America’s growing fascination with wine has fueled an increasing interest in all sorts of topics that might’ve seemed superfluous only 10 years ago. Just consult a set of wine notes from the average Napa Valley winery, and you’ll discover data relating to everything from barrels to brix, to pH levels, to harvest dates, to clonal selections. In any area of interest, the true enthusiast will always embrace the minute details, whether that topic is wine, baseball statistics, or Star Trek episodes. But I will say one thing about some of these oenological facts and figures: if you’ve taken a genuine interest in the pH level of the wine you’re swirling, then you’re more than just a wine drinker — you’re pretty far gone.
Of course, many people never concern themselves with any of the technical aspects of winemaking. I feel that to some extent, ignorance is bliss, especially when wine can be appreciated without some requisite evaluation. But for those folks who cannot drink wine without dissecting it, without trying to guess the percentage of malolactic fermentation in Chardonnays, or without sniffing for hints of Cabernet Franc in a classic Bordeaux blend, then Steve Heimoff’s “New Classic Winemakers of California” offers some revealing and insightful interviews.
In many ways, “New Classic Winemakers” presents a fairly current state-of-the-union for California’s fine wine industry. Along the way, Heimoff addresses several hot-button topics during his interviews, including wine’s recent rise in alcohol level, a phenomenon that is sometimes justified, but rarely embraced. To his credit, Heimoff also inquires about removing alcohol after-the-fact, which is one the wine industry’s dirty little secrets (google “spinning cone column” to learn what no winemaker would personally care to admit). Of course, Heimoff does not elicit any scandalous confessions in his book, but at least the author has the gumption to address the issue.
Even in the modern age, discussions with winemakers are also bound to contain some heavy doses of philosophy, and Heimoff succeeds in drawing out some cerebral discussions of terroir, which help to strike a balance with the technical digressions. Even so, “New Classic Winemakers” is definitely geared towards a niche audience, and therefore my recommendation is astonishingly simple: If you recognize the names of some of the winemakers in this book, then there’s a good chance that its contents may interest you.