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California Wine for Dummies

If you will pardon the cliché, a significant amount of bread is buttered in our house by the For Dummies brand of books.

My wife is an editor for the series and works on author acquisition and project manages the book through the authoring process before publication.  For this reason along, I am not an impartial observer or analyst for this ubiquitous book series.

That aside, simply put, I have found no other book series that acts as a more consistently reliable resource to get “conversationally dangerous” on just about any topic under the sun.

You do not get to be one of the most recognized brands in the world without doing something consistently well with high quality.


Many people look askance at the series, but if I wanted to bone up (no pun intended) on a subject, say, sex, for example, I would go buy Sex for Dummies by Dr. Ruth (one of my wife’s books).

Dr. Ruth is 4’10 and was a sniper in the Israeli army before becoming versed in the carnal arts, but that is an anecdote for another day …

The commercial now over, the brand entrenched in my mind as a tremendous entry-to-intermediate reference book, I was more than a bit surprised when I received California Wine for Dummies (not one of my wife’s books) as a publisher review copy.

Um, we have a bookshelf stacked with yellow and black books, but okay …

Even more surprised than me was my wife who was under the (apparently false) impression that review copies are sent out by the marketing folks to people who are, you know, important, and not to the guy who sleeps next to her, is less fastidious about cleaning the sheets weekly, doesn’t turn his socks right side out before dumping them in the hamper and abhors emptying the dishwasher.

Even more ironic is the fact that there are For Dummies books for virtually every niche imaginable – Ferrets For Dummies is in its 2nd edition, and Senior Dogs For Dummies appears to be a nice seller. Yet, oddly, California Wine For Dummies just published for the first time.

Written by the venerable wine writing duo of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan and technically edited by Alan Goldfarb, this is a good book – not just a good book for getting versed in the California wine landscape, but a well-written reference or every wine enthusiast’s library.

As the authors note, 70% of all the wine consumed in the US is California wine, so you would think it would be high time to get a book out on the subject.

As I write this, I’m simultaneously drinking both a Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc and the Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc in order to get a price point perspective on the $10 price delta ($17.99 and $8.99, respectively).  Because May 16th marks the one-year anniversary of Robert Mondavi’s passing, Robert Mondavi Day as I have dubbed it, it is also important to note that Mondavi is referenced three times in the book, and each time he is put into the appropriate context for his lasting impact on the wine landscape. 

For example, in Chapter 1:  Introducing California Wines, the book notes:

A pivotal moment in California’s wine revolution was the decision of the late Robert Mondavi to leave his family’s winery, Charles Krug, and start his own winery.  Robert Mondavi Winery opened in 1966, and from day one, its focus was on quality.  Mondavi became an unofficial ambassador for California wines, particularly those of Napa Valley, and he convinced the elite wine producers from all over the world that California was indeed one of the world’s finest wine regions.

Elsewhere in the book, particularly Chapter five on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, it notes:

Sauvignon Blanc is California’s second most popular white wine, but it’s far behind Chardonnay in production and sales.  In fact, Italian Pinot Grigio outsells California Sauvignon Blanc in the United States … Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley was the first California wine producer to truly popularize Sauvignon Blanc.

… When Robert Mondavi made his first Sauvignon Blanc wine, he named it Fumé Blanc (as a tribute to the Loire Valley’s Poiully Fumé, perhaps; maybe French wine names are sexier).

It can’t be overstated that what the For Dummies series has done from a revolutionary branding perspective, creating an entire publishing industry with quality brand-oriented reference books with high-quality, Mondavi did the same 30 years earlier for the California wine industry.

As I read California Wine For Dummies and drank the respective Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc’s, both very good, with the Private Selection being a tremendous value at $8.99, I wondered if, perhaps, both the book and Mondavi, as an extension of the winery that bears his name, aren’t both a little misunderstood.

Sometimes quality comes cloaked in marketing, and it can be hard to separate the intrinsic value from the marketing that pokes us, but to me that’s the beauty in both Mondavi and the For Dummies series: revolutionary innovators, with marketing in mind, and, ultimately, products that deliver more often than not. 


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (3) |


On 05/13, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

This is exactly what I needed! Does it talk about wine storage as well? I’m looking at some single-column wine racks online at Vintage Cellars, and I’ve heard these are great for first-time wine drinkers. Suggestions?

On 05/13, Jeff wrote:

Hi Joanna,

Thanks for the comment.  For information on wine storing, I would steer you to Wine for Dummies.  It’s a separate book and can be found at used for about $6. 

This book covers appropriately storing your wine.

Thanks for reading,


On 05/14, Dylan wrote:

I agree that “FOR DUMMIES” has cultivated itself not only as a brand, but as a piece of popular culture (you know you’ve hit it big when you’re in a Simpsons joke). However, I never thought to look there for wine information. The next time I’m in the local book store, I’ll be sure to pick it up for a quick read.


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