Winemakers Really Do have Something to Say

I have a confession. I’m not too often convinced that winemakers have very much of interest to say.

This comes from a guy who has worked with a LOT of winemakers, at least in the capacity as their publicist (I’ve never dragged a hose through a winery that I didn’t first trip on in my life. And my singe experience hand punching down Noir in small bins convinced me this was the kind of word I am simply not cut out for.

But to get back to backhanded slap at winemakers, what I really mean to say is that, in my mind, unless you can get a winemaker away from his barrels and tanks that seem always to be calling him, and unless you have a rapport with the winemaker to the point that they trust you, the most you are likely to get out of these folks is something along the lines of things I’ve written on back labels—nothing of too much interest.

This is what makes Steve Heimoff’s most recent book, "New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff", so impressive. His subjects have quite a bit of interest to say.

Steve is the West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. So, his familiarity with his subjects and their subject matter is not in dispute. His previous book, "A Wine Journey Along the Russian River" and his independent voice that can be read in his regular wine column as well as in his wine review, both demonstrate his vital and intimate connection to the wine industry. This is quality that doesn’t always come through in many wine writers, if only because it doesn’t exist. But I’m convinced that this new book is as wonderful as it is precisely because Steve was able to convince his subjects that he cared about the things they were talking about just as much as they did. No small feat, this.

"New Classic Winemakers of California boils down to a series of in depth interviews with a couple dozen of California’s most dynamic winemakers. This is candid stuff. It can also be quite intricate in its details with discussions of clones, fermentation, the philosophy driving "cult" wines and "High Octane" wines, to discussions of what terroir is intellectually and what it is practically. Steve demonstrates a real feel for the interview process.

Among those who are interviewed in the book are John Alban, Mark Aubert, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Andy Beckstoffer,  Merry Edwards, Genevieve Janssens, Greg La Follette, Dan Morgan Lee, Rick Longoria, Javier Tapia Meza, Tony Soter, Brian Talley, Michael Terrien, and
Margo van Staaveren.

These and the others, to a person, are the folks who in 40 and 50 years will be referred to by other winemakers and growers as "Mentors". The point is, Heimoff picked the right crew to get intimate with.

Again, I want to suggest that this is pretty dense read. It’s not a beginners book. However, it is the kind of book that makes the well seasoned enthusiast much more seasoned for their time spent with the book.

4 Responses

  1. Jerry Murray - February 7, 2008

    I agree that talking to winemakers can often be quite disappointing. For the record I am a winemaker.
    I think it is similiar to talking to a scientist or musician… the answers are only as good as your questions.
    This makes it hard for winemakers to talk to non professionals about wine, simple questions don’t often have simple answers and you never really know just how far to take things.
    This book sounds great. I hope it isn’t just more hype though. I always ask people ” how do you know a winemaker is telling a lie?”. Answer: ” his lips are moving”.

  2. Dan - February 8, 2008

    I love this book. I picked it up a month or two ago and found it to be a suprisingly easy read, but maybe that’s because I could be considered a bit of a “wine geek.” With that being said, I think any wine enthusiast will find it interesting. It’s easy to skip around and read 1 or 2 interviews at night before bed, or just focus on winemakers you are interested in. Personal favorites would be the interviews with the Lee’s (SIduri), Heidi Barrett, Ted Seghesio, Bob Levy and Elias Fernandez.
    I just wish the interviews were longer.

  3. Jeremy - February 8, 2008

    I read this book on a flight to CA and found it to be interesting indeed. You can move through the profiles rapidly. The conversational interviewing technique used by Heimoff really allowed you to get to know the players. Now I only have to get the original!

  4. bob -wineman - February 27, 2008

    I have 60 gallons of red zin that is clear and sharp.
    one problem. It has a rotten egg smell.
    I did the same process i’ve done for years.
    Fresh grapes in oct-07
    any suggestions

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