The year of the sheep is turning out to be the year of the woman wine writer. Yes, many books have been published prior to 2015 by talented females. For decades, in fact. But a recent spate of tomes illustrates how the ladies aren’t just catching up to their male counterparts, they are setting sea change momentum to outpace them.
Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass (Provisions Press)
Two weeks ago, Forbes.com contributor Cathy Huyghe toured New York wine shops and bookstores and met with the local chapter of the #WineLover group for the launch of her first full-length literary effort, Hungry for Wine. I confess to a slight bias toward her work; we first met on a week-long excursion through Turkish wine country exactly a year ago. I knew she planned to capture in her book an especially poignant exchange with a winery owner near the tip of Gallipoli, so I was anxious to read her illustration of that moment.
Wine books often take an educational tone primarily useful for the student or serious oenophile, making for dull reading. Wine is a pleasure studied by the senses; how could words compete? Yet Huyghe makes reading about the fermented drink rewarding. Her memoir/travelogue reveals twelve stories about twelve wines, and the people and places that produced them, to deliver heartfelt and humbling allegories for our lives.
From Chapter 1: How to Live Your Wine Life With No Regrets, the author urges us to reexamine how we live — do we oscillate between regretting the past and pinning redemption on the future? Huyghe describes an elderly man’s cellar. He filled it long ago with fine wine, kept under lock and key, while he awaited a special occasion. Sadly, no visit from a friend, nor celebration, ever met his standard of worthiness, and eventually, every wine expired past its prime. Life shouldn’t be left for enjoying later, a time that may never come, she reminds us.
In Chapter 8: How to Make Wine When Your Country Is at War, a Syrian winery continues with the business of grape growing and winemaking despite the civil conflict at its door. Huyghe explains how the war has complicated the simplest matters of production. For example, grapes must be sent over the Lebanese border on ice via taxi for testing and sampling. Yet the owners of Chateau Bargylus persist. They entrust day-to-day operations to trained locals, paying them above-market salaries to keep them there, hoping “to create a sense of cohesion and purpose.” People facing intractable hardships still go on with the business of living; war doesn’t define them; our difficulties don’t define us.
North of the Syrian border lies Turkey, another country undergoing a political battle, though of a different sort. Turkey has a nascent wine culture that draws from its ancient viticultural past. New wineries have sprung up to embrace indigenous grapes and create a compelling, modern wine industry. But the pro-Muslim, anti-alcohol government has banned alcohol marketing, which Huyghe’s seventh chapter, How to Market Wine When It’s Forbidden to Market Wine, addresses. In it, she touches on the themes of perseverance and defiance, raised by the founder and owner of Suvla Wines in Gallipoli. I’ll defer to the reader to judge the point of the story.
Despite the weight of several of her topics, the paperback is a fairly quick and easy read. Both neophytes and experts can derive value from it, whether by introduction to a new wine region or by inspiration to create a “special” occasion on a Tuesday night to open that long-awaited wine.
Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking (Rizzoli Ex Libris)
Earlier in the year, Lettie Teague, longtime wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal, published a collection of essays called Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking. Although her assemblage of thoughts on a range of topics, from wedding wine to New Zealand’s screw cap contribution, reads like sketches logged over years in a frayed notebook, they’ve been compiled into a butter-yellow, textured hardback (jacketless, thankfully) intended to endure.
The entries are organized into three parts: Fun to Know, Need to Know, and Who Knows. Since these categories reveal little about their content, the book is best sampled by whimsically flipping it open with a “feeling lucky” attitude, landing on a random page. Readers who seek more structure might find this frustrating.
By conventional standards, her essays aren’t necessarily useful; some, like the entry on wine and food pairing or another on grocery store wine, merely stimulate the reader to think about the topic independently, choosing whether or not to use the tools of her annotation. The thing about wine — the thing Teague gets — is that there isn’t always one “answer.” It’s not a mathematical problem to be solved. While she doesn’t hesitate to share her opinion (she really doesn’t like pinotage), she doesn’t force it on readers as the sole possible conclusion, like many bombastic (often male) wine industry vets.
So how should the reader enjoy her compendium of tidbits? Comparing the book to the drink itself, she suggests her essays be digested in sips, making Wine in Words the perfect bedside dresser companion to color one’s dreams with wine.
Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island (Cider Mill Press)
One of Long Island wine’s most vocal champions, Eileen M. Duffy, editor of Edible East End and Edible Long Island, has bestowed the region with a detailed depiction of its rise from the first optimistic plantings in the Seventies to the world-class region it has become, in her spring publication Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island.
Rather than give a textbook chronicling of the region’s evolution, however, her sharp prose brings to life the complexities of this singular place through the stories of a dozen local players and their wines. Duffy tapped community relationships, fostered for over a decade, to score revealing interviews with growers and winemakers. She has broken the book into four parts: The Pioneers, The Craftsmen, A Vision of a Sustainable Island, and The Future of Long Island Wine, each section highlighting contributors to the overarching concept.
Duffy opens with Louisa Hargrave under The Pioneers. Hargrave, the original architect of the North Fork wine industry, converted the first potato field to Vitis vinifera in 1973. Her vineyards are long sold, but Hargrave had an indispensable hand in shaping the region, as do younger entrants like Kelly Urbanik Koch, a Napa-bred winemaker working with the organically- and biodynamically inclined Macari Vineyards. At just over forty, East End wine is still fairly young — but catching up to the world fast. Lovers of Long Island cab franc, or tales of American ingenuity, should read this book before Duffy is compelled to pen the update.
Madeline Puckett, founder of website Wine Folly, known for pairing digestible distillations of complex wine topics with colorful infographics, has just released her first book with partner Justin Hammack: Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.
Finally, students of the ferment should update their libraries with two more contributions to the reference book genre: the revised edition of Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine and Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible.