New Book of Essays Illuminates the Past, Present and Future of California Wine

The Académie du Vin Library has become the publisher to watch for wine books. The imprint, founded by Steven Spurrier and Simon McMurtrie, and directed by Hermione Ireland, emerged in 2019 to publish and reprint “wine writing at its finest” — books like those that taught Spurrier about wine, “books about places and people…the history and stories about a wine that bring it to life and make it worth talking about.” In only three years, and despite the pandemic, the press has reproduced four classics, including a commemorative edition of Michael Broadbent’s eternally relevant “Wine Tasting,” and nine original books. Its newest release is On California: From Napa to Nebbiolo…Wine Tales from the Golden State, a collection of essays, edited by Susan Keevil, about the major players and formative events in the history of winegrowing in this state.

The UC Davis Library shares this commitment to celebrating the contributions of leading wine writers. In fact, our collections include the archives of many of the writers and winemakers who contributed to On California or are represented in its pages: wine writers Bob Thompson and Hugh Johnson; Steven Spurrier, the lead architect of the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting; and vintner Warren Winiarski, whose Cabernet Sauvignon scored highest among the red wines in that tasting. As the UC Davis Library’s Warren Winiarski Fellow, responsible for developing and managing the Wine Writers Collection, I’ve had the great fortune to learn about the history of California’s wine industry through both their published works and their personal papers.

On California channels these voices through a series of beautifully written, informative and insightful essays. The book opens with Hugh Johnson’s very funny portrait of Agoston Haraszthy, often touted as the father of California wine. Kelli White writes about the “Brains, Boffins, Whizz-kids and Scholars” — the academic influencers at UC Davis, which Harry Waugh calls in his essay the “fairy godmother of all California wine growers.” Elaine Chukan Brown addresses the perils of global warming and wildfires, and Clare Tooley MW writes about a threat potentially “greater than flames” — marijuana. 

I also appreciated the accounts from wine writers who, in service to their craft, worked harvest jobs as fieldhands or “cellar rats.” And then there are the essays, such as Bob Thompson’s “California and the Critics” and Warren Winiarski’s “Good Words Make Better Wines,” that articulate some of the guiding principles behind the existence of the Wine Writers Collection at UC Davis. Writes Winiarski:

You assign points for the colour, points for the aroma. But how do you score the other numerous impressions registered in your mind?

Imagine the difficulty you would have as a winemaker if there were no way to describe or quantify the colours and aromas of a wine; imagine how limited your description would be. It is an easy step from there to grasp the limitations of winemaking for achieving the other characteristics if there is no language to describe them. Words matter.

**

More information about the book, including purchasing information, can be found on the publisher’s website.