Book Review: In Search of Bacchus

George M. Taber, In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism. Scribner, 2009.

While the Japanese are trying to wake up Bacchus through the Kami No Shizuku phenomenon I wrote about last week George M. Taber has been circling the globe tracking down the Roman god of wine. He reports on his adventures in this interesting new book, the third in a series that includes The Judgement of Paris (2005)and To Cork or Not to Cork? (2007).

Taber appears to be one of the luckiest wine enthusiasts on earth. He travels the world tasting wines, visiting wineries and then tells us all about it. It is understandable if we are a bit jealous and this book only makes matters worse.

The subtitle says that this is a book about wine tourism and I suppose it is. But sending a journalist like George Taber to study wine tourism is a bit like sending Alexis de Toqueville to study American prisons. You end up with a lot more than you expected (in de Toqueville’s case, of course, if was Democracy in America).

Taber spent the better half of a year traveling the world, visiting the most important wine-producing countries, talking with wine makers and doing some of the things that wine tourists do. He had to be selective in writing about his experiences, so he picked just one wine region in each country.

Chapters are devoted to Napa (but not Sonoma) Valley, California; Stellenbosch, South Africa; Mendoza, Argentina; Margaret River (but not Barossa), Australia; Central Otago (not Hawkes Bay or Marlborough), New Zealand; Rioja, Spain; Douro Valley, Portugal; Tuscany, Italy; Bordeaux (not Burgundy), France; Rheingau and Middle Mosel, Germany and Kakheti, Georgia.

Tourism is hard work, of course, and research is even harder, but Taber seems to have found ways to relax by reporting on typical wine tourist adventures in each spot. Thus he takes a cooking class in Tuscany, bikes along the Mosel, walks through Burgundy, goes wild game watching in South Africa, bungee jumping in New Zealand and so on.

Getting jealous? Yes, so am I. It seems like George Taber has stumbled upon the ultimate wine lover boondoggle.  He goes to great places, drinks good wine, does fun things –and we pay him to write about them!

But there’s more to this book than George Taber’s vacation slides, which is why I can recommend it enthusiastically.  Taber the hedonistic vacationer cannot shake off Taber the inquisitive journalist. Each chapter reveals some interesting and unexpected aspect of the wine, wine business or wine history of each region. The payoff goes much beyond wine tourism. Indeed, I think for me the wine tourism element is quite secondary.

I found the chapters on Georgia and Central Otago the most interesting. I know relatively little about Georgia’s wine industry and so every well-described detail about their practices is appreciated, especially since the traditional methods still in use are so completely different from anything I have encountered before. I know quite a bit about New Zealand wine, on the other hand, but I’ve never visiting Central Otago, so Taber’s history and report on the current status of the industry there usefully connected a lot of dots for me and in a very enjoyable way.

This book isn’t the last word on wine tourism and no one should view it as a textbook on wine tourism economics, but it is a very interesting examination of the wine world through a particular tourist’s sharp eyes. I’m looking forward to Taber’s next book to see where his search for Bacchus will take him next.

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One response

  1. Thanks Mike, I just got the book and am looking forward to vacation to read it… the podcast with George at GrapeRadio is worth a listen if you haven’t already!

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