“Real Wine” by Patrick Matthews

realwine“Real Wine” by Patrick Matthews details how various winemakers have returned (or held steadfast) to traditional approaches in an era when many corporate interests have driven down the bottom line with pesticides, chemical additives and increased mechanization. Matthews analyzes the steps to natural winemaking in nine chronological chapters, beginning with site selection, touching upon subsequent topics such as growing the grapes and maturing the wine, and ending with a chapter on turning a profit.

For the most part, “Real Wine” focuses heavily on California vintners, such as Ridge’s Paul Draper and Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, but also acknowledges a handful of French winemakers, including two heavyweights from the Vosne-Romanee region, Aubert de Villaine and Henri Jayer. In touching upon the various stages in the vinification process, Matthews helps flesh out many current topics, such as the difference between a vineyard that is merely organic and one that is Biodynamic, the spiraling evolution of winemaking machinery, and the differing approaches to using yeasts and sulphur.

One of the more interesting aspects of “Real Wine” is that the heroes and villains of the wine world are not always whom one might expect. Matthews leaves the reader with the impression that UC Davis, commonly known to boast the top oenology program in the United States, produces winemakers who may rely too much on science and not enough on art. Conversely, Matthews lauds the efforts of Fetzer Vineyards, one of the leading “supermarket” wine labels, for the company’s commitment to organic farming.

“Real Wine” appeals more to the wine buff than the wine novice, however, and for that reason, it should not top the reading list of anyone who wishes simply to gain broad, practical knowledge about wine. For better or worse, Matthews focuses on the details here, giving “Real Wine” a textbook-like quality that would be lost upon most readers.

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