A last look back at the winter of 2019-20
My wine warmed up in transit. Is it still OK?

A Wine-Themed Pandemic Reading List

By Ian Consoli

Part of my role as the marketing coordinator for Tablas Creek is to stay connected with people in every department. With the recent stay-at-home order and our transition to working from home, I am missing that role and the conversations that come with it.

As I thought back through those conversations I recalled a common thread: a whole heck-of-a-lot of us love to read.  Whether it’s the latest book that we’ve picked up, a recent article, or a blog, if you’re a reader you’ll understand how exciting it is to say, “I’m reading so-and-so right now,” and inevitably someone in the room says, “I’ve read that book, it’s amazing!”

With that in mind, I reached out to our team to gather a wine-themed reading list. It seems like the whole Tablas Creek community could use a good book or seven right now, to complement the binging of Netflix and the rehearsing of TikTok dances (don’t ask) we're all doing. And maybe by the next time you visit us in our tasting room, after this whole thing is over, you’ll bring up the wine book you’re reading and the person on the other side of the bar will say, “Hey, I’ve read that book. It’s amazing!”

Enjoy the recommendations from the members of our Tablas Team in alphabetical order, in their own words. Anything look familiar? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Something missing on this list? Please share it with us in the comments.

Tablas Creek Bookshelf

Neil Collins, Winemaker

First book that comes to mind is Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch, I read this book very early in my career and found it very inspiring in fact I still do.

The other book that I would recommend is Devil in the Kitchen by Chef Marco Pierre White. Although this is actually not a wine book rather a book by a chef, I find the lengths to which he went in pursuit of perfection very inspiring. He is also out of crazy!

Sandi Crewe, Wine Educator:

He said Beer She said Wine by Marnie Old and Sam Calagione

It is about “beverage options from more than one angle.” Sam is a brewer and owner of Dogfish Head (which sold to Boston Beer Company last year). Marnie is a sommelier, author and wine educator.

My son and I became seriously interested in the beer and wine worlds at about the same time. As he became a professional brewer and more passionate about beer, it made me cognizant of the similarities with wine. I wanted to share his passion and the book helped me to better speak his new language. On the other hand, he attended a few of my wine classes. Now we share beer and wine tastings whenever we can find the time. I particularly enjoyed the beer and wine food pairing information presented.

I recommend the book because it is a great source for beer and wine lovers alike. It gives very basic information on flavors and styles of beer and wine. Best of all, I feel closer to my son because of our common ground.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager

Wines of the Rhone Valley by Robert Mayberry

I somehow savored this dusty tome like a divorcée on a Provence-bound train reading "Eat Pray Love". This circa-1987 book got me through the later stages of my broken foot in January and into the first part of this other crisis. Anyone interested in how the Rhone Valley was set up and governed, or its personalities and history of the grape varietals, will find this book more than alive today. The winemakers give away most of their secrets, and the section on Tavel alone had me buying a couple cases from Domaine de la Mordoree on presale. The author's jazzy, matter-of-fact take on good and bad bottles and vintages reveals a true wine enthusiast who was well trusted by the profiled vignerons. In between the Cornas and Crozes Hermitage chapters an old, unsmoked cigarette fell out of the pages, which I contemplated lighting alongside a bottle of Domaine des Alexandrins.

Meghan Dunn, Publications

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Perhaps only tangentially related to wine, but I recommend A Discovery of Witches (and the rest of the All Souls trilogy), by Deborah Harkness. It defies easy categorization, but combines fantasy, historical fiction, and romance -- witches and vampires unite to trace a missing alchemical manuscript through history. The main character is a vampire who is extremely knowledgeable about wine, and there are evocative passages about wine pairings and historic vintages, all described by a super-human taster with centuries of experience. It's great escapist fiction! (Harkness is a history professor at USC who published an award-winning wine blog for several years, so she knows her stuff!)

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker

The Quick Read (with solid, useful information):

The New Wine Rules by Jon Bonné

This book is completely without pretense and a fun, easy, fast read (it’s a thin book) but it’s chock full of great, easy-to-digest information.  I wouldn’t necessarily say this book is for a wine professional, though I wouldn’t say it isn’t; sometimes it’s good to be reminded of certain things!  For someone looking to increase their wine drinking confidence, this is a well-written collection that will make you (even more) excited about your next glass of wine.

The Historical Account That Reads Like Fiction:

The Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine by George M. Taber

This is an exciting, hopeful story about the (then) young-guns of California wine and how they opened the eyes to the rest of the world that California (and, as an extension, other parts of the world) can produce world-class wines.  It’s a true story, but it has everything that a fiction lover like myself could want: character development, recognizable locations (not just Napa, but specific wineries that are now household names) and drama.

The “There Is A Lot Going On In The World And I Just Want to Read Something That Will Make Me Smile”: French Lessons:

Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle

This is not a wine book.  This is one man’s stories from his time spent living in France (if the name sounded familiar, he’s the author of A Year in Provence) and the hedonistic and delightful experiences that follow.  Each chapter is a different story, so it’s technically possible to read a little bit and then walk away – though I couldn’t put it down.  I especially loved the chapters devoted to the Bordeaux Marathon, the black truffle Catholic Mass, and the Michelin Guide.  If you’re looking to read something that will keep a grin on your face, this is my pick.  Unfortunately, it will definitely give you some wanderlust.

Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager

Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace.

The true story of the unraveling of a complicated con, set in motion with the 1987 auctioning at Christie's of what were purported to be bottles of 1787 Chateau Lafite owned by Thomas Jefferson and discovered in a sealed Paris cellar. The book reads like a mystery novel, and takes you inside the world of collectors, auction houses, and the shadowy figures that keep both supplied with ever more incredible discoveries. Of course, it becomes clear, if it's too good to be true, it's probably not.

Proof by Dick Francis.

OK, this is a mystery, not a wine book. But I've been looking for escape in my reading in recent weeks. Dick Francis is my favorite mystery writer. His novels usually revolve around the world of English horse racing, but for this book he chose a main character whose occupation is the owner of a neighborhood wine shop, and a plot that involves a fraud of replacing famous wines and whiskeys with cheap, generic plonk. The glimpses into the world of European wine are spot on, the description of blind tasting and the difference between adequate and great wine explained well, and the storytelling and prose have the crystal clarity the author is famous for. Appropriate for an author who is supposed to have said that he could give a confident character description of anyone after a five minutes look at their wine cellar.

Haydee McMickle, Wine Educator

Red, White and Drunk All Over: A wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass by Natalie MacLean, 2007

12 years ago this was a refreshing alternative to dry information. It assuaged my inner voice of awkwardness and insecurity as it pertains to wine and the culture. I found the poetic quirkiness curiously enjoyable.

MacLean, a sommelier, takes a journey from vineyard to cellar to retail shop, restaurant and dining room, she also travels with her insecurities. Imagine her tasting with Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

This is a fun book, nothing stuffy here yet you pick up a few tidbits.

This is in the category of summer beach read. It’s funny and approachable. The jacket says it all, it reads “...this bodice-ripping wine book.”

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager

There’s nothing like giving a shout out to one of our own, and recommending a book that’s a lot of fun at the same time. Slave to the Vine: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand, by Tablas Creek National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

Darren invites us along on a rollicking trek of a wonderfully chaotic crush.  I love how the real story of harvest is told: dirty, wet, exhausting yet exhilarating.  Darren has a deft comic touch, and the writing gets better and more engaging as the book unfolds.  I look forward to follow-up, Lucky Country: Confessions of a Vagabond Cellarhand.

Monica O’Connor, Direct Sales Manager

Real Wine by Patrick Matthews

It’s about history and natural wine making, and Bob Haas is mentioned I believe on the very first page!

Gustavo Prieto, Tasting Room Lead and Head of Biodynamic Practices

The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell,

This book is about the history of phylloxera in France. It covers how and when it was  brought from the US to France, all the efforts people took at the time to try to understand what was happening to their vineyards, and the experiments they first used to try to control the problem. All leading up to how they finally were able to discover the solution with the use of rootstocks. It’s interesting that phylloxera started right next door to Chateauneuf It’s a great read and a great story.

Another great book that I use all the time and is a great source for anything wine related is The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson. I think this was the first wine book that I ever owned.

Deborah Sowerby, Wine Educator

American Rhone by Patrick Comiskey

Mr. Comiskey did a fantastic job of tracing back to the roots movement of the Rhone varieties and their hosts. To start he shares the genesis relating to the three leading red varieties, an emphasis on Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and how (up to the point of release of the book) the other Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties were received. He shares with us the cast of characters (with historic photographs) that played a role in introducing us, the American public, to these hallowed grapes. He shares with us their belief, vision, tenacity and fortitude to bring these varieties to the U.S. through avenues of transportation in one’s suitcase or the path and patience through quarantine. As well as the work devoted to propagation, and years invested in the annual harvest and making of these Rhône varieties, resulting in the fine wines we enjoy today all thanks to the Rhône Rangers and those that followed.

My favorite photo's: Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Robert Haas and Jean-Pierre Perrin, our old friends John Alban, Mat Garretson and Gary Eberle and the group pictures of the gathering of French and American producers at the International Colloquium event held in 1991 organized by Robert Haas. Historic.

My favorite chapter: 15 - Tablas Creek the Validator (of course).

Nathan Stuart, Shepherd

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

MacNeil keeps you interested and is constantly recommending pairings and cuisine from each region to go with the wine of the area. Still to this day when I open a bottle of white from the Loire Valley or a Syrah from Hermitage I go back to the images and stories from her book.

At a time like this when travel is impossible this book will let you explore the world from your living room and leave you with a great foundational understanding of the world of wine.

I recommend this book if you’re new to the world of wine. She does an amazing job of drawing you in and taking you to the major wine regions of the world.

Jim and Debbie Van Haun, Wine Educator and Accountant Respectively

The Global Encyclopedia of Wine by Peter Forrestal

This was a great resource for us when we bought our Alicante Bouschet 10-acre vineyard back in late 1998.

The history of growing grapes & wine making around the world is fascinating. Alicante was replaced with several of the Rhône varietals in France & Spain and that is exactly what we eventually did. Alicante was very popular during prohibition because of its dark juice.

This book is a great source of information.

Ian Consoli, Marketing Coordinator

So what am I reading?

Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally by Isabelle Legeron

This book clearly lays out the natural wine making process, identifies icons in the industry, and helps you find natural wine producers throughout the world.

I purchased Natural Wine early on in my wine career from a local biodynamic estate and I am so glad I did. While the focus is obviously on natural wine, the really lasting knowledge I gained from the book was insight into the wine making process. It was the first time the whole process clicked for me. I gained a high level of respect for low-intervention winemakers.

I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about winemaking or wants to know more about natural wine. Reading this book literally changed my palate.

Conclusion…

Of the 20 books listed above (including my own) I was shocked to learn that I’ve only read five of them. On top of that, I assumed there would be many people selecting the same favorites; however, there was only one instance of this (Billionaire’s Vinegar) and it was listed along with a second recommendation in both cases. We also had multiple more recommendations that were left out. Perhaps we’ll save those for another post.

Until then, happy reading!

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