Book Review: Continued Surveillance by Jake Lorenzo

Review by Tim Patterson.

Wine writers love Jake Lorenzo’s stuff; many wish they could write like him, or more precisely, get away with writing like he does. It’s not so much the sheer literary quality of Jake’s “mostly true stories of the wine business,” the book’s subtitle; it’s the vantage point and the audacity.

Jake Lorenzo is the rare wine writer who views the wine world from inside the industry, not as an outside observer dispensing judgments and scores. Better yet, he freely admits that he and his friends love to get hammered–common enough among wine writers, but rarely the subject of one essay after another. This book will not tell you which vintages of what Barolos to invest in, but it may well make you want to get ripped.

Compounding the fun, Jake is a man of mystery on two levels. He’s a “wine detective,” looking into what’s really going on under the surface and why things work the way they do. But he’s also a fiction, a nom de vin for Lance Cutler, a veteran Sonoma winemaker (including a long stretch at Gundlach-Bundschu) and wine writer (often for technical- trade magazines). Jake’s “mostly true tales” involve not only his family and various true-life wine industry folks but his imaginary eating-and-drinking buddy Chuy Palacios, chef/owner of the Burrito Palace, and Dr. Iggy Calamari, a certifiably mad scientist and inventor of the wine-powered heart pacemaker.

See why the rest of us wish we had Jake’s/Lance’s gig?

The 60 or so short pieces that make up this collection, Jake’s third, originally appeared in Wine Business Monthly, for which Lance also writes techie winemaking articles. The book is dedicated to “cellar rats and wine salesmen,” without whom “there is no wine business.” Several pieces celebrate the endless hard work that goes into harvesting, crushing, fermenting, pressing, barreling and bottling hundreds of thousands of tons of grapes every year; the sheer manual labor of winemaking often escapes the folks whose hardest job is handling obdurate corks. Several pieces revolve around rants against high wine prices and extravagant restaurant markups.

Jake really gets going when he’s popping corks and sitting down to eat. Several gargantuan eating and drinking marathons are recounted in loving detail. One piece is a kind of ode to the three-hour lunch; another furnishes the Burrito Palace Emergency Preparedness Basic Provisions Kit, which includes, among many other things, masa flour, pinto beans, Bombay Sapphire gin, Centinela Reposado tequila, rendered duck fat, canned escargot, and two changes of underwear.

After all the bouts of wretched excess, Jake ends up with more hangovers than a Philip Marlowe detective. Jake’s wine consumption may help explain why one particular essay about the exploits of a transcontinental society of hedonists shows up twice, in two different sections of the book, under two titles. It’s a good enough read, and certainly creative editing.

Few topics fit the conventional wine writing mold. Several are set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans; Oscar Peterson’s piano wizardry gets mentioned more than once. Unexpected or far-fetched analogies drive many of the pieces; my favorite was the association between ballplayers pumped up on BALCO steroids and the claims of biodynamic farming.

Continued Surveillance won’t help with your studies for that Master of Wine exam. But it could convince you to adopt the motto that appears on the home page of the Wine Patrol Press website: “Two bottles a day, that’s all I ask.”

Continued Surveillance: Mostly True Stories of the Wine Business is available exclusively through Wine Patrol Press; email or call Wine Patrol Press directly at (707) 996-5730.

Tim Patterson writes for several wine magazines, blogs at Blind Muscat’s Cellarbook, and co-edits the Vinography book review section.