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Book Review: A Year in the Vineyard

Cultureshock

If you’re not a follower of wine lore, some words associated with viticulture may seem strange, including “viticulture.” It stands for the study of grapes, from cultivation of the vine early in the year, to budburst (vine leaves cocooned in dormant buds coming out), to maturation of the fruit, then harvesting, and, in winter, preparing the vines for rest and rejuvenation. This, according to a handsome new oversize book A Year in the Vineyard by Sophie Menin and Bob Chaplin, she, an award-winning wine writer & journalist with a degree in culinary arts; he, a noted museum artist and landscape designer, and both with strong commitment to the environment. A Year in the Vineyardis an instructive and inspirational invitation to appreciate all that goes into a seemingly simple goblet of red or white .

The book’s a coffee table volume but think wine and sip it slowly as you dip into the international romp and marvel at the 180 gorgeous color photos of land, workers in the field, and close-up shots of vines and grapes. An alternative title might have been “a tribute to the cycle of the vine,” or “vineyards around the globe,” or “steps in a dance with the natural world” – phrases the authors invoke.

Cultureshock

Of course, there are many wine books out there. So how is this one different? The authors don’t say, but themes can be inferred, among them that growing grape vines and making wine is complicated and complex. The winegrowers featured in the book have typically been at it for generations. Viticulture is a family tradition. Menin and Chaplin also cite the growing organic movement - from farm to table - and the need for natural innovations, including no-till farming (though some farmers with vines that go back hundreds of years that are planted on slopes do use horse-drawn plows.) The authors also cite introducing natural predators for invasive insects; relying on animals – oxen, sheep, pigs – to help out with land maintenance; using roses planted nearby as canaries in the coal mine – watching their leaves for blackspot and mildew before the vines are infected. And, of course, exercising patience: “vineyards,” the authors say, “are more like steamships than tugboats – they take time to turn.”

As for those fancy words, “terroir” the most infamous, along with a few not defined by the authors, such as “phenolic compounds in grape skins, seeds and stems,” and high and low tannin management in red wines- the text can be sometimes frustrating but still, for the general reader, it’s not intimidating.

Cultureshock

Although A Year in the Vineyard covers well-known labels in well-known wine country, mainly Italy, France, and California, it also gives exposure to vineyards of indigenous people in lesser-known regions in Central and South America for what they uniquely and admirably produce by knowing their land. It’s also heartening to see Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island featured, one of three vineyards on the South Fork, and understand its focus on varieties.

Julia Child once said: "Wine is a living liquid containing no preservatives. Its life cycle comprises youth, maturity, old age, and death. When not treated with reasonable respect, it will sicken and die." Salud!

I’m JB

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.