Synopses & Reviews
From the red clay hills of Dundee, Oregon, come increasingly world-renowned pinot noir wines. After being startled and delighted by one winery's elixir, and the shaggy humor of the father and son who made it, Brian Doyle set out to spend a year in one Willamette Valley vineyard, chronicling the creative and chaotic labor as the winemakers chase after the perfect pinot noir.
A self-described "wine doofus," Doyle follows closely at the elbow of Jesse Lange, son of Lange Winery founder Don Lange, peppering the young winemaker with questions about the growing of grapes and making of wine. With dry wit and otherworldly patience, Jesse Lange offers his interlocutor a primer on pinot, describing how acres of tiny black grapes are turned into complex and superb wines.
Doyle is absorbed in the real work of winemaking "the sheer labor of it, the creativity, the dust, the bugs, the machinery, the botany, the chemistry, the wild nuttiness of trying to make a great wine." He records the rhythms and cycles of winemaking the fallow times, the times of wild energy, and always the worry about the precious crop.
Doyle serves as a cheerful tour guide through the world of wine, alert to the colorful and riveting stories that swirl around its creation and consumption. In The Grail, he collects and shares dozens of these stories about the natural history of the vineyard, the fussiness of the pinot vine, the boom in pinot noir around the world, the surprising buying habits of tasting room visitors, and the subtle craft of winemakers who know, as Jesse Lange says, grinning, "how to get out of the way of great grapes." In short, The Grail is a spirited and entertaining chase for a truly special wine.
"Take the red hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley, a father-son winemaking outfit and one madcap wordsmith on a quest for the world's finest pinot noir. Let them ferment, and you've got a charming look inside the operations at Don and Jesse Lange's winery. An abundance of words (witness the book's subtitle), run-on sentences, rhyming, alliteration and stylized dialogue all contribute to a bacchanalian use of language that reflects Portland magazine editor Doyle's joyful view on both life and wine. With the author's bubbly sense of humor and sharp storytelling, dry facts become delightful tidbits. His descriptio of the grape vines' pollination process, for instance, bursts with sexual metaphors: 'the wild seething scene in the vineyard, the vines fertilizing each other madly when no one is looking, the little tiny bras, the little tiny cigarettes, the recriminations at dawn.' Like the wine Doyle writes of, these recollections are layered with subtlety and depth. Doyle ranges from discussing the basic pleasures of food, drink and conversation to ruminating on spiritual concepts. Perfect for wine aficionados and word lovers, this is a full-bodied, ebullient account." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The book inspires me to resurrect one of my personal coinages: it's 'excruciatingly pleasant.' Which is pretty cool." Oregonian
A self-described "wine doofus" spends a year in a small Oregon vineyard, chronicling the creative and chaotic labor as the winemakers chase after the perfect pinot noir.
About the Author
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author of six books, among them Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies and The Wet Engine. His work has appeared in The Best American Essays, and in Atlantic Monthly, American Scholar, Harper's, Gourmet, Orion, Sydney Morning Herald, and the Times of London. He is also an essayist for Eureka Street magazine and The Age newspaper, both in Melbourne, Australia.
Read exclusive essays by Brian Doyle from 2010