AAWE, Economics Dept, New York University, 19 W 4th St, 6Fl., New York NY 10012aawe@wine-economics.org

Napa Valley Then and Now

Rudd Press, Oakville, California, 2015, 1254 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-692-47780-9 (Hardback), $95.00

Reviewer: Orley Ashenfelter

Much has been made of the massive scale of this book, which reviews the origins and wines of nearly one hundred of Napa Valley’s several hundred wineries. Printed in China on super-heavy paper stock, it is difficult to actually lift. Apart from being unwieldy, the connection of the author to the wine and beverage industry has led some to call the book a vanity project. It is published by Leslie Rudd, for whom Kelli White is the sommelier (along with her fiancé) at PRESS, the St. Helena steak house (there is no other word for its menu) that Rudd operates. Indeed, a brief section of the book is devoted to a discussion of the wine list at PRESS. To top matters off, the HoseMaster of Wine has provided a hysterically funny blind book review (yes, he reviews the book without reading it—think blind wine tasting) at  www.hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com.

Like the HoseMaster of Wine, I did not read the entire book, and I doubt the author would expect anyone to do so. After offering a brief history of early wine pro- duction in the area, Napa Valley Then and Now becomes a series of well-researched vignettes, with a few photos of bottles and vineyards thrown in for good measure. Each vignette provides a brief history of a winery, its vineyards, and some tasting notes on wines from the property to which the author has access. These tasting notes focus mainly on the aging of the wine; a symbol indicating whether a wine has started to show its age is assigned to each, which some wine collectors may find especially useful.

I found the winery vignettes I did browse through to be accurate and sometimes very interesting. I learned that the Scholium Project, whose oddball name I always wondered about, was started by a former professor from St. John’s College in Annapolis who just extended his sabbatical indefinitely. And the School House Vineyard, which has a rather long and tortuous history, is a kind of microcosm of the Napa Valley story itself.

The book has brief prefaces written by Leslie Rudd and Robert Parker, each of which reads like a book jacket’s advertising blurb.

However, the book has one enormous problem: its size and weight make it so ungainly that it is nearly impossible to read the entirety of many entries. Merely folding the pages over becomes a serious task, and searching the book for an entry (the entries are alphabetical, which helps) is ridiculously time-consuming in the Internet age. This book truly needs to be uploaded to the Internet, where it could be easily searched, where the font size could be adjusted, and where it would weigh no more than a simple tablet.

Orley Ashenfelter
Princeton University