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Families of the Vine: Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France
Synopses & Reviews
From the author
A few friends, a good meal, a glass of wine — what could be a more simple pleasure? Why then does the subject of wine — and particularly writing about wine — often seem so darn complicated, so needlessly technical or frustratingly pretentious? In this book I wanted to tell a different story about wine, share my experience of two years spent among French winemakers and vineyards — two years in which I discovered that the story of wine from vine to glass is as much the story of the people who make it, their history and traditions, their intimacy with the land, as it is a tale of yeast, grape, and barrel. Happily, it is also, in the small family vineyards where much French wine is made, a very warm, very human story.
The families of the book all work in southwest France growing malbec grapes, from which they have been making very good, very different wines for more than a hundred years. I followed them through the seasons, sharing the hopes of spring, the anguish of a summer drought and heat wave, the mad rush of the fall harvest, and then into the wine barns heady with the smells of fermentation. I learned about oak from a Bordeaux barrel maker, got advice on wine and food from the sommelier of a one-star restaurant, heard a dozen winemakers' notions of that maddeningly imprecise French concept of terroir.
What I discovered above all else was the winemakers' uncomplicated passion, their genuine enthusiasm for their craft, their desire that others understand their world and its meaning beyond the liquid in the glass. It is this passion that first drew me to this place and these people, and I hope you will come to feel it, too.
-- Michael Sanders
"One night, Sanders (From Here, You Can't See Paris) sat outside a hotel in southwestern France. An old Frenchman explained to the American that he had no use for wine criticism or the numerical rankings that hold sway in today's wine world: ' 'Me, I say I like this wine or I don't like this wine.' ' Sanders focuses on three winemakers in one of France's secondary wine regions, Cahors, following its 'difficult' and 'shy' eponymous wine (made primarily from the Malbec grape) from vine to barrel to glass. In doing so, he seeks to capture a way of life that existed before global marketing and the influence of the American wine critic Robert Parker, who devised the ranking system. Sanders shows the winemakers in the family-owned, family-run vineyards; describes the pathos of the harvest during the drought-ridden year of 2003; and even explains how barrels are made. Laced throughout this solid, affectionate portrait are unusual insights (e.g., 'Built into the concept of terroir... is the simple acknowledgement that the French winemaker knows all this as a sailor knows from the way his boat moves through the water that his sails are trimmed as they should be'). Sanders succeeds in showing us that a knowledge of wine really can't be imparted by experts, that it takes firsthand experience and time." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Sanders describes wine not merely as a commodity to be bought and sold, but a way of life in the Cahors region of France. He portrays family vineyards that are well established, intensely local operations, and represent three axes of coherent response to the difficult times French winemakers are facing as trade barriers fall both within the European Union and around the world. He does not provide an index or bibliography.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A rare glimpse into the intricacies of winemaking is achieved through this intimate look at three French families and their vineyards.
About the Author
Michael S. Sanders, a former book editor and author of The Yard, lives in midcoast Maine with his wife and daughter.
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