Sunday, 29 November 2009

Another rant about wine books

Talk is rife in the wine world at the moment, about how Jamie Oliver's head of wine, Matt Skinner, has admitted to not tasting several wines that he recommends in his latest book, The Juice 2010 (published by Mitchell Beazley). You can read all about the scandal on the Decanter website, along with numerous comments from disgruntled readers. All I can say is, why bother publishing an annual wine guide which simply re-hashes tasting notes from previous vintages numerous wines, whilst brazenly attributing them to the latest (un-tasted) vintage? I'm not sure if it breaks any laws, but it is dishonest in the extreme, and really does bring the world of wine writing (not to mention UK wine book publishers) into disrepute.

On a related note, my friend Peter Gorley is still searching for a publisher for the second edition of his book, Gorley's Guide To The Wines Of Languedoc And Roussillon. Although the book is still intended to focus predominantly on the wines and winemakers of Languedoc and Roussillon (around 250 different growers) for this edition, he has also got together with Anthony Peregrine, who will contribute sections on tourism, history and food. After much effort (and time) they've had no luck with UK or French publishers. A meeting with the powers that be in L/R (including the President himself, Georges Freche) resulted in the offer of one sixth of the 60,000 Euros or so that he would need, in order to publish the book himself. The rest he would need to borrow - which is a route Peter is reluctant to go down, at his time of life. I am still exasperated that the Maison du Languedoc-Roussillon did not see fit to invest such a relatively small sum, at a time when their wine industry could really do with a helping hand to compete with the likes of the Australian Wine Board, who have a seemingly bottomless pit of money to promote their wines.

Anyway, at my suggestion, Peter contacted the University of California Press and recently had a meeting with their wine book editor which, although not entirely unproductive, didn't result in a publishing deal. I'm sure Peter won't mind me relating what he recently told me;

"......If Anthony and I rework our concept....more depth, more history, more culture...then he'd be happy to have another look at it. He's a serious late 30's Senior Editor with an archeological bent, and I feel that our fun but not frivolous (popular?) approach isn't the tone he's looking for. UCPress is of course academically inclined."

I don't have a copy of Peter's first book, but he did send me a bound copy of a special mini-edition, containing 3 of the 12 "routes" from the original book. I have to say that it is far from frivolous - indeed, it is an impressive piece of writing, with excellent photos and maps, plus in-depth profiles of the growers and their wines. There are also a couple of very enthusiastic reviews by Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch.

What a shame that such a talented and knowledgeable writer continues to encounter such apathy to a most worthwhile project. All I can say is shame on the UK's main wine book publishers for not getting their hands dirty with real wine books, instead of continuing their policy of churning out re-hashed and regurgitated updates of generic "annual" wine guides.


AlanM said...

Couldn't agree more Leon. There are so many wine lists it makes you wonder how many they sell. I suppose the market for specialist books is small but I for one would love to read an up to date Languedoc book

Leon Stolarski said...

I agree, Alan - the market for specialist wine books is indeed (relatively) small. But I for one still love to own a good wine book and still get much pleasure from leafing through my collection on a regular basis. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and - let's face it - a lot of the information one can ever need is on there, if you look hard enough. But you still can't beat a good book - and lovers of Languedoc and Roussillon wines are crying out for the sort of book Peter has written.

AlanM said...

As Jonathan Hesford posted on the winepages forum recently all the good books such as Rosemary George's are now a few years old. I still use hers though as JH pointed out L-R is so fast moving that it is out of date. I found that myself in a good way when I visited Ollier Taillefer in Fos and the son has taken over and is really adding something to the quality of the domaine.
So a new book would be very welcome, if it had a way of being updated online then all the better. I'm a racing fan and quite a few books on racing have updates which can be downloaded and added to the original book.
I hope something works out, count me in for a copy when it does.

Warren EDWARDES said...

GrapesTALK would welcome a 2500 word contribution from Peter.

Nov 2010 will have a Feature on France.

has Peter looked at self publishing sites such as ?

Louise said...

I too would have loved to see this book published, and as Peter will attest, I tried hard to help him in his quest for funding. But I'm not sure it's helpful to point the finger at any particular body for "failing" to provide funding... particularly when they have indeed offered to provide some funds from what is a limited budget that has to stretch across some 30 countries worldwide. At the risk of stating the obvious, the raison d'être of the Maison de la Region Languedoc-Roussillon and Sud de France Export is not to fund the publishing of wine books, however worthy (which Peter's first book certainly is - and no doubt his second would be equally valuable). I hope he continues in his quest to find the rest of the funding, and reaches his goal.

Leon Stolarski said...


Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts. I admit that (in a previous rant) I may have used the word "failure", or words to that effect. But - having just re-read my current post - I didn't use that word on this occasion. Indeed, I fully appreciate (as, I am sure, does Peter) that the offer by La Maison of *any* assistance/funding for Peter's book is perhaps above and beyond their call of duty. And I hereby retract any previous (unfair) criticism I may have levelled at La Maison / Sud de France in this regard. After all, any help is better than no help at all.

I just think that, in the middle of such a deep recession, and at a time when the winegrowers of Languedoc and Roussillon (and their tourist industries as a whole) need every bit of help they can get, a book like Peter's would provide a much-needed boost. As I've said on numerous occasions, it must be 7 or 8 years since such a book was published. And, in what I consider to be the most dynamic and constantly evolving wine region in the world, that is far too long.

In this regard, I will be writing to President Georges Freche very shortly, with what I hope will be seen as an impassioned (yet reasoned) plea for more assistance for Peter.

Look at it another way..... Peter has invested an awful lot of time, effort (and money) into putting this book together. And its publication would only serve to enhance the reputation of Languedoc/Roussillon and its wine and tourist industry. All I'm asking is that they take another look at the possible (probable) benefits - it would surely be money well-invested.

Louise said...

Hi Leon
Appreciate your comments, and more power to your elbow - if you can succeed in convincing the powers that be, so much the better for everyone - Peter, the producers, and everyone who appreciates the wines from Languedoc-Roussillon... Good luck. I shall check your blog for updates; if I can help in any way, you know where to find me. I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you in person one of these days. Best wishes, Louise