Vino

Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Books

Warren Moran is my hero… a voice of reason

Meet a new book that dispels nonsensical notions about wine tasting of soil and about the reality of terroir and turangawaewae – that sense of place we can sometimes taste…

New Zealand Wine, The Land, the vines, the people by Warren Moran, published by Auckland University Press, 384 pages, RRP $69.99

www.press.auckland.ac.nz

Every once in a  blue moon, a voice of surprisingly sane reason pops up in print. This is it. Author Warren Moran is a geographer and professor at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on wine – and read extremely widely too, as his new book reveals from its first chapter to its last discerning drop of wisdom. He dispels many suggestions that terms such as old world and new world can possibly still be valid because he shows a wide range of examples where these ideas are turned on their heads, particularly within the New Zealand wine scene.

This is important, given that wine is now the sixth biggest export earner for this country.

First and foremost for any published book, this is a great read. It is well written, straightforward and draws on fascinating writers, research and statistics that provide rich context to the New Zealand wine scene today.

It is also an authoritative book because, from the start, Moran dives into deep waters. He tackles the controversial and, he suggests, increasingly outmoded, notion that the French word ‘terroir’ has one clear meaning. He quotes a wide range of authors, old and new, to highlight what he describes as ‘the advertising hype’, which adopts the narrow meaning of ‘terroir’ as soil.

Terroir advertising hype

“In recent years we have been bombarded with so much about the soils and geology of Burgundy in particular that we are in danger of believing that the region makes great wine because the soils are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” he writes, adding from authors Roger Dion and Rolade Gadille’s book, Grands traits d’une geography viticolb de la France (1943) that “It suits us to see the qualities of our wine regions, the effect of a natural privilege, of a particular grace accorded to the land of France, as if there were greater honour for our country to receive from the heavens than from the struggles of people this renowned wine industry in which our ancestors found a collective pride even before the feeling of a French nation stirred in them.”

He suggests that terroir has at least six facets that interact and overlap from the physical territorial meaning of the word to growing grapes to the legal and promotional human aspects. He explains each, then leaves readers to make up their own minds.

New Zealand wine explosion

Not only does this book touch on controversial sacred cows, it contains a staggering amount of humbling facts and the figures that Moran has dug up. Like this one: in 1960, only 388 hectares of grapes were planted in New Zealand, 85% of which were in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay and mostly in hybrid grape varieties. Their strong disease resistance made hybrid grapes the order of the day, including the once well known Albany Surprise, which began to be replaced with Vitis vinifera grapes, such as Muller Thurgau, in the 1970s.

For those who can read between the lines, his research offers outstanding suggestions on why a lot of New Zealand wine often tasted overtly green in flavour, due to being planted widely and extensively along the Hawke’s Bay’s coastline, but rarely ever inland where the weather is more settled, drier and less windy.

Further into the book, his strong theme continues with both the geographical and political history of the Gimblett Gravels and those who were instrumental in marketing – and capitalising on – this 800 hectares of stony soils.

No doubt, it helps that Moran has been watching, reading about, researching and writing on New Zealand wine since his 1959 MA thesis, but his measured global view and courage are incredibly refreshing. Talk about a breath of fresh air. His book is a great read and beautifully presented tome on the history of New Zealand, but for those who want food for thought with their nightly glass of vino, here it is at last – a book that tackles terroir with measured analysis and a lack of fear.

Or should that be turangawaewae?

Marlborough Man: a new book

Shocking, fascinating and unputdownable books are hard to come by so it is great to find that the new biography of Allan Scott provides all three ingredients of a rollocking tale of a new wine region, Marlborough.

Even the name of the book is sure to cause controversy among the many who would lay claim to being the first to plant grapes, build a winery, plunge a tank or sell a global success story. But Allan Scott’s humour and candid honesty shine through in this book.

He confess that the book’s title is “a bit of a joke”, adding that: “It’s one that no wine drinkers are in on, yet seemingly everyone in New Zealand’s wine industry loves to tell. Several Kiwis who have made their living – or their fortunes – from fermented grape juice are all too happy to portray themselves as the Marlborough Man…”

And regardless of all who may wish to claim the name, Scott’s stories certainly lend the book’s title plenty of street cred’. He was there when the  first vines were planted (many of them upside down, so they died). He was there when Cloudy Bay Winery began (and brokered the deal for the land). He was there when the Stoneleigh brand came into existence and his take on  these stories – and more – make this book one of the most honest, refreshing reads ever published about the foundation stones of the modern New Zealand wine industry.

Tales of new vineyards, big brands, private jets and extravagant living are intermingled with stories of those who got their hands and feet dirty right at the start of Marlborough’s dramatic conversion from farming to grape growing.

The book is a collaboration with North American journalist Eric Arnold, who once worked vintage at Allan Scott Wines and wrote his own book, First Crush, as a result.

This story is all Scott’s, however, and it starts at the kitchen table over a difficult discussion with Cathy, his wife, who looked uncomfortably at him about a decision they were about to take and came to regret. In typical Scott style, they learnt from their mistake, changed course and began again, but the beauty is in the reading, so I won’t divulge details here.

If you’re looking for a holiday read or a book for the wine lover in your life, Allan Scott lives up to the name Marlborough Man in his eponymous new biography, published this month in time for the silly season. It opens a few cans of controversial worms and, knowing many of those in the book, I can only say that the whole thing rings true. It’s a great story of humble beginnings, romance and big business.

Marlborough Man by Allan Scott and Eric Arnold is published by HarperCollins NZ, RRP $59.99.

Secrets and science of scent

Book review: The Secret of Scent, Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell by Luca Turin was published in 2006 by Faber and Faber.

While this book is not newly published, it is a fresh arrival on my shelf from The Book Depository, thanks to a recommendation from Master of Wine Stephen Wong, who suggested it would be a fascinating read. He’s right.

Author Luca Turin lifts the lid on what makes the perfume industry tick and writes with the skill of a novelist rather than a man with a PhD in biophysics from the University of London. As chief technical officer of Flexitral, he used his theory of smell and aroma to design new fragrances, flavour molecules and to develop his own theory about how we smell what we smell, which is exactly what makes this book such a fascinating read.

He does relate aromas to wine, but this book takes a wider view of nature and human intervention. This particularly comes home to roost in his discussion of the fragile nature of natural aroma molecules, such as rose, when compared to the more stable artificially created aroma molecules.

I have yet to arrive at the link between memory and sex, the smell alphabet and how molecules are made, but these subjects, among others, add to the multi layered  intrigue of a book that is already proving to be a spell binding, science based and beautifully crafted read.

I am hooked and am sure that anyone with a genuine interest in aroma will be likewise.

The Secret of Scent is available online from The Book Depository.

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