Warren Moran, New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, and the People (Hardie Grant, 2017).
John Schreiner, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, 2017).
I’ve always thought that New Zealand and British Columbia have a lot in common. Both are spectacularly beautiful places with warm, welcoming people. The wild areas near Tofino on Vancouver Island remind me a bit of the wild areas on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island. And both Auckland and Vancouver have a distinctly cosmopolitan feel.
There are some wine similarities, too. Romeo Bragato, the visionary who planted the seeds of today’s Kiwi wine industry more than a hundred years ago fled New Zealand when prohibitionists took charge and cut funding for this research. His new home? British Columbia!
The wine industries in both BC and its Kiwi cousin have experienced dramatic ups and downs over the years and both are on the rise today, inspiring books that survey what has been accomplished.
New Zealand Revolutions
There is a strong sense of history in Warren Moran’s book about New Zealand wine. Moran has been in the mix of Kiwi wine since the 1950s and you can tell that he wants to record all that he has seen, the people he has known, and the wines he’s experienced.
I especially appreciate the attention to detail I found here as Moran careful lays out the evolution of the wine industry that brought New Zealand to its current place as one of the world’s premier wine-growing countries.
Moran is a geographer, professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, and pretty good story-teller. He organizes his book around two revolutions that have shaped Kiwi wine, a regional revolution, where winegrowers searched for the best places to grow their grapes, and a varietal revolution, where they experimented with grape varieties.
New Zealand’s most famous wine, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, is the result of this double revolution, but it is a mistake to identify Kiwi wine with this one grape variety and winegrowing region. Indeed, Moran’s detailed account highlights the great (and sometimes underappreciated) diversity of New Zealand wine. I especially appreciate the maps and historical photos found here.
I have several of John Schreiner’s books on my shelf and I consult them whenever I head north to visit the British Columbia wine country. Schreiner’s knowledge of B.C. wine is every bit as deep as Moran’s Kiwi wine expertise.
Icon‘s focus is on what has been achieved in British Columbia wine, leaving the full story of how it happened to Schreiner’s other books. Because B.C. is less well known that New Zealand in the wine world, this focus is quite useful and hopefully this book will draw more attention to the region and its wines.
New Zealand wines are everywhere here in the U.S. market whereas B.C. wines are mainly represented by Ice Wine. If you want to know what else B.C. has to offer you pretty much have to go to the source. This volume just might be the nudge you need to book that ticket!
Shreiner identifies about 100 noteworthy wineries, focusing in most cases a single iconic wine. Schreiner provides a few paragraphs about the winery, the winemaker, and the wine followed by tasting notes, which are sometimes Schreiner’s own but often taken from the winery’s release notes (I wish Schreiner had written all the notes, but that wasn’t practical, he tells us).
Each winery gets two pages for the story, the notes, and a bottle shot and, while I can see the logic of this structure (all icons are equally iconic), I sometimes felt like the editorial format got in the way of the story. I wish Schreiner could have drawn upon his deep understanding to tell us more — giving more space to particular influential wineries, for example, or perhaps organizing them regionally or historically rather than according to the alphabet.
The book is already 300+ pages, however, so something would have to be cut — some of the wineries or Christopher Stenberg’s beautiful photographs. A difficult decision.
Icon ends with a list of wineries that have the potential to join the icon list in the future, which is appropriate. British Columbia has achieved so much when it comes to wine and its future looks especially bright. You can bet that Icon will be in my backpack the next time I point the GPS for B.C.!