Allow me to quote Charles Olken from the preface of his newest book “The New Connoissuers’ Guidebook to California Wine & Wineries”:
“It is now three decades since my first book, The Connoissuers’ Handbook of California Wine, appeared in print.”
Olken, through numerous editions of that original Handbook, and through his newsletter, The Connosseurs’ Guide To California Wine (born in 1974), has been regulatory and habitually chronicling the California wine landscape longer than anyone I know. He understands its evolution, where the bodies are buried, the best way to dig them up, which ones are worth digging up, as well as the which of the newest bodies are worth investigating.
It’s that knowledge and that perspective, not to mention the superb profile of the California wine industry—from land to producer—found in his The Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine that makes this book a must-have reference for wine lovers.
Again, it is best to quote from the preface to describe what this new issue attempts to do:
“Rather than providing one encyclopedic alphabetical list, this book takes readers into every identifiable appellation from which wine is made. Then it identifies the key producers in each of those wine regions. The accompanying maps will show the locations of each area and the general location of each winery mentioned in the text.”
Put another way, this 400+ page paperback issued by University of California Press and written in conjunction with Jospeh Furstenthal, is indispensable.
The bulk of this new book is comprised of profiles of 500 California wineries, each of which is a short essay on the winery, what Charles and Joseph find most compelling about the wineries’ output, and with important details of how to contact and gain more information about the wineries. Wineries are presented within chapters based on counties and appellations. And each appellation is profiled to-boot.
The authors are generous, too, to other chroniclers of the California wine scene, including as they do a “Reading List” that consists of profiles of books, magazines, newsletters, blogs and websites that ought to be perused by those wanting to expand their education. In addition, an outstanding chapter on the the “Language of Wine” is presented in which some of the less accessible and useful wine-related terms and definitions are provided.
What one does not find in this Guidebook, thankfully, are detailed tasting notes and scores on specific wines. That is left to Olken’s newsletter, within which one can find all the scores and notes you could ever want. Rather, this Guidebook is a low flying birds eye view of the California landscape that will leave the reader with an outstanding understanding of the scope of this state’s wine industry and an introduction to its most important players.
By its nature, “”The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine & Wineries” is a snapshot in time that will require updating in a few years. However, by my reckoning, this snapshot will prove reliable for some time to come. New wineries will come, and some in this book are likely to go in time…But not many of them. This new Handbook should prove to be one of my library’s most important and most used editions for some time to come.
This book comes VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.