Disappointing book on American wine
It looked like a great concept whose time had come, as interest in American wines is on the rise. Despite angry opposition from distributors, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling on wine shipping holds potential to open new markets for small wineries in "non-traditional" wine-producing states (i.e., everything east of California, Oregon and Washington).
Moreover, wine production east of the Rockies is enjoying a significant, if little-publicized, boom. The number of U.S. commercial wineries has expanded sevenfold in the past 30 years, from fewer than 600 bonded wineries in 1975 to more than 4,000 today. And for the first time in history, there are now commercial wineries in all 50 states. California still makes 90 percent of the nation's wine, and New York, Washington and Oregon make much of the rest, but even in the non-traditional states, the chances are good that there's a winery not far from you.
Sadly, however, this is not one really good guide. Quick, casual and lightweight, it appears to have been rushed out with minimal effort and limited research.
A slender cardboard-bound volume sized to fit a (largish) pocket, it begins with a brief outline of wine tasting and short history of American wine, neither going into more depth than a magazine article. The "meat" of the book, a state-by-state listing of each state's winery situation, is disappointingly brief, generic and carelessly researched. Most states are disposed of in a single page, with ample white space and colorful wine-label images. Contents are generally limited to a state wine website (most of them pointing back to the useful but generic AmericanWineries.org), the number of wineries in the state, each state's oldest winery, largest winery and two or three "well-known wineries," a listing and tiny map of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), if any, the number of acres under vine, and a short list of "top grapes."
There's no complete listing of wineries and no contact or location information for those shown; no wine-tasting reports or any consumer advice at all. And frankly, a quick read revealed an abundance of errors. Kentucky's first vineyard is shown as Lover's Leap in Lawrenceburg, founded in 2000, which seems odd considering that I visited, and wrote about, Broad Run Vineyards in 1998, at which time it was selling 1993 and 1995 vintage wines. It's still extant. Indiana's "well-known wineries" omits Huber Orchard & Winery in Starlight, one of the state's oldest and largest.
Kevin, I'm disappointed in you. This book could have been so much, but in fact it's so little. It reminds me of nothing so much as a student's term paper based on a quick read of Cliff's Notes plot summaries.
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Speaking of American wines
Just one more reminder that I'm shuffling off to Buffalo (well, Niagara Falls) this weekend for our online forum's "NiagaraCool" gathering, where a crowd of regional wine enthusiasts will tour wineries in the Chatauqua and Lake Erie wine regions on Saturday and then opening quite a few bottles from the Eastern U.S. and Canada at a picnic on Sunday. This is not a profit-making venture, although a modest contribution is requested to help cover costs of the picnic. If you're in or around Buffalo, Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake and environs and would like to join us, send me E-mail or see the following discussions in our WineLovers Discussion Group forum:
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Wednesday, June 7, 2006