The Wine Economist Guide to 2017 Wine Books to Give and to Read Yourself, Too

books

The holidays are a great time to give someone you know a book and an even better time to sit down (with a glass of wine) and read one yourself. Wine books are especially welcome this time of year because, well, they are wine books, so how can they not be interesting and fun?

Here are the books we’ve reviewed at The Wine Economist this year. Any of them would make a great gift to that special person. All of them are good reads and worthy of your attention.

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Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France (Summersdale, 2017). The next chapter in the saga of a family who move to France, buy a vineyard,  and struggle to find success and happiness.

Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan (Exotic Wine Travel). Everything you always wanted to know about Croatian wine but were afraid to ask. A worthy addition to this series of exotic wine guides.

Warren Moran, New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, and the People (Hardie Grant, 2017). A survey of the Kiwi wine industry and its history by someone who has lived through that country’s double wine revolution.

John Schreiner, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, 2017). A guide to British Columbia’s best wines and wineries by the dean of B.C. wine-writing.

Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin (Vendage Press). New edition of Lewin’s big book about global wine an how it is changing. Indispensable.

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. (Vendage Press). A series of very useful and intelligent guides to select wine regions. Unusual analytical depth and detail.

Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine (Mango). Irresistible survey of  wine with something for everyone — novice to expert.

Sarah Lohman, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Not a wine book, but reading about how American food has been transformed might make you think about American wine differently.

Patrick J. Comiskey,  American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink (University of California Press). Comiskey charts the rise and fall and hopeful rise again of Syrah and other Rhone grape varieties in the U.S.

And last but not least, my new book  Around the World in Eighty Wines (Rowman & Littlefield). Now you know why this post is filed under “Shameless Self-Promotion). Happy reading!

New Wine Books: Lewin’s Intelligent Guides, Caro Feely’s Half-Full Glass

519f2bibmmol-_ac_ul320_sr204320_Herewith brief reviews of a series of regional wine guides by Benjamin Lewin MW and the newest volume in Caro Feely’s series on her family’s wine and vineyard experiences in France.

Not Your Usual Wine Guide

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. Vendage Press, various dates.

Benjamin Lewin travels the world analyzing the changing character of wine and writing about it in his many books and columns.  A few years ago he decided to re-purpose some of this research into a series of “Intelligent Guides” to the world’s most famous wine regions.

Thus the research for his Wines of France became the raw material for a number of guides to individual wine regions. Satisfied with the results, Lewin moved on other regions. Here is the list of Lewin guides so far (a guide to Mosel and Rheingau is due out next year).

Bordeaux: Left Bank
Bordeaux: Right Bank
Southwest France
Burgundy: Côte d’Or
Chablis
Southern Burgundy & Beaujolais
Champagne
The Loire
Alsace
The Rhône
Languedoc
Provence
Barolo & Barbaresco
Tuscany
Port & the Douro
Napa Valley & Sonoma

These aren’t your usual wine guides. They don’t give tourist-friendly hotel and restaurant recommendations, for example. Your smartphone can do that. But they do dig down in surprising depth given their slim size in the facts and controversies that are key to a region’s wine identity.

Each compact volume, available in inexpensive e-book or paperback formats, first analyzes the region in terms of the key characteristics, dynamic forces, and critical issues and then moves on to analytical profiles of producers and their wines.

The choice of e-book and print-on-demand paperback formats allows Lewin to keep the books up to date. In fact, he is just now releasing updated and expended editions of the guides that include both profiles of the producers he sees as most important and mini-profiles of many others.

Lewin writes that

The series is partly a response to the view that wine books are becoming an increasingly specialized niche (except perhaps for reference books), and that people are more interested in focusing more precisely rather than reading broadly. The guides are partly oriented towards people who simply want to know about a region (so the text follows a similar approach to my books) and partly for people who may be interested in visiting producers (so there are details in the profiles, using symbols à la Michelin, to help with planning, and maps to show producer locations).

I loaded a couple of the guides onto my tablet for a recent speaking trip to Spain and Portugal. I found the guide to Port and the Douro to be remarkably useful. Clear, interesting, focused, analytical — it helped me understand a region that I was already familiar with in more depth and detail, especially the controversial beneficio system of the 1930s that continues to shape the Douro wine industry today.

The Alsace guide made me sad — but in a good way. We haven’t been to Alsace in many years and reading it made me realize how much we missed on earlier visits and how urgently we need to go back! And it helped me understand the variability I have experienced with wines from different Alsace producers, too. Fascinating!

Lewin’s guides, like his other works, are clear, detailed, and analutical. Lewin constantly asks questions and drives to answer them. He doesn’t hesitate to share his opinions, but always backs up his arguments. The result, for me at least, is a deeper understanding of the region and its changing place in the wine world.

Now back home, I have had time to read several other volumes in the series and I found each to be utterly fascinating. If you want to understand one of the wine regions in the series or contemplate a serious wine tourist expendition, Lewin’s guides are the place to start your research.

France Meets the Archers

51k899bjjnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France.  Summersdale, 2017.

Glass Half Full is the third volume is a series of books where Caro Feely chronicles her family’s struggle to make a life and make a living by making organic wine on a small vineyard estate in France. Caro and her husband dreamed that vineyard dream that so many of us have, but unlike others they took bold action and moved to France with their two small daughters.

Feely’s books should be required reading for anyone thinking about taking such a big step. Really, Silicon Valley Bank and other specialist wine industry lenders should have cases of this book and the previous volumes in their offices to hand out to people who come in looking for start-up winery loans!

What emerges from Feely’s clear prose is a realistic view of the wine business from the perspective of a small French vineyard. It is a positive story: the wines are great and the effort is worth it. But the physical and emotional toll can sometimes be very high. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong at some point (I think Mr. Murphy has a law about this) and stress levels run high.

I enjoy Feely’s books, including especially this new one, on many levels. I fell like I’ve gotten to know the Feely family a bit over the years and the personal stories and accounts of learning to live in France are part of the attraction. But, wait. There’s more.

Caro Feely weaves into these accounts a good deal of practical information about life in France, viticulture, winemaking and the wine business, too. In this regard Feely’s books remind me a little bit of the long-running British radio show The Archers, with its continuing story of rural life. Listeners these days think of it as a radio drama pure and simple, but it was actually created back in the 1950s with farm education to raise productivity and feed the nation in mind. Listeners came for the drama, but left with useful information about new farming practices and technology.

Caro Feely’s books are fun, informative, and moving, too. Highly recommended.

books

Around the World in Eighty Wines visits Natalie MacLean on Facebook Live

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site, on her “Sunday Sipper Club” Facebook Live program.

Here’s a link to the program website, which includes both the video replay and some of the many comments from Natalie’s engaged, informed, and very enthusiastic viewers.

https://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/mike-veseth-wine-economist-around-the-world-in-80-wines/

As you can tell from the video, Natalie and I had fun talking about my books, including especially Around the World in Eighty Wines (now available in hardback, Kindle and audiobook formats on Amazon.com) and the good, bad, and ugly of writing about wine.

What’s Ahead for Wine Tourism in Mendoza? Lessons from a Rock Opera

monteviejoThe United Nations World Tourism Organization’s global wine tourism conference in Mendoza, Argentina was full of contrasts as you might expect in a high desert region that is punctuated by isolated vine-filled green oases.  The morning sessions featured conventional conference formats — speakers, panels, Powerpoint slides, dark rooms, coffee breaks (and really good simultaneous translation — thanks for that!). And then …

Hardly Working?

The afternoon and evening session moved out of the conference center and into the wineries, so that international participants could take in the landscape, marvel at the wonderful winery architecture,  appreciate the warm hospitality, sample the many winery experiences, and of course enjoy food and wine as any wine tourist would.

Does this sound like hard work? Very few of our friends feel sorry for us when we post about these experiences on Facebook, but it really is work because Sue and I are always observing and analyzing both what the wineries do (and how they do it) and the reaction from their guests.

moonshot2This was particularly interesting at the UNWTO conference because our fellow delegates were mainly tourism people who see opportunities in wine whereas Sue and I come at this more from the wine side, where tourism is one important element. The organized winery visits were interesting to us because they highlighted the tourism offerings rather than the wines themselves.

A reception at Bodega Séptima, for example, showed off its striking architecture and invited guests out to the big patio to stare at the moon and stars through telescopes while sipping wine. Wine tourism and astrological tourism combined.

A visit to Bodega Norton featured an opportunity to ride bicycles through the vineyards followed by a late lunch and then a chance to paint with wine (I saw a rabbit in the vineyard, so that was my artistic contribution). Norton’s program stresses active involvement, which is always more engaging than passive participation.

asadoThe historic buildings and ancient vines were a highlight of our asado lunch at Bodega Nieto Senetiner, where we were treated to a sensory experience organized around a Torrontes perfume and a Malbec cologne. This was interesting even though it violated the first rule of a wine tasting — don’t introduce any scents that might mask the wines’ aromas. It worked as a tourist experience, but would turn off any serious wine lover.

The Missing Link?

Sue and I enjoyed these experiences, but we noticed that something was often missing. The wineries worked very hard to show off their delightful wine tourist offerings, but they missed many opportunities to tell their stories and reinforce their brands. Perhaps this was by design because of the special character of the UNWTO audience, but it seems to me that it is always important to tell your story and build your brand.

Two of the most effective wine tourism programs we have experienced are Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley and Sandeman in Porto. The two wineries differ in almost every way but this: there is a clear story, which is told in several ways, and everyone you meet tells the same essential story, reinforcing the message.

A goal might be for each winery visitor to encounter the defining story three times in three different ways during a visit and to be able to share it with friends. You might call it the “Tommy” tactic (after the rock opera composed by The Who). See me, feel me, touch me, heal me. Stimulate all the visitors’ senses and touch them in a way they won’t soon forget.

The Next Step?

Perhaps this is the next step that Gabriel Fidel hinted at in his conference presentation, which encouraged the Mendoza wine tourist industry as well as the rest of  us to think beyond the current focus on creating experiences.  The facilities in Mendoza are world class and the experiences, including food pairing sessions, vineyard walks and rides (on both bikes and horses), and so forth are great, too.

All the pieces are here in Mendoza. Now the wineries and local wine tourism officials need to steal a tune from Tommy so that they all come together with the defining stories of the wineries and the region to create an total experience that resonates with visitors from around the world.

amdes

Four Takeaways from the Global Wine Tourism Conference in Mendoza

ucoSue and I are back from the second United Nations World Tourism Organization global wine tourism conference in Mendoza, Argentina. It was an intense and interesting few days in a welcoming and dynamic part of the wine world. Here are a few things we think we learned at the conference. More to follow.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Mendoza has come a long way as a wine tourist destination and they are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. Unlike Napa Valley, which is next door to cosmopolitan San Francisco and fast-paced Silicon Valley, Mendoza takes a bit of effort to visit, so its emergence as a tourist hub, is noteworthy. We were impressed with the renovated airport, which features more flights to more places more often and will surely help boost wine tourism in the future.

When Sue and I visited Mendoza a few years ago we noted that it wasn’t very easy for an independent traveler to visit many of the wineries and this problem has been addressed in several ways. Some wineries have opened tasting rooms in the city, effectively bringing the vineyard to the tourist. Among the other efforts is a special hop-on hop-off bus that visits select wineries. How convenient! We also saw many tour operators who put together custom tours of wineries as well as the many other visitors options in region.

Mendoza has a lot to be proud of when it comes to wine tourism, but the many Argentine officials and local dignitaries who spoke at the conference’s first session perhaps could have shown greater restraint. Bad news: the talking went on so long that lunch, which was scheduled for around 2 pm, was actually served closer to 6 pm. Good news: our lunch began with deep-fried empanadas served hot and fresh outdoors in the Bodega Norton vineyard. Incredible.lunch2

Don’t Look Back

Gabriel Fidel is a sort of Renaissance man. Scholar, business leader, public servant, politician — he wears many hats in Mendoza and he has been influential in the rise of the wine and wine tourist sectors.  His talk charted the evolution of wine tourism in this region and included a warning not to be too proud of the past, because the future holds more challenges.

Twenty years ago, Fidel explained. The challenge was to get wineries to accept visitors at all. They just get in the way! Okay, then once wineries got the messages about the importance of visitors there was a need for facilities, then services and trained staff, and then finally some attention to creating experiences beyond the typical tasting room offer. Wine tourism does not take place in a vacuum, so wineries need to match the programs in other wine regions and take into account the level of service that tourist expect in non-wine settings, too.

Now the challenge, Fidel said, is to move ahead again rather than just taking satisfaction in past achievements. Don’t look back, Satchel Paige said, something might be gaining on you. And in this competitive environment, it is gaining fast.

Wine Tourism and Sustainable Development

My contribution to the conference was a short speech on how wine tourism can be a tool for sustainable regional development. Done right, I argued, wine tourism can benefit people, planet and profit. Done wrong … well, there can be real problems. I cited specific success stories as well as critical issues, highlighting the strategies needed to anticipate and address problems.

One journalist who attended the conference wrote to me to say that she hadn’t really thought much about the impact that tourism can have on local people and the  world they live in and now she could appreciate its importance. I guess my message got through.

We visited one winery where our guide quite unintentionally revealed how wine tourism transforms local communities.  His father was in the construction business and, were it not for winery development, that’s what he would be doing, too.

But now the opportunities are in wine tourism and hospitality more than traditional occupations such as construction.  His family struggles a bit to understand the changing local labor scene (and the changing nature of work itself) and how exactly he can earn a living drinking wine, as they see it, and talking to strangers like us all day rather than working hard to make, build, or grow things.

Mendoza to Moldova

The transformative impact of wine tourism will be tested in Moldova, which was named as the host nation of the 2018 UNWTO global wine tourism conference. Moldova is probably the most wine-dependent country on the planet. Wine is the largest export category and the country is working very hard to open up markets in the west and in Asia and to reduce its long-standing dependence on the unreliable Russian market for wine sales.

Selling more wine at higher prices would be great for Moldova, but wine tourism is perhaps strategically more important because of its ability to increase rural incomes outside of wine production and sales. Wine tourism done right stimulates the hospitality industry with potential impacts on crafts and other local industries. Wine tourism has great potential to draw visitors to Moldova and stimulate rural development.

Hosting an international conference like this is a big, expensive job. Good luck to our Moldovan friends as they plan next year’s events.

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Sue took the photos above — the view from Bodega Moneviejo in the Uco valley and the delicious late-lunch empanadas at Bodega Norton.

Book Review: Cracking Croatian Wine

croatianCracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan, published by Exotic Wine Travel.

The Wine Economist and I (Mrs. Wine Economist) live in a community with a distinct Croatian history, with many Croatian-Americans residents, and a Slavonian American Benevolent Society that dates from 1901. A home nearby regularly flies a Croatian flag. Our city, Tacoma, Washington, and Hvar, Croatia, are sister cities. So Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan, seemed like a logical extension of our local culture as well as an opportunity to learn more about Croatian wine.

Horkey and Tan, the force behind Exotic Wine Travel, explore off-the-main-tourist-path wine destinations. Cracking Croatian Wine follows on the heels of Uncorking the Caucasus, Wines of Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. For both books, the authors spoke to (and tasted with) wine makers, sommeliers, and others with expertise and experience. The wines in both books are generally not available in our upper-left-hand corner of the United States, but some are available by mail. Even in our Croatian-heavy community, Croatian wines are rarely seen. (If anyone knows if they are available locally, let me know.)

uncorkThe real value is for the visitor to Croatia. Those who are visiting Croatia for beaches or historical cities and just want to enjoy a regional wine with a meal will find several options. Those who want to dive in deeply into Croatian wine will find plenty of opportunities to explore. The lists of wineries, wine bars, and wine shops offer good starting points.

Horkey and Tan write in a consumer-friendly, conversational style that is accessible to both the casual wine drinker and the aficionado. They present “wine and a story,” beginning with descriptions of the regions. Each featured wine includes helpful information about the place, the winemaker, the grape, wine-making techniques, and what they found in the glass.

I especially appreciate that they categorize wines for the connoisseur, the adventurous palate, and “fun and easy.” They also offer suggestions for those looking for budget wines.

It is clear that they immerse themselves not just in the wine culture of a place, but in the broader culture as well. Their brief discussions of Croatian history, cuisine, and geography are helpful — and necessary — for context but do not overshadow the wine-centric focus of the book.

Two aspects of the book were disappointing. The first is that the pronunciation guide does not appear until page 33; by the time you reach it, you already have encountered strings of consonants and accents. The pronunciation help along the way (the grape varieties, for example) is welcome.

Of more concern is the lack of good maps. The only map is a half- page, gray-scale map of the whole country, without showing its neighbors for context. More detailed maps of each region would be helpful to those who are not familiar with Croatia’s geography.

Belated full disclosure: my own ethnic background is half Serbian-American. I hope Horkey and Tan will produce a book on Serbian wine.

— Sue Veseth, Contributing Editor

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Reading through Croatian names reminded me of The Onion’s 1995 classic “Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia; Cities of Sjlbvdnzv, Grzny to Be First Recipients,” read here by Tom and Ray Maggliozzi.

 

Wine Book Reviews: Kiwi Revolutions and British Columbia Icons

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.51mpmoifkjl-_ac_us218_

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. 51rnkdsfagl-_ac_us218_

Canadian Icons

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.!