Books, Maps, Magazines, Films even Podcasts!

wresting the crown back from jasper?

By billn on October 21, 2013 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!


1-WP_20131017_004I spotted a fantastic new book while I was doing the vendanges, not cheap at €69 in Athenaeum in Beaune, but once the pages are thumbed you are (I was!) compelled to buy.

Let’s be clear, it’s in French, but who cares with such wonderful new maps from Sylvain Pitiot – but wait, how can they have made such a mistake with such a beautifully presented (and expensive) book? There are two maps of Gevrey-Chambertin! Indeed there turns out to be two maps of most communes! Eventually the penny drops; one map is for the climats of that village e.g. Chapelle-Chambertin, the other is for the lieu-dits e.g. Gemeaux! Ooh! now that’s useful. There are also tables that define each climat (village lieu-dits too) to 4 decimal places (hectares) and list (for instance) exactly which lieu-dits make up Fixin’s Clos de Perrières. Add to that a list of the producers (almost, there is an occasional ‘missing’) who declared a particular Grand Cru in 2011 and this is a pretty terrific reference work.

I spoke with somebody at the BIVB, and they told me that there is another book with descriptions of the climats by the producers that is currently going through final ‘proofs’ – should be available in time for (my!) Christmas stocking. If they are indeed companion copies, then the locals are clearly trying to wrest the guru title back from Jasper Morris – though this book’s scope is narrower, and for most of the world, they will have to think about English versions for that to happen 😉

PS Sorry about the site being down yesterday – but my hosting company (it was them not me) didn’t feel the need to rush into doing anything remedial, after-all, it was only MIA for about 18 hours and nothing moves in Switzerland on a Sunday…!

an honour…!

By billn on September 17, 2013 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites

ray’s book

By billn on September 10, 2013 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

rays-bookSubtitled ‘The Road to Burgundy’
Published by Gotham Books (Penguin).

On trains and trams for the last couple of months I’ve been dipping into this book – Ray kindly thrust it into my hands the last time I saw him – and despite ~290 A5 pages, the chapters are relatively ‘bite-size’, so it was a perfect fit for such travel arrangements!

I’m pretty sure that most people here now know of Ray Walker; at his Maison Ilan he’s single-handedly redefined what an outsider can achieve in Burgundy, and his wines are quite good too! But a book? What next, a film? He’s already been practicing his camera-facing skills!

Not getting too far ahead of ourselves, let’s concentrate on the book… ‘Ray does Burgundy‘, as I shall henceforth refer to this book, is very much (to a British ear) a Disney book (or film? 🙂 ) of apparent worthiness, but this is also a fleeting tenor, because I was quickly wrapped up in the story, as opposed to the storytelling – and given the detail the book covers, Ray must have a hell of a memory for events and dialogue. Actually I knew quite a lot of the story from various meetings with Ray, but had assumed much of it wasn’t for print – how wrong I was – but Ray tells a good tale!

Of-course I know many of the book’s actors, but Ray does Burgundy is anyway a fascinating story, indeed book: It’s about destiny, the journey, serendipity, the odd psycho (clearly better than rogues, or at least in this particular case) and relationships, like wine, forged. Actually I think that Ray was more than a little lucky in his various dealings, as there are clearly more rogues than psychos – perhaps it was all good character judgement on his part!

Whilst many see Ray’s progress as nothing short of a miracle, I personally I have the impression that Burgundians are more open to outsiders than their fellow locals and I’ve no doubt that this was in Ray’s favour – had he not met a Leflaive or a Gouges (etcetera) there may have been other willing substitutes – but there can be no discounting that it takes effort, sacrifice, enthusiasm and eventually attention to detail, to do what Ray has done. In most things Ray clearly prefers, where possible, to have control of the narrative, but in the end (good book or bad book – though it IS a good book), Ray is first and foremost a wine-producer, so this is how I judge him, and given the quality of his wines, to-date, Ray seems to have that taped…

news du jour…

By billn on April 22, 2013 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#the market

Just a few things to have caught my eye:


Dying on the Vine; George Gale (2011)

By billn on March 17, 2013 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

george-gale-dying-on-the-vineSubtitled ‘How Phylloxera Transformed Wine’
Published by UCP.
Buy from Amazon (eBook also available).

If you want a novelette, a ripping who-dunnit of a phylloxera story, then perhaps this is not a volume to consider – you should go for this one.

Here is a book written by a Professor of Philosophy but it seemed a little ‘dry’ in the opening pages as author, George Gale, recounted the differences between two philosophical schools of thought that considered whether phylloxera was the cause of thousands of vines dying, or whether the bug was simply a symptom of some other malady. Important enough stuff, as it delayed the focused search for a solution for years – but as mentioned a little dry. Thereafter I was hooked – full of detail and reference – it’s a great book! What brings ‘added value’ to this narrative is that once the author is done with France, he turns his attention to the march of the bug through other countries too – not just through the ‘old world’ of wine production, but the ‘New World’ too – with just one rather glaring omission – New Zealand. I suppose I’ll have to add a few notes on that myself when I finally publish a few notes on my February trip!

A little detail
  • 250 full pages, but also rather large appendices that cover the life-cycle of phylloxera, a discussion of the ‘wild’ American grape species that became part of the phylloxera story, and about 25 pages of notes with links to further reading and finally a glossary of terms. Following, just a few interesting snippets
  • Introduction: Page 10:

    And finally, traditional viticultural practices underwent massive changes as vignerons had to learn how to plant, manage, and, most importantly, protect by spraying the new grafted-type vines, thereby developing what came to be called the “new viticulture.”

  • Page 15:

    “phylloxera did not appear everywhere at once, and its impact was variable in time and space” (Pouget, 1990, 50). For example, even by the mid-1870s in the Hérault, the most extensively planted department, “some communes possessed not a single producing vine, while others, often quite nearby, registered a record harvest” (Pouget, 1990, 50).

  • Page 15:

    In 1870, eight million people in France lived directly off the vine (Millardet 1877, 82); 17 percent of the French workforce was involved in wine production, which amounted to 25% of the farm economy.

  • Page 42:

    When, in the early 1880s, the phylloxera threat began to lessen, the committees were perfectly placed as the next threat from America – black rot – exploded on the scene.

  • Page 126:

    One well-accepted estimate has the reconstitution costing France more than the Franco-Prussian War (Convert, 1900, 337).

  • Page 242:

    The only soils exempt from phylloxera were pure sands; every other imaginable soil type, everywhere in Europe, eventually succumbed to the invading bug. And with it went all the vines as well.

All this reminds me that I still haven’t picked up a copy of “The Great Wine Blight” by George Ordish. Eventually I suppose it will happen…

Authentic Wine, Goode & Harrop (2011)

By billn on October 29, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!

Published by UCP.
Buy from Amazon (eBook also available).

I’ve read the 250 pages of ‘Authentic Wine’ on and off, for about the last couple of months – and I’m so happy I did. NB, that’s 250 pages in a relatively small font – so it could easily have been 400 pages in a different format – this is, after-all, no pocket-sized book, weighing-in at somewhere between A4 and A5 size.

I assume that writing a book such as this is far from straight-forward, not from a content perspective, but rather because there were two authors – Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop – and I’m really left wondering how they put together such a seamless piece of work. I have to assume that they have different writing styles and that their thoughts didn’t always dovetail, hence, I would have expected the text to have occasional ‘clunks’, but the introduction excepted, far from it. The introduction sets out what to expect from the book and also sets forth the various starting points for the authors – I actually found that text less easy to read and for a while wondered what I’d taken on, but this section only lasts for about 8 pages, and it is pretty-much an essential baseline for what follows, i.e. that the divisive term ‘natural wines’ is to be avoided, and that:

“by coining the term authentic wine, we aim to differentiate between wines that are headed in the direction of homogenization, and wines whose origins have their roots in terroir, which are made from appropriately right fruit, free from faults, and made sustainably.”

This book is a treasure-trove of interesting information – much of it technical – and even as a chemist, there were some passages that I needed to read two or three times to make sure I was following, I can’t realistically comment on how it reads for somebody with no technical basics, but I’ve finally found a text that cements my understanding of the role of SO2 and equilibrium between free and bound sulfur (discussions) – I can almost say the same for the chapter on yeasts, despite the potatos analogy 😉
Actually, I think it’s almost worth buying the book only for the three pages written by Ted Lemon (Littorai Wines) to listen to the thought-processes behind his winemaking philosophy. Interestingly the book finishes with sections on the carbon footprint of wine and the marketing of (authentic) wine – here the authors change tack, choosing to make comment and recommendations in many areas, their-own value judgments contrasting to the more explanatory earlier chapters. I’m not sure it actually sits that well with the rest of the content, but if authors cannot use such a rostrum, then who(?) It is a book I heartily recommend, not just for those with a horse/dog/vine in this race, but for anyone who wants to know just a little more…

A few quotes, observations and talking points form the book:

“…and while the makers of agrochemicals are clearly motivated by profit, it would be wrong to cast all agribusiness as an evil empire plotting to conspire against the earth.”

Amen! The ‘chemicals are unclean’ mantra has become too much of a fetish. The agrobusiness as essentially about keeping the global population alive by feeding people – yields are king – vines are something quite apart.

“Chilean producer Cono Sur, part of the large Concha y Toro group, has moved a significant portion of its vineyards to certified organic status. Currently it has 266 hectares of certified organic vineyards…”

“…the biodynamic grower won’t always get a polite response, but what we are increasingly seeing is that while initially the presence of biodynamic vineyards may arouse contempt or suspicion, in time it is the conventional growers are reaching out and asking questions…”

But how long is ‘in time’? A far from untypical experience for biodynamic growers in Burgundy can be outright aggression: “You are the one that has contaminated my vines with rot and cut my income – what are you going to do about it?” Some of the aggressors take solace in sabotaging the equipment of biodynamic domaines – almost inverse Luddites! It will be a long road as exemplified by the next quote (even if it is at odds with the Cono Sur example)…

“Although many practitioners may disagree, organic and biodynamic farming will likely remain the preserve of relatively small, high-end wineries.”

“Because vines are highly disease susceptible, in the EU grapes account for 3 percent of all cropland but are responsible for 15 percent of synthetic pesticide applications.” (!)

(Elevage:) “At one extreme, exposing wine to too much oxygen simply results in oxidation. At the other extreme, total exclusion of oxygen slows the development process of wine; what is more, it alters the pattern of the wine’s evolution. A different destination will be reached.”

“Dr. Elizabeth Waters and her colleagues have found that hydrogen sulphur is in some cases generated in the…”

Above, the only typo I spotted…

Table 12.1 (p230) tries to come up with a numerical value for the carbon footprint of bottle closures. ‘Natural’ (or should that be authentic ;-)) cork certainly looks to come out the best, but I have a feeling that if you were to factor-in losses due to TCA, i.e. not just the loss of the cork, but the capsule, bottle and wine, the position of DIAM might become much more attractive…

hospices de beaune – newly in print…

By billn on September 19, 2012 #books, maps, magazines, films even podcasts!#other sites

For those with an interest, there’s a new book been published about the Hospices de Beaune – in theory with new material from the archives. At almost 500 pages you will have to work hard to find the new material, if for no other reason than the book is published in French! Looks like a true reference work…
(No affiliation, etcetera…)

Oh, and for your interest – and a bit of fun – how about trading-up?

Burgundy Report

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