The Finest Wines of California
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
Chateau St. Jean
Peter Michael Winery
Ramey Wine Cellars
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".