Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Wild Vine - a Book Review

The Wild Vine
A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine
Todd Kliman
Hardcover, 288 pages

The Wild Vine is a patchwork quilt of romance, adventure, tragedy, history, fact and fancy - for a grape. The author begins by drawing the reader into an epically tragic story of a widowed doctor alone on his dowried estate, completely engulfed in despair and self-imposed loneliness. Wanting to maintain his late wife's land, he turns to growing vines. Virginia in the 1800's would have been difficult enough for a lone man to farm, maintaining vines for producing wine was an exceptional challenge. Through his single-minded care, Dr. Norton was able to tame the wild American grape and develop a seedling that would thrive and grow in Virginia's climate as well as produce a complex and enjoyable wine.
Almost parallel to his long and often frustrating journey with this grape, the grape that would eventually be named Norton, Thomas Jefferson himself was trying in vain to tame the land and grow grapes for wine at Monticello. New Americans strove to free themselves from relying on European wine, almost always a losing battle as European vines shriveled and died on American soil and native grapes made for very poor wine.
The Norton grape bobs up and down through a rich history, at times gaining great notice, other times derision, and much of the time dipping again into obscurity.
The book offers vignettes of the past and present that give great insight to the development and hinderances of America's story of wine.