Posts Filed Under book reviews

A Portrait of the Satirist as an Old Winemaker: An Interview with Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm

Vinted on October 8, 2009 binned in book reviews, interviews, winemaking

To many people, the charismatic front-man of the iconic Boony Doon wine brands, Randall Grahm, is the Mad Hatter of the wine world.

Once they read Randall’s recently-released book, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, those same people will realize that they’re dead wrong.

Randall Grahm is not the wine world’s Mad Hatter; Randall Grahm is the wine world’s Cheshire Cat, equally (and eloquently) adept at satirizing the modern trends of the wine industry as he is at continually surprising wine consumers with quirky, excellent wines inspired by a desire to transmit the equally quirky and excellent message that California’s terroir has to tell.

Been Doon So Long is, at times, a masterstroke; it’s just as interesting, funny, poignant, and acerbic as any wine that California has ever had to offer.  Clearly an avid lover of literature, music, and wine, Randall Grahm has somehow managed to utilize all three as he takes us through the history of Bonny Doon, offers intimate glimpses of his personal demons, and sends up many of the wine world’s most sacred cows.  If he has a mad hat, Grahm is clearly capable of pulling rabbits out of it – both when it comes to wine and when it comes to writing.

Been Doon So Long is a unique work, and while it might not be the kind of book that you’d expect from the world of wine, it’s probably the book that the wine world deserves right now.  I found reading the book to be rewarding, but rather like the fabled rabbit hole, the deeper you get into it, the more difficult it becomes to fully explain.  Which is why I figured I’d let someone msarter (Randall) explain it instead.

[ Special note to the FTC: Have I received the book and Bonny Doon wines as free samples? Yep. Did that influence my review of the book? I don’t think so, but I’m not a psychologist. ]

Following is an interview I conducted with Randall this week while he’s in the midst of his promotional tour for Been Doon So Long.  Like the book, the interview will give you a glimpse into the rabbit hole of Randall’s mind.  You’ll encounter below a guy with a formidable prowess with the written word, strong opinions, a consuming passion to find a Californian wine that truly speaks of its origin, and who isn’t afraid to wear his emotions in plain view.

But before you head down this rabbit hole, be sure to gather up your smarties, love of literature, an open mind, and a glass of something unique and terroir-driven.  You’re gonna need ‘em…

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Wine, Words & Love Affairs (A Book Review)

Vinted on June 29, 2009 binned in book reviews, wine books


Pronunciation: \-jē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural et·y·mol·o·gies
Etymology: Middle English ethimologie, from Anglo-French, from Latin etymologia, from Greek, from etymon + -logia -logy
Date: 14th century

1 : the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language

2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies

I’m not sure exactly when I fell in love with words.  I think it happened in high school; though I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, I distinctly recall a time in the early Summer during the middle of high school where I became fascinated by the English language, obscure words, and their histories.  I vividly remember devouring books like The Endangered English Dictionary.  It just sort of… happened, not terribly different from how I fell in love with wine, actually.

Mind you, my love affair with wine happened well after high school, since I was of course too young to legally drink alcohol back them… ahem…


I was recently contacted by Charles Hodgson, an author and podcaster about receiving a review copy of his latest book, History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology and Word Histories from the Vineyard, Glass, and BottleI’m sure that Charles wanted to send me a copy because of the blog (mine, I mean), and not because of my closet desire to be an etymologist, since there’s no way he could have known about that unless he’s also a clairvoyant (to the best of my knowledge, his podcast is about etymology and not long-distance cross-border mind-reading).


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To Wit: Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers (Book Review)

Vinted on April 9, 2009 binned in book reviews

Today has the Dude taking another dip into the sample box, though this time I’m not coming back up with a wine, but with a book about wine.

Or, rather, a book with quips (and cartoons) about wine.

For a book with contents that I sometimes found hilarious, Malcolm Kushner’s Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers at turns made me groan, as in the eye-rolling, are-you-f—king-kidding-me? type of groan.

Turn to a random page in Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers, and you’re likely to find a strange juxtaposition – at least, I did – in which a very funny quip is followed quickly by something that resembles the kind of humor that makes you want to cover the book in Pedigree and feed it to a junkyard dog.

Take, for example, the following excerpts from Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers’s “Toasted” section (of witty wine toasts):

Funny –

To good friends – if you want one, get a dog”

Not funny –

To foolishness – it’s more fun than Elliot Ness”

Here’s another one, from the “Q&A About Wine” section:

Funny –

Q. How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?

A. Start with a large fortune and buy a winery.”

Not funny –

Q. Who invented the first champagne [sic] with no bubbles?

A. Dumb Perignon

(I swear I did not make that last one up).

You’re almost guaranteed to find something amusing in Kushner’s collection, no matter what your sense of humor. And therein lies the rub with Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers.

Assembling diverse (or even totally inconsistent) stylistic pieces in one place hasn’t worked well for anyone since the Beatles, so whether or not you’ll enjoy Vintage Humor for Wine Lovers depends mostly on your tolerance for diverse styles of humor.  You’ll definitely find something that will make you chuckle (or laugh out lout) – but you’ll be doing some skipping and page flipping in between those moments.





A Year of Dr. Vino (A Book Review… Sort Of…)

Vinted on January 12, 2009 binned in book reviews, wine books

Despite having the word “Year” in its title, this article is not another cheesy 2008 recap post. Especially considering that I don’t need another one of those, since I’ve posted about 240 of them in the last several days. Or something like that, anyway.

I will not be recapping 2008 here, but I will be renaming 2008.

In terms of measuring wine blogging success, 2008 was The Year of Dr. Vino, a.k.a. Tyler Colman. Come to think of it, 2007 was nearly the Year of Dr. Vino as well, considering Tyler received a James Beard nod for his writing that year. So, basically Tyler is kicking all kinds of ass in the blogosphere, but what made 2008 the Year of Dr. Vino was Tyler’s superbad onslaught (both on and) offline with the release of two (very good) printed books.

You would probably expect a PhD holder in Poli-Sci to be a decent writer, so it’s no surprise that the books are well-written. What is surprising (to me, at least) was how accessible Tyler’s books are for the novice wine aficionado, and how well his blog writing style, which consists primarily of short articles that focus heavily on interactivity with his readership, translates to his longer format works. Capturing that accessibility is not a skill that most of the academics that I know posses.

While Tyler can be a quiet voice online (case in point, how is there justice in the universe when my twitter account has more followers than Dr. Vino’s??), he was all over traditional media in 2008: in addition to publishing two books, he could be found in the pages of major newspapers and wine mags, as well as on television. For example, Tyler is a semi-frequent guest on FOX Business, discussing the impact of the recent economic downturn on the purchase of luxury items like Champagne (see inset pic for how I might have handled this situation if I were Tyler).

This significance of this sort of credibility (not to mention shrewd brand building) should not be overlooked. Tyler is quietly – and successfully – positioning himself as an erudite opera-goer to Gary Vanyerchuk‘s Joe 6-pack. Both are important, and both are signaling the establishment of a new breed of experts active in the field of wine appreciation.

I won’t go into detail about Tyler’s first book release, Wine Politics, because with a 9-month old baby that will start screaming to be fed at any moment, I simply don’t have the time, except to say that it’s a compelling work that those fascinated by wine should check out, especially considering how dependent the world of wine is (and has always been) on the world of politics.

I will say a bit more about Tyler’s second book, however, A Year of Wine: Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season, which Tyler sent to me several weeks ago, and which I’ve only recently gotten a chance to read (before you flame me for being lazy, remember: 9-month old!).

It’s not that A Year of Wine presents novel information that has otherwise eluded many of the other excellent books for budding wine geeks already on the market. In fact, it doesn’t really present anything totally new, even though it does have incredibly useful information (for example: how to successfully navigate the wine list when at an important business dinner for the first time).

The masterstroke is that A Year of Wine is a wine intro book penned by someone who has so garned so much credibility both on and offline. Put another way, Tyler speaks both Internet and brick-and-mortar.

While it can be enjoyed by just about anyone who is new to wine, A Year of Wine is probably best suited to those who already know what they like in their wine, but are looking to understand wine more fully and want a different approach then learning the basics and then exploring each region in order of importance / volume of production (which seems the typical layout for most wine reference material). A Year of Wine reflects Tyler’s post-grad writing style, but might also appeal to a much younger audience (see pic below – though this author had to remove A Year of Wine from that reader, as she’d found it compelling enough to begin eating the pages).

Anyway, if I have a criticism to level at Tyler (and of course I do, because I’m incorrigible), aside from a distinct lack of overall mentions to on his blog, it’s that Tyler needs to take his focus on interactivity with his blog readership and devote similar focus to his interaction within the community of online wine writers, retailers, and wineries. His voice is quiet within that space – it could benefit significantly from Tyler’s wisdom and experience, and his penchant for keeping things honest. Tyler, we need ya here, man!





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