Wine Book Review: Getting Up to Speed on Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova

gilbyCarolyn Gilby, MW, The Wines of Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova.  (Infinite Ideas/Classic Wine Library, 2018).

Sue and I are heading off to Romania in a few days for the 2018 International Wine Contest Bucharest, which will be held in Iasi, Romania this  year.  I’ve been searching for a good book to get me up to speed.

I hit pay-dirt with Carolyn Gilby’s new survey of Bulgaria, Romania,, and Moldova. I have only read the Romanian section so far, but I am very impressed. (Gilby says that it is important to read about all three countries because their histories are quite different and inform one-another. I will catch up with Bulgaria and Moldova on the flights to Iasi.)

Gilby’s book has answered many of the questions I had about the Romanian wine industry and given me some new topics to explore while we are there. I like books that make me question and think and this volume really does the job.

Wine books about particular countries or regions often follow a fairly standard format. History, climate and terroir, grape varieties, regions, producers, wines. All these important topics are covered very well in Gilby’s book. But there’s a lot more, too.

The evolution of the Romania wine sector has been punctuated by a number of important events. Phylloxera is one that is common to many regions, of course, and it is noteworthy that many local grape varieties were replanted and therefore preserved while others were replaced with international varieties.

Wines made from international varieties are popular in Romania, while wines made from the indigenous grapes get more attention abroad, where another Sauvignon Blanc is nothing new but Feteasca Regală can be something to get excited about.

The communist era and its collapse have left Romania a real puzzle that I hope to begin to unlock during our short visit. Wine is old in Romania, for example, but the wine industry is surprisingly young, with many important projects dating from just the last 20 years.

Romania’s vineyard area is quite large, but the average plot is tiny. There are more than 800,000 winegrowers, for example, who have less than half a hectare planted to  vine on average. This is a legacy of the collective farm system, where families had tiny plots to farm for themselves. Putting together large enough vineyards for commercial farming has been a struggle, but progress is being made.

International influences extend beyond grape varieties. There are flying winemakers, of course, as there are everywhere these days, but also a good deal of investment from abroad. It is not every country that can count both the Antinori family and also Pepsi Cola as important participants in the wine sector’s development.

Romanians drink a lot of wine (in fact, they have been net importers for the last few years), but they are not always the target market for new projects because much of the domestic consumption is of home-made wine (this reminds me of Georgia). The new winery projects, with higher quality but also higher costs, have to compete with both home-made wine and cheaper imports from Spain and elsewhere.

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Hence a focus on exports to the EU and beyond, which is where we come in, I think, because my book Wine Wars analyzes the forces driving the global wine markets and some in Romania think it can be useful in thinking about strategies for their next step.  They commissioned a translation of Wine Wars titled  Războaiele Vinului  or “War of the Wine.” I’m flattered by the attention and pleased to help out.

I’ll give a talk about Romania and the wine wars  at the university in Iasi in addition to our work at the IWCB wine contest and some cellar and vineyard visits. Should be a good trip! Looking forward to meeting everyone and learning more about Romanian wine.

In the meantime, let me recommend Carolyn Gilby’s new book. The stories she tells about Romania are fascinating. She writes with style and authority.  I’m very impressed and looking forward to learning more as I read about Bulgaria and Moldova.

Wine Book Reviews: Colorful Rosé & Dynamic New Zealand

Elizabeth Gabay, Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution (Infinite Ideas/Classic Wine Library, 2018). Reviewed by Sue Veseth.

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Once upon a time, “proper” rosé was French, very pale pink, dry, served young and fresh, and not serious. Today, rosé is serious. Consumers can find rosé from all over world; from the palest pink to almost red in color; made from grape varieties that may be familiar or unfamiliar; made in a variety of styles and sweetness levels; and that range from simple to complex. How is a wine drinker supposed to navigate the world of rosé?

A good start is Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution by Elizabeth Gabay, MW. This comprehensive study of rosé will open your eyes — and your palate — to the infinite variety and pleasure of rosé. Her book covers the liberal arts of rosé: history, geography, science, political science, economics, art, and literature.

It is impossible in the wine business these days to dismiss rosé, as Gabay makes clear in the chapter of her book on the business of rosé. In the United States, rosé is the fastest growing category and is now a year-round option, not just a summer wine. And, like it or not, what happens in the U.S. wine market can affect wine production worldwide.

The issue of color permeates the book because of the traditional notion that paler is better. And, after all, the name “rosé” is all about color. Gabay’s explorations demonstrate that color does not indicate quality, but style. She goes as far to say, “I am no longer so sure that our division of wine into red, white and pink is appropriate. With some rosé wines almost red in colour and style, and others almost white, the divisions are blurred. Add in rosé made in an orange wine style, and the blurring increases. The obsession with the colour pink should perhaps start to take a back seat.”

Gabay describes her book as a journey of exploration, and she transmits this journey for both the serious wine student and the casual consumer. An early chapter on viticulture and winemaking, for example, has a lot of detail for the science-minded and is also accessible to the more casual reader. Similarly, her discussions of rosé from various parts of the world are presented in detail, with specific examples from the region. More maps would be helpful for the novice rosé drinker.

Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution is a valuable addition to the library of any wine lover who is ready for a journey of exploration.

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Rebecca Gibb,  The Wines of New Zealand (Infinite Ideas/Classic Wine Library, 2018). Reviewed by Mike Veseth.

kiwiRebecca Gibb’s The Wines of New Zealand is “designed to provide a comprehensive overview of the New Zealand wine scene,” according to its author, “a reference for locals, international visitors and students alike.” Gibb gets it right on all counts — what a great resource for anyone who wants to learn about New Zealand and its wine industry.

The book’s 300+ pages are packed full of stories, personalities, facts, and figures. The organization is conventional: history, climate and grapes first, then a survey of the regions (10 of them, which will come as a surprise to those who only know Marlborough and its Sauvignon Blanc), then a final pair of chapters on tourism and current issues.

Gibb’s mastery of this material is easy to appreciate, but it is her contagious enthusiasm that comes through most clearly. A chapter on grape varieties could easily become mundane but not here. Each grape is an excuse to talk about history, geography, vine science, and to introduce or reprise some of the noteworthy characters who shaped Kiwi wine history.

What do I like best about this book? The sense of energy and dynamism that permeates it in both style and content. The story of New Zealand wine is a story of change, starting from the early British and French pioneers through the Dalmatian gum-diggers and on to today’s multinational corporations. Gibb sees dynamism everywhere in New Zealand wine and she doesn’t think this is likely to change.

What would I change about The Wines of New Zealand?  Well, the beginning of the book, a fantastic historical overview, is so strong that it makes the end feel a bit weak. Gibb’s final chapter does a great job informing the reader about Kiwi tourism opportunities — both wine and otherwise. But it doesn’t bring the book together the way I would like.

What I’d really like to see — and maybe it will appear in the next edition? — is a chapter that draws together the many strands and looks ahead to where New Zealand wine is headed and what might stop it from getting there. That would end the book on the same dynamic note I enjoyed throughout.

It would also make it a bit less of a reference book, which is its intended function. Maybe the best solution is to DIY — read this excellent book and then make up your mind where you think New Zealand wine is headed next! Highly recommended.

Book Review: Intriguing Variations on a Wine Globalization Theme

9781107192928Wine Globalization: A New Comparative History edited by Kym Anderson and Vicente Pinilla, Cambridge University Press, 2018. (See also The World’s Wine Markets: Globalization at Work edited by Kym Anderson, Edward Elgar, 2004.)

The fact that wine is such a global business was one of factors that motivated me to study it seriously in the first place. My 2005 book Globaloney (named a Best Business Book of that year by Library Journal) included a chapter that examined the evolution of global wine markets and that got me hooked.

Globalization’s Terroir

Globaloney was a heart a series of case studies that together argued that  globalization is not an  unstoppable tsunami that sweeps away all before it, but rather a complex set of forces that play out differently in different industries. Fast food globalization, for example, is different from slow food globalization. And while high fashion and used clothing are both traded in global markets and acted upon by some of the same general forces, their specific patterns and impacts are very different.

Globalization reflects its terroir, I used to tell audiences at book talks, and the volume that Kym Anderson, Vincente Pinilla, and their talented team of authors have assembled take this idea one step further. The core of the book is a collection of historical case studies of how national wine industries have developed in both the old and new wine worlds in the context of global markets.

Two things struck me as I read the studies. First, I was excited by how detailed and interesting this research is. Fascinating. Irresistible. I couldn’t wait to turn the page to read more.

The second striking feature was how much wine globalization really does reflect its terroir. Although there are some common themes (the impact of phylloxera and the Great Depression, for example), the fact is that wine has developed and evolved in distinctly different ways in different parts of the wine world. Globalization has been an important factor in many cases, but not in the same way everywhere.

Argentina’s Unique History

Let me use the excellent chapter on Argentina by Steve Stein and Ana Maria Mateu as an example. Argentina’s wine history has been shaped by a series of strong internal and external forces. Let’s start with the grapes. Spanish missionaries from the Canary Islands brought high-yielding low-quality Criolla grapes with them and this set the tone for wine-making and drinking for much of the country’s history.

French wine authority Michel Aimé Pouget was lured away from his work in Chile to improve wine quality and he brought higher quality grapevines, including especially Malbec. Alas, the authors tell us, Malbec was frequently valued less for the quality of its wines than the fact that they were dark and strong and could therefore successfully be diluted with water without completely losing their identity as wine. Low standards like this defined the domestic market for decades.

British influence, in the form of the railroads that they financed and helped to build, had a profound impact on Argentina wine. Prior to the railroads that connected Mendoza and San Juan with bustling Buenos Aires, the domestic wine industry was quite small.

Mendoza and environs made wine for local consumption. Buenos Aires residents (more and more of them immigrants from Spain and Italy) filled their glasses with imported wine. Lower land transportation costs changed everything  when the train line was completed, expanding the internal market and fostering a wine boom.

Anticipating the impact of the railroads, Mendoza officials sent recruiters to Europe to bring back experienced Spanish and Italian wine-growers and wine-makers who expanded the industry. With phylloxera spreading at home and hard times all around, the difficult decision to uproot and replant families and businesses to immigrant-hungry Argentina was easy to  make.

Peso Problems

The list of international and global forces and effects in Argentina is a long one and I  only scratch the surface here. In recent decades, for example, the government’s strong-peso policy of the 1990s (the peso was linked to the U.S. dollar) made imports of wine-making equipment and technology artificially cheap and wineries were quickly upgraded. The collapse of this monetary system and the peso crisis that followed made the output of those wineries artificially cheap to foreign buyers, a factor in the country’s wine export boom.

Rapid domestic inflation combined with an unyielding exchange rate earlier this decade made the peso over-valued again and the wine export boom fizzled. Policies are changing now. Perhaps the export boom will return, albeit in a different form. Too soon to tell at this point.

Argentina’s wine history and its experience with international and global forces is fascinating and other chapters in the book are equally interesting. Wine’s story is a complicated one, with each nation developing and responding in a different way depending on many factors including history, culture, institutional structure, timing, and government policy.

This book is a great resource for anyone interested in understanding the wine world today and how we got here. The volume concludes with “Projecting Global Wine Markets to 2025” by Kym Anderson and his colleague Glyn Wittwer, a set of forecasts and analyses based upon their econometric model of global wine markets.

Economists Know the Price of Everything …

Wine Globalization has many strengths that recommend it to a broad readership and one obvious weakness that will discourage some who would otherwise benefit from studying it: the price. If you are not familiar with the academic book market, the price of this volume will take your breath away: $139.50 for the hardback and $124 for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

This is how books are often priced by academic publishers, who need to spread high fixed costs over small expected press runs.  If you have a son or daughter in college (or are in college yourself), you already know what textbooks cost these days. Incredible.

But all the news about price is not so discouraging. Kym Anderson and his colleagues at the Wine Economics Research Center at the University of Adelaide provide an enormous array of useful and interesting global wine market data (some of which informs the Wine Globalization volume) for the attractive price of … free. Free!  Here are some of the data sets you might want to explore. (You can find even more data here.)

Anderson, K., S. Nelgen and V. Pinilla, Database of Global Wine Markets: A Statistical Compendium, 1860 to 2016 (November 2017)

Anderson, K., S. Nelgen and V. Pinilla (with the assistance of A.J. Holmes), Annual Database of Global Wine Markets, 1835 to 2016 (November 2017)

Holmes, A.J. and K. Anderson (2017). Annual Database of National Beverage Consumption Volumes and Expenditures, 1950 to 2015 (July 2017)

Wine Globalization is a valuable contribution to our understanding of world wine markets. Highly recommended. And that’s not globaloney!

Book Review: James Conaway on the Napa Valley Wine Wars

napaJames Conaway, Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of Calamity (Simon & Schuster, March 2018).

Hegel wrote that the Owl of Minerva only takes flight at dusk, suggesting that wisdom (the owl) finally awakes when the day is nearly done and the opportunity to benefit from insight has almost passed. It is a sad thought — I hope that Hegel is wrong — but it captures pretty well the gist of this new book by James Conaway, who has been writing about the Napa Valley for many years.

Conaway’s new book presents a series of vignettes and profiles that collective capture the ongoing wine war in the Napa Valley. Conaway is not a neutral observer in this battle, so this is a tale of white hats and black hats.

The White Hats include Andy Beckstoffer, Volker Eislele, and Randy Dunn, leaders in movements to preserve Napa’s farming and environmental heritage. The Black Hats include Mike Davis, Jean Charles Boisset, and especially Kathryn and Craig Hall, who have told their side of the wine wars story in their book A Perfect Score.

Reading Conaway’s book about what’s wrong with the Napa Valley made me sad because it reminds me about something that is wrong with society today. The Napa Valley of Conaway’s book is full of people with their backs to the wall, angry, suspicious, and unwilling to bend or compromise. Reminds me of any number of issues in society today (guns and immigration, for example).

There doesn’t seem be much room for meaningful dialogue. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t even a common language, much less common values or goals. Gridlock prevails: movement is slowed or stifled, but threats remain.

Only at the very end of the book — dusk, I suppose, or last light — does Conaway give a sense that there might be some coming together, working together. Hope it is not too late. But recent news is not encouraging.

Pressures continue to grow. Last week, for example, the Napa Country Board of Supervisors voted to put an initiative on the June ballot that would shut off development in certain areas. Pro and con forces seem to be prepared for a serious fight over the future. Meanwhile an interview with James Conaway suggests that he’s given up hope. Too little, too late.

I learned a lot about the Napa Valley,  wine wars, and the White Hat and Black Hat combatants from this book, but I admit to being disappointed. Conaway takes a strong stand with his White Hat friends and his anger and outrage come through clearly. But I wonder what the conflict looks like from the perspective those who are in the middle, trying to balance interests and reconcile development and environment before the last light is gone?  That’s a book that I would like to read.

Not that there aren’t glimpses here of what a working consensus might look like. I was especially intrigued by the sixteenth chapter, which gives an account of how John Williams of Frogs Leap Winery led a successful movement to restore a stretch of the Napa River. Water, Conaway suggests, is at the root of all conflict in Napa. Rivers both divide and unite. The Williams story shows that it is at least sometimes possible to find common ground.

Building that common ground where shared values are developed and real progress can be made is important both for Napa and for society in general. Having started with Hegel’s owl, I conclude with William Butler Yeats’ falcon, from “The Second Coming.”

   Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …

Around the World in Eighty Wines Wins Gourmand International Wine Book Prize


9781442257368My new book Around the World in Eighty Wines has received the Gourmand International 2018 award for best U.S. book in the wine and spirits tourism category and will now compete for “Best in the World” with winners from other countries. The global gold, silver, and bronze medals will be announced this May at award ceremonies in Yantai, China.

The Gourmand International awards are important and I have been fortunate to be recognized in the past for best U.S. and bronze medal “world’s best” wine history book (Wine Wars, 2012), world’s best wine blog (WineEconomist.com, 2015) and world’s best wine writing (for Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated, 2016).

Here is the list of international champions in the wine and spirits tourism category:

logo_awardsAustria – Kulinarische Tourismus und Weintourismus (Springer)
Canada – Les Paradis de la Biere Blanche (Druide)
China – Compass to the ocean of wine (Zhejiang S/T) 9787534179549
France – Des Vignes et des Hommes (Feret)
Georgia – Georgia, Miquel Hudin (Vinologue)
Germany – Seewein, Wein Kultur am Bodensee (Jan Thorbeke)
Portugal – Vinhos & Petiscos (Caminho das Palavras)
Scotland – I love champagne, David Zyw (Freight Books)
Singapore – Cracking Croatian Wine, Charine Tan, Dr Matthew Horkey
Switzerland – Randos bieres en Suisse Romande, Monika Saxer (Helvetiq)
USA – Around the world in 80 wines, Mike Veseth (Rowman & Littlefield)

croatianI am especially pleased to see that Cracking Croatian Wine by Charine Tan and Dr. Matthew Horkey is also on the list. Sue and I met Charine and Matt at the 2016 UNWTO global wine tourism conference in Tbilisi, Georgia and we like and admire them a lot. Their books are valuable additions to the resources available to wine tourists in particular and wine enthusiasts generally.

I don’t know who will be named the “best in the world,”, but I appreciate this recognition. Good luck to Charine, Matt, and all the other national champions in all the categories.

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

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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.

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