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The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced.

Not far into the introduction we are told; “What has not been bought back to France so far is the worst lesson of New World wine making: that it can be a brand-driven industry like any other. That vineyards are just a home for venture capital: that wine making is no more than applied chemistry; that the purpose of wine production is shareholder value; and that marketing strategies are more important than scent and flavour in selling wine”. That’s an interesting proposition and come to think of it is quite a good description of the wine making and marketing genius that made Champagne.

There is more; “…since fashion and the economic power of capitalism have succeeded in gulling individual human beings…. into putting a high value on mass-marketed products which leave them both physically and spiritually unsatisfied.” Well at least you know where the author stands as he pours scorn on all those who thought they were enjoying well made and good value wine, not realising that if it is made by big companies it will taste sour.

We are told that; “…France’s wine culture, moreover, of which the appellation system is the coded abstract, is not only a national treasure but also a precious human achievement”. Before being plunged back into; “Free market capitalism often has a corrosive effect on cultural wealth of this sort, since it privileges economic success over the broader human value systems on which cultures are founded”. Which made us wonder whether this free market capitalism was the same one that has made the famous Chateaux owners of Bordeaux fabulously wealthy and is certainly doing a lot to preserve the way of life of many a Burgundian farmer?

There is a fine discussion of French wine laws that can be summarised as a debate of how they preserve regional taste character and it is worth observing how this has inadvertently allowed new world wine makers to drive forward by promoting varietal labelling. It is argued that the system of regulation (appellation controlee or AOC) that divides France into numerous defined regions, such as Chablis, are not brands as they belong to a collective, but the widespread use, until recently, of these terms in places like Australia, is strong evidence that they are indeed brands. And this discussion reminded us of the problem of the fishing industry where when no one has ownership of the common domain there are always those who overexploit which suggests what is the real weakness of the French classification system.

The title, The New France, sums up the message of this book; that there are an increasing number of French vineyard owners-winemakers who are handcrafting wines that are true to the terroir and these offer the way forward and the true direction of wine. And many of these growers embrace organic and bio-dynamic viticulture. Now this seems like a good idea but whether it makes better wines is not so easily explained and whether it is possible to divide wines into either fruity style wines or terroir style wines, as is suggested, makes no sense at all.

The author has been writing about wine for many years, in a number of consumer journals so we can assume that he well knows that there are two wine industries. That which supplies the world with tasty, affordable wines made on a large scale at a price point that will appeal to the vast number of consumers, and the one he prefers which is the artisinal wine industry of hard working men and woman that makes interesting wine which by its nature, is small scale, low yielding, labour intensive and produces expensive wines. Why then set up the bogey man of the global, branded wine industry that delivers wines people want and can afford? If the wines from this side of the industry do not have a nice taste no one will buy them.

The chapter explaining terroir starts with the following; “Consistency, varietal character, depth of fruit, oak integration: these are qualities of absolute irrelevance to French AOC wine. Instead, its aim and its reason for being is to lend a sensual print to rock, stone, slope and sky.” But it is acknowledged that not all terroir’s are equal and many described in this book are not exceptional and no matter what the AOC system may say can never produce wine above ordinary quality. And you can also take your pick as to whether wines made off this plot of ground, the essence of terroir, should for some reason be better than blends from many plots of ground. As is acknowledged few of the great Bordeaux Chateaux actually have contiguous vineyards.

Also, early on we are told; “France does have a weakness, of course, and a very great one, which is that it has failed to communicate the beauty and worth of its complex` and fragmented wine culture”. Well something is wrong here as no other country gets so much free wine press. This book is another example of wine writer’s obsessive love with France. If after one hundred years of outpourings on the beauty of French wine by English writers means that the French have failed to communicate this worth perhaps we should look elsewhere and suggest that taste is a problem or the wine buying public are just not influenced by these wordy tomes.

While the author only hints that he agrees with a comment from one of the New France’s most ardent disciples, Nicholas Joly, of the Loire Valley winery Coulee de Serrant, it does sum up the tone of the book; “an unpleasing true wine is morally better than a pleasing untrue wine”. Gee, this is a statement that is hard to take seriously. Whatever dollars I have to buy wine with I elect to take the later and the reason is wine is not religion it’s just a drink.

The author has some wonderful descriptions of the landscapes and understands the geology of each region very well, and this is necessary if you are trying to promote the individuality of each region and how the taste relates to the soil and rocks as this book does. Thus we come across comments like; “I have been lucky enough to drink wine for thirty years now. There is no doubt in my mind that the most profound satisfaction that wine can bring is based on the scents and tastes of stones, earth and minerals in wine’.

And later in discussing Beaujolais; “Both Cote de Brouilly and Cote Roti are born in quartz, in schist, in granite; they have a glinting, acidic hardness to them”. Then a story from a famous maker of Chablis, Vincent Dauvissat continues the theme; “So I went and got a hammer and knocked a bit off. And at the point at which it broke, it gave off truly the same smell that we’d just found in the bottle of old wine, that same note of smoke and stone. They were astounded”.

Throughout the book there is a strong desire to relate each region to the earth but alas you cannot taste earth and stones and minerals. There is the desire to find things that do not exist and as much as we would like to be believers we cannot. A lot of the comments about taste relate back to earth but this is just overextending the taste in the mouth to poetry in the head and while it is all good fun and good marketing it is not true.

With that said the book is a significant achievement. Anyone who can write yet another book about the wines of France and make it sing, as this book does deserve praise. The thumb nail sketches of the new wine makers at the end of the review of each region are informative and the bringing alive of such areas as the Savoie, the Jura and the Southwest brings you closer to areas that most of us will never visit.

Also we wondered if it is possible to come up with a definition to show that a particular vineyard is expressing terroir. We know that quality comes from low yields, good vineyard practices, good sites and non-interventionist wine making. It shouldn’t be too hard to quantify this in terms of terroir although I’m dammed if I can answer this just now.


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...


Bouquet  - G. B. Stern
Alfred A Knoff, New York, Second printing, 1928 (First published June, 1927)
Review by David Farmer

I cannot recall how I got to know about Bouquet. I purchased a copy from a dealer on Amazon for $30.00. I read books like this to gain a better idea of how wine was thought about prior to say 1950-1960, before it exploded in popularity in the English speaking countries and turned perhaps a simpler pleasure into the scientifically studied beverage of today. more...


The House of Mondavi  - Julia Flynn Siler
Gotham Books, June 2007
Review by David Farmer

To build two large businesses in a lifetime is quite a feat but to do it in the wine business where it can take generations to become established requires outstanding talent. more...


What Can You Learn from Seven Centuries of Trade.
Sherry
 - Julian Jeffs
Faber and Faber Limited, London. First Edition, 1961. A revised second edition was published in 1970.
Review by David Farmer

Why would you want to read a book on an unfashionable drink like sherry? What would I find coming back to a book I first read in the mid 1970's? At the time of release it was much praised and subsequent editions came out in 1970 and 1978. more...


Notes on a Cellar Book  - George Saintsbury
Published in 1920 with numerous reprints. Reissued 1978 (Macmillan)
Review by David Farmer

This short book had an enormous impact on wine writing after publication in 1920 and was quoted extensively for the next two decades and was still referred to by wine writers in the 1960's. It may be seen as a forerunner of later books that taught you how to enjoy wine by personal reminiscing about wines and in this way guided readers through the maze of wine types and wine lore. more...


The Heartbreak Grape, A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir  - Marq de Villiers
Harper Collins, 1993, Toronto, Canada
Review by David Farmer

Pinotphiles is the name given to consumers who are dedicated to the mysteries and flavour of pinot noir. No other grape variety has such a band of promoters and to satisfy their needs a dozen or so ‘pinot celebrations’ are held every few years in the old and newly emerging pinot regions. more...


The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say. more...


In Search of Wine, A tour of the Vineyards of France  - Charles Walter Berry
Constable and Company, 1935. Republished in 1987 by Sidgwick and Jackson
Review by David Farmer

In late 1934 Charles Walter Berry undertook an eight week tour through the vineyards of France and In Search of Wine is the record of what is considered a ‘famous’ journey. In the introduction to the 1987 reprint by Jancis Robinson, she notes that, ‘Walter made wine trade history by venturing into the cellars of those who supplied him,…in order to understand better the product he was selling and to survey, in unparalleled depth for the time, the French vignoble.’ more...


Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. more...


In Praise of Wine  - Alec Waugh
1959, (Cassel)
Review by David Farmer

In Praise of Wine is a book of personal reminiscences about wine and follows the style of the educated amateurs who wrote before and immediately after the Second World War. This book though was published in 1959 and has crossed into an era in which wine books were beginning to contain detailed descriptions of wine regions and technical aspects of wine making, the forerunners of today’s large wine publishing industry. This in turn heralded the end of the amateur commentator. more...


Stay Me with Flagons  - Maurice Healy
Michael Joseph, 1949
Review by David Farmer

The English wine trade has given us many things, such as wine and food societies, a great depth of literature covering the descriptive and technical aspects of wine and wine regions, notably on French wine, a sophisticated wine auction system and more recently teaching schools such as the Masters of Wine. more...


The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced. more...


You Heard It Through The Grapevine - Shattering the myths about the wine business  - Stuart Walton
Aurum Press, London, 2001
Review by David Farmer

There are a great many wine books written each year. The problem is that it is hard to come up with a new perspective to make a book stand out. The wine industry evolves slowly which means most books are derivative. In this case it would seem that the publishers asked for a book that reveals the hidden secrets of a business that some may see as being full of mystery, hence the sub title of this book. more...


The Classic Book on Cocktails
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks
 - David Embury
the first edition was in America in 1948 and Faber and Faber published the first British edition in 1953
Review by David Farmer

Some books give you such pleasure that you always want them nearby. And in my adventures into drinks no book has impressed me as much or given me more pleasure than this masterpiece on the art of making cocktails.

There are dozens of books about making cocktails, rather like there are about food, but few are worth the cover price. None approach the quality of this classic book. more...


Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines  - James Wilson
Mitchell Beazley 1998
Review by David Farmer

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...


Penfolds-The Rewards of Patience  - Andrew Caillard M.W.
(Fifth Edition)
Review by David Farmer

In the simplest term this is a consumers guide to all the Penfolds red and white wines. The tasting notes cover wines made by Penfolds in the 1950's right through to the current releases. There are tasting notes for every wine, apart from the Rawsons Retreat wines, the Koonunga Hill whites and one or two others which I detect the winemakers wish they did not have to make under the Penfolds banner. Others wines such as the Penfolds Old Vine Semillon which were part of edition 4 have been dropped off. more...


Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved. more...


Real Wine - The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking  - Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley 2000
Review by David Farmer

This is one of a number of wine books published over the last few years, mostly by English authors, which take the view that there is a correct way to make wine and this is only known and followed by a small number of dedicated winemakers. The core of the argument is that big company winemaking produces ‘industrial’ wines and these lack character, while true wine is made by the artisanal wine maker using tools and methods, often ancient, which reflect the unique character of the site. more...


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...



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