Wine Book Review: Russian River Valley Revelation
Last week I was able to recommend a superb new wine book. So, this will be the second week in a row in which I can highly recommend a new book on wine: "A Wine Journey Along the Russian River" by Steve Heimoff.
Heimoff is the Senior Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and has been for some time. I’ve known him for about 10 years or so. Whenever I’ve spoken with him or met him he always seemed intently focused on what he’s doing and usually has deep opinions on the topic at hand. What I did not know was that he had been thinking about the Russian River Valley wine growing region for so long and so intently.
There is a clear commitment visible throughout "A Wine Journey…" to understanding not merely what the region has become in the mind of wine drinkers or what the geologic conditions are that set the region apart, but to understanding the holistic heart of "Russian River Valley Wine".
The book exposes multiple views of what is surely America’s most consistent region for high quality wines from a variety of grapes. We are introduced to the historical figures who pioneered winemaking in the region, to the modern crop of winemakers, grapegrowers and scientists who concern themselves with its potential, and, in near romantic flourishes that occurs throughout the book, to the view of the region from the perspective of the "River" that defines this huge swatch of winemaking paradise.
Among the books most engaging features are the profiles of the various characters who live in or work in the Russian River Valley. The portraits are clearly drawn and help fill in the story of the wines, vineyards and river.
This is not a love letter to a wine producing region so much as it is a well paced dissection, complete with the uncovering of all the various issues at play from appellation boundary disputes to the changing character of the areas wines. Pinot Noir gets a lot of attention throughout the book, a natural by-product of the fact that it is the best wine made in the region. But Alexander Valley Cab, both valley and mountain-grown, is also explored in detail.
I’ve drunk a lot of Russian River Valley wine. I’ve worked with a number of wineries in the area. And I’m pretty familiar with the layout of the region. But upon finishing "A Wine Journey long the Russian River" I had the sense of having been introduced to a new region. The information about geology and climate, the sometimes cynical and sometimes elated views of the region that Heimoff pulls out of his interviewees and the inquisitive approach that informs the entire book all helped to show me the Russian River Valley in a new light.
This is one of those books that both the novice as well as the seasoned wine drinker will take a great deal from. The jargon is explained throughout the book and very little is assumed about the knowledge of reader. Yet the depth is there for the wine pro too.
Finally, a note about Steve Heimoff the wine critic. Throughout the book he alludes to his tastings of the area’s wines and his expectations of them. The reader should understand that Heimoff has been a consistent advocate of balance in California wines, rather than having jumped on the "Ripeness-at-all-cost" bandwagon. He has and continues to be discouraged by the often pruny and overripe tendencies that have even invaded the production of Pinot Noir in California. You see this bit of consternation in the book. He does not dwell on what I think he sees as a problem with California wine, but does go out of his way to identify it and let winemakers discuss it.