Old Westminster x Fadensonnen Collab. ‘Briefly Gorgeous’ 2020

THE WINE ZINE 06, 2022

At our most receptive and luckiest times, we experience something so true that the world has new breath–life radiates a glowing frequency. The coiled energy from a great piece of art flows from one hand to the next. An exchange has happened, and it must be shared. Such a moment happened when Maryland winemakers Old Westminster and Baltimore restaurant Fadensonnen made their collaborative bottle ‘Briefly Gorgeous’ (2020). The title takes its inspiration from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel from 2019. An instant pantheon book. I asked Fadensonnen’s owner Lane Harlan how their team arrived at a consensus on their inspiration: “I am a collaborative person and can’t help but see a world where art pervades every facet of life. Words inspire me more than anything. I want to share wine with poets and hear what they all have to say.”

The book is nearly autobiographical, with great creative flourishes, following Vuong’s family fleeing Vietnam as refugees in 1990, leaving Saigon and resettling in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s a chillingly beautiful tale in the form of a letter from a son to his mother who will never read it, as she cannot understand English. We have been invited into this rush for a son to explain his life: family trauma, PTSD, drug addiction, queerness, masculinity, understanding, significant loss. We repeatedly circle back to Vuong’s mother and grandmother, mimicking how we never adhere to a straight line in life. Each paragraph a poem, each sentence containing endless ideas, every line is eternal.

Despite the book’s velocity, Baltimore-illustrator Jess Soulen depicts Vuong’s portrait on the bottle’s label in a moment of repose. He is at ease and dynamic from her hand, sitting still within the blankness surrounding him. His legs crossed, hands peacefully clasped together, black bangs escaping a brimmed hat. The lightest lines depict a face that’s cool, deep eyes speaking confidently on his behalf. Loose blue brush strokes float around him, the woozy light seemingly disappearing before our eyes. Here, we can sit together. Raise a glass. A chance to say thank you. 

Through the glass, the wine is glowing pink, with a muddled tint of red. In the psychology of color, this shade is a mood regulator, a symbol of inner peace. It’s a field blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Piquette Rouge, with an earthy zip that felt distinctly Maryland. The front, middle, finish were all distinctly different experiences, a gentle sweetness balanced by a pucker of tartness. It most resembles a wild ale. I asked Harlan, how do you represent a book in a bottle? Her answer was as poetic as the wine itself. “I wanted to see a living icon represented on something that brings joy. After the wine was released, someone tagged us in a photo of a picnic scene: young lovers sitting on a blanket, a tray of tangled fruit between them, Ocean’s book half-open, and bright pink glasses of wine in hand. I imagined they must have been reading Ocean’s work out loud, sipping the wine and feeling everything.”