It is a truth universally acknowledged (in the wine world anyway) that wine is art and art is wine. But there is perhaps, no better expression of this connection than Paul Johnson at Satyr Fire Wine. As a winemaker, artist of several mediums, and trained creative writer, there is nothing that Paul loves more than weaving these different art forms together so that it’s hard to tell where one art form ends and the other two begin. Each bottle from Satyr Fire is connected to an ongoing saga of fantastical creatures, imaginative worlds, and, of course, plenty of wine. You can purchase his Allocation Series to read the stories in any particular order, or you can choose individual bottles and read the individual stories as they come, as if finding a collection of random pieces to a puzzle and bringing them together. Read below to hear about our interview with Paul’s focusing on his approach to art and wine, and make sure to check out Satyr Fire’s website to order the Allocation Series for yourself!
Satyr Fire focuses on limited production wines, making it a great option for those seeking something unique.
Dundee Hotel (DH): First, can you tell us about the name “Satyr Fire” (as I know it plays heavily into the stories)?
Paul Johnson (PJ): Satyr Fire is a brand that is intended to balance between reality and myth. Wine is such a magical thing, coming from wild fermentation and natural order in a way that seems so whimsical, that I wanted to draw on that aspect and highlight the mystical connection. As a lifelong writer inspired by fantasy, it felt natural to build the connection between fantasy lore and wine. In the fantasy world that we cultivate, the community of Satyrs in The Glade celebrate the end of each vintage with a massive bonfire where they wheel out a puncheon of wine crafted from the previous year and revel in camaraderie and gratitude for nature’s gifts. Our name, Satyr Fire, is meant to evoke that passion for wine craft and the revelry of a whimsical world.
DH: How do you connect winemaking to stories and art at Satyr Fire?
PJ: For me, the three are one. I have been a lifelong artist in various media such as pen, pencil, and paint. In academia I studied English and graduated with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Literature. I’ve always been a storyteller. In adulthood I became impassioned by the opportunity to tell stories through the craft of wine, and this has become my purpose. The story is ongoing, and although I have a concept of the story arc and characters, I let the wines inspire the direction of the separate chapters. When the wine is young in barrel I will begin having ideas about the art for the label and later when we approach the Allocation releases I will let the story fall into place.
DH: Does each portion of the story come with a specific bottle and/or shipment of wine? If so, how do you decide which chapters to send with which bottles? How does the artwork play into each story?
PJ: There is a unique story to go with each bottle of wine, and the release of each new wine is an opportunity for us to unfold the next chapter of our ongoing tale. We release three wines to our Allocation List twice per year, and each time these collectors receive those 3 new stories as well. Each story is intended to stand alone, although a constant collector will experience a connected tale woven over time. If someone collects a single bottle outside of the Allocation releases they receive the story that went along with that wine. These days I frequently have new customers asking about the older stories, and I’m always pleased to send a PDF or physical copy of the collection to curious drinkers.
Wonder what a Satyr is? A Satyr is a Dryad, a mythological creature who inhabits a forest or a tree. Not all satyrs are winemakers, but this one is.
Paul has boundless creativity that is evident in everything he does.
DH: Are there different ways for customers to access these stories and designs?
PJ: The best way to access the stories is to become a member of “The Glade,” our Allocation List that receives wines twice per year, in the autumn and spring. In the future, I intend to have these stories accessible on our website in an archive for members to read, and when we have our own home and tasting room I intend to print the stories off for folks to read there, or take home with them.
Connect with Satyr Fire through their Instagram page or join their mailing list to hear about tasting opportunities.
Top Left: Join the Glad to gain access to the new stories that accompany each new wine release.
Bottom Left: If the story wasn’t enough, Paul personally creates the artwork for each label.
DH: How many chapters of the story have you completed so far? Have you finished at this point, or is the story/art still ongoing?
PJ: So far I have released 12 chapters of the story, which is ongoing. This will be a lifelong journey and the way we break up the story over years and decades remains to be seen! I definitely intend to publish a book of short stories once I have a significant body of work. When I do, I will polish everything and make sure it flows well together, and the book of short stories will tell an arcing tale similar in style to something like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, if you’re familiar with that work.
DH: Did you know you wanted the wines to reflect an ongoing story when you started Satyr Fire?
PJ: Yes, I always knew that I wanted to imprint my artwork and storytelling on the brand. It has of course taken form in unexpected ways and will continue to do so! I’m open minded about allowing it to manifest however feels right.
DH: How does the wine enhance the stories/artwork, and how do the stories/artwork enhance the wine?
PJ: They compliment each other perfectly, in my opinion. It’s a winemaker’s responsibility to be a steward of the region where they do their work, and part of that stewardship is contributing to the story of the region. We respect the fact that our ingredients come from the elements. I think that anyone who enjoys wine invests in the story of the region, the farmer, and the winemaker. With Satyr Fire we take that story into another dimension, where we can really let our imaginations loose.
There is a personal touch in every facet of Satry Fire – even the barrels are hand etched!
DH: Do you have a background in art or creative writing? Or did this arise from more of a passion hobby?
PJ: My educational background was rich with art and writing. The fact that it is a passion and hobby is also true. My lifelong goal has been to take the activities that bring me the most joy, and to find a way to make a living doing them.
DH: Does the art usually come to you first, or does the story?
PJ: As much as I love to say that they occur simultaneously, I admit that the wine comes first and the art comes after, and the story exists in another plane that is constantly twisted by the other two.
No art without wine for Satyr Fire!
Paul finds the perfect balance of science and art.
Paul sharing his story with the Oregon Wine History Archive.
DH: Your website says, “The story of a good wine is told physically.” Can you elaborate on that?
PJ: With that concept I meant to suggest that wine has lifestyle purpose, such as the gesture one makes as they share a glass with a loved one, or make a recommendation for wine. Good wine is a context. It is the catalyst for conversation. The story of a good wine is told by a raised eyebrow or a half-smile. It’s told by the drips of water on the tile floor that lead from the ice bath where the bottle was taken so that it could be brought to the table on the patio.
DH: What is one of your favorite stories associated with wine in your life?
PJ: There are just too many to choose from. Wine craft, wine study, and the enjoyment of wine fuel everything we do. Our lives are filled with stories and we cherish every one. I like to say that each bottle is a sentence, each barrel is a paragraph, and each vintage is a chapter of our unfolding tale.
If a bottle is a sentence perhaps the grape are the words that build each sentence, paragraph, and story.
DH: What is the relationship between art, science, and nature in Satyr Fire’s approach to winemaking?
PJ: To me, all three things must exist with equal purpose for the perfect outcome. The understanding of the scientific requirements are the basis for our craftsmanship. I never thought I would have such a passion for Chemistry or Horticulture until I delved into the world of wine. Fermentation science is like pure alchemy, and viticulture makes us feel like dryads in a fairytale grove. Winemaking would be futile without the scientific understanding, and it would be one-dimensional without artistic vision. Nature is the cause of it all.
Winemaking is a challenge and journey for both sides of the brain.
DH: How do you encourage people who buy your wines to create their own stories?
PJ: That is the very purpose of what we do! It’s our greatest joy to imagine that our wines are inspiring story moments for the folks who drink them. I encourage people to enjoy these wines and to become inspired by them so that their every day becomes enchanted and enriched. When someone commits to adventure stories always follow.
DH: What is something you want people to know about the art associated with your wines, and/or what is something you’d like people to know about Satyr Fire in general?
PJ: I love letting people know about the uniqueness of every bottle. Each wine from each vintage will carry a new and unique piece of art. Even when we craft wine from the same vineyard repeatedly throughout multiple vintages, no two bottlings will be the same due to variables in our winemaking as well as changes caused by nature. These wines are finite. I love for folks who collect them to feel like they are holding onto something very special.
DH: Is there anything you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked about?
PJ: I’d only mention that this is just the beginning! These days are very much our origin story. I cherish every follower and look forward to enchanting our constant reader.
Did you know you can enjoy a private wine tasting with Satyr Fire at The Dundee Hotel? Check out the Packages and Specials tab to book your tasting!