Book Review: Napa at Last Light, by James Conaway

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 04-16-2018

Napa at Last Light Book CoverWith Napa at Last Light, James Conaway brings his trilogy on America’s most iconic wine region to a close. His conclusion, based on decades of experience in the region, is that Napa, like so many other once-pure places in America, has been despoiled by commercial interests, and perhaps irrevocably so.

But Conaway does more than state the obvious. He does an excellent job of exploring some of the specific instances of self-interest and political and legal maneuvering, if not outright corruption, that drove Napa to this place.

In 1968, the powers that be in Napa County voted unanimously in favor of the Napa County Agricultural Preserve, an ordinance that established agriculture as the “highest and best use” of land in Napa Valley. Conaway homes in on a “small change” to the ordinance from 2008 that “seemed innocuous but was in fact as potent as an aggressively metastasizing cancer cell.” That change was an eight-word addition (see italics) to the long-held definition of agriculture: “Agriculture is defined as the raising of crops, trees, and livestock; the production and processing of agricultural products and related marketing, sales and other accessory uses.”

This new definition said, in effect, that the activities of wine tourism were just as much a “highest and best use” of Napa land as grape growing.

Napa at Last Light looks at both sides of this battle between agriculture and commercialism, preservation and development, through the stories of individuals and families living in valley. Conaway’s account is, however, highly biased; it’s by no means objective journalism. (He actually describes it as a combination of “narrative journalism and personal reflection.”) Conaway distinctly aligns himself with the farmers and preservationists who hold to the spirit of the original ordinance and the old definition of agriculture, not the “drifting one percenters” who flock to Napa to develop the land and become “lifestyle vintners.”

I understand Conaway’s protective stance toward the place he holds dear and once labeled an American Eden, but I grew tired of his negativity. He tends to draw stark good-vs-evil contrasts, and even gets nasty with the people he dislikes, referring to a group, at one point, as “lucky spermers.” There’s no need for that.

It’s hard to keep track of all the characters in the book, but perhaps the most interesting, even admirable, and foremost among those whom Conaway glowingly profiles, is Randy Dunn, winemaker and owner of Dunn Vineyards. It was Dunn who, in 2005 and 2006, led efforts to acquire and preserve a 3,000-acre parcel of land on Howell Mountain known as Wildlake, even putting up $5 million of his own money. Conaway, who appears to be a friend of Dunn’s, admires the winemaker’s mix of sentimentality, agricultural know-how, and self-determination, and shares the story of the time he helped Dunn safeguard his property against approaching wildfires.

Conaway has a flair for the dramatic. In the wildfire story he imagines a scenario in which the fires have encircled them and he and Dunn are forced to stand in the middle of the property’s pond and listen to the fire consume all that Dunn had built.

You can tell what Conaway dislikes by what he renders absurd. Most notable are his belabored descriptions of Napa’s more opulent attractions, like the Red Room at Raymond Vineyards. But the root of his ire are the wealthy individuals, particularly from Texas (which made me laugh), who, having accumulated their fortune elsewhere, move on Napa like they would any land ripe for development and profit taking.

Conaway’s crosshairs here fall on Craig Hall, owner of HALL Wines and one time part owner of the Dallas Cowboys. Conaway laughs at the décor at Hall’s winery, calls his wine “another overripe cabernet sauvignon reaching for cult status,” and delivers a selective biography with emphasis on Hall’s shortcomings. But Hall’s principal sin is Walt Ranch, a vineyard project, potentially including some other development, which would level thousands of oak trees and steal the water supply from a community of innocent retirees.

While I take issue with Conaway’s unwillingness to take a serious look at opposing viewpoints and his tendency to disparage those he disagrees with, I ultimately come down on his side. Napa is a finite resource and there has to be a line drawn when it comes to development.

A few final comments on the structure of Napa at Last Light.

I admire Conaway’s non-linear approach, but it jumps around a bit too much. The storylines converge and diverge, characters appear and disappear, making it hard to keep everything straight—although the moments when everything clicks together are rewarding. There’s something to be said, too, for simple expression. There’s no need, in my view, for opaque sentences like this one from the first chapter: “The essence of a thing that by virtue of excellence testifies to an aspirational ethos promptly loses it by embracing brand, which is primarily the assertion that one has arrived, whether or not one really has.“

My Recommendation
Napa at Last Light is one-sided and pessimistic, but strangely, still a great read. And few books are timelier. With a major vote on what some consider the fate of Napa to occur in June (for a great overview, see Esther Mobley’s recent article), Conaway’s book is essential background reading that’ll give you at least half the argument.

Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Wines, by Mike Veseth

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 02-12-2018

book coverWhen a copy of Mike Veseth’s new book hit my doorstep, part of me was hoping for a clever retelling of Jules Verne’s classic novel. (Perhaps featuring the bawdy misadventures of a drunken-yet-loveable Phileas Grogg?) Instead, I found the book to be an interesting if selective exploration of the global wine scene, as well as—much more interestingly and of greatest value—a look ahead at how incredibly dynamic the world of wine will be ten or twenty years from now.

To be clear, Around the World in Eighty Wines isn’t a novel. But Veseth uses Verne’s tale skillfully as a framework for taking readers on a fast-paced, anecdote-filled journey to wine regions at all corners of the globe.

Here are a few of the more memorable stopping points. In Lebanon Veseth introduces us to the Saadé family, Orthodox Christians making wine in the heart of the Middle East, who count inbound rockets among their vine-tending struggles. Off the coast of North Africa we visit Lanzarote, where the winds are so strong that vines are planted in conical depressions in the island’s volcanic ash. In Kenya and Bali—well, have you ever even considered that wine is made in Kenya and Bali? Then there’s Tasmania, which Veseth calls “one of the hottest emerging wine regions on earth.”

Veseth seems to me like the guy who knows all the good bands before they get famous. In fact, you could treat Around the World in Eighty Wines as an insider’s guide to the wines you should seek out and buy now, before their extremely marketable stories hit the global audience and their availability dwindles even further.

You can trust, too, that Veseth knows what he’s talking about, as a prolific author on topics in wine and economics, editor of the blog The Wine Economist, and professor emeritus of international political economy at University of Puget Sound. And in most cases he’s actually visited the places he features in the book.

On a critical note, I think he devotes too much time to America, and the final chapters feel a bit rushed. Also, at the end he deploys a bit of deus ex machina to fill the remaining slots in his imagined 80-bottle case of wine. I would rather have seen him insert another chapter, another visit to a unique wine region, to fill that case.

To sum Around the World in Eighty Wines in one sentence: it’s a concise guidebook, as educational as it is entertaining, to some of wine’s most curious and iconic expressions.

My Recommendation
If you’re interested in expanding your horizons beyond the traditional New and Old World, Veseth will accommodate you with a glimpse at what else is out there. He’s written a wonderful preface to global wine, but you’ll need to grab another resource if you want to go deeper.

Book Review: The New Wine Rules, by Jon Bonné

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 12-01-2017

The New Wine Rules - CoverIn naming his book The New Wine Rules, Jon Bonné has essentially asserted the authority of his own line in the sand. But hey, someone has to do it. Because in a world of 24-hour opinion sharing, sometimes we need to hit the pause button, collect ourselves, and establish basic guidance for those who, amidst so much noise and so little objectivity, are just trying to enjoy a bottle of wine.

We need, in Bonné’s words, a “framework for embracing this weird, wonderful wine world that we get to live in.”

There’s something for everyone in Bonné’s book, which consists of 89 rules. But it will be especially helpful for beginner wine folks in need of a confidence boost—the two words I think best capture the sentiment of the book. From the five essential wine tools you should own, to the basics of malolactic fermentation, to starting a wine collection for under $300, you’ll get practical information, concisely presented.

Bonné has an impressive resume: senior contributing editor at Punch, author of The New California Wine, wine consultant for JetBlue Airways, and former wine editor and chief wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. But he won’t overwhelm you with knowledge. Each rule is pared down for quick consumption and broad understanding.

I particularly enjoy Bonné’s aggressive attempts to wrest wine from a past marked by pretentiousness and exclusivity—“Screw that. Fear was the guiding principle of the past. We’re officially done. Wine is too great a thing to be limited by fear”—and a present drowning in an abundance of choices—“Endless fretting takes place over this simple question: what do I drink with what I eat? … In any case, stop worrying. There is no single perfect pairing. Drink what you like. … We’ll all get out of this alive.”

The New Wine Rules is a sharp book. It’s small (roughly 5”x7”) with a stitched binding and full of crisp, colorful diagrams and pictogram-like illustrations.

My Recommendation
As Bonné says, “Certainly the world doesn’t need another ‘drink this, not that’ book.” I think he’s succeeded in giving us something else: an expert’s compilation of practical advice for the average drinker who wants to talk intelligently with friends and make semi-educated choices for Friday nights and special occasions. It’s an ideal read heading into holiday party season. On that note, I’ll leave you with Rules 81 and 82: “Don’t be the guest who brings the cheap stuff” and “Don’t assume your bottle will get opened.”

Book Review: Drink Progressively, by Hadley and TJ Douglas

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 11-13-2017

Drink Progressively CoverIt’s difficult to put a new spin on wine, but TJ and Hadley Douglas have done it with Drink Progressively, a gorgeously printed volume capturing the rhyme and reason of their award-winning wine shop, the Urban Grape, in Boston’s South End.

I met with TJ on a recent trip to Boston. Over a few glasses of Pinot, picked right off one of the store’s wall-to-wall racks, he got down to telling me about his Progressive Scale, a 0-10 ranking for white and red wines that enables average and seasoned drinkers alike to make informed buying decisions.

For whites, it starts with the 1Ws. These are oakless, steel-fermented whites with lip-smacking acidity (“lemonade,” says TJ), like Alvarinho from Portugal. It ends with the 10Ws, which see full oak and ML, like the butteriest of California Chardonnays. For reds, 1Rs have bright acidity and low tannins, like Trousseau from the Jura, and 10Rs are jammy with tons of new oak aging, like Syrah from Walla Walla.

The scale moves from light to heavy—or skim to whole milk, as TJ puts it, paying homage to Zraly’s Windows on the World, the book that launched a thousand wine careers.

It’s all meant to minimize the stress of wine selection. For those of us who hate relying on the name-tagged folks walking the aisles at Total Wine, the Urban Grape is a sanctuary. The wines are grouped by their similarities, from light to heavy, and not by region or varietal. It makes everything easy, fun, and actually encourages experimentation, which is one of TJ and Hadley’s ultimate goals.

The scale helps with food pairing too. As the subtitle (A Bold New Way to Pair Wine with Food) suggests, the book is filled with recipes. Each chapter contains a summary of a progressive category (2W, 7W, 6R, etc.), regions where the wines can be found, an example bottle, and two recipes, one from the Douglases and one from award-winning chef Gabriel Frasca. TJ and Hadley’s recipes come right from their family table, simple yet lovingly crafted amidst the hustle and bustle of raising two children. Gabriel’s, on the other hand, are fancier and require a bit more time and effort, but from the pictures they appear well worth it.

The Urban Grape is a labor of love, and that shines through in Drink Progressively. TJ and Hadley’s relationship was forged around wine—special bottles shared, tasting trips to famous regions. TJ provides the vision and content, based on his years of experience in food and wine, and Hadley brings it to life in writing. And because I’m such an appreciator of killer descriptions, I have to call out Hadley’s equating tannin to “a dragging sensation like corduroy pants on a velvet couch.” Nice!

If you’re fortunate enough to live within a reasonable distance of the Urban Grape, visit! If you’re not, Drink Progressively is the next best thing and a truly helpful guide for everyday drinking and pairing.

My Recommendation
Drink Progressively isn’t just a reshuffling of existing information, like many wine “How To” books out there. It’s unique, it’s something special, and it’s an important step, in line with so many others of late, toward making wine more accessible. If you’re interested in experimenting beyond your standard drinking wine, or concerned with learning how to match your meals with a perfect bottle, this book should be on your kitchen shelf—it’s on mine!

Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged – Grape by Grape

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 09-10-2017

gI_152111_Book e Tablet fullWhen I began studying wine as an overzealous 22-year-old, I bought a copy of “Italian Wine for Dummies.” It’s actually a good overview of Italian wines, and I sometimes reference it when I forget grape names or legal blending requirements.

But for serious students of wine, and those in the trade who work closely with Italian wines, “Italian Wine Unplugged: Grape by Grape” has everything you could possibly need.

Italian wines, grapes and laws are a labyrinth for wine-loving mortals (like myself), and this book is a master key. It’s written by Stevie Kim, director of the massive trade event Vinitaly, and a lineup of other Italian wine pros. The beta version is now available in e-book for $10, and they’ve set a December 2017 date for the launch of the paperback version.

Basically, this is an encyclopedia of Italian wine grapes (more than 430 of them), which is broken into three sections. The “Must-Know Grapes” section will challenge most serious Italian wine fans. Sure Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are in there, but don’t forget Ciliegiolo and Schioppettino. “Lesser-Known Grapes” gets even more in-depth, with grape names that could cause any Italian wine student to scratch their head — Susumaniello, Tazzelenghe, Uva Rara. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire, by Peter Hellman

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 08-14-2017

In Vino Duplicitas - Book CoverPeter Hellman’s In Vino Duplicitas is the best account to date of super-taster turned wine forger Rudy Kurniawan‘s elaborate con of the upper set. It’s also a delight to read.

Hellman, longtime contributor to Wine Spectator, has been on the journalistic front lines of the Rudy story since the beginning. He was there at the infamous Acker Merrall & Condit auction of April 25, 2008, when Burgundian winemaker Laurent Ponsot compelled the removal of several of his domaine’s wines from bidding. The consigner of the dubious Ponsots had of course been Rudy.

“Hey, Rudy, what happened with those Ponsot wines?” Hellman asked. “We try to do the right thing,” answered Rudy, “but it’s burgundy. Shit happens.”

That Hellman actually interacted with Rudy, and engaged with the story as it unfolded, adds a level of credibility to the book, and makes it all the more compelling. (Apart from the epilogue, that is, where compelling turns to creepy as Hellman talks about his visits to California’s Taft Correctional Institution and a failed attempt with a pair of binoculars to spot Rudy in the exercise yard.)

As is the privilege of text, In Vino Duplicitas is rich in detail, far more so than previous accounts of the Rudy story, most notably the 2016 documentary Sour Grapes (my review), which is still an excellent overview. Hellman’s book just goes deeper.

I was pleased to see in the book a more robust history of Rudy’s fakery, including some of his earliest cons. Between 2003 and 2005, Brian Devine, then CEO and chairman of Petco, was sold $5.3 million in wine, which later proved to be “amateurishly fabricated,” by an online seller named “Leny,” who was in fact Rudy. During this same period, a noted collector with a more trained palate discovered a “uniform oxidative quality” in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars worth of wine he’d purchased from Rudy. But in that case a refund was given, so the forging scheme remained undetected.

Hellman’s book also includes selections from Rudy’s email correspondence, the tone of which vacillates between confidence and urgency, and affability and anger. Rudy’s trial, too, gets its own chapter. Noteworthy there is a look at the strategies of both defense and prosecution.

While In Vino Duplicitas is the most comprehensive account so far written, questions still remain. Like, where did Rudy’s money really come from? Did he have accomplices, either foreign or domestic? And how many Rudy bottles are still in circulation? Despite the millions spent by Bill Koch, a serial victim of wine forgery, to unearth the truth about Rudy, the story sits irritatingly incomplete.

My Recommendation
I can’t recommend In Vino Duplicitas enough! I read this book lying oceanside on my honeymoon in Belize, so maybe I’m biased, but it’s the most captivating thing I’ve read all year. Hellman has really done his research and written something that will appeal to any and all who appreciate wine and/or enjoy tales of true crime in high society.

Book Review: Your Wine Questions Answered, by Jerry Lockspeiser

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 06-14-2017

e04ff4_bbb954651e2c4fb489743c439d31f286.jpg_srz_406_578_85_22_0.50_1.20_0The premise of Jerry Lockspeiser’s Your Wine Questions Answered is simple: 25 questions every ordinary wine drinker wants to know, answered. Although I wonder about the place of books like this in the age of Google, I found the illustrations charming and Lockspeiser’s guidance expertly distilled for the layman.

Best of all: “100% of the author’s revenue from sales of this book will be donated to The Millione Foundation,” which Lockspeiser co-founded, “to build primary schools in Sierra Leone.”

Lockspeiser has worked in wine for over thirty years and currently writes an opinion column for Harpers Wine & Spirit. So he’s more than qualified to write a guidebook. His target audience is the average wine drinker, not experts, and his aim is to offer clear and practical advice for selecting and consuming wine. “After all, it’s only a bottle of fermented grapes.”

Your Wine Questions Answered addresses many of the questions you’d expect, like “Does all wine improve with age?” and “How long will wine keep in an open bottle?” The answers are conversational and concise, keeping to just two or three pages. Lockspeiser also includes his thoughts on less-typical intro topics like the psychology of taste, varietal-specific glassware, and supermarket “own label” wines—the last of which I found very useful for my strolls down the aisle at Trader Joe’s.

I love the colors and layout of the book. Each section begins with a vibrant two-page spread, with an illustration appropriate to the section’s particular question. Honestly, without the artistic flair of Lotte Beatrix, this book loses a lot of its appeal. I can best describe her style as palatably grotesque. (That’s a compliment!) What the book also has going for it is its shortness—I finished it in just two short sittings. The average wine drinker will not be interested in going deep, so Lockspeiser is wise to hang his hat on brevity.

My Recommendation
The cynic in me thinks I can find all of this information online. On the other hand, while we may not need more of these types of “just the basics” books, we certainly need more projects like this that endeavor to combine individual passion (in this case, the author’s passion for wine) with improving people’s lives. Your Wine Questions Answered is a great gift for anyone new to wine, especially if they’re charitably inclined.

Wine Book Reviews: Cork Dork

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 03-28-2017

1489172544550Calling all gonzo wine geeks, aspiring somms, restaurant lifers, science nerds and culture critics. There is something in Bianca Bosker’s book “Cork Dork” for all of you. The book goes on sale today from Penguin Books Original.

The run-on title (“A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste”) aside, this book is as fresh and fun as a Wachau Riesling. Bosker’s book is packed with helpful information, wrapped in honest inquiry, and slathered with humor and wit. “Less a journey from grape to glass… this is an adventure from glass to gullet,” she writes. And, sure enough, there is a whole lot of cork-popping, glass-draining hedonism recollected in 300-something pages. But there’s also plenty of information that should be useful for both wine novices and other “cork dorks.”

Many readers may have seen the movie “Somm,” and its sequel, which chronicle several sommeliers studying for the Master Sommelier exam. While I liked “Somm,” I feel Bosker’s book may provide an easier hook for casual wine fans who want to know about the fast-paced, bottle-clinking life of America’s wine stewards. Bosker’s book jumps into some of the same waters (the pre-blind taste test jitters, cramming for the written test with appellation flash cards, stressing out of the service exam), but she tells the story from the perspective of an outsider, a neophyte, a “civilian.” Combined with her punchy, intelligent prose, this outsider perspective on the hardcore New York wine subculture makes it accessible.

Having spent much of her journalism career focused on technology, Bosker strives to break complex subjects down into digestible parts. Where there is myth, she wants to find demonstration. Where there are powerful personalities making wide-sweeping claims (there might be a few of those in the wine world), she wants to find out if those claims hold up to scrutiny.

But Bosker does more than rehash stories about the intensity of wine study programs and the difficulty of big blind tastings. She spends time with flavor scientists and neuroscientists to try to figure out whether wine expertise is a definitive, demonstrable thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Wines of the Finger Lakes, by Peter Burford

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 02-16-2017

WOTFL Book CoverPeter Burford’s Wines of the Finger Lakes is a straightforward guide to New York’s most famous wine region and frankly the only one you need.

Burford—no “expert,” but whose credentials as a resident of Ithaca and genuine appreciator of the region prove more than adequate—organizes his work logically. He begins with some Finger Lakes history, then proceeds to the region’s grape varieties and winemaking processes, and ends with an extremely useful catalogue of key producers. Each section is well researched and limited to the essentials.

Having minimal historical knowledge of the region beyond the name Dr. Konstantin Frank, I found the first section helpful. Burford takes it all the way back to Reverend William Bostwick, who made sacramental wine from labruscas on Keuka Lake in the 1820s. Also featured are the stories of winemaking pioneers like Charles Fournier, Dr. Frank, Walter Taylor, and Hermann J. Wiemer. The Farm Winery Act of 1976 figures prominently, too, having been the kindling for so many winemaking ventures in upper New York.

Part two of Wines of the Finger Lakes is a rundown of prominent vinifera and hybrid grapes in the region. The major players you’d expect are there—Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir, Riesling—but so are rarities like Rkatsiteli, Saperavi, Rougeon, Aurore, Marechal Foch, and Elvira. Novelty and pure variety are clearly reasons enough to visit the Finger Lakes.

For my money, the book’s final section, which covers key wineries, is its greatest asset, and why it’s worth consulting.

Burford prefaces the section, which is organized by the three major lakes, Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka, with an explanation: “The wineries profiled . . . are a subjective list of those that the reasonably serious wine enthusiast will want to learn about and explore.” I appreciate that Burford is keen to give readers a highlight reel and save them the trouble of wasted tasting fees.

The winery profiles are concise, at only a few paragraphs, yet comprehensive. For each, Burford covers history, land and winemaker information, and a lineup of offerings. He gives you everything you need to know about a winery to decide whether or not you’ll taste there.

There’s not much to criticize about Wines of the Finger Lakes. It’s a pretty basic guide, written in plain English. I do however take issue with Burford’s repeated praise for the wines at Lamoreaux Landing, which on my recent visit I found far from spectacular.

The best recommendation I can give the book is that it has inspired me to start planning another trip to the Finger Lakes, because evidently, on my first go round, I missed so many gems—like the single vineyard Pinots and Rieslings at Bellwether, the award winning sparkling wines at Atwater Estate, or the red-only endeavors of Shalestone.

My Recommendation
Wines of the Finger Lakes is “well worth” your time (you’ll get that joke after you read it) and almost a requirement if you’re visiting the region. Make the most of your trip, as I didn’t, by consulting Burford’s quick and easy guide.

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.