November 16 2008
Tyler Colman a.k.a. Dr. Vino, published his second non-fiction wine book of 2008 this past week – a notable achievement for anybody, let alone an academian with a wildly popular wine blog and a family.
With these two titles, straddling both spectrums of wine publishing – the novice and the experienced - Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink published by the University of California Press, a traditionally academic publisher with niche consumer titles, and A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for each Season published by book titan Simon & Schuster, aimed at the relative newcomer to the wine scene, are fantastic book-ends to your wine book collection.
I am long overdue on reviewing Wine Politics, published in July, particularly because I am mentioned a couple of times in the book meriting a notice in the index, a fun dynamic for me.
Tyler and I exchanged emails that made their way into the book over two years ago, when my blog was still a baby, a period of time that seems like a lifetime ago. So, thanks Tyler, for graciously including me in the book in a way that advances the premise. I am honored.
As a preamble, I want to note that I think this book should be required reading for all wine lovers. Everybody. I wish the book would have been, perhaps, titled and packaged a little more accessibly to the wine masses because it acts as a survey over virtually all of the wine hot buttons that are bandied about in the court of public opinion. Starting this book and reading it cover to cover would get a wine novice up to speed and conversant across subject matter that is frequently difficult to penetrate. In addition, Tyler’s writing is incredibly insightful, lucid and accessible.
To maintain some level of objectivity on Wine Politics and because I am from Indianapolis, David Letterman’s hometown, and I lived 10 years in the same neighborhood Letterman did as a youth, I’ll present my Top 10 List: Things that are Interesting about Wine Politics –
10) Tyler paraphrases the all time famous opening line to a book —Dickens’ from a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Doing so in HIS opening line is a wonderful, slightly funny, insider homage to Dickens and other writers.
9) On page 23, Tyler attributes the first successful commercial wine operation to John James Dufour in Vevay, Indiana. This is a fact I believe to be true, but other historians do not acknowledge it in the same context. Indiana is the home of the first successful viticulture in the U.S.
8) On page 34, Tyler notes that FDR and his administration sought to revive the domestic wine industry, post Prohibition, establishing an experimental winery in Beltsville, Maryland and Mississippi. An interesting factoid.
7) On page 76, Tyler notes that Napa Valley become the second AVA in 1981. Augusta, Missouri beat them to the punch for the first designated AVA. Another interesting factoid.
6) Chapter 4 should be required reading for every wine lover for the in-depth, but easy to understand explanation of the dynamics of big and small wineries and how that wine gets to our table
5) On page 110, aside from the extracted wines that are largely attributed to Parker (which gets good coverage here, as well), Tyler summarizes the balance of the wine industry that is polarizing for many enthusiasts in one fell swoop, in regards to large corporations like Constellation and E& J Gallo, he says, “All of these corporations regard wine as a brand.”
4) On page 114, Tyler notes that the first genetically modified yeast strain for wine, ML01, is available in the U.S. An interesting fact that I did not know that is even more interesting given our current fascination with food origins and natural winemaking
3) On page 118, Tyler paraphrases and quotes noted macro-economist John Maynard Keynes, a noted 20th century thinker and translates that to wine reviews with the following mention, “ … to try to predict the winner of a lineup of one hundred contestants in a beauty contest, the best tactic is to ‘favor an average definition of beauty rather than a personal one.’”
2) On page 136, Tyler distills Biodynamics down to one succinct, understandable sentence: “Biodynamics takes a holistic approach to establishing a self-regulating ecosystem, with few or no external inputs and nothing going to waste.”
1) The footnotes run 16 pages. The bibliography runs 6 pages. Rarely do you see this level of research and detail. Impressive.
Wine Politics is a fantastic book - a book that every wine lover should read and a book that, undoubtedly, will make its way onto college reading lists. If you are interested in learning the dynamics and back-story of how and why wine gets to our table in the manner that it does, in a way that is understandable and concisely explained, I cannot think of a better book to help guide you down the path to greater understanding.
*Ed Note* I paid for this book with my own money from Amazon.com—it was not comped from the publisher