The Heartbreak Grape:
A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir

by Marq De Villiers,
208 pages,
ISBN: 0062585231

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Brief Reviews - Non-fiction
by Susan Aihoshi

INTERESTING and straightforward publications about wine and winemaking are rare; there are many reference books and guides, but rare is the volume that tells a compelling story about the magical process of turning grapes into a unique beverage. A new wine book is now available that is a worthy, if flawed, addition to writing about wine. Marq de Villiers, former publisher of Toronto Life magazine, uses a single bottle from the renowned California winery Calera as inspiration for The Heartbreak Grape: A journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir (Harper Collins, 265 pages, $24-95 cloth).

Each chapter is prefaced in annoyingly Fieldingesque fashion by a short Qstatement summarizing the particular focus of his investigations, and de Villiers's prose style is frequently longwinded. He reminisces about the winery in his own family's past and other wine-related matters, and also spends a great deal of time explaining Calera's methods in a step-by-step discussion of the technical aspects of grape growing and winemaking. While perhaps necessary to give a complete picture, the specialized wine jargon seriously weakens the narrative momentum of the book.

It is only when de Villiers lets Josh Jensen, the charismatic owner of Calera, speak in his own words that the book becomes truly interesting. Jensen, a remarkably obsessed individual, has many insights and observations on the making of his wines from the most finicky of grapes, pinot noir. The real story here is not so much about the "heartbreak grape," but of Jensen's unflagging commitment to producing the best wines possible in the face of tremendous obstacles of every kind (lack of financing, severe drought, hostile neighbours, government bureaucracy, marketing difficulties).


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