Book Review: Slave to the Vine: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand, by Darren Delmore

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 01-03-2017

Book-CoverTo judge a book by its cover, Darren Delmore’s Slave to the Vine is yet another tale of wine, drugs, and sex.

That was my impression, even once I started reading.

But at some point in the book’s 196 pages Delmore’s direct, flowerless prose won me. I began to look forward to my daily read and marveled at the ease with which I could escape into his Sonoman world.

Slave to the Vine is a work of nonfiction, with Delmore as first person narrator and protagonist. It chronicles, in truth and self-deprecation, his experience working the harvest at Hirsch Vineyards on the extreme Sonoma coast. Supporting Delmore is a dynamic cast featuring David Hirsch, the Zen-like proprietor, Mick, the irascible winemaker, Barbara, the kind-hearted coworker, and a lineup of Delmore’s various friends and ladies.

The book’s success rests squarely on Delmore and his ability to carry the story forward. Likeable, with enough shortcomings to be believable, his shoulders prove broad enough. As Delmore tells it, he married young, got separated, and dove into winemaking. He surfs, plays a mean guitar, smokes weed, drinks good labels as often as he can, and tries his best to work hard and endear himself to the crew at Hirsch.

Delmore’s vices are relatively mild, but I’ll admit I was repeatedly confronted with the urge to get judgmental. His relationships with women, however mutually cavalier, and episodes of stoned driving were frustrating. But then I realized that my visceral reaction as a reader is actually to Delmore’s credit as a writer. He got me invested in the story and its characters—enough to care. I grew to respect his raw candor, like when he confesses to accidentally slicing into his scrotum with buzzing clippers. Damn!

Slave to the Vine is a relatively even tale, with few peaks and valleys. The stakes never get as high as Delmore does when he hotboxes the Hirsch’s guesthouse. But that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book’s many characters, or from simply going along with Delmore on his journey to find meaning and purpose—or at least his next gig.

In the vein of works like Eric Arnold’s First Big Crush, Delmore’s Slave to the Vine is a look at winemaking in all its gritty glory—another dent in the romantic façade.

My Recommendation
Slave to the Vine reads like fiction. It draws you in. I’d recommend it to anyone who prefers Sonoma to Napa, has read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, or needs a primer on how wine is really made.

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