George M. MacLeod was 53 years old and still working at Monsanto when, with wife Greta and several children in tow, he went in search of land he could farm.
Having scoured California, and ready to give up, he finally zeroed in on 50 acres in Kenwood on the slope of Sonoma Mountain, overgrown with blackberries and abandoned cherry, fig and apple orchards, where old vineyard rows had once stood.
Unsure of what he had done, MacLeod started taking viticulture classes at UC Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College, making the initial leap into grape growing. MacLeod Family Vineyard at Indian Springs Ranch is now a respected source of sauvignon blanc.
At 93, MacLeod tells his hardworking tale in “Journey to Harvest: How to Grow Great Grapes, Make Distinctive Wines & Live Forever,” a self-published detailing of his personal and viticultural triumphs and travails.
His is among the most locally inspired wine books to consider this holiday season. Here’s our list of other wine and spirits books worth seeking out this year.
“The Essence of Wine: Celebrating the Delights of the Palate,” by Alder Yarrow, a San Francisco-based wine blogger, is a stunningly visual exploration of wine’s aromas and flavors. The successful result of a Kickstarter campaign, Yarrow’s book will appeal to hard core wine aficionados as well as the more laissez-faire. An opening two pages on cherry, for example, detail how the aroma and flavor we associate with cherry can play into what we experience in a wine. Yarrow then includes wines to look for that will help illustrate the point on the nose and palate. Similar explorations occur with apple, graphite, rose and earth.
“50 Premiere Winemakers of Napa Valley: Their Insights and Inspirations,” by Nicola Siso, is a large-format, coffee-table-sized book with portraits of Napa Valley winemakers complemented by a series of probing wine- and life-related questions and answers along the lines of, “If you were stuck on a desert island...” Good guy Corey Beck of Francis Ford Coppola Winery answers that he’d “hope it would be with my wife. We would enjoy a cold glass of sauvignon blanc together.”
“Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent,” by Berkeley-based writer Mandy Aftel, is an investigative, literary exploration into the history and philosophy of scent, with much ado about food and wine, including recipes. Aftel goes into detail on five landmark scents – cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris and jasmine – using them as jumping-off points to talk about cooking and flavoring. Among her discussions of flavor, within the cinnamon section, she includes the original formula for Coca-Cola, which featured essential oils of cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and orange, not to mention cocaine. She provides a less-stimulating version for people to try at home.
“GQ Drinks: The Cocktail Collection for Discerning Drinkers,” edited by Paul Henderson, is a beautiful compendium of 150 cocktail recipes, broken down by spirit, with mouthwatering photography and bartender’s tips for each one. Fun quotes float throughout, like W.C. Field’s advice to “always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake”; and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous admonition that “too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right.”
“The World Atlas of Whisky,” by Dave Broom, is a must-have for fans of the brown spirit, in its second, fully revised and updated edition. Compelling photography brings the subject to life alongside profiles of more than 200 distilleries around the world, plus hundreds of tasting notes and detailed maps. In addition to the usual suspects in Scotland and Ireland, Broom provides depth and breadth to what’s going on with whiskey in Canada, Japan and Scandinavia, not to mention the explosive growth in craft distilleries across the United States. Kentucky and Tennessee are appropriately represented, but attention is also paid to new producers in New York, Texas, Michigan, Washington and California, among many others.