“First Big Crush”…Not Your Father’s Wine Book

Eric Arnold once sold a joke to Jay Leno for $50. Oh yea, he’s also an editor at The Wine Spectator magazine. He also happens to be the author of a new "wine book" (that’s a loose explanation of what the book really is) that is about as different as  it could be from your typical book in the wine genre.

"First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine…Down Under" is a chronicle of Arnold’s year in New Zealand as a cellar rat at Allen Scott Wines. There is an "On The Road.." quality to this chronicle of Arnold’s year punching down, doing the dirty work and immersing himself in the ways of New Zealanders and their wine industry.

Arnold writes in no holds barred style with a stiff dose of modesty and regular self assessment. It’s a refreshing style for a wine book and a wine writer.

Along the way we are introduced to various characters, some you’d want to know and others you are happy that Arnold took the bullet with the encounter. 

His section on experiencing the New Zealand wine competitions will be eye opening for every reader.  There are no dirty secrets in this book, just dirty revelations.

You are going to learn a lot about the wine business and working in the wine business by reading this book. In fact, anyone considering getting into the wine business, be it in production or administration, would do well to pick up "First Big Crush" and read it cover to cover:

"Vineyard work sucks…I have no idea why, but many people who drink wine think that making it is some sort of relaxed, cushy lifestyle. And I don’t understand it , because I’ve never eaten a juicy steak and imagined how romantic and luxurious a life I’d have if I started raising cattle in Wyoming. Similarly, I’ve never met anyone who got a massage and moved to Sweden or shot heroin and moved to Afghanistan."

That’s not to say that after reading "First Big Crush" you won’t want to still be involved in the wine business, despite Arnold’s warnings. In fact, I suspect a lot of folks will read it, smirk at the the various difficulties and odd experiences that he encounters during his year in New Zealand, and be even more inspired to join the ranks. Still, read the book if you fall into this category.

Reading Arnold’s outstanding reporting for The Wine Spectator you wouldn’t necessarily guess this kind ofEricarnold
book was inside him. Arnold tends to report on the dollars and cents, business and industry issues that surround the wine business. This book is something altogether different, though it does include smatterings of that type of subject matter. But when it does show up it’s much more of an aside.

I was struggling to recall something similar in the wine genre to compare to "First Big Crush". I couldn’t find it. There is nothing pompous about the book, there are no endless lists of wines and reviews and there is very little formal educational lecturing. The only thing comparable to this work are those more recent books on what the popular wine regions are REALLY like. Like those books, this one relies on first person experience. However, Arnold’s work relies even more on first HAND experience. And by the end of the book you’ll note those are pretty dirty hands.

This is good, fun stuff!

"First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine…Down Under"
By Eric Arnold
Scribner, 2007


7 Responses

  1. Randy - October 1, 2007

    Yeah, I’m in the middle of the book, and I find that Eric’s writing style seems to oscillate wildly between sophomorically vulgar to remarkably lucid, and that’s in the span of a single page.
    At times, the vulgar side seems like it’s gratuitous, such that you have to force yourself to keep reading instead of putting the book down because of its brashness. I’m finding, however, that the lucid parts are amazingly insightful, and perhaps that’s what keeps me reading it.
    Being someone who is looking to enter the wine business on a real basis, I’m finding this to be VERY educational. Thanks Eric!

  2. Erin - October 1, 2007

    I already could not WAIT to read this book – now even more so after this post.

  3. Jim Gordon - October 1, 2007

    I haven’t read Arnold’s book, but I do know of a similar effort, and it was by Arnold’s current boss, Tom Matthews. Tom wrote “A Village in the Vineyards” in the early ’90s from his experience working a harvest in Bordeaux.

  4. marisa d'vari - October 2, 2007

    I liked this book a lot. I reviewed it several places, but you can also see it here: http://dvari.typepad.com/wine/2007/09/first-big-crush.html

  5. Eric Arnold - October 2, 2007

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I especially enjoyed Randy’s note that the language swings between “sophomorically vulgar to remarkably lucid” since that was really the intent for a couple reasons. The main one is, simply, that I was doing my best to capture the sensibility of the time and place (as my nonfiction-writing heroes did before me), so I don’t imagine that the book would have been as vulgar if I’d been writing about brain surgery or chess championships. In convents. But since I do have a bit of an off-color sense of humor anyway, I tried to use it as best I could to not only help you laugh, but learn. If you did at least a little bit of both, then my work here is done.

  6. Thad - October 3, 2007

    After watching Eric’s entertaining and enlightening video series “Hard Labor” (available on iTunes), I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. If you’ve watched Eric’s show, then it should come as no surprise that he was capable of writing a book in a similar style. I find his approach not only refreshing, but extremely insightful especially in contrast to the many stuffy, boring commentators out there today. Keep up the great work connecting us to the broader context of wine, Eric!
    P.S. For another good book on working in a winery, read Brian Doyle’s The Grail. You can find a review here: http://beyondthebottle.com/blog/2007/09/review_the_grail_by_brian_doyl.html

  7. Tim Vandergrift - October 3, 2007

    I picked up Eric’s book last week, and it was on top of my pile to read on the road this month. I got into it last night, and darn near overslept after reading into the wee hours–it’s a great read, and from my perspective, the vulgarity is far from sophomoric–it’s anthropological.
    I worked as a shepherd in New Zealand in 1980, and recognise all the characters he talks about. I also work at small family and startup vineyards here in BC and the endless backbreaking labour of crush engenders the same atmosphere as a high-pressure commercial kitchen (a la Tony Bourdain): scatology, rough humour and the ability to get along with people you have made an appointment to have a fistfight with at an appropriate time.
    I can’t wait to finish it, and I’m recommending it to all my winey friends.

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