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The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wineby Todd Kliman
Synopses & Reviews
Clouds of dust drift through the open windows of my rickety Toyota as it shudders along the bumpy gravel path of Champe Ford Road like a washing machine on spin cycle, stirring up sticks and pebbles.
The vineyard sits up ahead, just beyond a grove of ash and walnut trees so densely crosshatched that the road through it resembles a tunnel. It's a sunny, sweltering late spring day in Virginia's hunt country, but having entered the tunnel, it's as if I've entered a different realm altogether. Light and sound disappear. The heat, meanwhile, has not been dispelled by the intersecting bands of shade but becomes more concentrated, and the air has the odd, uncirculating stillness of a locked vault, of something trapped, a gathering of ghosts.
I emerge onto a steep and narrow road to find a woman standing outside the tasting room with her hand over her brow, squinting into the slanting afternoon sun like a land surveyor. I'm late. Even before I cut the engine, she bounds out to meet me in her pale yellow blouse and white skirt.
Hiya, she says, giving me her hand. Jenni McCloud. She doesn't squeeze but instead, at the moment her fingers come into contact with my palm, allows them to go limp--a delicate gesture meant, I suppose, to reduce the effect of their size.
I apologize for keeping her waiting. She waves me off. No worries, she says, as though worrying itself were the greater offense. Come on, let me show you the property.
A pair of sweet, rambunctious dogs runs out from the wings to escort us to her all-terrain vehicle.
Say hello to Treixadura and Fer. Hello, cuties
Treixadura and Fer Servadou, she explains, unhelpfully.
I stare blankly.
The grapes? Spanish? No? she offers.
Sorry. Never heard of 'em.
A couple of arthritic-walking chickens join the party. Hey, little goobers, Jenni says, stroking their lustrous coats.
You've got quite the menagerie, don't you?
And a parrot inside and I'm getting pigs next. Little piggies. I love it. All this land, and all these animals. I'm a country girl. I love being able to be free on the land like this, and breathe. That's why I moved here.
We hop in and drive. To the east, Bull Run Mountain, soft and shimmering in the heat haze, conjures a slumbering giant, lolling on the horizon as if it were a hammock. Catoctin Mountain lies opposite at a distance. Embosomed between them, the tiny village of Aldie nestles. Other than the planes that knife across the sky, unwelcome reminders of nearby Dulles Airport and the congested exurbs of northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., feels like a time zone away. As humid and thick as the air is, I can feel myself beginning to unclench and breathe, too.
What is that, air? I say, inhaling.
Jenni throws her head back in laughter. Welcome to horse country, man.
It's sometimes the simplest of things, the silliest of things, that draw you to people, not their well-intentioned gestures or deepest thoughts. And so it is that I take an immediate liking to Jenni for following horse
A James Beard Award-winning critic for The Washingtonian presents a history of America's Norton grape that includes coverage of its cultivation in the mid-1800s, obscure use by bootleggers during Prohibition and modern revival by unique vintners throughout the country.
Kliman's thorough research and entertaining spin on the Norton's history make for a vintage that goes down smooth. — T. Rees-Shapiro, Washington Post Book World
Who knew a grape could generate so much history, so much commerce, so much entrancing narrative, so much splendid writing. Todd Kliman's The Wild Vine is as brilliantly successful a hybrid as its subject: combining the best characteristics of history and memoir, biography and travelogue, it is an utter delight.
--Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Todd Kliman's The Wild Vine is beautiful and eye-opening and you'll enjoy it as you would a bracing and wonderful wine. It's a mystery story, a history lesson, a personal journey between hard covers: a great, American vintage.
--Darin Strauss, author of Chang & Eng and More Than It Hurts You
This book will move you in ways that might surprise you, for The Wild Vine is about much more than an obscure American grape; it's about heartbreak, determination, courage, and humanity. If in vino veritas, this may be the truest story ever told, and Todd Kliman tells it with grace and sensitivity.
--Don and Petie Kladstrup, authors of Wine and War
A fascinating, well-written and researched cross-generational journey that follows the DNA of a single grape variety that I had never heard of before. I don't know if the Norton grape will make it as one of the great wines of the world, but its history, and the eccentric characters who carried its hope for a wine that could be grown and vinified in Virginia, of all places, makes for page-turning reading.
--Rex Pickett, author of Sideways
Kliman tells the ups and downs of Norton with equal panache, pointing a bright light on grape hybrids, an important yet little-known part of the wine world, and introducing a cast of interesting characters along the way. While reading this book, I kept wishing that I had a bottle of Norton at my elbow.
--George M. Taber, author of Judgment of Paris
A well-researched and fascinating story that reads like a novel. A true and highly entertaining American tale.
--Anthony Dias Blue, The Tasting Panel magazine, WCBS, KABC
This is a terrific book. If it were a wine, it would be expressive but earthy, subtly spiced, with great structure and a long, lingering finish.
--Toby Young, of Top Chef
Hold on for an entertaining and enlightening 400-year, transcontinental, trans-cultural investigation of the greatest wine you’ve never heard of. Todd Kliman squeezes a hell of a yarn from a grape.
--Daniel Evan Weiss, author of The Roaches Have No King and The Swine's Wedding
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
\Todd Kliman is the food and wine editor and restaurant critic of The Washingtonian. He won a James Beard Award in 2005 for his writing.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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