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Book review of Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest

by Guest Poster on March 8, 2012

in Food, Regional

Debra Daniels-Zeller, author of The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, recently read a Timber title and reviewed it on her blog, Food Connections. Please welcome Debra today in sharing her thoughts with you about Essential Wines and Wineries of the Northwest by Cole Danehower. 

I love it when I read a good book and I’m inspired to share the news. Essential Wines and Wineries of the Northwest: A Guide to the Wine Countries of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho by Cole Danehower (and photographs by Andrea Johnson) is one of those rare books–a reference book and a compelling read.  It’s a book I’ll turn to again and again; a book I’ll purchase for friends and add to gift baskets.

Yes, I really did like it that much!

I met Cole Danehower, editor-in-chief of Northwest Palate magazine, at a book event in Portland last fall. When I saw his book, I immediately added it to my “must read” list.

I was eager to dive-in and read this book from beginning to end and now that I’ve been savoring Danehower’s book for a number of weeks, I have to say that so much work has gone into crafting narrative that flows along, the layout of Northwest wineries, the useful sidebar information, beautiful photographs and maps all make this book, one of the best food books I’ve read in a long time.

Danehower begins this book by discussing the history of wine-grape growing and wine production in the Northwest (Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Idaho). He describes the Northwest as a young wine-producing region and says Northwest wines are “still developing character on the world’s stage.” Pacific Northwest wine production has grown from 125 wineries 25 years ago to over 1,200 wineries today. Our region runs a distant second in wine production to California, the largest wine-producing region that has climbed from 750 wineries in 1987 to 3,364 in 2010.

Apparently we’ve become a nation of wine drinkers.

But just because California produces more wine and has set the standard for North American wine, doesn’t mean California is better suited for wine-grape growing or that California wine is better than Northwest wines. Danehower says the “Northwest’s northerly latitude delivers two critical benefits to winemakers: more sunlight and more coolness.” Because of our latitude we have more sunlight hours during growing season. Though the cool climate isn’t enough warm enough to ripen the warm weather-adapted grapes like Cabernet sauvignon or Merlot (One of the earliest grapes harvested in the Columbia Valley), cool weather adapted-grapes like Riesling (the most widely harvested wine grape in Washington) thrive here. Danehower also says wine grapes require a dormant period to shut down and renew growth in the spring and Northwest winters can more easily transition grape vines than the warmer California climate.

Danehower says, “Many people haven’t made the effort to get to know the region’s wines.”

One of my favorite sections of this book was “Terroir: The Taste of Place.” While terroir is a key concept in winemaking, it is difficult to translate. Terroir refers to all the aspects of a place–sun, soil type, exposure, elevation, temperature, wind, moisture, etc– that are unique to that place. Part of terroir is about the how geologic history plays a part in the flavor of a wine. As I read this I imagined savoring thousands of years of history in one sip of a regional wine.

My other favorite sections included: Biodynamic Wines, Icewines and “What Climate Change Might Mean for Northwest Wine.” It’s no surprise that Oregon is the global leader in biodynamic wine. (Winter Green Farm, a farm profiled in my book, practices biodynamic farming techniques.) The Biodynamic Wine side bar details intriguing farming practices that some farmers say go well beyond organic farming.

The section on Icewine or Ice wine (Canadian wine regulations use one word) describes wine made from grapes frozen on the vine. For a long time American winemakers made ice wine by freezing post-harvest grapes, and when Canadian wine makers protested, American wine making regulations changed to prohibit the term ice wine on anything but wine made from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.

And finally, what climate change might mean is fascinating because climate is one of the primary influences on the kinds of grapes grown in a region. Warming trends might mean grape varieties will shift and there may be fewer opportunities for icewine production.

Essential Wines and Wineries of the Northwest offers something useful for everyone. For readers unfamiliar with Northwest wine, the book is a treasure trove of information and is the perfect place to start learning. For people who love numbers and statistics, Danehower lists vineyard acreages, number of wineries, cases produced and the economic impact for each region. And for wine lovers, the wineries listed include founders’ stories, annual production, signature, premium and value wine as well as visiting hours. Maps are helpful in locating these wineries and the pictures showcase beautiful vineyards, wines and winemakers.

If you love wine or know someone who does, this book is perfect and if you don’t know much about wine, don’t let that stop you from reading this book. You’ll gain a great appreciation for the flavors that Northwest winemakers coax from wine grapes.

Why not pour yourself a glass of Northwest wine while you enjoy this book.

Thanks so much, Debra! Visit Debra on Food Connections, where she posts regularly about food and cooking in the Pacific Northwest.

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