Book Review: The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years by Thomas Pinney


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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review.  To be honest, I’ve been so busy that it’s taken me since the last book review until now to finish this most recent book.  To date, I’ve reviewed 4 books on this site (not including today’s book) including:

To read any of these reviews, feel free to click on the book titles and you’ll be whisked away to the appropriate post.

For today’s book review, I present to you The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years by Thomas Pinney.  Though at times I found myself skimming through paragraphs quickly due to my busy schedule, overall this is a wonderful summary of the history of winemaking in the United States, and brings to light some of the “fathers” of American wine that would have been otherwise forgotten.

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Since this book encompasses the historical figures in American wine for only the last two hundred years, the trials and tribulations of winemaking in the “New World” had mostly gone unmentioned.  Save for about a sentence or two referencing Thomas Jeffersons’ attempts at growing grapes and making wine, that part of American winemaking history was largely uncovered.  Of course, the scope of this book includes those figures only within the last 200 years, however, I was hoping for a little bit more of the very early history then what was described.  I’m obviously being a little picky and bias, as I live in Charlottesville, VA, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The aforementioned omission is one of the only qualms I had with this book, as in general it was quite a well-researched and well-written documentary of American winemaking history which captured my attention and educated me on many of the major players in the American wine industry that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.  For those that don’t realize the American wine industry did not start in California, you need to read this book.

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Chapters 1 through 5 cover winemaking history in America pre-1900.  We first learn about John James Dufour in Chapter 1, as well as his many failures amidst a strong determination to succeed.  Next in Chapter 2, we are introduced to Nicholas Longworth, who was quite the experimenter with different vines, and who built the Cincinnati wine industry up from the ground, only for it to come crashing down soon after his death.  In Chapter 3, we meet George Husmann, who has been deemed the “father of the Missouri grape industry”, who popularized the Norton grape (among others) a very popular grape helped save the European wine industry from total destruction by the Phylloxera plight.

Chapters 4 and 5 introduce us to the first of many pioneers of the California wine industry: Charles Kohler, who according to the author “put California wines on the map”, and Andrea Sbarboro, the first of many Italians who made their name in the California wine industry.  Chapter 6 introduces us to Percy T. Morgan, and describes the formation and plan of the California Wine Association, which brought “big business” to the American wine industry for the first time in history.  Chapter 7 tells the tale of Paul Garrett, who was the “Dean of American Wine Growers” (according to Forbes magazine), and who managed to remain successful throughout the difficult Prohibition years, particularly with his “Virginia Dare” wines.

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Chapters 8 through 12 describe some of the names that many people believe are synonymous American wine history, as these names have and continue to resonate throughout the wine industry in the United States.  Quickly, these chapters describe the life and influence of Ernest and Julio Gallo, Frank Schoonmaker, Maynard Amerine, Konstantin Frank, and Robert Mondavi, all of which are well known in more recent history of American wine, and who all played important roles in shaping what American wine is today.

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The final chapter introduces a relatively new “concept”, that is women becoming winemakers in America.  Women entering the scene as winemakers in the United States are a recent phenomenon, with the first indication of change occurring when Mary Ann Graf received her bachelor’s degree in Fermentation Science (i.e. winemaking) from the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis in 1965.  From then, women have been steadily gaining ground in the wine industry, with many women today enjoying the trials and tribulations of the illustrious career.  According to the author, there is still much work to be done, as by simply referring to females in the position of winemaker as “women winemaker” instead of “winemaker” indicates that men and women are not yet truly equal in the field.  This book elaborates on the story of Cathy Corison, one of which is one of the more inspiring stories I read throughout the entire book.

Overall, I found The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years by Thomas Pinney a fascinating glimpse into the history of the wine industry in the United States of which was well-written and at times very captivating.  I enjoyed learning about many of the major players in the wine industry during this time, and certainly learned a thing or two about how and when the wine industry started in this country. 

This book is perfect for those who love wine and love history and I certainly recommend it for those that enjoy historical literature and are seriously into learning about wine!

You may purchase the book on Amazon by click here: The Makers of American Wine: A Record of Two Hundred Years

You may also purchase the book directly from the publisher by clicking here:  University of California Press.

If you buy it, please report back and let us know what you think!

Enjoy!