After developing an interest in wine working in Brooklyn restaurants and wine shops, Rachel Signer established herself as a wine writer before launching the magazine Terre with friends. When work commitments led to that team disbanding, she relaunched the publication from Australia as Pipette, specialising in natural wines. We meet Rachel as her second goes on sale across the world.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I now live on a polycultural farm in rural South Australia, which is a huge change for me after living in New York and Paris, but that’s what happens when you fall in love with a very sweet winemaker. The nearest coffee shop is a twenty minute drive past eucalyptus forests, a small river, some large white cows, and a tiny post office.
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office?
The desk has a long history. Originally it’s from Germany, and then it made its way to South Africa with my fiancé’s mother. Their family emigrated to Australia in the 80’s and the desk came along.
It’s very sturdy but the drawer on top has little metal handles that clank annoyingly when I type fast. My partner’s daughter did an art project on the desk’s surface and we have yet to try removing the paint. But it’s such a unique desk, I don’t mind these little things.
The view is incredible — the office looks eastward out into a green valley where sheep and goats roam. Usually our dogs hang out in the office when I’m working; they sprawl on the floor making their strange yawns as if they’ve had the hardest day ever.
Which magazines do you first remember?
I still dream of having an essay or short story published there in The Sun, a Southern American literary monthly that my mother introduced me to.
When I was eight, I created Girls Life, my own zine for girls at my school. It had crossword puzzles, fashion editorials, cultural commentary, and entertaining advice. I wrote it on my dad’s electric typewriter, made collages for the imagery, and had my mom photocopy it at her office. I think I sold it in the hallways at school for $.50 per copy.
We had years’ worth of National Geographic stacked in the basement. I blame it for my personal wanderlust.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Over the past year I’ve been trading magazines with other indie publishers around the world to see what they’re up to. Lately I’ve enjoyed Above Sea Level, Fare, Glou Glou and Whetstone.
I’d have to say that Apartamento is a really important magazine in that it’s crossed boundaries between topics and disciplines, has great aesthetics and marketing, and has survived for years.
Being old school at heart, I’ll always love literary periodicals like the Paris Review and Granta.
Can you describe your magazine in three words?
International, approachable, community
You write extensively about wine for other publications, why start your own magazine?
A few years ago, when living in New York, I was writing extensively for various print and online magazines. But I wanted to write about natural wines, and unfortunately most mainstream magazines found this topic rather niche and either rejected most of my pitches or had me find an angle that was more suited to their audience. The result was that I never got to profile winemakers who truly excited me. I also grew frustrated with the use of stock photography that many publications used.
There was one winemaker based in Oregon, named Chad Stock, who I thought was totally brilliant. Everything he was doing was a well-considered experiment designed to prove a point about winemaking. No publication would accept my pitch on Chad Stock. So, when I finally Kickstarted my first magazine, Terre, I found an Oregon based writer to do the profile on Chad, and he brought along a fantastic photographer — it turned out really well, and now this writer-photographer duo covers Oregon’s natural winemaking scene for Pipette.
I love finding and promoting remarkable, often hidden talent, who wouldn’t otherwise have a publication where they could share their work. For Pipette I’ve worked with a Bristol-based graphic designer and artist named Emma Dragovic and I’ve learned a lot from her about colour and form.
Pipette deals exclusively with natural wines; what is the definition of natural and what are the advantages of this?
It doesn’t have an official definition but it’s made by a global movement of small-batch winemakers. It’s made from organically or bio-dynamically farmed grapes, by an independent producer (not a corporation — then it would lose the ethos), using wild yeasts rather than artificial yeasts, and no additives other than minimal doses of sulphur.
Most people find natural wine enticing because it has ethics behind it — environmentalism, good labor practices, personal health — and is also attractive in a way that classical wine isn’t. You don’t need to rhapsodise about what a great vintage it was, or how famous the chateau is that produced the wine. It’s a lower alcohol style of wine that tastes absolutely fantastic once you get used to the slightly wilder flavors, but it can be enjoyed without relying on specialised knowledge.
How does this Monday differ from your working environment whilst on research trips, such as your trip to France a fortnight ago?
Visiting winemakers and attending tastings or fairs is important for any wine writer or editor. Last week I was at La Dive Bouteille, an epic multi-day tasting that takes place in limestone caves in Northern France. It was the 20th anniversary of the event, and has grown enormously in scale in that time. I made sure to get some good quality photos for Instagram, so worked with Brighton-based photographer, Ania Smelskaya.
Social media is a big part of running such an international magazine — it’s the only way to maintain a sense of community amongst our globally dispersed stockists, readers, and contributors.
Do you align the wines you feature in your magazine with the seasons?
Since I travel between both hemispheres and we have readership all over the globe, I’ve basically eradicated seasonality in the magazine, which is quite interesting and uncommon. I like the idea of bringing people into the mindset that, wherever they are, someone on the opposite end of the world is experiencing a complete contrast in weather.
Living in Australia and working with a designer and printer in Europe can lead to some interesting moments. I had to send in my final edits for issue two of Pipette while finishing dinner with some friends who were in town and flying out the next day. I was on my phone between bites, reading line by line, in order to get my feedback in on time.
Pipette’s been a dream and it’s amazing to me that it’s enjoying global support. In some ways, I don’t want it to get too professional as I worry it would lose the indie aspect. For now it’s a lot of fun in addition to being an incredible amount of work, but even when I feel like throwing the laptop at the wall, I’m so happy that Pipette exists and gives people something to look forward to every four months.
What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Starting a wheel thrown ceramics course at the JamFactory, a fantastic arts center in Adelaide, the nearest city. I’ve wanted to learn ceramics for years!
What are you doing after this chat?
Today I have a bunch of orders to process. Issue two just came out and there’s a lot of interest. I am so happy that this issue held up the high standards we set with Issue 1. I’ve got a first draft from a writer in my inbox for the next issue! So I’ll dive into editing that.