March 26 2011
The darkly comedic, wine-soaked, buddies-on-the-road fiction book has already been written. If another similarly resonating wine book were to find market success it might be non-fiction, combine elements of self-discovery that occur in “Coming of age” stories, and provide a rooting interest for the underdog.
And now, that book has been written, too.
Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes by author Evan Dawson likely won’t capture cultural ‘lightening in a bottle’ in the way that Sideways did as it shined a light on the Central Coast of California, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t. If Sideways used wine as a tableau to explore the darker complexities of relationships, Summer in a Glass explores the obstacles that many have overcome to pursue triumphant excellence.
And, in terms of elements that make up a good story and offers enjoyment that appeals to a broad cross-section of wine consumers from the very casual to the hardcore, you’d be hard pressed to find any wine book that offers more than Dawson’s non-fiction debut highlighting the, ‘Little wine region that could’ in west central New York—an area that has found sporadic critical success for its Rieslings over the last decade while continuing to search for more solid footing with other varietals in this cool climate growing region.
By profession, Dawson is a television news anchor and reporter who moonlights as the Managing Editor for the New York Cork Report. His professional acumen alights on the page in the form of a nose for the story that provides just enough detail to engage combined with a brisk writing style that forsakes ornate language in favor of clarity.
Focused on a cabal of thought-leaders in the Finger Lakes wine region—11 key personalities, a winery and a wine collaboration—Summer in a Glass is a surprising page-turner that shines based on a well-considered narrative structure that gives each subject their own chapter with a 3rd person historical backstory before jumping to 1st person and present-day reportage that brings their struggle to hopeful current terms.
Covering the established quality leaders and influencers in the region, readers are invited to learn about a German ex-pat who may not be an ex-pat for long, a Dane by way of France, a quirky grape grower, a Canuck, the prodigy with THE palate and others.
Having spent a long weekend in the Finger Lakes late last spring on a tasting trip with the author and others, I had the opportunity to meet many of the people featured in the book. I found them as charming as Dawson captured, and I left my in-person experience infatuated with not just the wines of the region, but also the people and their joie de vivre.
The Finger Lakes embodies a spirit that I respect. The wineries and their leaders aren’t flashy, pretentious or preternaturally gifted people, nor are they wealthy beyond measure. They are normal people, like you and me, who are in the midst of a passionate pursuit of something bigger than themselves. I admire that. And, deep down, we all aspire to climb to their heights: from humble beginnings to the world stage while maintaining a sense of humility. Dawson captures that optimistic spirit.
If the book has a fault, it’s that the author is in love with his subjects, stopping short of anything that looks like criticism, pulling punches on a winery portfolio that may have some inconsistencies, a red that he doesn’t care for, or a skeleton in the closet that he may know about, yet he declines to open the door. It’s a small quibble and part stagecraft, leaving the visage of the Finger Lakes and its region as a warm fuzzy for the reader in the spirit of the book’s hopeful theme.
In sum, perhaps the best thing any writer can say about another writer’s work is this: I wish I would have written Summer in a Glass. Yet, for the betterment of the reader, Summer in a Glass couldn’t have been written by anybody besides Dawson.
Fortunately, there’s an opportunity, with an abundance of quality-oriented boutique wineries emerging in the Finger Lakes, for Dawson to bring his keen eye to a different aspect of the region in his next book and that’s something we should all look forward to.
The book trailer video:
Ed. Note: As I’m wont to do, I pre-ordered Summer in a Glass on Amazon.com and I now have two copies. The first commenter to this post will win a brand new copy of Summer in a Glass postage paid by me. Simply answer this question: On which Finger Lake is Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery located?
* W. Blake Gray’s profile on Johannes Reinhardt, featured in Summer in a Glass
* Joe Roberts on Sam Argetsinger, featured in Summer in a Glass
Tasty Finger Lakes Wines I Recommend:
* 2006 Heron Hill Late Harvest Ingle Vineyard Riesling Reserve
* McGregor Winery 2008 Dry Riesling Reserve
* McGregor Winery 2008 Dry Gewurztraminer Reserve
* Ravines Wine Cellars 2008 Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
* Anthony Road Wine Company 2009 Semi-dry Riesling
* Hermann J. Weimer 2008 Magdalena Vineyard Dry Riesling
* Heart & Hands Wine Company 2008 Barrel Reserve Pinot Noir