The Vineyard at the End of the World

There’s a joke in South America that the Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, the Peruvians descended from the Incas and the Argentines descended from the boats. More recent, according to Ian Mount, it’s the winemakers descending from airplanes who have made the difference in Argentina’s wine industry. Prior to that, his story begins with the 31-year-old Michel Aimé Pouget, a 19th-century French agronomist who amused himself with unusual agricultural pursuits, such as grafting wisteria onto acacia trees on one of Mendoza’s main streets—or planting obscure French varieties such as malbec in South America. Mount traces malbec’s trajectory from obscure variety to engine of the world’s fifth-largest wine industry mostly through the lens of Catena, the country’s most ambitious winery. Mount’s interviews with past consultants at Catena and elsewhere—people such as Paul Hobbs, Steve Rasmussen, Jacques Lurton and Michel Rolland—highlight just how far Argentina’s wine industry had to come to begin competing on an international level, and underline the importance of foreign knowledge to a country that had been essentially cut off from the rest of the world for decades. What’s missing from this focus are the successful locals who haven’t gone the international route—families such as the Weinerts and Nortons or enologist Roberto de la Moto—but it’s a compelling story nonetheless, capturing a country whose story is still being written.
—Tara Q. Thomas

The Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount (W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 2012; $26.95) (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy

Despite a steady stream of new cocktail books, few provide as much guidance on proportions and techniques to create great drinks as the bar standards The Joy of Mixology from Gary Regan and the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. With the release of Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book, Regan and Craddock have some new company. If you’ve ever found your way through the vintage telephone booth in the back of Crif Dogs and into Please Don’t Tell (PDT), a bar in NYC’s East Village, then you’ll likely find your favorite drinks in the 300+ recipes. The collection is a well-curated mix of classic pre-Prohibition drinks and contemporary creations from PDT bartenders and their colleagues at other bars, each with a concise description and back-story. Although Chris Gall’s accompanying illustrations add more whimsy than assistance with the cocktails, their colorful charm makes the book fun to read. In addition to recipes, the useful, detailed guides to equipment, bar layout, glassware and spirits—including production, brands and history—could have easily filled a separate volume. The PDT Cocktail Book already feels like a classic.
—Lou Bustamante

PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy by Jim Meehan (Sterling Epicure, 2011; $24.95) (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Naked Wine

Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine is an intimate account of her exploration into the world of natural wine, a subject that she has made the focus of her writing career. Her quest takes her to Beaujolais, through the Ardéche, to Green Spain and back to the States, where she challenges herself to make wine by her own strict guidelines. A fast read made lively and provocative by Feiring’s usual feistiness and opinionated prose, this reads in places like a mystery novel, with P.I. Feiring hot on the trail of the natural wine movement’s most elusive personalities and earliest instigators. At its best, the book is as much about confronting her high ideals of transparent winemaking as it is about questioning the status quo, bringing author and reader to a better, more nuanced understanding of both.
—Carson Demmond

Naked Wine by Alice Feiring (Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011; $24) (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

A Carafe of Red & A Vineyard in My Glass

“Wine is more than the sum of its parts, and more than an expression of its physical origin,” Gerald Asher writes in the introduction to A Carafe of Red—and then proves it in the essays that fill his two latest anthologies. A Carafe is a collection of Asher’s early essays; A Vineyard in My Glass is an array of works focused on terroir; both are pulled largely from the column he penned for Gourmet, and include notes on what’s changed since their original publication. Those who don’t know Asher’s writings will find either book to be a terrific introduction to one of the greatest wine writers of our times. The wines he chooses to write about are often nuanced examples of their style or place. His writing describes those nuances with clarity, pacing his prose in a way that makes their complexity easy to savor.
—Lara Douglass

A Vineyard in My Glass ($30) and A Carafe of Red ($22) by Gerald Asher (University of California Press) (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

The Drops of God

Reading about wine has never been so weird, wild and exhilarating. This manga, which went viral in Japan soon after it came out in 2004 (as a magazine) traces the path of a prominent wine critic’s son from teetotalling novice to ace taster as he competes for his father’s wine collection—the only thing he has left to his name after his father’s death. The twisting, turning drama of the story rivals that of a Spanish telenovella, spurred on by the energetic, antic illustrations of Shin and Yuko Kibayashi, who write and draw under the pseudonym Tadashi Aga. Along the way, the duo manage to sneak in an entire vinous education, from the finer points of tasting and serving wine to the sense behind the organization of Burgundy’s crus. It’s addictive stuff.
—Tara Q. Thomas

The Drops of God, Vertical, Inc., New York, NY; 2011; $14.95 (reviewed W&S, 12/11)

Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking

If you’ve never seen a bird get drunk on berries, one of the videos on youtube might make you laugh. It’s a phenomenon that hasn’t gone unnoticed by creative winemakers such as Ales Kristancic of Movia in Slovenia, a leader in the natural wine movement. He has developed winemaking strategies based on this natural occurrence of individual fermenting berries —a process that does not require the hand of man.
     While Kristancic and other partisans of natural winemaking discuss their non-interventionist strategies, scientists are often rolling their eyes. Two wine scientists, Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, attempt to bridge that philosophical divide in Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking. They are not out to promote or deride the natural wine movement, but to change the discourse: to admit that wine is about human intervention and to focus on how those interventions either homogenize wine or help to frame its distinct identity.
     Goode and Harrop are two rare birds, articulate scientists who are also skilled wine tasters. Goode has a PhD in plant biology and worked as a science editor before launching his wine-writing career. He’s best known for his website,, and for his earlier book, The Science of Wine. Sam Harrop began his career as a winemaker in New Zealand and at Littorai in California before moving to the UK to serve as buyer for Marks & Spencer. Now a Master of Wine, he co-founded Domaine Matassa with Tom Lubbe, a project with old vineyards in the Roussillon farmed under biodynamics, and works as a consultant to wineries and to Lallemand, a supplier of yeast and bacteria to the wine industry.

The authors explore the practices of organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming, presenting relevant scientific research on each and considering the impact of these techniques on the vineyard, the workers and the finished wine. They then explore winemaking techniques, viewing these interventions in light of how they might obscure or highlight what is authentic in the wine. The book includes case studies of farming and winemaking decisions at estates such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy, Millton Vineyard in New Zealand and Henschke in South Australia. In the process, the writers help to tighten the meaning of the word terroir, and comment on other terms, like minerality, often used in current parlance to connect the taste of a wine to its site. Those seeking a more useful understanding of this overused term could do no better than to read Goode and Harrop on reduction in wine. Harrop, as one of the chief judges at the International Wine Competition in London, is charged with assessing and tracking faults in the wines (see W&S 8/09, “Master of Faults”); the chapter devoted to wine faults in the book is brilliant.

Goode’s background as an editor suits this book project well; he and Harrop have attempted to select what’s relevant to their argument and protect the reader from too much information. The only lapse in this disciplined approach is the occasional presentation of opinion as fact. For instance, when discussing the common usage of a sweet dosage to balance Champagne’s high acidity, the authors state, “While non-dosage Champagnes may have a claim to being more natural, those with some dosage are the more complete and compelling wines in the best cases.”
     They also, occasionally, set out to parse good science from bad: “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) represents a paradigm shift in agriculture: previously the prevailing attitude was one of blitzing all pests with chemicals, leaving just the crop species, perfect and unblemished. Farmers intervened to prevent any crop loss to disease or pests. This approach was based on a simplistic understanding of nature and a failure to recognize the complex network of relationships that exist in most ecosystems. Thus science wasn’t the problem; it was bad science that led agriculture in this direction.”
     Or was it an incomplete scientific understanding, coupled with a worldview that claimed to be right until proven wrong? It is, after all, a scientific worldview that most winemakers are trained in today.
     Leave aside Goode and Harrop’s opinions, their push for sustainability or their occasional scientific blinders. This is one of the most engaging, thoughtful and enlightening books on contemporary wine to have been published. Winemakers may well be the book’s most immediate audience, but it also offers insights for anyone interested in what they are drinking. And by taking a practical approach to matters that have often been discussed in vague and romantic terms, Goode and Harrop have created a manifesto for an industry looking to shape its future around wine as a natural and sustainable product.
—Joshua Greene

Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking, By Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop, MW (University of California Press, 2011; $29.95) (reviewed W&S, Buying Gyuide/2011)

An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection—and Profit—in California

It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of change that has swept across the California wine industry in the last two decades. In size, output, acreage and economic scale the industry has grown dramatically; in expression and range of offerings, it has spun off into unimagined orbits, with diversity that can rival any other country in the world. Technologies that wouldn’t have been dreamed of 20 years ago are now standard practice; methods employed to render a wine palatable, consistent, critic-worthy, great—serving any one of several ‘ideals’—are now commonplace.
     California wines embrace high-, middle- and lowbrow aesthetics, straddling elitism and populism, the artisanal and the industrial, the painstakingly natural and the spectacularly contrived. Changes have occurred with such tremendous velocity that it’s all an observer can do to keep abreast of them.
     With An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection—and Profit—in California, David Darlington has come closer than anyone in providing a definitive chronicle of these changes. A writer at large for this magazine and a gifted reporter who’s covered a wide range of topics in his career, from condors and zinfandel to Area 51, Darlington explores some of the California wine industry’s broader issues by profiling some of its most colorful characters, in a chronicle that captures the current zeitgeist of the industry.
     The broad canvas upon which Darlington has applied his narrative rests on two iconic industry figures, Randall Grahm and Leo McCloskey. Grahm is the founder, proprietor and President for Life of Bonny Doon Vineyards; McCloskey runs the shrewdly clinical winery consulting service called Enologix. Both men are bright, verbal and charismatic characters; their philosophical distance gives the book its tremendous resonance and range.
     Grahm is famously voluble. In a career spanning nearly 30 years, he has produced many memorable wines, but is better known for being a dynamic, eccentric public figure and marketing master who has stretched the definition of vigneron into wildly exotic territories. Darlington captures Grahm’s exhibitions of wit, cheek and self-confession as he transitions from a multisource, hydra-headed winery to something smaller and more artisanal, with more vineyard focus, marked by a new devotion to biodynamic farming. Grahm does this as only he can, with much bombast, hand-wringing, self-doubt and public posturing: his Twitter feed, Darlington reports, is read by more than 320,000 followers, and he may be the first winemaker ever to appear (via Skype) on Oprah.
     Leo McCloskey prefers to labor behind the scenes, working with winemakers to sculpt their wines with formulaic precision to conform to an aesthetic designed to coincide with some of the industry’s influential critics, most notably Robert M. Parker, Jr. He teaches his clients to chemically analyze their wines—the ratios of fruit, tannin, acid and such—and to strike for a composite that’s built on ripe fruit, new oak and a supple mouthfeel, the latter achieved with “high complex anthocyanin,” a compound that McCloskey calls his company’s trademark. “My goal,” says McCloskey, “is to make my customers self-sufficient so that metrics alone can solve all their problems.”
     Chapter by chapter Darlington weaves a dialectic between these two characters and their divergent approaches to the same challenge: creating and selling wine in a complex, competitive marketplace.
     Along the way Darlington links other stories into a narrative patchwork, a chronicle of change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He includes side trips to profile Helen and Larry Turley, Jess Jackson and Frog’s Leap’s John Williams. He tells the story of Mike Benziger’s conversion from fighting-varietals heavy-weight to biodynamics guru, and of Clark Smith’s transformation from winemaker to wine-tailor, master of the tools used to elevate or repair less than ideal wines.
     Darlington has a tremendous eye for detail, evoking both bucolic vineyards and gleaming lab rooms with equal clarity. But his greatest gift as a reporter may be his light touch, the way he keeps to the periphery and allows his subjects and their stories to carry the narrative. Through skillful transitions, their stories brush up against one another, while the author remains wisely agnostic to the very end, leaving the reader to decide whose definition of ideal is worthy of pursuit.
—Patrick Comiskey

An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection—and Profit—in California, by David Darlington (HarperCollins 2011; $26.99) (reviewed W&S, Buying Gyuide/2011)