A new edition of my first book
University of California Press asked me to write a new Intro to my 2005 book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, which they’s reissuing. I reproduce the new Intro below. Afterwards, some fresh remarks.
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I composed most of this book in 2004, which, although although it was less than six years ago (as I write), already seems as distantly past as Ancient Greece. So many shattering events have roiled the wine industry since then: the Great Recession, which knocked the wind out of it (let us hope temporarily), and the rise of social media, which threatens a great creative form — written and published wine writing — with obsolescence (certainly not a pleasant thought for a print guy like me, much less for a book publisher). Also since 2004, thanks again to the Internet, we have seen a near revolution in how wine is marketed and sold and, indeed, even in the definition of what constitutes a “winery,” with virtual producers and custom crush houses enabling Everyman to be his own winemaker. This is not even to mention the psychology of the Millennials, as independent-minded and antiauthoritarian a generation as my own Baby Boom clan (which itself revolutionized the modern wine industry). Indeed, rereading my original introduction to A Wine Journey along the Russian River, I am plunged into nostalgia for a time and a place so much simpler and gentler than today’s rambunctious realities.
And yet, Plus ça change… The Russian River still flows. The pebbles still pile up on the sandbars of the Middle Reach, and the redwoods still cast their millennial shadows on the slopes of the Coast Ranges. On a summer day the vines still wind in gentle contours along the rolling hills, their leaves susurrating in the breeze. Growers raise grapes, vintners crush them, and somebody still has to sell the resulting wine, in an ancient human endeavor we may hope will never end.
In my remarks, during the signings and other affairs connected with the publication of A Wine Journey along the Russian River, I often found myself calling this book “artisanal,” by which I meant, and mean, to draw parallels with the kind of wines that the vineyards along the Russian River produce at their best. Personal wines, you might call them: wines from particular places, expressing particular points of view at particular moments in time. This book expresses the terroir of Steve, he who works with words. It contains much objective and (I hope) useful information about the history, climate, plate tectonics, soil, culture, grapes, wines and people of Sonoma County’s wine regions. My hope was, and remains, that readers will find it good reading.
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I always liked A Wine Journey along the Russian River, not only because it was my first book, but because of its personal nature. It reads like a blog, even though I wrote it four years before I ever thought of blogging. My use of the word “artisanal” was kind of prescient. I first began to hear about artisanal wines in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The adjective had been used earlier, mainly in terms of food, especially cheese, to describe consumables that were hand-made, in small quantities, often using sustainable or organic practices. Beyond that, “artisanal” wines conveyed a sense of quality. They usually came from individual vineyards, and the premise was that their growers and vintners could lavish intensely loving, hands-on care, without all kinds of high-tech interventions. The wines thus possessed a certain ineffable something that was the opposite of mass-produced wines. They were made by auteurs.
I felt that way about A Wine Journey along the Russian River. It was a joy to research and to write, and even the editing process, which was intense due to U.C. Press’s insistence that every comma and semi-colon (not to mention fact) be correct, was enjoyable, if not pure joy. It’s one thing for a wine writer to visit a region for two or three days, then jet off to Tuscany or the Alto Adige or some emerging wine country in Uzbekistan, and write like he or she has a thorough understanding of the region. It’s quite another thing to sink into a region for a year, more or less without a break, to live and breathe its every nuance, take it all in through the pores so to speak, and then have the luxury of writing about it without deadlines or interruption. That’s how A Wine Journey along the Russian River came to be born. It’s my soulful interpretation of this vitally important California wine region. The new edition will be out sometime this Fall. Here’s a link to the website.