A Paean to Pinot

Above, I’ve pasted a picture from Willamette Valley Vineyards, about three miles from my home. It’s still winter among the vines, and they aren’t yet ready to awaken from their sleep. While they doze, the vineyard crew is busy with last fall’s harvest. Juice is fermenting, turning sugars to alcohol. French oak barrels will be home to the elixir for nine to twelve months before it is bottled, and it will rest in the bottles before it is ready to tempt the palate. As Galileo famously said, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”

Eric Asimov, Chief Wine Critic of The New York Times, says in his Foreword to the book, Passion for Pinot: A Journey Through America’s Wine Country, “If any grape would be at home in the pose of the femme fatale—smoke curling from its lips, long, irresistible legs crossed as another winemaker is sent to his doom—it would be Pinot Noir.”

Why? Because the grape can be such a difficult temptress. Widely regarded as the “Queen of Grapes,” Pinot Noir is a challenging monarch. Thin-skinned, susceptible to any number of fungi, subject to mutation, dependent on slight variations in soil, she is as frustrating as she is rewarding. When all the variables come together under the supervision of a master vintner or winemaker, the resulting wine is a cause for jubilation, a miracle fulfilling Galileo’s maxim.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Pinot, but Passion for Pinot is a wonderful place to start a lifelong devotion to the Queen! The text by Jordan Mackay illuminates the history of the grape from root stock and vine, through harvesting and fermentation, all the way to its metamorphosis into the garnet-colored jewel we love so well. The photography by Andrea Johnson and Robert Holmes captures vineyards and wineries in every season of the year. Turning the pages, the reader can almost taste the wine—blackberry and cherry flavors, notes of cinnamon and cloves, perhaps some floral and mineral subtleties.

If you’re enthralled by the Queen, or merely a fan, add this book to your collection. (And in 2024, look for my next novel, All the Bodies Do: A Willamette Valley Mystery.)

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