An Ideal Wine: One Generation's Pursuit of Perfection--and Profit--in California

An Ideal Wine: One Generation's Pursuit of Perfection--and Profit--in California

by David Darlington
     
 

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From the author of the acclaimed Angels’ Visits comes an inside look at how a handful of ingenious winemakers has transformed—and been transformed by—the California wine industry over the past four decades.

In the 1970s, a group of idealistic baby boomers was attracted to the seemingly romantic world of winemaking. Over the course of

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Overview

From the author of the acclaimed Angels’ Visits comes an inside look at how a handful of ingenious winemakers has transformed—and been transformed by—the California wine industry over the past four decades.

In the 1970s, a group of idealistic baby boomers was attracted to the seemingly romantic world of winemaking. Over the course of nearly forty years, however—as competition from abroad increased, wine eclipsed beer and spirits as American adults’ beverage of choice, critics came to control the marketplace, and corporatization took over the industry—these young aesthetes would learn that wine is an unforgiving business. They would have to be clever to survive in an increasingly cutthroat atmosphere, and no one was more innovative than Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard—the court jester and bleeding conscience of California wine, its most original and amusing figure. But Grahm is only one of the restless visionaries who, having chosen wine as the vehicle through which to fulfill their dreams, ended up changing the rules of the industry by adapting to its demands. From high technology to hardball entrepreneurship, from handicapping scores to holistic farming, each vintner operates by his or her own definition of an ideal wine.

In this lively, sweeping account that spans the early seventies to the present day, David Darlington employs a sharp journalistic eye to profile a group of wine pioneers. A tale of vision and disillusion, brinksmanship and pragmatism, nature and business, politics and culture, An Ideal Wine is a fascinating look at an ever-evolving industry that reflects the values of our society and our civilization.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Darlington affectionately chronicles the largely untold story of the wine rush of the 1970s—a time when sales of wine eclipsed that of beer and when a number of vineyards and wineries began in California. Focusing his attention on two sides of the industry, Darlington traces the wildly different tales of two men, both committed to producing the perfect wine. Leo McCloskey founded Enologix to help wineries produce a successful commercial product; vineyards send grapes to Enologix and through chemical analysis, the company advises its customers on the quality of the grapes and on the quality of the wines that such grapes might produce. For winemaker Randall Grahm, the vineyard represents his spiritual path, perhaps the only way he has of bringing balance to his life and achieving something like contentment. Darlington's fast-paced story of the quest for the ideal wine charmingly explores the parallel paths of two men: one a modern Mephistopheles promising clients a deal by which they could acquire hidden knowledge and earthly success (McCloskey) and the other a modern-day Faust consumed by a sweeping and sometimes self-defeating desire for cosmic insight (Grahm). (July)
Library Journal
Darlington (Zin: The History and Mystery of Zinfandel) presents a historic compendium of the quirky people whose educational, business, and personal relationships have made the California wine industry what it is today. His account starts in the 1970s and brings the reader through the recent economic downturn and its effects on the wine industry. The book reads like a tell-all exposé, but it is also filled with enlightening information about grape growing and wine making. Randall Grahm and Leo McCloskey, central figures in the book, both started making wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but Grahm never lost his affinity for natural farming and wine making, while McCloskey became a chemist to the top echelon of boutique wineries as well as to many high-production wineries. Darlington conveys in engrossing detail the journey from a small industry, owned and managed by families in the 1970s, to one dominated by corporate ownership. VERDICT Although the names of wineries and winemakers will be familiar to oenophiles, many of the stories are new and absorbing. An essential read for lovers of California wine.—Ann Weber, Bellarmine Coll. Preparatory Lib., San Jose, CA
Kirkus Reviews

A history of two pioneeringCaliforniavintners.

Wine & Spiritscontributorand James Beard Award winner Darlington focuses on two different approaches to winemaking in the 1970s: that of Leo McCloskey, leading Napa Valley consultant and president of Enologix, and that of Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards. McCloskey's fine-tuned process relies on a scientific, by-the-numbers approach that results in critically acclaimed "biodynamic wine." Grahm, instead, has focused on terroir, an earthier approach that relies on the manipulation of environmental factors, described by the winemaker as "a link to something we apprehend as being vast and unbounded [and] of a highly complex and organized world that abuts our own...An intimation of the vibrational persistence of phenomena, even if they are not manifestly, palpably present." Both men are a source of eternal amusement to Darlington, with their yin and yang views on not only winemaking but education, philosophy and life itself. The author delivers plenty of witticisms, which may leave a smile on the face of readers well-versed in viticulture but, more often than not, fall flat. With so many intricate factors involved in winemaking—flavors, colors, regions, screw top vs. cork, tannins, sugar, etc.—competing for space in Darlington's book, casual readers may get lost in the translation. Add to that expert musings on vine spacing, pre-crush grape sorting, lengthy hang-time and free-run juice, and reading becomes a chore.

A solid blend of wit and detail, but only recommended for experienced palates.

Eric Asimov
Mr. Darlington is a fine reporter who lets his characters do the talking, which they do very well. He's also peopled his dialectic with numerous quirky supporting actors like Nicolas Joly, the prophet of biodynamic viticulture, and Clark Smith, a not-so-easy-to-pin-down provocateur whose use of technology led to the nickname "Dr. Frankenwine." Altogether, it's a yarn that's both scary good and good and scary.
—The New York Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061704239
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/28/2011
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
980,811
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

David Darlington is the author of four books: In Condor Country, Angels’ Visits (published in paperback as Zin), The Mojave, and Area 51. A special correspondent for Wine & Spirits and a recipient of a 2008 James Beard Foundation Award for Writing on Spirits, Wine, or Beer, he also won a National Magazine Award for Public Interest in 2009. He lives in Berkeley and Mendocino County, California.

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