The history of American winemaking, by now pretty well-turned ground, gets a further spading from Washington Times wine columnist Lukacs.
It all started, if you can believe it, nearly 200 years back in Cincinnati—with Nicholas Longworth’s Sparkling Catawba. Since then, American wine has gone through as many different phases as the moon, and Lukacs’s survey offers a ready guide to most of them: from Thomas Jefferson’s paeans to the great democratic grape on through the romanticism of the early aristocratic winegrowers and the importance of immigrants (not just in winemaking, but in bringing wine from the farmhouse table to the city table—since working-class families demanded the drink of their home countries). The author has an undeniable passion for his subject, but he incorporates a level of detail into the narrative that works against the book’s broad canvas. He is not content simply to introduce the major players and themes; he includes the topics like the growth of cooperatives in conjunction with fancy labels, the impact of organized crime on the quality of product, and the bringing of science to the garden. While there is no way his selection of boutique wineries could cover all the bases—and many of his choices, such as his neglect of Sean Thackrey, will be the object of much quibbling—he does amply convey the importance of these wineries in setting industry standards. But, oddly, despite the attention he devotes to such small producers, he fails to highlight the critical role women played in these concerns. And when will American vineyards finally stop measuring everything they do against the example of the French?
There is currently a debate in wine circles about whether all bottles of wine need to breathe. But there is little debate that American winemaking history has had sufficient aeration—with the result that the subject is getting flat.