Book Review: Wine Politics by Tyler Colman
It is said that to really appreciate wine, one must understand its context.
When some talk of "context", they often focus on what is in the bottle, such as a wine's varietal makeup, the vineyard from which its fruit was sourced, and/or the vintage which serves to describe the growing season. Even still, there are some who extend context further to include the historical and cultural influences shaping a wine, specifically those factors that have served to guide viticulturists and enologists in a singular fashion within a particular region.
Tyler Colman has now broadened this notion of context with Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink, a book that should appeal to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of wine.
If you have ever wondered why certain wines show up on some store shelves but not others, or why specific wines appear on certain restaurant menus while others do not, then you should read Wine Politics. The book not only explains how politics influence the distribution of wine here in the U.S., but also reveals how these same forces direct each bottle's production and eventual consumption. The best description of this book is offered by the author in Chapter 1::
"In this book I follow the travels that a bottle of wine takes from the vineyard to the dining-room table. Along the way it may encounter flying winemakers, humble vignerons, dull regulators, passionate activists, and powerful critics. I tell the neglected backstory of wine, which, as with Hollywood movies, can often be more interesting than the finished product."
Tyler Colman, a.k.a. Dr. Vino, approaches this topic by following the wine histories of France and the U.S., with a focus on winemaking in each country's respective, and most venerable, region, Bordeaux and Napa. This comparative treatment offers the reader a variety of useful insights and revelations throughout the book. Tyler extends his geographic coverage to include other regions of the world, including mentions of specific politics, policies, and practices in the Pacific Northwest.
I enjoyed the second half of the book the most, which includes chapters such as, "Who Controls Your Palate?", and, "Greens, Gripes, and Grapes".
What Michael Pollan did in such great detail for food in "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Tyler Colman has now provided for wine, albeit at a cursory level, in these two chapters. For it is in chapters five and six that Tyler exposes the downside of the industrialization of wine, while contrasting this approach with the upside of "natural" winemaking practices.
After reading Tyler's book, I now have a deeper understanding of the public policies that influence the wines I am able to buy and ultimately enjoy at my table. As a result, I am a much more informed consumer, citizen, and most importantly, voter. I highly recommend Wine Politics as required reading for anyone seeking to enlarge their understanding of wine.
Even still, I yearn for even more context surrounding the wine I consume, especially detailing how wine is produced here in America. If Wine Politics is any indication of the path Tyler Colman is on with future books, then I am confident he will continue to increase my appreciation for wine in the years ahead.
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