Galileo said that it is “sunlight, held together by water”, while Robert Louis Stevenson stated it was “bottled poetry” and Thomas Jefferson declared that it is “a necessity of life for me”. For over 7,000 thousand years, man has delighted in the sensory comforts of wine. Vineyards all over the world are popular destinations for many oenophiles and other travelers. Here are three books to consider reading over that perfect glass of wine.
The Billionaire’s Vinegar:the Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace is both entertaining and educational. In 1985, Christie’s of London held a landmark auction and a 1787 bottle of Château Lafite Bordeaux, reportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson, was sold for $156,000, the highest price ever paid up to that point for a single bottle of wine. What follows is an engrossing story not only for wine connoisseurs, but also for collectors and lovers of history.
Luckily, for the reader, it appears that the hobby of wine collecting is full of deceit, crooks, greed and dishonesty and this book highlights them all. “Let the buyer beware” will be the refrain readers think of when they learn how difficult it is to prove a wine’s provenance and to what lengths some have gone to cheat the customer. While this story had the potential of being as boring as an undeveloped wine, Wallace blends both wine history and mystery to introduce the reader to rival auction houses Sotheby’s and Christies and to some of the influential and unusual cast of characters in the wine collecting industry. He also includes fascinating biographical gems about Thomas Jefferson and his well documented trips through the vineyards of Europe. This fact filled page turning read is for anyone who loves a well told nonfiction story.
The Bordeaux Betrayal: A Wine Country Mystery by Ellen Crosby is the third in her series featuring Lucie Montgomery and her Virginia Vineyard. A rare wine, purportedly from Jefferson’s collection and originally intended as a gift for George Washington, is donated to a charitable auction being held at the vineyard. The excitement surrounding this event is high until the owner suddenly withdraws the wine.
Lucie tries to get him to change his mind but she is also occupied with other subplots including the requisite murder of Valerie, an author and historian, who had just penned a historical book about wine, and is then found dead in a ditch near Lucie’s vineyard. Lucie’s new neighbors start an animal activist controversy when she allows her land to be used for the traditional fox hunt that’s been going on in the county for a century and her French grandfather also comes to Virginia to visit and her. Everything gets tied up nicely in the end but some of the most interesting parts of the book are the tidbits about vinoculture and winemaking and the historical references to Thomas Jefferson and his wine collection.
A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma By Alan Deutschman. This thought provoking book compares the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the California wine country. Sonoma is in a battle to keep it’s lower profile and less hectic lifestyle alive while trying to ward off the sprawling growth that has turned the rival Napa valley from a once quiet countryside into a tony, expensive and bustling, crowded tourist destination.
Deutschman spends a year living in Sonoma, meeting local restauranteurs, hippies and organic farmers, eavesdropping at parties and watching as differing factions fight for their ideal of the perfect place to live. The differences between the local shabby gentility and the newly arrived techie millionaires come to a head when local elections threaten to change life in Sonoma valley by forcing many natives into financial ruin since they may not be able to pay the escalating taxes or be able to afford to live in the area where their families have resided for generations.
Two movies featuring California vineyards to consider: Sideways featuring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church accompanies the two friends as they take a bachelor trip through the wine tasting areas of the Santa Barbara valley. This hilarious, quirky but sometimes disturbing comedy of errors makes the most of the beautiful landscape in the valley. If you like dramas (perhaps while enjoying a full bodied Cabernet) get A Walk in the Clouds starring Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez Gijon and Anthony Quinn. This love story takes place right after World War II when Reeves, a traveling salesman, meets the beautiful daughter of a Napa Valley vineyard. He goes home with her to her family’s vineyard to help her solve a problem that is terrifying her. The chemistry between Reeves and Shanchez-Gijon and the breathtaking scenery make this movie worth watching.