Book Review: “A Very Good Year” by Mike Weiss

a-very-good-year-journey-california-wine-from-mike-weiss-hardcover-cover-art“A Very Good Year” chronicles the making of Ferrari-Carano’s 2002 Fume Blanc, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the processes and the personalities involved in ushering a product from the vineyard to the market. Author Mike Weiss, who originally penned a portion of the book as a recurring feature in the San Francisco Chronicle, does a commendable job explaining the nuts and bolts of winemaking, while also portraying a handful of the personalities at work.

Weiss selected Ferrari-Carano as the subject for his book because the label represents an average among California wineries: its production is far too large to be considered a boutique, yet its production is also too small to be considered a corporate giant. Beginning with the early growing season in November 2001, Weiss devotes his attention to the three key players at Ferrari-Carano: the vineyard manager, the winemaker and, of
course, Don Carano, the winery’s owner.

As the personalities and egos emerge over the course of the year, a compelling novel takes shape. Winemaking, after all, entails a constant battle against outside forces, beginning with the weather in the earliest stages and ending with the critics in the final stages. “A Very Good Year” also touches upon a subject that is rarely addressed in wine writing — that of the migrant farm workers. Weiss travels to Mexico to visit the winter homes of a handful of these workers, telling their stories and shedding light upon an oft-overlooked segment of the winemaking community. These passages provide a powerful contrast to the California opulence that Weiss describes in other parts of his book, helping to tell the complete story of Ferrari-Carano.

“A Very Good Year” is a valuable book for anyone who has ever wondered how a bottle of wine comes into existence, and it answers questions that many people may have never considered asking. It also reinforces many ideas about wine’s new place in American society. While many people rely upon the opinions of critics to feel good about the wine they drink, it turns out that winemakers also rely upon critics to feel good (or not so good) about the wine they have made.

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