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A Very Good Year: The Journey of a California Wine from Vine to Table Paperback – June 1, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Did you ever think about all that goes into a bottle of wine?" Weiss set out to answer his wife's question and wound up writing a 39-day series for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004, now expanded into book form. It starts with his November 2001 meeting with Don and Rhonda Carano—the visionary proprietors who built Ferrari-Carano Winery in Sonoma County, Calif., with their Nevada gaming fortune—and ends with the wine's market debut in May 2003. Weiss elicits revelatory disclosures, both personal and professional, from sources including the intuitive, unreserved grape farmer Steve Domenchelli; the intense, secretive winemaker George Bursick; the ambitious vineyard workers from the Mexican village of El Charco; and an unnamed contact he calls "Deep Cork." An admiring yet unflinching storyteller, Weiss weaves a drama of failures and fears, tragedies and triumphs, births and deaths, ego and jealousy. His narrative shares trade secrets, tricks and gossip, and describes in detail the meticulous crafting of corks, the sun-baked cultivation of grapes, the backbreaking work of harvest, the finesse of fermenting and blending wine, and the aggressive strategy needed to take it to market. This "biography" of the 2002 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc is a sweet pleasure. Agent, David Vigliano. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Weiss tracks the production of a single bottle of California wine from the vine to its appearance in restaurants and stores. In this instance the featured bottle holds a 2002 Fume Blanc from Ferrari-Carano, a Sonoma Valley winery. Weiss may begin with just a bottle, but he ends up with a vast human drama of compelling characters: the thrice-married lawyer-gaming executive, Don Carano, who owns the vineyard; Steve Domenichelli, who manages the vineyards carefully; George Bursick, the rock 'n' roll-loving winemaker; Steve Meisner, the marketer on whom commercial success depends; and Jaime Ruiz, one of the workers who tend the vines and bring in the harvest. Their true stories hold more lively interest than any imaginary Dynasty or Sideways characters. Months of work, worry, labor, and investment culminate in the wine's ultimate release to consumers. In common with other arts, much turns on the opinion of inordinately powerful media critics whose assignment of a rating number makes or breaks sales. This is an exceptionally readable account of the state of California's wine industry at the start of the new millennium. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 1st Printing edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592402119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592402113
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,985,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I brought this book home from work and gave it to my husband to read. After finishing the book, he said that he thought I might like it. I'm very selective about the non-fiction I read, but drinking wine is one of my favorite pastimes, so I gave it a try.

The book chronicles the process of producing a California Fume Blanc wine from vine to table. The author's selection process narrowed his winery choice down to the Ferrari-Carano winery in Sonoma County. He felt that this mid-sized winery typified the process for the California wine industry.

Through interviews and observations, the author lets us get to know the people involved in the process-from the Mexican workers who tend the grapes to the top level staff and winery owners. From reading this book, I got the feeling that the final product is as much the result of the personalities involved in the process as it is the idiosyncrasies of the grapes, climate conditions and soils.

I felt that the writing was a bit uneven, but to be fair, as a fiction reader, I am used to being able to maintain speed and pace while I read. I did learn a lot about the California wine industry from Weiss's book. Wine itself carries an air of elegance and prestige that masks the work that goes into it. About ten years ago, I spent a day harvesting grapes for a local Maryland winery. That single experience changed my perception of the process. This book added more details that make me more fully appreciate the nectar of the gods.
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Format: Hardcover
I was looking for a change of pace in my reading selections, and thought that I was going to get it with Mike Weiss', "A Very Good Year, " a chronicle about the intricacies of the wine industry.

What I got instead was a curious kind of viticultural deja vu.

After only a few pages I found myself back in "Moneyball" mode - only this time instead of following a baseball team around for a year, Weiss treats us to a year at the Ferrari-Carano vineyards. With open access (generally speaking) to all participants in the operations, from Don and Rhonda Carano to the scores of Mexican vineyard workers and their migratory family lives, the author provides vivid descriptions of the numerous details that are required to produce a quality wine.

And, the details are many, and the decisions are numerous and critical, such as "the Story," label composition, marketing and pricing strategy, cork selection (an amazing process), type of vine selection, soil composition, sugar content, crop size, Spanish speaking requirements, vineyard hierarchical culture, weather patterns and even the politics behind scoring positive reviews by The Wine Spectator.

We are provided with (muted) insight of the relationship/infighting between the meticulous grower and the fastidious winemaker.

All of this is very interesting stuff. In fact, good and bad, Weiss makes you appreciate what it takes just to get a glass of wine to a consumer. Unfortunately, the book is confounded too often by a writing style that is a bit disjointed, often repetitive, and a little disorganized.
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Format: Hardcover
Mike Weiss doesn't know much about wine. He says so himself, and if he hadn't, there are enough misstatements in the first few pages of A Very Good Year to give him away. Nevertheless, he has written an enormously successful book that will offer new insights and perspectives to even the most sophisticated student of wine. Because Weiss sets himself a task that makes extensive knowledge of wine unnecessary, he isn't tripped up by his lack of expertise: "I had proposed looking deeply into a bottle of California wine in order to find the whole epic of contemporary California in a single bottle of its symbolic product, its face to the world." [p.5]

Weiss's book supports the premise of mine: that wine books aren't necessarily about wine, and it suggests that these books may sometimes have a broader purpose. In his case, the book explores George Bursick's very successful Ferrari-Carano 2002 as thoroughly as any good biographer would explore his subject. Weiss's biography is successful on two counts. First, it details the various skills that go into getting a bottle of wine to the table. Weiss is a good reporter, so he makes those skills come to life. We meet the winemaker and the winegrower. We see the cooperation and tensions between them. We see the reality of agriculture and the demands of viticulture, all wrapped up in an accountant's balance sheet.

Weiss also has a disarmingly frank view of the nature of wine marketing. His book opens with the words: "In the beginning was The Story." [p.11] Weiss acknowledges that in order to succeed in the wine business, you need a good myth as much as you need good wine. He reveals the laborious process of building the myth, of creating the right package, of fashioning--if not fabricating--the homey image that goes along with it.
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Format: Hardcover
I do not know if I should start with the positive or the negative about this book. I think I will start with the positive.

Overall this was a very interesting read. A few nit-picks - - admittedly on my part - - kept me from fully enjoying the book because they raised a couple important questions. Weiss crafts an extremely detailed account of everything that goes into making a bottle of Ferrari-Carano wine. Incredibly impressive is the way he delves into the lives and relationships of the individuals at the winery, even going to Mexico to hang out with some of the farm hands who work for the winery. He discusses in some detail everyone, from the millionaire owners to some of the farm hands who work the fields every day. His analysis - - not just description - - of those relationships adds a perspective that I guarantee will make a person think twice about everything it took to make the next glass of wine he or she drinks.

My one hang up is that for all the detail Weiss goes into in the book - - he wrote, for example, an entire section on the cork that goes into the wine bottle - - and despite the fact he hung out with the Mexican farm hands and wrote the book in a state in which about one third of the population speaks Spanish (California), the author could not correctly translate or spell many of the Spanish words he used in his book - - starting with the three letter word for "grape" (he used four letters) which one would think is one of the cornerstones of a book on a winery! Gosh, are there no Spanish-English dictionaries?
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