Divine Vintage, Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age by Randall Heskett and Joel Butler (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) $26.
by Oliver B. Pollak with the assistance of Steven Yabek
When my son Noah married Erika, her father, Dr. Steven Yabek from Albuquerque, New Mexico, brought to the celebration bottles of wine that he had been accumulating since the late 1980s. They were waiting for this moment to arrive, the marriage of his eldest daughter, and they were consumed with appreciative gusto. Famed wine purveyor Kermit Lynch lives within a few minutes of Noah and Erika’s home. The title of this book echoes Kermit Lynch’s 1982 classic, Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France.
I am fortunate to have machitonam who enjoy the fruit of the vine. We enjoy reading and share books. Steve sent me Divine Vintage via Amazon with the message, “Oliver, Cannot attest to this book but it sounds enjoyable. Got one for myself, too. Best Steve.” He probably came across it through an Amazon marketing message, “people who purchased this book also purchased this book.” Steve wrote “What intrigued me most was the authors’ approach to the copious (great word to use in wine context) religious and cultural as well as the secular heritage that distinguishes wine from pretty much all the other beverages we regularly consume. Whether one views the bible as a literal history or a metaphorical representation, it’s intriguing, and probably not all that ironic, that the birth of vineyard cultivation and winemaking in the Fertile Crescent pretty much parallels many biblical events.” This is a serious, informative and enjoyable book.
We bless wine in synagogue and at home. Shabbat is not complete without Kiddush (blessing) borae pri hagofen. At Passover we jest about the sticky sweetness of Mogen David and Manischewitz. Wine is intimate to Jewish and Christian life and is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible.
Randall Heskett, a biblical scholar, and Joel Butler, president of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, both widely published and knowledgeable oenophiles, take us on a historical and geographical journey on how wine consciousness came about. They survey the earliest archeological evidence, preserved grape seeds, remnants of wine preparation technology, amphorae and flasks that held the luscious fluid. The written record starts with Noah’s libations and end with Jesus turning water into wine. Each page contains a revelation. How did Shiraz, a Persian grapes, end up in Australia. Corks entered the bottling process about the 5th century BCE. Why add seawater to wine? Most wines are red. Biblical terms for large bottles Melchizedek (40 bottles) down to Jeroboam (4 bottles) did not appear until the early 20th century. Wine, once reserved for royalty, dropped in price so commoners could partake.
It takes years for vineyards to produce. Wine must age. Wine producers are sedentary. Wine, substantially more expensive than water, milk or beer, is a status symbol. Invasion, civil war, political and religious upheaval, grape diseases and climate have temporarily disrupted the continuity of vineyard and wine production.
The second half of this book is a travelogue. The authors drive 4300 miles in Turkey and visits wineries. Turkey has 1,200 to 1,500 grape varieties. In Moslem countries wine consumption is disfavored, but wine tourism and the export market foster thriving vineyards and wineries in Lebanon. The authors report on 20 of Israel’s 240 wineries whose 12,000 acres produce about three million cases.
The authors are maximal enthusiasts. Wine “created joy, promoted conversation, appeased the gods, and allowed people to relax and forget their hard lives, at least for a little while.” In their
“judgment wine is the heart, soul, and body of Western civilization; it magnifies our best virtues and noblest ideas, yet its excessive use diminishes our humanity and dignity.”
Wine and books take years to mature. You can finish a bottle in an evening, and the time spent reading this book is a rewarding experience.