NZ Winemaking: Delayed Reaction meets Arrested Development

Eric Arnold, First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine … Down Under. Scribner, 2007.

I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading this 2007 book about wine-making in New Zealand. I am very interested in Kiwi wine and I’ve written about it on several occasions. Can’t explain my why I didn’t find time for it until now.

Delayed Reaction

First Big Crush is Eric Arnold’s account of a year he spent working at the Allan Scott winery in Marlborough. It is a chronological record of what he did in the vineyard and cellar, the people he met and the flow of life, wine and commerce as the seasons changed.

I felt a personal connection as I read the book because Sue and I spent part of that same year in New Zealand and so I visited some of the places Arnold describes and met a few of the same people.

One of my strongest memories of that trip (which produced a chapter called “Globalization versus Terroir” in my 2005 book Globaloney) was a conversation with Jane Hunter. Hunter had just come from a difficult meeting with growers where she told them the bad news — they’d need to drop more grapes to preserve quality. Growers (who are usually paid by the ton) understood the need for a green harvest, but it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Arrested Development

Arnold does a great job putting that difficult day (and many others like it) into context. And although wine economists are surely not the author’s target audience, I found Arnold’s explanations of the economic side of the business very interesting, especially the stories about grower relations and handshake contracts (that sometimes are literally worth the paper they are written on), vineyard labor relations and the crazy market for bulk wine within the New Zealand industry, which reminds me of a game of wine-infused Twister.

Although I am glad that I read this book for the reasons I’ve just explained, I have to admit that there were several points where I nearly stopped reading. The problem? Well, Arnold reports a lot of crude behavior often using crude language. Some of the humor would not be out of place in a middle school locker room. I guess I’m not surprised that this sort of thing goes on among wine-makers since it goes on every where else. It’s just not my cup of tea (or glass of Sauvignon Blanc?).

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