November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo in writer-code. During this month, writers are challenged to write a 50,000 word book. The NaNoWriMo community provides support, inspiration and tracking functionality.
There have been several years that I’ve participated, and I’ve gone on to complete a partially-prepared-during NaNoWriMo story, the one that has emerged as my favorite project: my completed novel Que Faire?. The book tells the story of winemakers in Provence, France during WW2. One of the characters eventually makes wine in 1970’s Napa Valley, California just after the Judgement of Paris. When he faces the obligation to return to France, the story falls to his recollection of harder times, making wine during war years, that compels him to revisit his time in Sarrians, in Provence.
Writer’s Block Cure: Read!
I was recently asked what I do to deal with writer’s block. My answer to that: read! Read books by writers with compelling voices, books set in inspiring places, books that illuminate the mind. Here are a selection of books that are designed for wine and food lovers. These are the sort of books that I open when I’m want to learn, feel hungry and get excited. Books about wine have been a must in my writing life, key to the secrets of the vineyard and the cellar.
A Glass Full of Miracles by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich
“The story of my life is one of luck making repeated visits.”
A Glass Full of Miracles is the first person history of Mike Grgich. Mike’s early life in Croatia was filled with upset and turmoil. The book leads readers through WW2 survival in Europe to Halifax, Canada and eventually on to Napa Valley, California. Grgich Hills Estate and his sustainable vineyards represent the classic values of Napa: quality, heritage and taste. In this book Mike tells the story of making wine in Napa and later in his homeland of Croatia. The book is a beautiful hardback filled with pictures that tell a visual story; nothing short of a family photo album. Of course, I must recommend one of his own wines to pair with this book and I’ve chosen the 2013 Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay, which is crafted with grapes of the highest quality, mainly selected from Grgich’s oldest block of Chardonnay, the Old Wente clone.
The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch
“As they moved deeper between the vines, Sara’s skirts swished against the broad Cabernet leaves. She felt for the medium-sized, tightly knit clusters and plucked several small blue-black berries to sample. She playfully popped one in Phillipe’s mouth. He chewed, closing his eyes in concentration. ‘Nearly ready, I’d say.'”
This is the second book by Kristen Harnisch based on her research of California and French wine country. The California Wife is the stand-alone sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter. Follow the Lemieux family as they work towards their American dream of making wine in 20th century California. I’m pairing this book with a Napa icon: Château Montelena 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet. This elegant and balanced wine is part of California winemaking history, a parallel story to the one told in The California Wife.
Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail
“The food and wine setting was almost too fairy-tale for a Pinot lover-cum-gourmand. My mother couldn’t stop raving about her belly of pork in puff pastry. I took great delight in my Beef Bourguignon spilled over a delicate, parsley-infused crepe. Dessert was a warm hazelnut cake.” and “I’m sorry about everything that’s happened. This whole trip and everything. It was probably a mistake.”
I include two quotes from Rex Pickett’s Vertical because this is novel in two stories, in my opinion. Readers will recognize the playful – even obscene – side of Miles of Jack, memories of Sideways, in many parts of the story. But there is a more heartfelt, relatable element that builds strength through the book. If you start this book, be sure to finish it because the transition near the end is powerful. For the glass of wine you need with this book, I’ve chosen Stoller Family Estate 2013 Dundee Hills Reserve Pinot Noir. As this adventure is set on the “Oregon Wine Trail”, this wine is the utmost match. This is a very special release chosen from the best vineyards and aged 10 months in French Oak. Something to share with a loved one…because life is short, as the story exhibits.
Boston’s Own Chef to the Stars Cookbook by George Mather
“This author knew [Chef Paul] Posti for close to nine years, having been his pastor at Sherman Oaks Lutheran Church in Sherman Oaks, California…Posti and [Clark] Gable were friends before the war and Paul was top chef at the Hollywood Brown Derby where Gable dined. Paul was also Frank Sinatra’s chef for some 22 years, having met old blue eyes in Hoboken. Posten is also credited with downing Nazi planes…”
The book (available here) goes on to explain the life and times of one Chef Paul Posti who lived the life of an a incredible decorated flying war hero, on the side of America, during WW2. After the war, he returned to the United States where he was a chef in fabled restaurants where he served the stars during a time when dining was “highly esteemed.” To quote Chef Posti, “Cooking is the soul of partying at all times and all ages.” The author, Reverend George Mather, has put together a collection of basics, tips, recipes, backgrounds and stories in this book, which is loosely organized into themed chapters. I’ve included this book as a winelover favorite because of the extensive collection of recipes and meal suggestions…perfect for consultation regarding wine pairing. I’ve chosen Centani Rosso di Forca, classified as Rosso Piceno D.O.C. because the name translates to Red Fork, which according to the producer symbolizes the “hunger which drives us all”.
Exploring Wine Regions: Argentina by Michael C. Higgins, PhD
“I have never met a Malbec I didn’t like.”
If there is one book that impressed me the most year, by it’s sheer scope and ambition, it is this one. Michael C. Higgins has crafted something truly comprehensive in this consultative collection of the people and places of Argentinian wine making. Higgins personally visited to each and every place mentioned in the book, conducting interviews and taking photographs. This is truly generous book, crafted from passion and experience. I hope that all of you are able to get your hands on a copy this fall or holiday season. To drink while enjoying this book, I’ve chosen Achaval-Ferrer 2013 Malbec. I learned of this wine during a recent WineStudio experience and while immersed in that, I was able to consult Higgins’ book and take in even more detail about the design of the Achaval-Ferrer vineyards.
Starstruck in Lodi Again by Chris Kassel
“Mike McCay is the real McCoy.”
I met the author, Chris Kassel, at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California earlier this year. He even signed my copy of his book (available here), which makes it particularly special. The deal is: you have to go to Lodi. You must. And before you do, this book captures the particularly eccentric, powerful, creative and quality atmosphere of a place where personality and terroir combine in the result of some exceptional wine. The book containes some telling photos as well as distinct histories of several Lodi families, many of them multi-generational. I’ve paired McCay Cellars Lodi Appellation Grenache with this book. I also met Mike in Lodi, where he said “Things are changing [in Lodi] and it’s a lot of fun.” How exciting is that?
The Food and Wine of France by Edward Behr
“There’s no French food without French bread.”
When I heard this book was coming out, I requested a review copy (available for sale here). I was that excited to read it immediately because I love the Art of Eating (Edward Behr’s periodical) and I love the food and the wine of France. A lot. This book is divided into chapters; each visits a place and examines a particular food, wine or both through Behr’s experience and elegant writing. I’ve paired this book with a bottle from Domaine La Madura, the 2013 Saint-Chinian, which is located in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. The wine is a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Carignan and it represents one of my favorite flavor profiles of garrigue. I choose this wine because I want to drink with urgency to match my desire to read Behr’s book.
Where To Buy
I’ve included a link to each book and bottle in this article. Each of these has interesting merits and contributed to the body of my reading this summer. As mentioned, the books here were all provided as advance review copies and one was a contest prize (I won The California Wife.) Some of the wines were samples as well, but not all of them. The pairings and opinions are my own.
To learn more about NaNoWriMo, visit the link above. Cheers to elegant writing, excellent reading and exceptional wine!