Book Review: “The Treasury of American Wines” by Nathan Chroman, 1976


Dust jacket for “The Treasury of American Wines” by Nathan Chroman, 1976. Please click to enlarge the photo to full resolution.

I’m a geek when it comes to food history, but I’m especially nerdy about California’s wine history. Old wine books are often fascinating to me because they’re like time capsules, snapshots from a bygone era. The California wine industry has evolved so dramatically over the last four decades, it’s interesting to be reminded of past trends and early beginnings.

To place “The Treasury of American Wines” into historical context,  this book was published in the summer of 1976, perhaps just weeks before California’s triumph at the now-famous Judgment of Paris. I thought it was prescient (and perhaps just coincidental) that the very wine that won the Chardonnay category in Paris — the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay — is actually pictured on the dust [… read more …]

Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena


The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A […

Book Review: “Riesling Renaissance” by Freddy Price

“Coffee’s for closers only.” Anyone who has seen 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” might recall this line from the film’s first act, when Alec Baldwin delivers one of my all-time favorite movie monologues. The scene marks Baldwin’s only appearance in the film — a scant seven minutes — but his abusive tirade establishes the movie’s tone, and it sets up the second act perfectly. In “Glengarry,” Baldwin plays the character of Blake, an über-alpha real estate salesman, and a role that was written specifically for Baldwin by playwright David Mamet (as great as it is, Baldwin’s “Glengarry” monologue was not part of Mamet’s original 1983 stage play). During his brilliant rant, Baldwin espouses the acronym “ABC” — short for “Always be closing” — a hard-boiled sales mantra that he imparts to an ensemble of A-listers, including Jack Lemon, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin (with Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey rounding [… read more …]

“Wines & Vines of California” by Frona Eunice Wait: Out of Print

The Bourn and Wise Cellar. Later to become Christian Brothers Winery (1950), and eventually, CIA Greystone (1995).

Originally published as a large pamphlet in 1889, “Wines & Vines of California” offers a decent trip back in time for the California wine geek (although I do stress the word “geek”). I will admit, I found certain parts of the text interesting, but it’s definitely not the type of book that’s geared toward cover-to-cover reading: For one thing, large sections of the text are dedicated to exhaustive lists of grape growers, scores upon scores of names that have very little meaning today, save for just a few. Other sections of “Wines & Vines” address Prohibition, a moot argument if there ever was one (my real criticism is that author Frona Eunice Wait spouts the same points as the other Wets of the day, rendering her “Temperance” chapter a [… read more …]

Book Review: “When the Rivers Ran Red” by Vivienne Sosnowski

As an American and an avid wine enthusiast, the Prohibition Era will always fascinate me: I find it incredible, for one thing, that the Temperance movement could gather enough momentum to actually change the U.S. Constitution. Beyond that, I’m also amazed that Prohibition lasted nearly 14 years, and furthermore, I’m amazed that the Noble Experiment occurred within the last century. As someone who was born in the 1970s, it’s odd to consider that I only missed the Prohibition Era by about 50 years, or slightly less than two generations. As I’ve grown older, Prohibition somehow seems much less “distant” to me than it used to be. After all, if Prohibition still retains some living witnesses, then it really couldn’t have happened that long ago, right?

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In Vivienne Sosnowski’s 2009 book, “When the Rivers Ran Red,” the Prohibition Era is examined through the lens of [… read more …]

Book Review: “The Winemaker’s Dance” by Jonathan Swinchatt and David Howell


Having read and reviewed dozens of wine books since launching this blog back in 2008, I’ve become pretty up-to-date with most of the material available. As I’ve found, wine can be an endlessly scientific subject, yet at the same time, it can also become endlessly philosophical. With wine, there’s much to discuss, and as the world of wine continues to expand, the literature dedicated to this subject is bound to increase accordingly. For the true wine nerd, I’ve been mulling over my list of the “top 10″ most indispensable wine books, which I will divulge near the end of the year. Rest assured, “The Winemaker’s Dance” by Jonathan Swinchatt and David Howell will definitely occupy a spot on this list.

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As someone who blogs extensively throughout the Napa Valley, picturesque vineyards are part of my daily commute. Having seen so [… read more …]

Book Review: "Vino Italiano" by Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch

Studying for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam has required me to dust off a few of my old favorites, though unfortunately, I’m talking more about books than bottles these days. Certainly, the one book that really helps to jog my memory about Italian wine is 2005’s “Vino Italiano,” which was authored by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. Folks who are Food Network junkies may have already seen Bastianich on his mother’s cooking series, “Lydia’s Italian Kitchen” (Bastianich usually appears at the very end of the program, just in time to taste the food and recommend a wine — not a bad gig). Film buffs, on the other hand, may recognize David Lynch as the auteur filmmaker behind 1986’s “Blue Velvet” and 1976’s “Eraserhead,” though in this case, the Hollywood writer-director is not the same person as the wine author (but really, with Jay McInerney now writing wine for [… read more …]

Book Review: “A Hedonist in the Cellar” by Jay McInerney

I once had an English professor at UCLA who claimed that the purpose of being an English major was to learn how to write essays about books that you’ve never read. This comment was as cynical as it was correct: I winged way too many midterms on a plot summary and a prayer. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Frankly, I was far more interested in devoting my time to the student newspaper, writing stories for a sports section that always garnered top national awards (I was surrounded by super-talented folks, and will only take a minimal share in this credit). I suppose my priorities could have been more academically-oriented, but seeing my byline in print just felt inherently more rewarding than reading the classics. Plus, I never really wanted to memorize Shakespeare, and I still don’t.

Over the last couple years, I’ve done a fair amount of [… read more …]

Book Review: “The Botanist and the Vintner” by Christy Campbell


From time to time, I’ve mentioned a few of the “secret handshakes” that can easily distinguish the wine aficionado from the casual drinker. The term “phylloxera” definitely belongs in this category, since few people would ever encounter this word without reading about the history of wine. On the other hand, phylloxera has had such a profound impact on the modern wine industry that it has also become one of the first terms that people learn when they decide to look beyond the bottle and into a book. In author Christy Campbell’s 2004 text “The Botanist and the Vintner,” the almighty phylloxera (a vine-ravishing aphid, for those not in the know) enjoys the full spotlight.

Frankly, this book is geared towards the nerdiest of the wine nerds, and even then, I somehow hesitate to recommend it. But before I condemn this book completely, I should point out that it was [… read more …]

Tasting Notes, 2009: Grgich Hills, Heitz Cellars, Duckhorn Vineyards


I realize that Memorial Day is all about remembering those who served our country, but since I also had the day to go wine tasting, I decided it would be somewhat appropriate to visit a few of the pioneering wineries here in the Napa Valley, in order to sample the current releases from such stalwarts as Grgich Hills, Heitz Cellars and Duckhorn Wine Company (I had Chateau Montelena on my itinerary as well, but they were closed for the holiday).

Since I have lived here in the Napa Valley, I have visited each of these three wineries countless times (not counting the year when I actually worked over at Grgich Hills). As far as I’m concerned, all three of these wineries are good, and for anyone who doesn’t have any specific wine-tasting agenda plotted out (like me, on Memorial Day), then these places are some of the best wineries [… read more …]