Gods, Mentors, and Wine


This weekend, while helping an older gentleman put up some of his belongings, we came upon a treasure trove of older books. Books about the wine business, especially the history of wine, books about Burgundy and Italy, Portugal and early California. One ancient book aroused my attention, Gods, Men, and Wine, by William Younger . Almost impossible to find out anything about the author, except that he died young, this reminds me a little of the gentleman mentioned earlier. Here too is a person who, though he has managed to survive to 85 years at this point, and having lived a life in service to the grape and the vine, has all but been forgotten by present time. We rush to the latest new star, the young and the new. Meanwhile our mentors, those who came before us, who worked the aisles and the tables, and provided us with inspiration, these folks languish, often alone, in a room like the books on the shelf. Where is their seat at today’s table?

I love the opening in Youngers book, ” A bunch of grapes is beautiful, static, and innocent. It is merely fruit. But when it is crushed it becomes an animal, for the crushed grapes become wine and wine has an animal life.”

“Wine suffers a heaving birth. It has a rough, groping childhood. It develops into adolescence. Then if it does not sicken, it matures: and in this it is almost human since it does not mature according to a fixed rule but according to the law of its particular and individual personality. The act which gives it personality is the act of fermentation. In this metamorphosis it is changed from fruit into animal: sometimes even an animal of splendor.”

In all the daily clamor, both online and on the front lines, we need inspiration like this, people to remind us of the timelessness of wine and the miracle of fermentation.

William Younger was an Oxford Scholar, probably as far removed as possible from the grapegrower in Piedmont. But he had a vision that the winemaker feels in their gut.

Two convergences here; nouveau wines, or what we call novello, in Italy, and the crisis of fashion regarding the Super Tuscan wines.

Lettie Teague has a great piece called, Are Super Tuscans Still Super?. William Younger , in his book about gods, men and wine gave credit to women when he wrote in the beginning of Chapter 2 , “Wine was first discovered by a woman.” Ms. Teague’s account of the discoveries Rampolla - fruit and animalshe made in Tuscany is worth the read. She visited many of the important producers, both in the Maremma and in the Classico zone as well. On my own recent visit to Rampolla, I also witnessed the grape’s wonderful “metamorphosis…from fruit to animal.”

As for the novello wines, I reckon many of us had a “rough, groping childhood.” But our taste, like wine, evolves. It might have begun so many thousands of years ago as an instinct and evolved to a farmers gut response, and on to a table of refinement. There is a place for the new wines and the young, up-and-coming wine movers-and-shakers. But may we always save a seat for those who came before us, our mentors, our story tellers.

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Reader Comments

It’s great to run into old cookbooks, even better to find some old books about wine!