Food & Drinks

Books On Wine, The 2020 Edition: Suggestions For Reading And Gifting This Season

Three books. Three authors. Three questions.

That’s the strategy for today’s second post in this end-of-year series about wine books published in 2020. (The first post, about a book on women winemakers and their personal odysseys, ran a few weeks ago.) The three books in the spotlight today vary widely in narrative and scope but I’d like to focus on their commonality of intention: Why did the authors write their particular book, and why did they write it now?

Obviously the books were in the works well before COVID began wreaking havoc on the wine industry this year both commercially and personally, so I was curious for the authors’ perspectives now that their book has been released during this particularly challenging time. What can the books, and their authors’ points of view, offer to wine enthusiasts as we wrap up 2020?

Here are highlights from the responses I heard from Jane Anson, author of Inside Bordeaux; Laura Catena, author of Gold in the Vineyards: Illustrated Stories of the World’s Most Celebrated Vineyards; and Jim Clarke, author of The Wines of South Africa.

Why This book? And Why Now?

Now more than ever, Catena said, “we need to find ways to bring fantasy, wanderlust and foreign destinations into our homes.” She hopes that Gold in the Vineyards (which is the second book she’s published, following Vino Argentino in 2011) will allow readers to dream and fantasize. By presenting the behind-the-scenes of the most famous wines in the world, both in prose and illustration, Catena aims to capture all the romance in a better way. “It’s a book to be enjoyed with a glass of wine in hand,” she said.

The timing was right for both Clarke and Anson and their respective subject matters. In South Africa, Clarke said, the wine industry is particularly dynamic given “the wave of terroir-driven wines that began a dozen or so years ago in Swartland has swept across the country.” That’s led to a raising of the bar across the board. Today, “many producers and regions are clearly showing what they do best,” he said.

It takes time — a dozen years or more — but techniques that break from tradition lead to a reconsideration of a region’s historical perception. Anson believed that we were all ready for a new conversation about Bordeaux, and the positive feedback she’s heard about the book from châteaux and wine drinkers affirm that belief. They were “so happy to see a focus on a more contemporary side to Bordeaux, and one that takes into account its huge diversity of terroir and approaches to winemaking,” she said.

COVID’s Impact on the Books’ Publication and Reception

What’s it like to release a brand new book during COVID? Not ideal, presumably, and the authors offered more detail about the realities of that experience for their audiences.

Inside Bordeaux, for example, was three years in the research and writing, Anson said, and the launch date was mid-April after printing in Verona. “We watched the impact of lockdown month by month, as first paper became scarce and then the printers and binders were locked down, and then the book shops or wine shops either shut down or furloughed.” Those delays pushed publication back two months and the book came out in May after “Herculean efforts” by the printers and publishers. All launches were virtual, and all traditional marketing efforts (like book readings and signings) were abandoned. Instead readers sent photos via social media “of receiving the book and placing it in gardens, or beaches, or with wine bottles or cats,” something that Anson considered “so cheering in a year when we have seen so few people.”

Similarly, it was hard for Clarke to release the book when the South African industry was coping with particularly harsh COVID-related lockdowns on exports and domestic sales. (See my coverage of the situation from April of this year.) Wine drinkers around the world rallied behind the country, Clarke said, “and hopefully they’ll be turning to the book to explore what the country has to offer in greater depth.”

Catena emphasized the tactile experience of book reading, especially when we spend all day on our computers and seek human interaction more than anything else these days. “I hope that by touching the pages and looking at the illustrations wine lovers will understand even better the dreams and passions that lead some families to dedicate multiple generations to finding and preserving the Gold in the Vineyards,” she said.

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