Petite pluie and petrichor

It wants to rain…there’s a sort of brightness to the grey sky that feels blinding and heavy. Headachey.

I’m wearing jeans. I think autumn started two days ago. They are grinding and repainting the bins for the about-to-be-harvested grapes at the cellar and the machines are being maintained. I stuck labels on bottles and put bottles on pallets and watched the men walking around with cigarettes and opinions.

Next week we start. Muscat grapes first…one of my favorites. Do you know muscat? If you don’t, go find a bottle…just pop it open and smell it and taste it and immediately you get this fresh-grape taste. They can be dry, but they also make fortified wines from muscat, like super sweet dessert wines. I guess it’s usually the first to get harvested, and even now is kind of later than normal, but it was a rainy cool spring and actually there was a lot of rain throughout the growing season. So everything is pushed back.

This is what they look like.

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I pulled a grape off a vine last week and tasted it…such beautiful dusky colors, deep velvety blues and pale jades that look lit from within. Even the light seems more slanted…and the days are definitely getting cooler.

We had zucchini soup for dinner, made with créme fraiche and Roquefort, and little rounds of toast with garlic. I wanted to knit.

Love it.

The rain started yesterday evening on my hike… the clouds had been building for a while. It released all these amazing smells into the air. It always smells kind of metallic and clean when the rain hits dry earth…especially at night when it’s humid and there’s already a bouquet in the air from all the plants warm in the sun.

On my hike, I saw ripe figs, sage, unripe blackberries and wild blue grapes. Rosemary and juniper. Heady perfume. The sky was really dark although it was still gold behind me where the sun was trying to set which created a beautiful light. No one was out except me. It felt apocalyptical and peaceful…

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Anyway: I just finished an article yesterday about scent and memory (“A Brief History of Scent: the Smell of Life, Death and Everything in Between”, by Beau Friedlander in the August 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine) which focused a lot on scent manipulation (for example, did you know there’s a company called Scent-Air that creates a sort of odor-identity for your business? Like a scent-logo? So that if you walk in a chain store anywhere in the world, you will smell the same synthetic scent and will thus “come to associate that smell with a predictable, repeatable, deliverable experience”?)

It also talked a lot about scent fabrication, and how difficult it is to reproduce an odor, that scent companies always focus on the pleasant smells and edit out the smells of death…which is why Pine Scent smells sort of resin-y, but fake, since it forgets to capture also the smells of rotting needles and mulch and other sort of damp forest smells which on their own might be unpleasant but as part of a larger bouquet might be an essential base.

The author calls it an “olfactory sense of place”, and I like that. He says “the matrix we call air is filled with an ever changing bouquet of terpenes and volatile lipid- and caretenoid compounds released during the process of decomposition, metabolism and growth.”

I mention all of this partially just because it’s interesting – but apparently there is an actual word for the rain-scent (everyone knows it and apparently it is one of the most sought after and difficult-to-reproduce smells in the industry!) The word is petrichor and it comes from the Greek word petra which means “stone”, and ichor, which is the blood of the gods.

In the perfume industry, it’s called petite pluie – little rain.

Really, it’s almost an impossible goal. Perfume is about capturing the caricature of an essence, the “fake cherry” taste we all know from cough syrup instead of the real complex leathery sweetness of the fruit. A generic rain scent is almost an oxymoron…the smell of rain is simply the water activating an olfactory portrait of a place, releasing it from the rocks and pavement. And portraits are about nothing if not specificity.

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