Forget the flowery title, a bit of whimsy from Robert Louis Stevenson. What Lapsley (Univ. of California, Davis) has...


BOTTLED POETRY: Napa Winemaking from Prohibition to the Modern Era

Forget the flowery title, a bit of whimsy from Robert Louis Stevenson. What Lapsley (Univ. of California, Davis) has produced here is a business school history of Napa wine in which poetry plays little role. American winemaking has come a long way from its immigrant roots, and no aspect of the industry rivals the economic success of the Napa Valley producers, those folks who can be said to define the notion of American premium table wine. Why?, Lapsley asks. He suggests the answer lies in ""promoting brand and region, in introducing varietal wines, and in adopting new technology and science."" Lapsley introduces a gaggle of characters from the Napa wine trade--Andr‚ Tchelistcheff, the Mondavis, Gustave Niebaum of Inglenook--and struggles to make critical scientific advances understandable to his audience (malolactic fermentation tinkerings and protein-instability battles). But his emphasis lies in the economic whys and wherefores: Why did Beaulieu have enough capital to go fancy? How come Berlinger sold out to Nestle, Beaulieu to Heublein? What caused the slumps in the wine industry this century? Instead of assaulting readers with dreaded winespeak--a prose as deeply purple as any zinfandel--Lapsley pummels them with comments from the director for corporate business development at Coca-Cola and snippets from Arthur D. Little studies on the growing fashionableness of wine in upper-income groups in the 1970s. While Lapsley provides intriguing nuggets, he also projects an irksome snobbishness: petit sirah is deemed vulgar; Cabernet is his bet, which doesn't show a whole lot of imagination. An air of dissertation pervades this book, drawn as it is form doctoral studies, and Lapsley comes across as dry and formal--very much like the Bordeaux grape he so appreciates.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996


Page Count: 301

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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