Part 7 of the “12 Days of Wine Christmas”: Book Review/Recommendation: The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine and Wineries
As someone deeply immersed in Wine Country, I am a big fan and reader of books on Wine History, Viticulture, and all things wine. I have been meaning to do book reviews for some time, so I was pleased to receive a Media sample Charles E. Olken’s successor to his best-selling guide to California wine.
I have found a lack of true insider wine region guides for the more experienced wine aficionado. As of 2009, California had amost three thousand wineries. Indeed, within a 30 mile radius of where I live in Russian River, there are almost two hundred in the three closest AVAs. No matter how much you travel, taste, explore, there is always unexplored territory.
I try to venture to Paso Robles regularly these days, and am eager to re-explore the Santa Ynez region, and am also wanting to delve more into Lodi and Livermore, and in a few weeks making my first sojourn to the Sierra’s so this book presented a real world case to explore for usefulness, thus I was excited to take the time to review and use it.
A Great California Wine Primer
Before getting into specifics on each wine region and winery, the first 6o pages are a very informative background on California Wine, with excellent reading on History, Wine Making, and a commentary and background of the many wine varietals in California. I read a lot of wine books, and still gleaned a lot new tidbits.
A table of acres planted by varietal, from 1970 to 2010 was especially fascinating, and enlightening. (I had no idea Carignane, a great Rhone varietal being rediscovered, had 27,000 acres planted in 1970, and is now down to 3600 acres.)
The last 30 pages also has excellent reference material: suggested reading, suggested wine blogs (I didn’t make the list, maybe next edition) and an excellent section on the ‘Language of Wine.’
Getting to The Meat
The majority of the book is devoted to wine regions, maps, and descriptions of wineries. I find many winery guides to be poor in this area, and no more useful than if I just went to the website for that AVA (wine region.)
The summaries of each region are excellent, and the short paragraph on each winery is customized and personal, not regurgitated from a brochure. It does a good job covering wineries of all shapes and sizes. It is not 100% complete, as no guide likely ever will be. Many of the small cult wineries are covered, although a few like Wind Gap were missing. I found descriptions and tips to be quite accurate.
It’s still worthwhile looking up website information for a complete list of varietals. Quivira Vineyards for example, is lauded for their Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, but no mention of their Rhone varietals program, (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and a GSM) which is the main reason I personally frequent them. I do like the personal mention and customized highlights of each winery, rather than the usual generic rattling off of what they make.
But Wait, There’s More: Online Support & Updates
Monthly updates to the book are provided via registration. Subscribers are emailed when an update is posted. Embracing social media, the website also publishes a daily blog, with a recurring theme each week. (Monday is ‘Monday Manifestos’, Rants and Opinions, Friday is ‘Friday Getaway Day, Wine Country Destinations, etc etc)
The book is published by the University of California Press. It’s also available on Amazon.com, as well as local booksellers.
An enjoyable read and invaluable resource for any wine lover, of any experience level.
Highly Recommend – cheers!