In conversation with Oregon oenophiles, California is a curse word. John Vincent and Vivian Perry capitalize on this fiery state pride with Winemakers of the Willamette Valley: Pioneering Vintners from Oregon's Wine Country (American Palate, 160 pages, $19.99). Part travel guide, part manifesto and part biography, it catalogs the emerging second generation of Willamette Valley winemakers with 15 profiles of purple-handed heirs. In his foreword, veteran vintner Harry Peterson-Nedry dubs them the "validation generation."
After the truncated introduction's Wiki-like overview of Willamette wine history, Perry and Vincent explore current production. Chapters chronicling Penner-Ash, Matzinger Davies and Boedecker will look familiar to anyone who's browsed bottles. Short profiles on winemakers may satisfy casual consumers with tidbits about how Holland shaped Kelley Fox's wines or why Eric Hamacher changed state law to build a wine collective. For Willamette Valley wine devotees, the book is a satisfyingly self-indulgent glorification of Oregon's virtuous industry and its "passionistas." But the grape-stained profiles, written with the stereotypical verbosity of wine reviews under painful headings like "Allowing Wine to Express Its Nature," are mostly ego inflation after the fascinating tale of how Willamette Valley pinot noir dramatically stole a place from the French at the 1979 World Wine Olympics. The time since is a millisecond in winemaking culture, but it's been long enough for more than 600 vineyards to take hold in the meteorologically ideal region. Oregon Pinots became the princelings of American wines as the state's wineries grew eightfold in 15 years.
But Winemakers is less pioneering. It is informative, with an appendix of wineries by region and fact boxes for touring wine country. But in an industry where passion reigns supreme, Perry and Vincent muster all the intrigue of Two-Buck Chuck. The chapter on Lynn Penner-Ash stands out for exploring gender imbalance in Oregon winemaking. Otherwise, any passion comes across as "vinticulturally pubescent"—to use Peterson-Nedry's words.
The biographies read like résumés rewritten into encyclopedia entries, albeit authored with sincere intentions. If we learn anything, it's how much California sun Oregon winemakers have in their backgrounds. No less than half the profiles begin with stints at UC Davis or bartending in Carmel. From there, we're treated to listlike accounts of where the winemakers lived during their careers, when they married their spouses and a plethora of the authors' own fortune-cookie interjections. Somewhere in between, the real soul of Oregon winemaking seeped away.
READ IT: Winemakers of the Willamette Valley is available in bookstores.