Oregon's Sokol Blosser Winery prides itself on a number of "firsts" it has scored over the years, for everything from its wine to its architecture. Now co-founder Susan Sokol Blosser has written the first account of the rise of Oregon wine by a pioneering industry insider, and it's a good one.
When Susan and her husband, Bill (the whole scheme was his idea) planted their first vines in 1971, they had none of the relevant skills and experience—no background in growing grapes, making wine, or running a business. They, and a lot of other people in that counter-cultural era, were simply drawn back to the land. They weren't the first to place a bet on Pinot Noir in Oregon's Willamette Valley, but they did jump in at a time when the entire "industry" could meet in someone's living room.
Three decades after they bottled their first wines, Susan Sokol Blosser is president of an operation that pumps out well over 100,000 cases of wine a year; Oregon has nearly 300 commercial wineries; Bill is out of the picture; and the winery is in the process of being passed on to their children. The saga includes launching the venture on a shoestring, then financing it through family ties with strained results; dealing with phylloxera and with neo-Prohibitionism; helping launch the International Pinot Noir Celebration and Oregon's LIVE program for sustainable viticulture; and the struggle to sell first Pinot Noir and later the wildly successful Evolution white blend. On the personal front, there are three children, two unsuccessful runs for the state legislature, a divorce and a new marriage to winemaker Russ Rosner.
It's a lot to pack into a little over 200 pages. In the book's introduction, Sokol Blosser says she kept asking herself if this was going to be a wine book, a business book, or a memoir, and decided it had to be all of those things. Inevitably, there are shortfalls on all three counts, missing pages you wish were there. As a business book, it's a case study of one winery, with only brief nods toward the other players who built modern Oregon wine. As a memoir, there's not a great deal of introspection—with the exception of some interesting observations about the progression of her own understanding of feminism.
Perhaps most surprising, there's not a great deal about wine in here—at least not much rhapsodizing about the magical qualities of Pinot Noir and the drama of trying to capture them in a bottle, the sort of semi-purple prose one might expect in a Pinot book. Sokol Blosser isn't a winemaker, nor is she by training a writer, so her tack doesn't exude the drama of, for example, Marq DeVilliers' Heartbreak Grape, the classic account of Josh Jensen's battle to tame Pinot Noir high on the limestone slopes of Mt. Harlan.
Still, it's an impressive and well-told tale. The rise of Oregon wine is beginning to generate a small body of books that go beyond tasting notes and tour guides. At Home in the Vineyard is a solid addition to that literature.
Tim Patterson writes for several wine magazines, blogs at Blind Muscat's Cellarbook, and co-edits the Vinography book review section.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.
Warm Up: The North Fork of Long Island I'll Drink to That: Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards 2015 Family Winemakers Tasting: August 16, San Francisco I'll Drink to That: Ryan Looper of T. Edward Wines Lost Treasures in the Sierra Foothills: The Wines of Renaissance Vineyards Warm Up: The Wachau I'll Drink to That: Leo Alzinger of Weingut Alzinger Petaluma Gap Wine Tasting: August 8th, Petaluma, CA I'll Drink to That: Monica Samuels of Vine Connections Vinography Images: Cool Climate Chardonnay
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune