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The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine [Kindle Edition]

Todd Kliman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A rich romp through untold American history featuring fabulous characters, The Wild Vine is the tale of a little-known American grape that rocked the fine-wine world of the nineteenth century and is poised to do so again today.


Author Todd Kliman sets out on an epic quest to unravel the mystery behind Norton, a grape used to make a Missouri wine that claimed a prestigious gold medal at an international exhibition in Vienna in 1873. At a time when the vineyards of France were being ravaged by phylloxera, this grape seemed to promise a bright future for a truly American brand of wine-making, earthy and wild. And then Norton all but vanished. What happened?
     The narrative begins more than a hundred years before California wines were thought to have put America on the map as a wine-making nation and weaves together the lives of a fascinating cast of renegades. We encounter the suicidal Dr. Daniel Norton, tinkering in his experimental garden in 1820s Richmond, Virginia. Half on purpose and half by chance, he creates a hybrid grape that can withstand the harsh New World climate and produce good, drinkable wine, thus succeeding where so many others had failed so fantastically before, from the Jamestown colonists to Thomas Jefferson himself. Thanks to an influential Long Island, New York, seed catalog, the grape moves west, where it is picked up in Missouri by German immigrants who craft the historic 1873 bottling. Prohibition sees these vineyards burned to the ground by government order, but bootleggers keep the grape alive in hidden backwoods plots. Generations later, retired Air Force pilot Dennis Horton, who grew up playing in the abandoned wine caves of the very winery that produced the 1873 Norton, brings cuttings of the grape back home to Virginia. Here, dot-com-millionaire-turned-vintner Jenni McCloud, on an improbable journey of her own, becomes Norton’s ultimate champion, deciding, against all odds, to stake her entire reputation on the outsider grape.
     Brilliant and provocative, The Wild Vine shares with readers a great American secret, resuscitating the Norton grape and its elusive, inky drink and forever changing the way we look at wine, America, and long-cherished notions of identity and reinvention.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A rich romp through untold American history featuring fabulous characters, The Wild Vine is the tale of a little-known American grape that rocked the fine-wine world of the nineteenth century and is poised to do so again today.


Author Todd Kliman sets out on an epic quest to unravel the mystery behind Norton, a grape used to make a Missouri wine that claimed a prestigious gold medal at an international exhibition in Vienna in 1873. At a time when the vineyards of France were being ravaged by phylloxera, this grape seemed to promise a bright future for a truly American brand of wine-making, earthy and wild. And then Norton all but vanished. What happened?
     The narrative begins more than a hundred years before California wines were thought to have put America on the map as a wine-making nation and weaves together the lives of a fascinating cast of renegades. We encounter the suicidal Dr. Daniel Norton, tinkering in his experimental garden in 1820s Richmond, Virginia. Half on purpose and half by chance, he creates a hybrid grape that can withstand the harsh New World climate and produce good, drinkable wine, thus succeeding where so many others had failed so fantastically before, from the Jamestown colonists to Thomas Jefferson himself. Thanks to an influential Long Island, New York, seed catalog, the grape moves west, where it is picked up in Missouri by German immigrants who craft the historic 1873 bottling. Prohibition sees these vineyards burned to the ground by government order, but bootleggers keep the grape alive in hidden backwoods plots. Generations later, retired Air Force pilot Dennis Horton, who grew up playing in the abandoned wine caves of the very winery that produced the 1873 Norton, brings cuttings of the grape back home to Virginia. Here, dot-com-millionaire-turned-vintner Jenni McCloud, on an improbable journey of her own, becomes Norton’s ultimate champion, deciding, against all odds, to stake her entire reputation on the outsider grape.
     Brilliant and provocative, The Wild Vine shares with readers a great American secret, resuscitating the Norton grape and its elusive, inky drink and forever changing the way we look at wine, America, and long-cherished notions of identity and reinvention.


From the Hardcover edition.

Darin Strauss

Guest Review by Darin Strauss

A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and numerous other prizes, the internationally-bestselling writer Darin Strauss is the author of the acclaimed novels Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, and More Than It Hurts You and the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life. These have been New York Times Notable Books, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and NPR Best Books of the Year, and Darin has been translated into fourteen languages and published in nineteen countries. He is a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU's creative writing program.

The Wild Vine is a wonder—fun, smart, fascinating, eye-opening. It’s the wine book as a thrilling mystery.

It’s the true story of a man obsessed by a grape: the Norton, invented by a driven American who named the variety he created after himself. Stubborn, ambitious, a product of his time and place, and also a uniquely American inventor, Daniel Norton.

But Norton is just one of the unforgettable characters Todd Kliman brings us. The other is Michael Marsh, a multi-millionaire software guru who glimpses a new life for himself when he takes his first sip of the Norton. That epiphany sends him on a rollicking journey of personal discovery, one that sees him change his sex and establish a winery meant to restore the doctor's legacy.

Beyond these poignant, enthralling stories, The Wild Vine gives you the history of wine-making in America. What’s amazing is that the career of American wineries follows that of America herself; only when growers found the courage to use national varieties—that is, only when Americans discovered their own character of grape—did American wine come into its own.

It’s also the story of German American immigration; of the American viticultural scene (which used to be Missouri!); of Prohibition; even of sexual politics in America.

In captivating prose Kliman relates one of those magical little American stories that illuminate the whole country. And so The Wild Vine is not only a wonderful, strange read; it’s a first-rate American history lesson.

From Publishers Weekly

In this engaging history, food and wine writer Kliman focuses on the Norton, an American grape hybrid, its namesake early 19th-century creator, and its current-day advocate. Going back to the early efforts of American grape growing and winemaking, Kliman assembles a solid biography of the bereaved doctor and amateur horticulturalist whose Jeffersonian devotion to a native American grape and wine eventually led to the birth of a new variety. Despite viticultural progress and recognition, however muted, and his efforts to draw the former president's interest, Norton died without achieving viticultural success and was lost to history. Kliman's narrative discloses the hidden story of the Norton's nurturing over the decades in the Midwest and the role of German-Americans and other immigrants in its survival. Through means and methods like homemade winemaking, the hardy fruit endured blight and Prohibition, and was eventually restored to its native Virginia soil, where the book's other dominant and most colorful personality, a transsexual, was liberated by her physical change to professionally pursue the grape's cultivation. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 445 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307409368
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S4DK6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,513 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tasty Tale That Hits All The Right Notes April 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I ordered this book through the, ahem, Vine Program, I expected a rather straightforward story about the history of a little-known American grape, the Norton, and its inventor, Dr. Daniel Norton. To Todd Kliman's credit, he gives us that story and a whole lot more. We learn about the failed attempts over a 200 year period to make a decent wine in America. Mostly it was a failure because people wanted to make wine using European grapes. But grapes are sensitive and don't usually do well in areas they are not native to. So growing French or Italian or Spanish grapes in Virginia, say, didn't work out very well. The vines are attacked by diseases, besides the fact that the weather and soil are different. But when Daniel Norton tinkered with some native varieties and invented the Norton, he came up with a winner. When the wine made from the Norton was young it tasted good, and when it aged it tasted even better. The grape eventually made its way out to Missouri which, back in the middle 1800's, was THE winemaking capital of the United States. (Nothing against Missouri, but that fact knocked me out!) As Mr. Kliman explains, after the transcontinental railroad was built California took off as the winemaking hotspot of the country, as the product could then be shipped quickly and easily, and the California climate was admirably suited to growing European vinifera grapes. California eclipsed Missouri quite rapidly, and Prohibition in the early 20th century pretty much finished off winemaking in the East and Midwest, as federal agents dug up and destroyed the vines. (Come to think of it, Mr. Kliman doesn't explain why Prohibition didn't finish off California as a winemaking state, but I'm guessing that would be a long story and a good topic for a different book! Read more ›
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story... April 25, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
How many times have you come home from a long hard day at the office and said to yourself, "What I need right now is a thick, rare, grilled steak, a big refreshing green salad, a fresh baguette and a darned good bottle of _________"?

Fill in the blank, and you might have said "Cabernet," or "Pinot Noir" or "Syrah"; possibly "Chambolle-Musigny" or "Cote Rotie" or "Barolo"; or any one of a hundred things. What you probably did not say was "Norton's Virginia Seedling," or just "Norton." That's likely because you haven't even HEARD of "Norton," the grape developed by Daniel Norton in Virginia in the first half of the 19th century. I'm not sure I had heard of it either. If I had, I'd long since forgotten about it, and I sure as heck had not ever tasted the stuff, much less given it a lot of thought. I'm not alone in that regard. I pulled out my well worn copy of Jancis Robinson's "Vines, Grapes & Wines," an extensive review of wine grape varietals from all over the world. In Robinson's ampelographic universe, the Norton merits a glancing mention in a one paragraph laundry list of "other red hybrids grown in the United States and occasionally encountered as varietals." No wonder "Norton" is not even a blip on my radar screen.

This book will fill that gap in your wine education, as it did mine, in an entertaining way. It will take you from the early settlements in Jamestown to Jefferson at Monticello. From brooding, melancholic Daniel Norton, for whom the grape is named, to the productive and prosperous Missouri viticultural scene of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (founded in large part on cultivation of Norton vines), to the Prohibition era that drove a stake in Missouri's viticultural heart.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Is there such a thing as American wine from an American grape? Sure, the United States has its share of wineries; California, Oregon, Washington all produce excellent wines, equalling or surpassing their European counterparts. However, what they are growing are European grapes in America. Does America have a grape that is "native" and can produce a well regarded, drinkable wine? Actually, we do and we can. For example, Catawba. However, there is another grape that deserves attention, Norton.

You can be forgiven if you have never heard of the Norton grape. But if you live in Virginia or Missouri and do not know of this grape, I am saddened and disappointed. It is a part of your state's history. In fact, Missouri has designated the Norton as the State Grape.

The Norton takes center stage in Todd Kliman's The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine. Tracing the history of winemaking in the United States, Kliman takes the reader back in time to the time of the Jamestown settlers. One of their missions was to establish vineyards in the New World. Plantings of European vines were not suited to the climate, soil, or diseases of the new land and the efforts were in vain. However, that did not stop the settlers or those that arrived after them. Thomas Jefferson, who loved European wines, even tried his hand at growing grapes, but those efforts ended in failure. A contemporary of Jefferson, Dr. Daniel Norton, creates a hybrid grape that withstands the harsh climate and produces a very good, drinkable wine. Dr. Norton has succeeded where so many before him, even the learned Jefferson, have failed.

Dr. Norton's grape is added to the premier seed catalog of the time, where it is picked up by German immigrants in Missouri.
Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great little book
Great little book...good reading and attractive on top of a small table beneath our wine rack along with an antique corkscrew.
Published 10 days ago by Claudette M. Schabow
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating true American tale
Fascinating tale that involves history, geography, and viticulture. 3 of my favorite things. A true American tale.
Published 3 months ago by Andrew Acord
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have book
This is one of the most up to date books on wine in the USA
Was recommended by several wineries and I also recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about grapes and... Read more
Published 9 months ago by howard L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Norton
Very interesting read about a little known wine grape. The following from place to place is a history lesson in it self
Published 10 months ago by Stormy
5.0 out of 5 stars A story with a wonderful arc
I read The Wild Vine as a wine fan (connoisseur is too grand a term here) who reads voraciously about wines and their history (especially American wines) and drinks a wide range of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kenneth Umbach
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story
I loved the story of the wine and liked the story of the woman who brought it back to life. Like the wine too!
Published 15 months ago by heidi
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
I purchased this book for my daughter in college as a gift. This was a brand new book (as advertised) and turned out to be required reading for her education in viticulture for a... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Jeffrey Doerr
4.0 out of 5 stars Great history lesson in American winemaking
I was very please by the historical information and present day industry information covered in this novel. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Justin Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape
ANYONE who loves wine and history will swallow this book whole. Fascinating compilation of history regarding this wonderful grape. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Schuyler
5.0 out of 5 stars TRAVELS WITH NORTON
At the same time Thomas Jefferson, America's first Wine Geek, was watching his grapevines at Monticello (acquired from the most famous vineyards of France and Italy) slowly wither... Read more
Published 22 months ago by charles falk
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