Today is the 5th installment of the virtual Wine Book Club. This marks my first month of participation in the Wine Book Club… so I may miss the mark as I do not intend on providing a ‘traditional’ book review… instead I will share my random thoughts about the book in my own disjointed way (for my own future reference).
The theme for this month’s Wine Book Club is ‘Back to School’ and the subject text is Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wine We Drink by Tyler Colman.
If I were to describe Wine Politics in a couple of words it would be – Academic and Thorough. 148 pages of narrative accompanied by 16 pages of foot notes and six pages of Bibliography (technically, the foot notes may be considered end notes, but I will call them foot notes). The book reminded me of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest when I first skimmed through it – he too was an avid footnoter.
Overall, I found Wine Politics fascinating. I did get lost in the details a couple of times, but liked the amount of data Mr. (Dr.) Colman provided and respect the research and due diligence behind the book. I found myself continuously referring to the notes section for future reading material. For me, Wine Politics is a ‘How Things Work’ for the story behind how wine gets to market.
Colman’s book has changed the way I look at a glass of wine and has given me a deeper ‘appreciation’ for the forces behind wine that I was unaware of. Wine Politics heightened my sensitivity to the act of purchasing wine and who I purchase from. Up to this point, I have underestimated the power of the large distributors – almost seems as if the growers and winemakers are ‘passive’ participants in the wine world!!!
For my own personal humor, I enjoyed Colman’s coverage of French wine makers and their various acts of protest. Their destructive nature is surprising… growers taking to the streets in protest… bricking up doors to the CIVB and then heaping manure on the doorstep of a negotiant. How cool would it be to see some of that French wine grower’s passion for protest here in the States? Could you see Randall Graham or Pat Green or Garen Staglin protesting in the streets or dumping manure? Now that would be a great Wine Spectator cover pic! Perhaps that’s one way to fix the distribution laws.
Just a few of the many interesting nuggets of information I gathered from Wine Politics:
§ America is on track to become the world’s largest wine-consuming country in 2008, and wine is now being produced in all fifty states (even North Dakota and Montana? eck). P.4
§ In America, in 2005, new wineries opened at a rate of just under two a day (‘splains when the Montana and North Dakota wineries opened). P. 147
§ There is not one Syrah or Chardonnay vine planted in Bordeaux (didn’t know that). P. 44
§ Small growers are retiring or quitting at the rate of three hundred a year in Bordeaux alone (losing heritage and domain knowledge is a sad fact). P. 54
§ The Wine Institute estimates that there are now only 300 distributors, down from 10,000 in 1963 L. P. 92
§ Biodynamics takes a holistic approach to establishing a self-regulating ecosystem, with few or no external inputs and nothing going to waste (I actually knew this one and hope someone else who didn’t will give more consideration to biodynamic wines). P136
§ In 2004, a panel of wine experts blind-tasted pairs of similar biodynamic and conventional wines. In all but one of the comparisons, they preferred the biodynamic wine. P. 139
Although I truly enjoyed this book and am grateful for coming across the Wine Book Club because I may not have read Wine Politics otherwise, I did find myself wanting ‘more’ on various items. I would have liked more of ‘Mr. Colman’s’ opinion and narrative in addition to the raw facts. In particular, I would have liked more depth and discussion with regard to distribution laws here in the States as well as the ‘greening’ of the wine industry. In my (neophyte) opinion, these are huge challenges and trends that will have a profound impact on how we consume wine!
My major takeaway from Wine Politics is an increased sense of appreciation for the small wine guy and the crap they go through just to produce and sell wine to me!