Eric Arnold | First Big Crush

book_crush.jpgEric Arnold breaks into the wine community like a circus clown at a garden party. He’s your ex-roommate who would make you to stay up too late when you were in college but would intertwine inebriated buffoonery with intelligent conversation into the small hours. And on top of all that, he still manages to be the science teacher who everyone thinks is fun.

 

 

 

 

Scribner; 246 pages; $24

When an author, in describing his experiences working at a winery in New Zealand, explains that his grape juice-stained clothing looks like he has "jacked off Barney," it’s obvious that his writing style is not typical of Wine Spectator or any of the other dozens of periodicals targeted at aficionados. No, Eric Arnold approaches the world of wine and winemaking as a novice-come-initiated participant and takes the reader with him from the beginning of his idea to travel to New Zealand to the end of an entire year’s work at the Allan Scott Winery of Marlborough.

He attacks the elitist view of wine journalism from the likes of Keith Stewart, claiming that it makes you "feel like you just aren’t good enough because the one example he [Stewart] points to of a perfect pairing of wine and food is one that normal people can’t afford." He also eschews that age-old misconception that an expert can tell any individual what he or she should enjoy in a wine and what he or she should taste in a particular vintage.

In short, Arnold is an everyman with a voice for explaining things in an entertaining light. He walks the reader through the scientific nuts and bolts behind winemaking and dispels the myth that working in a winery is a casual affair in which the workers merrily dance about and lunch under parasols with crumpets and tea. It’s break-your-back permanent stains under your fingernails sweat your ass off and wake up early tomorrow to do it all again work. Arnold doesn’t just know what he’s writing about, he’s quite honestly earned the right to write it.

The personal essay style of the book offers a genuinely down-to-earth appeal and yet does not get in the way of a very real objectiveness. All bases are covered by interviews with winemakers spanning the entire Marlborough region, wine tasting experts, the proprietor of one of the largest trucking companies that handles wine in the region, a stint as a taster in the illustrious Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and an author-inspired experiment to determine the best parings of wine with the New Zealand staple meat pies (imagine trying to get a panel of experts to match wines to fast-food value meals).

Half of this book held my interest, captivated with the fascinating and often unseen reality of what turns grape seeds to grapes and grapes into wine. The other half had me laughing out loud with some brilliant storytelling and perhaps a few jabs at less than savory characters encountered during Arnold’s research. The average lay person will really appreciate this work as an opportunity to learn literally from the ground up about a subject that intimidates most of us. | Jason Neubauer

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