Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes
Sterling Epicure, New York, 2011, 266 pp.
Reviewer: Jacob R. Straus
Wine books generally focus on the author’s personal wine experiences (Lynch, 1990), a grape variety (Kliman, 2010), a winery (Weiss, 2005), a wine region (Kladstrup and Kladstrup, 2006), or an event (Taber, 2005). Alternatively wine books often discuss the history of wine (Pellechia, 2006) or wine’s role in a socio-cultural event (Kladstrup and Kladstrup, 2001). While books about any of these single topics can make for a good read, when an author is able to combine the best of all wine book genres into one volume the book becomes a must read.
In Summer in a Glass, Evan Dawson has blended all these forms of wine writing into an entertaining, humorous, educational, and heartbreaking tale of wines development in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Dawson examines the Finger Lakes wine industry and highlights some of the most colorful and important figures that have shaped the region and pushed it toward making world-class vino. Not only does he tell a good story about a wine region he knows so well, but he makes the reader want to trek to see and taste Finger Lakes wine firsthand.
Each chapter in Summer in a Glass highlights different individual wineries and winemakers. Each chapter begins with a short back story on its main characters. These stories recount happy moments, heartbreak, and the risk that many winemakers and winery owners take to follow their dreams.
The book opens with the story of Johannes Reinhardt, who left his German winemaking family for the more open and experimental wine community in America. Reinhardt’s story is in some ways a typical immigrant story – he came to the United States to try something new, but he brought the old world with him. He makes German style Riesling in New York State.
Additionally, Reinhardt brought with him a cooperative attitude that is sometimes missing from winemaking in America. He is willing to breakdown the silos that can develop between competing wineries and is willing to assist his fellow winemakers. Because of his generous spirit, Reinhardt’s story is weaved throughout the tales of other Finger Lakes winemakers and the other winemakers do everything in their power to assist Reinhardt’s battle with immigration officials who continually deny him permanent status (p. 5).
While Reinhardt’s story is one of cooperation, the story of Tricia Renshaw, a single mother of two, who gave up her teaching job to pursue an interest in winemaking, is a story of risk and reward. Dawson recounts Renshaw’s decision to cold-call Peter Bell, winemaker at Fox Run Winery, and ask him if she could volunteer at the winery. Whereas, Renshaw had never made notes when tasting wine, Bell tested her with tasting a series of wine and making notes on the scents and flavors present in each glass, a task at which she excelled (p. 131).
Renshaw’s story is both idealistic and realistic. Many wine writers throw around fancy terms and flavors when describing wine. Tricia Renshaw represents a breakdown of the language barriers that often divide “regular folks” from wine snobs. She had a natural ability to detect flavors in wine and won herself a job by being honest about the smells and flavors. It is hard to imagine the meteoric rise Renshaw experienced in the Finger Lakes – from school teacher to assistant winemaker – occurring in virtually any other wine making region.
The final story, indicative of the spirit of the Finger Lakes and other small wine producing regions, is one of cooperation. While wineries certainly compete with each other, both for sales and accolades, some also cooperate in an attempt to make wine better throughout the region. The Finger Lakes, like many other East Coast regions, suffer from unpredictable weather that impacts the quality and types of grapes grown. In an effort to promote the image of Finger Lakes wines, Johannes Reinhardt brought together two other winemakers, Dave Whiting of Red Newt Wine Cellars and Peter Bell of Fox Run Winery, to collaborate on a blended wine called “Tierce.”
Tierce white, initially released in 2005, blended the best white wines from each winery. As the conclusion of the Summer in a Glass, Dawson recounts being invited to the blending sessions of a 2007 Tierce red. Each winemaker brought their best red wines from 2007 and set about to meld them into a something special. Dawson recounts the process of tasting numerous blends until the perfect match was found. Perhaps Dawson’s most poignant recollection from this effort sums up the value that each winemaker placed on equality among wineries and making the best possible wine to represent the Finger Lakes. “They could easily have wrapped up the blending hours earlier, but no one in that room was going to waste the best harvest weather in a generation by settling for an inferior wine. A historic vintage does not mean that making great wine will be easy. It means, that, with focus, a good wine can become great” (p. 255).
These individual stories and the picture they paint of a close-knit and open community in the Finger Lakes wine world make Dawson’s tales irresistible. Where once the Finger Lakes was considered to be a backwater location for making wines, today it is at the cutting edge of up and coming wine regions that is known for world class Rieslings and ever improving red wines. The descriptions alone make me want to visit and meet these extraordinary individuals, soon.
Jacob R. Straus
UMBC, Shady Grove
Kladstrup, D. and Kladstrup, P. (2001). Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest
Treasure. New York: Broadway Books.
Kladstrup, D. and Kladstrup, P. (2006). Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. New York: Harper Perennial.
Kliman, T. (2010). The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine. New York: Clarkson Potter.
Lynch, K. (1990). Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France. New York: North Point Press.
Pellechia, T. (2006). Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.
Taber, G. M. (2005). Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner.
Weiss, M. (2005). A Very Good Year: The Journey of a California Wine from Vine to Table. New York: Gotham Books.
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