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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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

  1. Latest schedule I saw has advances in October. New Classic Winemakers will also be out in pb this fall, probably a bit earlier.

  2. One has to ask. What is Amy, the publicist for Steve’s books and for my new book debuting in a few weeks, also published by UC Press, doing up at 5:12 and reading the blogs?

    The University of California Press has become the leading publisher of wine books in the United States, perhaps in the world. Mitchell, Beazley out of England, might dispute that title, and it really is of little moment anyhow because both groups are significant players in this niche market.

    Steve will know this better than I because he has been working with UCP for years now, but it would seem a pretty interesting story to examine how a university press rose so quickly to the top of the wine publishing world. I suspect I know. I suspect it has first and foremost to do with an editor–a person whose job it is to acquire new titles. UCPress has both an editor who goes to wine events because he is interested and a publiciist in Amy who is also an avid fan of the fermented grape.

    And, of course, there is the added fillip that this is California and wine grapea are our third or fourth most important crop. Steve, any insights on this?

  3. Charlie, I agree. I don’t know if Blake Edgar came first (in a chicken-and-egg sense), or if whoever his supervisor is came first and told Blake to crank up the wine books. At any rate, I credit Blake with putting energy into that segment, and also with having the taste and discernment to understand what makes for a fine wine book, as opposed to a piece of crap, of which there are way too many out there. By the way I am enjoying Secrets of the Sommeliers, by Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay. It was published by Ten Speed Press, which is also in Berkeley. But of course, UC Press published the UC /Sotheby Book of California Wine in 1984, which was a seminal book. It cites you, of course, and contains articles by lots of people we knew in common. Too bad UC Press doesn’t feel able to issue a new edition. I suggested it, but I think they feel it’s just too expensive a project and they wouldn’t be able to sell if for the price it would require.

  4. Charlie
    You might take a look at this article from Corie Brown, then of the LA Times, from a few years back on our wine publishing program:

  5. Steve,

    Easily in my top three for great wine reads. I worked in Sebastopol from 2005 to 2007 and your book made my Friday afternoons much more enjoyable!


  6. This is where Steve truly shines: getting behind the juice to those who craft it from grapes grown in certain parts of a region like the Russian River. The fascinating stories also provide a discrete sum greater than the parts–a sense of place.

    Travel writing when it rises to the level of literature is one of the most important genres of serious non fiction, going beyond mere throwing information together in guide books. One thinks of Petrach on Mout Ventoux, or de Tocqueville on America, but more recently Robert Louis Stevenson, then Paul Theroux, Paul Fussell and Jan Morris. Steve would certainly not presume to rise to the ranks of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell, Steinbeck or V.S. Naipaul who get behind all the manifestations of place to find the ethos. Nonetheless, the prose deserves to give Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes a run for the consumer’s money.

    Turn the wine scoring over to a tasting panel of consumers, Steve, and spend more time on your travelogues.

    TOM, the name dropper

  7. Tom, I once took a creative writing course from Frances Mayes at SF State!

  8. It was this book that had me fall in love with your writing… and you, my friend. Congratulations for a second run. That’s huge. I’ve read it a couple of times, and am always amazed by your knowledge/research of the geology of that region… Great research.

  9. Steve.

    About time – my copy is completely worn out.

    I’d agree with Derek and others. Your book is one that I hand out to every new hire, and I send it off to folks who ask me how they can learn more about California wine and our wine region. A great book.

    I’d love to see a few more in the series that touch on other areas in California. Of course, easy for me to say.

    Thank you – artisanal is right. We are grateful.

  10. Thank you Tim. Sometimes readers don’t know what a few words mean to writers, who labor alone.

  11. Steve:

    Will it be available in a Kindle edition?

  12. Steven: Don’t know! Some of the UC Press people read my blog, so maybe they’ll weigh in. Amy C.?

  13. Steve
    Yes, a kindle edition is planned. Should be available at the same time as the book.

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