The Finest Wines of California

FWofCA Trying to write a book covering the current status of the California wine industry isn't easy. Such a book will never be comprehensive unless the end product runs thousands of pages. Trying to write a survey of the world of California wine must mean, then, carefully choosing those producers to include in the volume in such a way that those wineries covered deliver a fair representation of the world of California wine.

This is exactly what a new and beautiful book on California wine accomplishes.

"The Finest Wines of California: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines" is the fourth volume released under the "Fine Wine Editions" out of the UK and locally published by University of California Press. Fine Wine Editions is the same folks that publish The World of Fine Wine Magazine. As its processors, this book is extraordinarily well-put together, beautiful to hold, extremely well designed and a good primer on its subject matter.

"The Finest Wines of California" is authored by Stephen Brook, a prolific author of wine books who has written about Sauternes, Bordeaux, wines of the South of France, the wines of Germany, as well as having contributed to a number of general volumes on wine.

In essence, what Brook and the folks at Fine Wine Editions have created is a compendium of profiles of California producers, each getting three pages including a beautiful photo. The profiles of wineries are organized by region: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, etc.

The profiles themselves make the most of Brook's knowledge of the region and people and are engaging and very informative. We learn about the history, wines, personalities and accomplishments of each winery, along with a rundown and assessment of the most recent offerings.

For the most part, the profiles are focused on a very select group of California's established higher-end wineries, with the occasional addition of relative newcomers who have broken through from climber status to "arrived". The Sonoma chapter, for example, includes profiles of the following:

Dry Creek Vineyards
Gallo Family Vineyards
Hartford Family Winery
Marimar Estate
Chateau St. Jean
William Selyem
Iron Horse
Kosta Browne
Peter Michael Winery
Ramey Wine Cellars
St. Francis
Sbragia Family Vineyards

With the exception of Ramey, Sbragia and Kosta Brown, the other wineries chosen to represent Sonoma have been on the scene for quite some time. I honestly would have liked to have seen a much more updated list of wineries to include, if only with much smaller profiles. But as I noted, such a book is very hard to write and publish.

There is more to this book than just profiles and beautiful photographs by Jon Wyand. The introductory Chapters lay out a history of California wine making, looks into our AVA system, explores the evolution of wine styles, describes the state of our major varieties, looks into the business behind California wine and evaluates California viticulture. At the end of the volume, we get vintage descriptions from 1990 to 2009 and what Brook considers to be California's 100 Finest wines chosen from among those who were profiled in the book. Gutsy declaration this last chapter is.

To say it one more time, this series of new wine books created by Fine Wine Editions (covering Bordeaux, Champagne and Tuscany and now California) are really great looking volumes delivered on firm paper and slickly designed. My hope is that they publish volumes for every wine region on the globe.

Yet, perhaps because of my closeness to the California industry, I am a little disappointed with this volume on California. It doesn't possess the sense of vibrancy, change, shake up, and entrepreneurship that I see in the California industry today. Rather, it seems an outstanding set of profiles of the well-established players that have earned the right to be included in a book entitled "The Finest Wines of California".

6 Responses

  1. Dennis Schaefer - March 3, 2011

    Coulda been titled “The Wines of Napa” (and not necessarily the finest).

  2. Morton - March 3, 2011

    I don’t know if it is the case with this book, but there is a proliferation of “pay to play” publications that resemble this. Someone new comes around each month with a proposal for a glossy and beautiful book,two or three pages of copy written with an air of objectivity, edited by the winery to make sure facts are correct, photos to be taken, and costs offset by the winery. For a little extra copies sold to the winery for resale will have the winery in question on the cover. Usually it is some title suggesting the wines are the best. Sales of the books are primarily through the tasting rooms of the participating wineries.

  3. Charlie Olken - March 3, 2011

    This is not, as far as I can tell, a pay to play book, and the other books in the series are not either.
    But, it is a little much to ask an Englishman to come here and produce a book without deep and intimate knowledge of the industry. Mr. Brook tried that once, and later confessed to me that he used the book that Norm Roby and I wrote as his guide. This time he must have used Robert Parker.
    The book is what it says it is, and in that regard, it is successful. It offers a look at what the author has concluded are CA’s top wineries. They may or may not be, but that is a different question from whether Mr. Brook accomplished what he set out to do.
    I think he did. He did not try to write a reference book. He wrote a nice picture book with short stories. It is what it is.

  4. Tom Wark - March 3, 2011

    You are correct. This is not a pay to play book.
    As I mentioned, I’d liked to have seen a more updated list of wineries covered. But, the job Stephen did on those wineries he chose to include was well done I thought. And there is no getting around the fact that the book, along with the others in this series, really are well done and quite nice.

  5. 1winedude - March 4, 2011

    Just rec’d this book as a sample, and it’s impressive. Anyone who includes a feature on Corison probably knows what they’re doing! 🙂

  6. Wine Spectator - July 17, 2011

    I think this is an awesome book.

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