FIRST BIG CRUSH The down and dirty on making great wine... down under. Buy or compare prices here.
Not since "The Paper Lion" has an embedded journalist produced such keen insights into the machinations of an industry. Before writing this book, Eric Arnold was a "self-declared wine expert", acquiring his expertise simply by drinking copious amounts of inexpensive wine. In other words, he was the perfect "common man" when it came to wine.
But all that changed a few years ago. Arnold suddenly lost his job. After evaluating his options he decided to travel to New Zealand to gather the inside scoop on wine production. Why New Zealand? He'd been there on vacation and loved it, but rationalized (probably accurately) that "The world needs another book on French or California wines about as badly as it needs another Starbucks" If you're going to go into ruinous debt while gambling with your career, why not do it in some place you love?
So Arnold got a one-year work visa and began cold-calling New Zealand wineries. On each call he asked if they'd be interested in hiring an inexperienced worker without wages so he could write a book about his experience. And by the way, no publisher had taken an option on the book at that time. Ya gotta love Arnold's moxie.
Living off his credit cards, Arnold's hands-on knowledge came quickly, a necessity if he was to survive. He shares it generously in a tale that is as ribald as it is insightful. One must wade through a lot of testosterone-laden stories of sophomoric behavior to winnow out useful nuggets. But they're in there - go see for yourself. I particularly appreciated his view on wine critics and their ratings, a most reasoned opinion served without the pedantic virtue that drips from so many wine writers (me included I suspect).
But I do wish Arnold had left some of his more vulgar bits on the editing room floor. I'm really not all that interested in his sex life, or that of those around him, or about how many times people drank to the point of regurgitation. But even readers who find such details unnecessary must admit they add a richer hue to Arnold's experiences than would have been possible otherwise.
I advise you to avoid this book if you wish to preserve a romantic notion that wine is all about picnics amidst beautiful vineyards while watching a perfect sunset illuminate row after row of vines - and you know who you are! Sometimes its preferable to protect our ideals than to know gnaw down to the bone of gritty truth that lies behind them.
But for anyone who has ever visited the wine country and thought "Honey, I'll bet we could do that", this book is a must read. It's best to know what you're in for. Not that making wine is always as its portrayed by Arnold - he was only embedded at a single winery after all, and there are tens of thousands of others with stories of their own. But Arnold captures the essence and personality of most of these wineries quite well.
A lot has changed for Arnold since leaving New Zealand. Not only did Simon and Schuster's Scribner publish this book last month (Sept 2007), he is also working as a news editor for Wine Spectator. Let's hope he stays in the field for a while - I think our industry needs his youthful voice.
Overall Rating, 3.5 stars (with another half star for Arnold's moxie)
(0 - 5 Stars possible)
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant