Writing about wine is an art form that’s almost as interesting as making it—and it’s a lot less messy.
Poets love wine, but alas, what we often get is mundanity. A phrase that comes to mind: “A dinner without wine is like a day without sunshine.” Or, “Life’s too short to drink bad wine.” Nothing pithy here.
Writings about wine date back thousands of years. Some are technical, some romantic; others speak of the revelry of harvest or wine’s medicinal qualities. Still, others discuss wine regions and the character each region imparts.
Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine” devotes almost four pages to wine literature. The Wayward Tendrils is a wine book-collecting club founded in 1990. The Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg, California, has arguably the best U.S. collection of literary viniana—which, incidentally, is the title of a limited-edition book by Charles Walter Berry published in 1930.
Among the masters of wine humor were Thomas Kruse of the Gilroy, California, winery of that name, and Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
I have collected a few lines that I cherish. Here are a few of my favorites.
Northern Californian and retired public relations specialist Mike Lynch, now an inveterate golfer, once co-wrote (with drawings by the brilliant artist Bob Johnson) a book titled: “A Day Without Wine Is Like a Bicycle Without a Seat.”
Wine sage/author Hugh Johnson may have written more about wine than any other person. One line of his that I love, from his 1990 book, “Vintage,” reads: “How can a rare bottle of wine fetch the price of a great work of art? Can it, however perfect, smell more beautiful than a rose? ‘No’ must surely be the answer. But what if, deep in the flushing velvet of its petals, the rose contained the power to banish care?”
Then, there’s the punch line to an old joke. The successful Italian winemaker for years refused to tell anyone the secret to his success. At last, the old man is on his deathbed. He summons his eldest son and whispers the secret: “Si fa anche con uva”—”It is made also with grapes.”
The Italian tradition gives us another marvelous line, from the late Samuele Sebastiani, who had it engraved on the end of one of his famed hard-carved casks: “Un buon bicchiere pira l’altro”—”One good glass merely makes you want another.”
Some wise sayings turn up in varying forms. The late Leon Adams is reported to have said, “All wine would be red if it could,” which is a variation of “If it’s not red, it’s not wine,” or “White wine is what you drink until they open the red.”
In the book “Thinking About Wine,” authors John Frederick Walker and Elin McCoy quote Piero Antinori of Italy as saying, “Red wine is wine; white wine is just white wine.”
Hugh Johnson once asked former Acacia Winery winemaker Larry Brooks, “What made you think you could make wine?” Brooks’s reply: “I always figured if the Three Stooges could make movies, I can make wine.”
“The way to make good wine is to get good grapes and don’t trip on the mat.” —Robin Day, former president of Orlando Wines in Australia.
“They gave me so much wine for lunch I had to stay for dinner.” —Dr. Maynard Amerine, the late University of California, Davis professor.
“Wine without alcohol is like the Italian language without vowels.” —Howard Goldberg, the late New York Times wine writer.
“We’re deadly serious when it comes to planting the grapes. We’re deadly serious when it comes to growing them. We’re deadly serious when it comes to making the wine. We’re deadly serious when it comes to aging the wine. So when you pull the cork, it’s time to whop it on down, mate.” —The late Australian winemaker Len Evans.
“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” —Motto of Frog’s Leap Winery.