Families of the Vine

Seasons Among the Winemakers of Southwest France

A few friends, a good meal, a glass of wine -- what could be a more simple pleasure? Why then does the subject of wine -- and particularly writing about wine -- often seem so darn complicated, needlessly technical or frustratingly pretentious? In this book I wanted to tell a different story about wine, to share my experience of two years spent among French winemakers and vineyards -- two years in which I discovered that the story of wine from vine to glass is as much the story of the people who make it, their history and traditions, their intimacy with the land, as it is a tale of yeast, grape, and barrel. Happily, it is also, in the small family vineyards where much French wine is made, a very warm, very human story.

Praise for Families of the Vine

From Publishers Weekly
One night, Sanders (From Here, You Can't See Paris) sat outside a hotel in southwestern France. An old Frenchman explained to the American that he had no use for wine criticism or the numerical rankings that hold sway in today's wine world: " 'Me, I say I like this wine or I don't like this wine.' " Sanders focuses on three winemakers in one of France's secondary wine regions, Cahors, following its "difficult" and "shy" eponymous wine (made primarily from the Malbec grape) from vine to barrel to glass. In doing so, he seeks to capture a way of life that existed before global marketing and the influence of the American wine critic Robert Parker, who devised the ranking system. Sanders shows the winemakers in the family-owned, family-run vineyards; describes the pathos of the harvest during the drought-ridden year of 2003; and even explains how barrels are made. Laced throughout this solid, affectionate portrait are unusual insights (e.g., "Built into the concept of terroir... is the simple acknowledgement that the French winemaker knows all this as a sailor knows from the way his boat moves through the water that his sails are trimmed as they should be"). Sanders succeeds in showing us that a knowledge of wine really can't be imparted by experts, that it takes firsthand experience and time.
Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal
"Sanders's book brings contemporary winemaking in France to life....Absorbing and informative."

From the Associated Press:

"Sanders brings to his examination of wine the same powers of observation that he used to painstakingly re-create the construction of a Navy destroyer in a book about Bath Iron Works and to describe the revival of a tiny French village after the opening of its chef-owned restaurant."

From the Portland Phoenix:

"Wine is daunting, too daunting, but where [Sanders] starts is where many of us start: slightly intimidated, but determined. What he finds is the same thing many of us who have ever entered a field swept over by romance by those who only devour the finished product find: It's a job, and a hard one. "In the lives and minds of the winemakers themselves, too, there is little of the exotic or romantic in what they do, or even in the way they think. Seen through their eyes, wine is not a mystery or an elixir reserved for members of the inner temple, but a product wrung from the earth by honest labor."

Exactly. But, true to the differences we see in ourselves after a transformative journey, both Sanders and the winemakers finally allow themselves moments of reverie as the pages and his time grows short, such as when, uncorking the romance of a 26-year-old vintage, Yves and Martine Jouffreau of Clos de Gamot remember their union ("Ah, 1977, that's the wine of our love!" they coo). The author, however, is careful not to soak in these moments too long, so as not to tighten the reader's palate with too-cloying prose; there are enough adjectives like "crappy" and "stupid" to keep even the most casual wine drinkers engaged.

Families of the Vine takes you to the source of history, and allows you to stare, with the producers themselves, into the rich tapestry of the past, and the ever-present black hole of the future.




All material ©2005 Michael S. Sanders