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Tuesday, 10 March 2015 10:44

Call of the Vine

Call of the Vine Picmonkey

By Dr. Liz Thach, MW

2014 The Miranda Press

ISBN 978-0971587052

Soft Cover, 367 pages, $19.99


There are plenty of books that evoke the beauty and glamour of wine country. Often short on information, but containing gorgeous photography, they look good on a coffee table. Liz Thach’s Call of the Vine is not one of these.

Though wine professionals would be familiar with the names of the ten Napa and Sonoma vineyards the author profiles, few would have actually visited them. For the wine consumer, first-hand familiarity with these vineyards would be even less likely. Information on these gems of California agriculture has been fragmentary and mostly anecdotal.

Liz Thach has initials PhD and MW appended to her name. In addition to her doctorate, the Sonoma State Professor is also an MW or Master of Wine, a degree which is held by just 318 people in the world. You would expect her research to be thorough.  Vineyard specifics and farming practices for each of these famous vineyards are displayed in chart form. This may seem repetitive but does provide a basis for comparison and illustrates that there may be many paths to grapegrowing greatness. While such details may hint at reasons why these vineyards have become recognized as among the best in the world, it’s the human stories the author delivers that give them context.

Though all 10 of these wineries are situated in just two adjacent counties, nature has provided them with very different challenges and opportunities. Farming practices differ in adapting to these conditions. The winemakers and vineyard owners and managers of these notable properties differ in their viticultural (and enological) practices, but all express a respect for nature and regard themselves as stewards of their land.  Some, like Boots Brounstein, who with her late husband Al, planted Diamond Creek in the late 1960s, were present at the creation of great vineyards. Others, like Matt Ashby of Robert Mondavi, are inheritors of a responsibility to maintain vineyards long-known for excellence such as To Kalon, which was first planted just after the American Civil War.

Thach has chosen to tell the story of each vineyard in reprising her initial visit. Conversations with those giving her vineyard tours are recalled with significant points often related via responses to her questions. While they seem more recitations of what the conversations could have been, than verbatim transcripts, they bring the reader a low-key and more personal insight to the actual vineyard practices and to the personalities of those responsible for them.

Though Call of the Vine is illustrated with frequent black and white photos, they’re grainy and fall short of matching the quality of the narration. But this is a book that communicates through the scholarship of its author and her diligence in bringing the reader interviews with vineyard stewards that might not be available anywhere else. It’s a good read for the serious wine fan.

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

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