Subtitled: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine
Now here is a book that I didn’t really know whether I wanted to read, or not. The marketing commentary gave me the impression that the storyline might have been a little twee [adj. Brit excessively sentimental], but I’m glad I went through with it!
What we have here is part historical research, part novel(?) and certainly the narrative of our author taking a journey – though Sideways it is not!
The book follows the ups and downs – and it’s quite a lot of downs – of the Norton vine; from discovery, the immigrant population who took to the vine, through prohibition, back from the brink and then the hard slog of marketing its produce versus merlot, cabernet etc., etc. But it’s not just the story of the vine, it’s also a story of where the vine came from; Virginia, Missouri – this Midwest region that’s now fighting a similar battle to be recognised versus upstart domestic rivals such as California.
The book has a novel-like feel because the story is wrought and intertwined through the efforts of a few central characters – both historical and modern – and fortunately it largely avoids the make-believe embellishments of Tilar Mazzeo’s book. There are quite some twists too!
The prose is highly readable, though I did think it became a little florid through pages 200-220 (roughly) – fortunately it recovered it’s rhythm. For me, only one thing was missing and that was some attempt at a conclusion or, going forward, an outlook. The last chapter (it’s only 2 or 3 pages from 260) is highly personalised to the author – and why not, it is also his journey through the narrative that we are following – but it is the author in a dark place following the loss of his father, it is perhaps the only few pages of the book that didn’t hold my attention given its tangential connection to the overall book.
Verdict: Definitely worth packing into your case for the beach holiday.