so visual, too. That’s fabulous. It ties it all together. And just a side note, the round galets are stones in the Rhone were they chafed in water? Like was it an ancient seabed or something? How did they get so round? Do you know?

Adam McHugh 24:27
So when the glaciers however many millions of years ago like retreated back from that area into the Alps, essentially all that pressure and movement like tore up like huge chunks off the Alp.? I think it’s quartz based. And then the Rhone River, which is still huge but was massive you know millions of years ago and covered really that entire region, basically pulled all those rocks down and then smoothed them out over millions of years. So that’s how they got to be there in those vineyards.

Natalie MacLean 24:59
Yeah because they’re quite iconic. You see pictures of these old, wizened, small trees. As you mentioned, they’re not on wires and trellised. And then these round rocks. The only one that I can compare it to is kind of the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. They tend to have some round rocks out there and similar styles.

Adam McHugh 25:17
Yeah, yeah, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I still haven’t to this day. So I was sort of searching for meaning. And that trip. I had actually been laid off from hospice and I would later go back to hospice. I think the renewal and the miracle in that phrase kind of felt like it raised me from the dead.

Natalie MacLean 25:36
Wow. Beautiful. A real epiphany. And Chateauneuf-du-Pape, just a little background that you included in your book about that region and how it relates to the Catholic Church. Chateauneuf-du-Pape means the home of the Pope, the new house of the Pope.

Adam McHugh 25:51
New Chateau of the Pope I think is the most literal rendering. And you know I’m not Catholic, but I went to theology school and I sat through some pretty droning lectures on like people succession all through the Middle Ages, and really did not care about any of that at all. And so I had not been paying enough attention. And it was actually news to me that in the 14th century, and I learned this on this trip, the Papal throne was actually relocated from Rome, to Avignon in the south of France. And that’s why you have this huge walled mediaeval city that has way more resources than you would expect it to have because the papacy was in Avignon and Pope Clement, the Fifth relocated it in the early 1300s. And it was there for about 70 years.

And that actually is what led in a lot of ways to the development of viticulture in the south of France. Pope John the 22nd, he was after Clement the Fifth, he got a little bit more serious about developing the wine region that we now called Chateauneuf-du-Pape. And he moved his arena. He built what was called like basically a vacation home, which is hilarious because it’s like a castle, into the area now called Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It’s about 10 miles north of Avignon. And then he brought in some vintners or farmers from the southwestern part of France, like a horse and they really develop that region, mostly for sacramental purposes at first but then for commercial purposes, as well.

Natalie MacLean 27:21
Sure. And while we’re on the Blood from Stone, you use another term in your book “blood from the vine” or “blood of the vine”. What does that mean in relation to winemaking?

Adam McHugh 27:33
I think blood of the vine is sometimes used to refer just to wine itself. And there’s an ancient connection between blood and wine that goes all the way back to the Egyptians and the Greeks and the Romans. Wine was considered the blood of the gods or the blood of the wine god, but also that’s a phrase that is sometimes applied to winter pruning. That you know when you prune like in late winter, early spring, the vine start to bleed out a little bit of sap and that was called the blood of the vine. St. Vincent, who became the patron saint of winemakers largely because of his name as far as I know, Vincent in French sounds like vin sang blood of the vines. But his saint day is January 22, which traditionally – I don’t know if it’s practice much anymore –  was the first day in France that you could start winter pruning. And so blood of the vine got connected with St. Vincent.

Natalie MacLean 28:29
I love all these tie ins because even Christ said I am the vine and those who don’t follow me will be burned like they burn the old wood the sticks of the vines around this time of year. And then there’s the wedding of Cana and all the rest of it.

Adam McHugh 28:42
No shortage of biblical references to vines and wine that’s for sure.

Natalie MacLean 28:47
Exactly. And you talk about the secrets of the grape are like hidden sacraments. What did you mean by that?

Adam McHugh 28:54
I think I was revelling in all of the sort of hiddenness and mystery of winemaking. And one of the things that I’ve learned about and I’m not you know a wine scientist, but I’m around a lot of them. So I pick up a lot of it. And one of the things that I’m really fascinated with is the process of fermentation. And sort of what happens in the process of fermentation because it’s easy to say, oh it’s you know, yeast eating sugars to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. But it’s actually so much more complex and fascinating than that. But I guess what happens is in that process of fermentation, a lot of chemical like equations are sort of broken up in the mass and the juice. And there are aromatic compounds that when they’re locked into those equations have no aroma but fermentation breaks them up and releases all of the aromatics that we now you know revel in. The earthiness, the spiciness, the fruit, the floral qualities, the vegetal qualities. And so fermentation is kind of what unlocks that and I think I was drawing like a metaphor and I’m talking about sort of the hiddenness that’s in wine. And sort of how it’s unlocked and brought to the surface. And I was playing with the idea of sacrament and sacrament is basically sort of a visible symbol of sort of a spiritual reality and talking about how some of the most meaningful things are hidden until they’re brought to the surface.

Natalie MacLean 30:20
Yes. And back to change versus transition, yeast and sugar don’t just change into wine. They transition into it in the way that you describe it. So many things are happening. It’s not a simple change, right.

Adam McHugh 30:33
It’s a transformation. You know, there’s a lot of parallels there.

Natalie MacLean 30:38
Yeah, absolutely. There’s some interesting wine tidbits that you weave definitely in through your memoir. You talk about why France planted forests that today make some of the most prestigious oak barrels in the world. Giive us that little backstory?

Adam McHugh 30:55
Yeah. When I was taking the train the bullet train from Paris to Avignon, which is an amazing trip if you haven’t done it. As I was doing that of course wine was on my mind the entire trip. But once you get outside of Paris forests, it’s craggy hills. It’s rock outcroppings. Extremely rural. And I think I read this in Hugh Johnson’s book The Story of Wine, which is one of the best you know history of wine books ever written. But the Sun King Louis the 14th supposedly planted many of the great forests in the centre of France as basically material for creating a navy. He was envious or threatened by the Dutch and by the English and he wanted to make France a naval superpower which obviously never happened. But as a result, France has all of these like huge mighty oak trees, especially in the centre of the country, and then up towards Alsace as well. And those have become like timber for the staves for the greatest line barrels in the world. So I remember thinking about that as I was taking the train down from Avignon, that I think the forest is not too far from there, and I have lots of friends who get super geeky about oak barrels and what forest they come from and what sort of different seasonings, like oak from different forests in France you know kind of created wine. So it’s a fun conversation.

Natalie MacLean 32:23
And seasoning meaning how they toasted it, the length and the intensity of the fire, the internal

Adam McHugh 32:29
Right and that very much obviously the longer it’s heated, sort of the more chemical compounds are released that will affect the flavours and textures of the wine. But what I was thinking about it’s more than that was I hear a lot of people refer to oak barrels as more like different ingredients or seasonings for a winemaker just like a chef has different seasonings. And so if you get you know really finely tuned about it you can say okay well Seguin Moreau barrels from this particular forest create us like chocolate or roasted coffee notes or you know so it’s like a seasoning for a wine for that winemakers that get really kind of serious about that.

Natalie MacLean 33:07
I’ve also heard it called the ketchup of the wine world because sometimes oak can be overused to mask winemaking flaws.

Adam McHugh


Natalie MacLean

but I know it’s not what you’re referring to,

Adam McHugh 33:16
That’s not what I was referring to but you’re absolutely right.

Natalie MacLean 33:21
And just while we get a little bit on the oak, so the French forests the oak trees tend to grow straight. I don’t know if you found out why they grow so straight in France.  But also they have a tight grain. So what does that mean for the oak barrels?

Adam McHugh 33:37
I think the reason they grow so straight compared to American oak is because it’s cold and misty in many of those you know forests in the central part of France and so it’s a survival instinct. They just want to grow straight up toward the sun. But because it is cool there, they grow really slow, which is why you have this really tight grains. The tighter the grain of the wood, the more subtle the impact in the resulting wines. Whereas American Oak it generally not used – there are exception you know there’s exceptions in Rioja region of Spain; and then I think Caymus up in Napa uses American oak in some cases as well – it’s just the broader grains because they grow faster so there’s a more aggressive impact. And you think about bourbon, those are American oak barrels. And if you try a young bourbon out of cask, it’s very intense woody note, which is not generally what you’re looking for, especially like you know with sort of the French sensibility of wine and looking for a more delicate, more subtle impact. And so French oak, that’s why French oak is so treasured and so expensive.

Natalie MacLean 34:39
Expensive. How much can an oak barrel cost? I think you noted it in your book like $3,000?

Adam McHugh 34:46
I’ve heard up to $5000 actually. It is insane you know for a 300 bottle barrel. Yeah, I’ve heard brand new Francoise Frères three barrels can run that high. But I’ve heard a kind of on average between anywhere between 1500 – 3000. So that’s 25 cases of wine for $3,000.

Natalie MacLean 35:03
That’s a big capital investment for a winery.

Natalie MacLean 35:11
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Adam. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I loved hearing how Adam made a complete career pivot from working with the dying in hospice care to living among the vines and writing about wine, especially his insight into the renewal in the miracle in the phrase blood from stone. The ancient connection between blood and wine was interesting, as was his observation that grief is not just about big losses like death. We grieve lots of smaller things throughout the course of our lives.

Two, I also found his discussion of why oak from different forests in France creates different seasonings in wine. The tighter the grain in the oak, the more subtle the impact and the resulting wine. And then fermentation unlocks a lot of aromatics we enjoy wine.

Snd three, the history of Popes and the development of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region in the Rhone was intriguing.

In the shownotes, you’ll find my email contact, a full transcript of my conversation with Adam, links to his website and book and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. You’ll also find a link to my free Ultimate Guide to Wine and Food Pairing. That’s all in the show notes at Email me if you have a sip, tip, question, or like to be a beta reader of my new wine memoir at [email protected] If you missed episode 76 go back and take a listen. I chat with Dr. Gary Pickering about his super taster wine kit and mouthfeel wheel. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.

Gary Pickering 37:00
You are more likely to be a super taster if you’re a woman. It maybe as high as twice as likely. Woman have other advantages, too. They tend to be better discriminators, to be able to use words and vocab better to describe what they’re sensing and wine. They’re basically a lost cause us men, Natalie.

Natalie MacLean 37:17
Well, that’s what I was getting at and I’m so glad you’ve joined us to help prove the point. This is really grossly generalising, but if we think of men being more right brained spatially math and women being more left brain logic putting words to aromas, what you said really picks up on those generalizations. What do you mean by women tend to be more discriminating?

Gary Pickering 37:37
The work suggests that when you have an odorant, an aroma compound at a particular concentration in wine you don’t need to add as much before woman will pick the two samples as being different, whereas you need a higher concentration of their odour for men to be able to discriminate between those two smells. Woman can put more accurate and consistent labels on what they smell.

Natalie MacLean 38:05
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines tips and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Adam McHugh. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps of full bodied Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Natalie MacLean 38:34
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Meet me here next week. Cheers.