The Most Important Wine Book in Years
The list price of Jancis Robinson’s new “Wine Grapes” is $175.
Since working in the wine business beginning in 1990, only one book has been released in those 20+ years that I consider essential, something that must be in your collection simply because without it you risk being uninformed, unenlightened and possibly without inspiration when you need it. That book is the Oxford Companion to Wine, published first in 1994. Jancis Robinson edited that book. Today I can add a second book to the list of “Essentials” and again it comes from Jancis Robinson and her writing team of Julia Harding and Jose Voullamoz: Wine Grapes.
First, let’s describe what one finds when opening Wine Grapes. The compendium of descriptions of wine grapes from around the world provides entries for more than 1,400 grapes. Each entry includes
-Synonyms for the grape used around the world (grapes often go by multiple names)
-Varieties often mistaken for the grape in question
-The origin and parentage of the grape (grapes are often crosses between two other grapes, they originate in specific regions of the world, and the identification of these things are often a compelling story)
-Viticultural Characteristics: (when the does the grape ripen, how vigorous is it, what soils does it prefer, is it susceptible to rot, etc, etc, etc.)
This is but the tip of the grape bunch. There is a great deal more including diagrams of the parentage for major grapes, stunning illustrations of important grape varieties, introductory essays that report on the state of the state of wine grape science and historical perspectives on wine grapes, a glossary of important grape-related terms, a bibliography of stunning inclusiveness and an index that make the 1,242 page book accessible.
It doesn’t take long upon looking through Wine Grapes to realize you have new reference standard for the subject of grape varieties. It’s not merely the huge number of grapes varieties that are profiled in the book, but also the comprehensive nature of the information within each entry. Ms. Robinson, in her introduction appears to appreciate the importance of her and her team’s effort by noting that Wine Grapes will be an important resource for growers and “will fill a gap in the current literature available to wine lovers.” This is an understatement.
If I sound thrilled about Wine Grapes, then you’ve correctly interpreted my mood. I am presented with a tome that will garner my attention for the rest of my life, make me smarter and give me pause to reconsider every time I imagine I might have done something of significance.
The audience for Wine Grapes is hard to calculate. On the one hand, relatively few folks actually have the kind of interest in wine, and particularly wine grapes, enough so they would consider buying even a lesser book on the subject. On the other hand, it seems to me that anyone who makes a career in the wine business (growers, winemakers, educators, salespeople, marketers, hospitality professionals, writers, retailers, etc.) really must have this book in order to amend their professional education properly. Additionally, any serious wine drinker and collector who considers a full education in the object of their devotion also must commit to having Wine Grapes in their collection. I don’t know how many people this amounts to. But it seems far large enough to justify HarperCollins’ commitment to the project that resulted in the book.
Finally, it’s important to discuss in connection with this book the issue of Jancis Robinson, the leader of the three person team that created Wine Grapes. With the publication of this book, it’s not fair to argue anymore who is the most significant and important wine writer in the world. When you combine this work with the Oxford Companion to Wine and consider the slew of consumer education projects and publishing projects Ms. Robinson has been at the head of, it’s a struggle to define the totality of her contribution to our wine education.
I could not find any information in Wine Grapes that indicated how long Ms. Robinson and her team worked on this book. it’s true that in the 1990’s Robinson published the forerunner to this work, a book entitled “Jancis Robinson’s Guide to Wine Grapes”. However, that book pales in comparison to what has been created here. it is a model for the current Wine Grapes, but it doesn’t reach nearly as deep into the subject as does this new issue. Additionally, many more tools have been acquired by the ampelographer and historian of grapes, particularly DNA Profiling, since the earlier book was published. The thing is, this book could easily pass for any writer’s proudest moment, the culmination of a life’s work. And yet, it is but one—a significant one—part of Robinson’s contribution to the wine education genre. I am struck by the enormous amount of work and dedication it required and wonder about the process that went into creating this new work.
By Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz
Release Date: November 6, 2012