Interview with writer Annette Foglino

by Caren on May 14, 2013

Annette FoglinoEach week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Annette Foglino is a writer in New York who is working on a book about connecting with her Italian winemaking family in Asti. She is also working on a musical about a family of winemakers.

How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Annette Foglino: I think I was about eight. Whenever we would have dinner at my Italian grandparents’ house, we’d get to splash some wine into a glass of water – it made the kids feel included. My mother always fondly recalled that my grandfather once told her – as a joke – “shut up child and drink your wine.” As common as it is for Italians to drink wine during mealtimes it doesn’t seem to translate into alcoholism. It is more of a ritual and part of tradition (and digestion).

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My mother’s drinking was strictly social – at those suburban house parties in the early seventies, she’d have a vodka and 7-Up, which seemed classy to me as a child; it was light and clear, sweet with a nice little boost of alcohol to get you woozy.

My father would drink almost every night as a way of winding down, a habit I have since imitated. He’d drink mostly beer, but on weekends, he’s sit down in front of a Western with glass of Scotch and soda. If I were watching TV too, he’d let me sneak a few sips. We weren’t allowed to eat junk food like Ring Dings and Devil Dogs, so that was my treat. I didn’t think it was all that great, but I guess the idea of something forbidden was appealing. And it was kind of a bonding ritual with my dad.

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?

As a treat and a way of unwinding, and not just because I watched my father do it. As a teenager and in college I was very shy and it helped me relax and be more social. I still love meeting friends for dinner and drinks – but I rarely drink during lunch or in the afternoon. I become useless – I get a headache or want to take a nap.

When I visit my cousin in Italy – the winemaker – he always orders a bottle of wine with lunch. To him, it’s part of the meal – it goes with the risotto or the salad or the pasta. I’m usually able to drink in Italy before 5 o’clock with no after effects – must be all that food.

I noticed that my cousin doesn’t drink that often after dinner, late at night, which is when I usually get going. I have a bad habit of using it to help me sleep, but really it only makes me hungry and eat more, and THEN sleep. NOT a good habit.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Wine, of course. It doesn’t make you bloated like beer and it doesn’t knock you out like hard liquor. Wine has been called everything from “poetry in a bottle” (Robert Lewis Stevenson); “a memory,” (Drew Barrymore who has her own Italian wine label) and “a living breathing thing,” (a character in Sideways).

I don’t really understand any of this. It can be warm and relaxing and romantic – and it has slight variations in taste – but it’s just fermented grapes!

The one description I can kind of relate to is that it is “a meditation.” Most meditation masters will tell you that alcohol dulls your spiritual senses, but for me it quiets what the Buddhists call the “chattering monkey mind.” That’s one of the main reasons I like it.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking? 

It would have to be the first time I met my cousin, Sergio, the winemaker in Italy, because I was experimenting and learning, awakening my palate and all that. And I like hearing the stories that go with some of the wine. “This one is called the Devil in the Hills from the title of the Cesar Pavese novel (one of Italy’s most Americanized writers),” he told me when pouring a glass of Barolo Chinato. With a 16 percent alcohol content and infusion of China bark and rhubarb, it was once used for medicinal purposes. Many of the wines come with a story. I love that! It’s all material to me.

What about the worst time?

Like sex, everyone probably remembers the first time they got drunk. I was 14 and went to a Chicago concert at Madison Square Garden – not even a cool, hard rock band, like Led Zeppelin! A friend and I snuck in flask-shaped bottles of Seagram’s 7 and drank them straight up.

I remember hearing the band singing “25 or 6 to 4” as I hid my face in the crack of my seat trying to sleep. When it was over, all I remember was my friend’s mother and another friend guiding me down about a dozen escalators amongst the boisterous crowd. I was wearing giant platform shoes which made it easy to keep tripping. I think I blacked out one other time in college and that was it. Never blacked out again, and never drank Seagram’s 7.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

No, it hasn’t, which is surprising since I’ve been through periods where I drink too much wine at night. In my last relationship, he just started joining me and we would unwind together.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

“Sideways” is a great send-up of the wine world. Cities, like New York and Paris, have often been character s in certain movies, and that’s how the California wine country was in “Sideways,” which made the film; otherwise, there wouldn’t have been much to it.

I have a few favorite songs because I’ve been doing research for a musical I’m working on with my brother, Paul, who is a songwriter.

I love the “Drinking Song” from La Traviata (“Brindisi”). The opera is crazy (like they usually are), but what a celebrity tune. The other opera drinking song that is kind of similar, but more in a marching band kind of way, is the Drinking Song from a German operetta called “The Student Prince.” It goes, “Drink, drink, drink to the eyes that are bright!

And of course, “Red, Red Wine,” by UB40, its drawn-out reggae beat capturing just how relaxing and euphoric red, red wine can be. And then a song of my brother’s because it is clever and funny and so true. “You Can’t Be Too Old to Get Drunk.”