Tag Archives: Terroir

Wine Books I Recommend

Following is a highly selective list of books that I’ve read or consulted that I consider particularly worthwhile.  If I haven’t read or consulted a book, I do not recommend it.  Alas, there are more that I’ve not read than have—I’ve only 120 books on wine in my library, and some are still waiting to be read, though nearly all have served as references.

Grapes, Wine, Wineries, and Vineyards

There are seven general wine books that one should own in order to be truly well- and completely informed:

1.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th ed. (2015) is just indispensable, with a comprehensive coverage of just about every topic bearing on wine that one can think of, a true Abbocatto to Zymase encyclopedia.  All articles are signed, all cited references noted.  Robinson was both the editor and a contributor.  The 4th edition adds 300 additional, new terms, though many will only be of interest to wine professionals.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

2.  Equally indispensable is Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson’s The World Atlas of Wine, 7th ed. (2013).  How else could one find the way around the vinicultural regions of the world, including NY State?  The maps are in full color, ranging in scale from street-level for the Champagne towns and the lodges in Oporto, to 1:45,000 and larger for wine regions.  The text for the many regions is the very model of pithy, clear writing.  For a full review on this blog, see the post: The Three Indispensable Wine Books.

3.  In 2013, two new, serious reference books on wine—sure to become indispensable and classic are:  Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy’s American Wine:  The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States (a very useful feature is its summary of each AVA, including the best grapes grown, and listing the top wineries by category); the other must-have is Jancis’s encyclopedic Wine Grapes:  A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, written in collaboration with Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.  See my post, The Three Indispensable Wine Books, for a complete review of Wine Grapes.

4.  Emile Peynaud’s vital and perennial The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation (trans. Michael Schuster, 1987).  Originally written in French as La Goût du Vin in 1983), it is considered definitive by many in the field.

But then, there is always Jancis Robinson’s How to Taste (2000), which is both a how-to for tasting and a guide to the aromatic and gustatory sensations of the different varieties and how they can differ from place to place (i.e., from terroir to terroir).  Robinson’s is certainly the more approachable for most readers.

5.  WSET students and graduates, anyone interested in wine certification, and indeed, even winemakers can benefit from David Bird’s Understanding Wine Technology:  The Science of Wine Explained, 3rd ed., which has been required reading for all WSET students, is a very clear and lucid explanation—in laymen’s terms—of what goes on right down to the molecular level of yeasts, viruses, and chemistry generally.  It’s also a very good read.

6.  I very much enjoyed and admired Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop’s Authentic Wine:  toward natural and sustainable winemaking (2011), which has many really interesting insights into what really goes on in a vineyard, a winery, and what it takes to be a sustainable winegrower and producer.  Much food for thought, though some may cavil about a few of the authors’ conclusions.

7.  If one wanted to carry as much information about wine in a portable package, there’s one that I cannot live without:  Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2016.  It is pithy, witty, thicker than ever, and claims to be the Number One Bestselling Wine Guide, which it deserves to be.  I’ve bought every edition since the very first one, published in 1977 (it was rather slim then).  Also available as a KIndle Book from Amazon.

New York and East Coast Wine

Long Island Wine Country:  Award-Winning Vineyards of the North Fork and the Hamptons, is an indispensable guide to visiting Long Island vineyards and wineries.  Written by Jane Taylor Starwood, editor-in-chief of Long Island Wine Press, she gives us an insider’s track on the owners, the winemakers, and the wineries themselves.  In a conversational tone (and amply illustrated), the book leads the reader from East to West on the North Fork, and then down to the Hamptons, as though it would be followed geographically. It’s a bit frustrating an approach if one wants to do research and would prefer an alphabetical organization, but it’s a quibble given the overall quality and usefulness of the book, which is still reasonably up-to-date as of 2013, given that it was published in 2009. One should bear in mind though, that already important personnel changes have taken place: Richard Olsen Harbich left Raphael in 2010 and went to Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa is now Raphael’s vintner, Kelly Urbanik Koch is winemaker at Macari, and Zander Hargrave, who was assistant winemaker at Peconic Bay Vineyards, is now unemployed, as Peconic Bay has closed its doors.  A new, major winery, Kontokosta Vineyards, opened in June 2013 in Greenport.
Louisa Thomas Hargrave wrote a gracious memoir, The Vineyard: The Pleasures and Perils of Creating an American Family Winery. One cannot begin to understand what was involved in creating the Long Island wine industry without reading this charming and touching account of the establishment of Long Island’s first winery, Hargrave Vineyard, in 1973, when there were only small farms and potato fields. It is charming in its modesty, touching in its honesty, and a remarkable tale of what it takes to start a vineyard from scratch when you don’t even know what you’re doing! And look at what it started–a whole industry that is one of the dominant features of the East End of Long Island, begun with passion, commitment, and hard work, but ultimately at the cost of heartbreak and renewal.  Now out of print, it may be available, used, on Amazon or AbeBooks.

In Marguerite Thomas’s Touring East Coast Wine Country:  A Guide to the Finest Wineries (1996) we have the first important guide to the wines and wineries of the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia, replete with useful insights and a good background on the history of the viniculture of each state. It also provides biography capsules of some of the most important or interesting winemakers. Given that the book was first published in 1996, a good deal of its information is now more of historical interest, and it needs, and deserves, a new edition.
More up-to-date than Marguerite Thomas’s East Coast guide is Carlo DeVito’s East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia, published in 2004. Still, even this needs to be brought up-to-date, but its value lies in its own take on East Coast wineries, with listings of the wines offered by each estate with brief descriptions, recommendations and excerpted tasting reviews of the wines. Let’s hope that, like Thomas’s guide, DeVito’s will also receive a new, updated edition soon. For the serious wine tourist, one guide complements the other, so why not buy both?
Vital–thanks to its clear, lucid writing and very useful history of LI viticulture and winemaking–is the excellent if outdated Wines of Long Island, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Beltrami & Philip E. Palmedo.  It includes profiles of many of the most important personalities in the LI wine world, descriptions and reviews of wineries and their wines–both past and present–and a generally judicious insight into the trends and achievements of the region as of the end of the 20th Century.  Definitely worthwhile owning, if you love LI wines, but it has long been out of print, though Amazon or AbeBooks may still offer it, “pre-read”, online.  It is currently being brought up to date by me, with elements of the series on Long Island wines in this blog being incorporated into it.  We hope to bring out the 3rd edition by Spring 2017.

An interesting and somewhat chatty book is The Story of North Fork Wine: Historical Profiles and Wine Country Recipes (2009), John Ross’s up-close-and-personal look at the people who work in and run the wineries.  A chef who owned Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, he became close to many in the wine trade, especially given that he was interested in devising recipes and menus that would best accompany the wines of the region.

Organic and Biodynamic Viniculture

Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course: The Birth of the Biodynamic Method, is the foundation text of the biodynamic movement. A compilation of eight lectures delivered in Germany in 1924 provides, in Steiner’s own words, the basis for what he called a new science based on the natural rhythms of the world and the cosmos, as recovered from the traditional practices of the peasant farmers of yore. It is meant as a healthy antidote to the rise of farming methods based on industrial chemicals and fertilizers. Many leading vineyards are farmed by this method, from the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy to Shinn Estate in Long Island. You owe it to yourself to read the lectures if you wish to really understand what Biodynamics is about.
Nicolas Joly is a leading proponent of Biodynamic viticulture, and he practices his preaching at one of the greatest vineyards of the Loire, the Coulée de Serrant. Joly’s Wine from Sky to Earth: Growing and Appreciating Biodynamic Wine, is a true believer’s panegyric to Biodynamics.  His ideas and those of the founder of Biodynamics®, Rudolf Steiner, are put into practice at two vineyards that I know of:  Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estate.
Lon Rombough’s The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture, is an excellent introduction to how to grow grapes organically. It’s also very practical, as the guide is really intended for the novice who wants to start a backyard vineyard or even a commercial one. It takes the reader step-by-step on establishing an organic vineyard, imparting along the way a good deal of knowledge and savvy advice.
Other Wine Books of More than Passing Interest (or Not)

Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink (UCal Press, 2008).  I highly recommend this book for its clarity and scholarship.  The subject of politics in the wine world proves to be fascinating, and the author chose to approach it by comparing, for example, the AOC laws of France (and by extension, much of the EU) with the AVA regulations promulgated by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  There are surprising insights  into how and why wine is grown and made in different countries, why labels look the way they do on each side of the Atlantic, and the effects of custom, religion, crime, regionalism, nationalism, and so forth on the wine trade.  Eminently worthwhile for the serious wine-lover.

  • John Hailman, Thomas Jefferson on Wine (UMiss Press, 2006).  Another book that is based on sound scholarship and research, also well-written, but one may wish to skip all the tables and lists, which are difficult to grasp at times simply because the wines of Jefferson’s period (1743-1826) varied so much in name, currency, weights and volumes, that clear comparisons with our own period are so difficult to make.  Still, if one has the patience, there is reward in seeing how all-encompassing were the interests and tastes of the first great oenophile of the United States of America.

 

  • Thomas Pellechia, Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 2006)  A work with great potential written by someone who has long been in the wine trade but whose sense of history is lacking in scholarship and critical acuity.  Some of what he writes is couched in such vague or confused historical terms as to be virtually useless, especially when dealing with antiquity and the Middle Ages.  The writing style is breezy and casual, but it lacks polish and lucidity.  Such a shame.
  • A far better foray into wine history would be the classic Gods, Men, and Wine, (1966) by William Younger, or the more recent Story of Wine (1989)—or the New Illustrated Edition (2004)—by Hugh Johnson, both of which are better-written and historically more reliable.  Neither of the latter books is available in Kindle versions, but they do enjoy the virtue of been on real, durable paper bound in hardcover.

 

  • A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage (2005), is more than just about wine.  It tells its story by means of six beverages: beer (Mesopotamia & Egypt), wine (Ancient Greece & Rome), spirits (Colonial America), Coffee (Europe in the Age of Enlightenment), Tea (the British Empire), and Coca-Cola (Modern America and the Age of Globalization).  It’s both amusing and informative, but I’d put the emphasis on the amusement.  Unless you’ve utterly uninformed about wine or the other beverages, this is really History 001, rather lightweight.

 

  • Questions of Taste:  The Philosophy of Wine, edited by Barry C. Smith (2007), with essays by experts such as Paul Draper, Jamie Goode, Andrew Jefford, and others, with an enthusiastic Foreword by Jancis Robinson.  The contributors also include a couple of philosophers and a linguist.  The language of wine as presented in this book is clearly academic. A worthwhile but challenging book, well worth the time to read.

 

  • Wine Wars, by Mike Veseth (2011), which, with chapter headings like “The Curse of the Blue Nun,” “The Miracle of Two-Buck Chuck,” and “The Revenge of the Terroirists,”  is an interesting and amusing way of treating the effects of globalization on the modern world of wine.  It is also rather informative, and occasionally provides some surprising nuggets of information (such as the fact that Trader Joe’s is actually a German company).

 

 

Viniculture in LI–Part III: The Old Field Vineyards

Based on an interview with Perry Weiss, and Rosamond and Christian Baiz, 12 May 2011

Upon arriving at the vineyard, which is just off the main road going through Southold, the old barns and house give little clue as to where to go, and there may be no one there to greet you.  Still, you approach the likeliest suspect, a low, long barn which, it turns out, has a sign reading “Tasting Room” near a kind of logo confected out of a ring of old wine corks encircling a painted tin rooster that hangs on the barn siding.  Still no one there and the tasting room was closed, because everyone is out in the fields pruning, removing vine suckers, or spraying the vines.  This is a very small family operation, and the day I arrive, by appointment for the interview, there is too much to be done to have someone greet me upon arrival.  It is, after all, mid-May, early for visitors but timely for the vineyard.

I phone Perry Weiss, the winemaker, on her cell and she arrives shortly from the vineyard.  She is direct, engaging, and very polite, the while giving me all the time I need to conduct my interview with her.  When done, she takes me into the fields to meet her mother, Rosamond Phelps Baiz, the vineyard manager, who is removing any suckers growing from the base of the vines with a gloved hand, nearly caressing each vine as she rubs the base in a careful but swift motion.  Then we go to the house, where I meet her father, Christian Baiz, the vineyard factotum, who is briefly on a break from spraying the vines to refill the machine.  In fact, Perry has taken over the duties of winemaker from Ros, who replaced Perry in the vineyard.  The truth of the matter in an operation so small is that everyone has to pitch in everywhere, so all three of them are jacks-of-all-trades.

This is wine-growing and wine-making writ small—a true family operation that is not sustained by deep pockets but rather by passion, enthusiasm, and caring about what they do.  It came into existence as a vineyard because the property has been in family hands since 1919.  The first vineyard was established in 1974 by Chris using cuttings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir that they bought from Alex and Louisa Hargrave, who had themselves just started up their own vineyard the year before—the very first one on Long Island.  More Pinot Noir vines were added in 1985, and then Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 1997, just after Chris and Ros purchased the property from his family.  They had to pull up the Chardonnay when it became clear that it wasn’t doing well at the site.  In all they’ve now planted a total of twelve-and-a-half acres to vines, which produce about a thousand cases of wine every year.  At the time they acquired The Old Field, they were living in Bronxville, just north of New York City, and decided to make a go of running a vineyard and so moved permanently to Southold and the farm.

Like the Hargraves when they started, the Baiz family had little notion of how to run a vineyard and make wine, but they were determined not only to succeed in the vineyard but to make quality wine as well.  Also like their predecessors, they didn’t start with a large amount of capital.  Unlike them, however, they had the experience and knowledge of the Hargraves themselves to draw upon, as well as of other wineries and vineyards that had gone into business before they did, such as Bedell Cellars, Lenz Winery, Peconic Bay, and others.   Still, Ros had never driven a tractor, for example, and much had to be learned from scratch.

Now, they work as a team, though the one hired hand they’d once relied on was no longer available, as he was denied a visa to return to the US to work in the vineyard, though son Ryan does join in the work when he visits.  Working over twelve acres means nearly 12,000 vines that need to be tended, which is a great deal of work to be done manually.  There are six contiguous plots, including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir.  Recently they also planted 250 vines of Sauvignon Blanc by the Bay to see how that will do.  For now, lacking significant wine-making capabilities, they make wine from their own grapes at the winery at Lenz Vineyards, where Perry works with master winemaker Eric Fry to create varietals with their own distinctive signature of the Old Field.

Unlike most other vineyards on the Island, The Old Field has had no need to adjust the acidity of the soil, for the site was—before English settlers purchased the land over 370 years ago—occupied for perhaps 500 years by a large Corchaug Indian village of about 170 huts.  The inhabitants evidently fished and harvested tons of shellfish every year (the field is right on Southold Bay).  The shells were cast in the field and over the years became part of the soil, making it rich in calcium and keeping the pH high at 6.8-7.1.  The vineyard also enjoys a high water table, so there is little need to irrigate, except for very new plantings.  This alone makes for a unique terroir.

In this bucolic setting there is a pond which is a source for frogs and insects, including dragonflies that are natural insect predators.  The space between the rows has cover crops of grasses and legumes, including clover and fescue, which also encourage a diversity of insects.  They have a wild-flower patch as well, which also promotes the presence of ‘good’ insects in the vineyard.  And then there are the red-tailed hawks, the great horned owls, and always the chickens.  Here, IPM seems to take care of itself.

Indeed, the commitment to sustainable viticulture also includes “hand-harvesting, hand leaf-pulling, hand pruning” and so on, “which keeps the tractor out of the field, lessening soil compaction and diesel usage.”  They also flail-chop vine prunings, thus adding mulch back to the soil.  They use a tractor only to handle needs that cannot (or ought not) to be done manually.  For instance, they employ organically-approved sprays where possible, delivered by a trailer-sprayer designed to focus  on specific parts of the vine, as they cannot afford the far more expensive and effective tunnel-recycling sprayers used by more affluent vineyards.  (Therefore, as drift is inevitably a factor under windy conditions, they also try to confine spraying to windless days.)

Old Field Vineyard is an enthusiastic participant in the Cornell University VineBalance Program, and do not mind that they are regularly checked on to ensure that they are in compliance, which is what is required of those vineyards that participate in the program.  They do not, however, at least at this time, think of converting the property to organic farming, though they will use organic viticulture where it is practicable for them.

One of the reasons that the Baiz family purchased the property in 1996 was to keep it from being developed.  The one thing that they will not do is sell the development rights to the fields as some other vineyards have done.  There is a problem with that, after all, insofar as land values have risen exponentially to the point that an acre of land can cost over $100,000 while the rights can fetch a few tens of thousands at best—in other words, they cannot afford to, though in principle they are in favor of a Land Trust.

Thus, this fifth-generation family on the Old Field is working to sustain the what is the second Long Island vineyard and its land for more generations to come, practicing sustainability, hand-harvesting their fruit, and producing wines red and white wines, including an unusual white that is made from Pinot Noir, two Chardonnays, a Cabernet Franc, and two Merlots, not to speak of a Blanc de Noir sparkler that had earned 90 points from the Wine Spectator.  It begins in the vineyard, along with a great deal of sweat.

For those who wish to see just what’s involved in farming sustainably, The Old Field Vineyards offers a Sustainable Agriculture Tour on Saturdays at 11:30am, as well as a Sustainable Agriculture Tour with Tasting and lunch on selected Saturdays.

The Old Field Vineyards

59600 Main Road
PO Box 726
Southold, NY 11971

Phone: (631) 765-0004
Email: livinifera@aol.com

Christian F. Baiz and Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Proprietors
Eric Fry, Master Winemaker
Christian F. Baiz, Tractor/Lawnmower operator
Rosamond Phelps Baiz, Assistant Vineyard Manager, Winemaker, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
Perry Weiss, Vineyard Manager/Tasting Room Manager/ Assistant Winemaker
Ryan Weiss, Grounds and Structures

The Old Field Vineyard website