There’s something about the wine books of yesteryear–the lack of full-color glossy photos leaves more to the imagination.
Today’s books are either full of the former, or so full of technical information there’s no room for contemplation. We are an expertise-hungry body of enthusiasts who wants our knowledge now, conquering region after region or varietal after varietal on our armchairs.
Adventures in the Wine Country, Jefferson Morgan, 1971, is just such an imaginative book. It follows the author as he gallivants around California, mapping out wine trails and opining on its history and customs. It contains such gems as:
“The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and even the Chinese raised winemaking to a high art at the same time our less enlightened ancestors of Northern Europe, no doubt suffering from indigestion brought on by drinking crude beer and brackish mead, were painting themselves blue, shivering in caves and dispatching one another with stone axes before breakfast.”
“Most important, don’t forget the corkscrew. One can be purchased, naturally, but why bother to lay out good money for an item you have at home. Remember, most stores are closed Sundays, and few sights are as pitiable as a man trying to coax a reluctant cork from a bottle of wine with the file of his nail clippers.”
As evidenced by this quote, the book is a slice of American history.
It was written at a time when Napa and the rest of California’s AVAs were still underdeveloped wine country, and places were likely to be closed Sundays. Morgan recommends packing a picnic lunch wherever you go because there are no decent restaurants. Today there are whole books devoted to California cuisine, so plentiful are the Michelin star offerings.
Areas covered in the book are the North Coast, Napa Valley and the Silverado Trail, Sonoma, Santa Clara and the “South Coast” (now called the Central Coast), and the Livermore Valley.
The section devoted to the Central Coast just covers the northernmost portion of what we think of as the Central Coast, or the parts directly south of San Francisco. Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are nowhere to be found.
He doesn’t even go as far south as Monterey–though he briefly discusses the region, all the wineries he lists are in the Santa Cruz Mountains or Santa Clara County areas.
Of the six wineries he recommends for the “South Coast” tour, only Almaden, Mirassou and Bargetto still survive. A testament to the difficulty of keeping an independent business alive, especially one devoted to a novelty good, as California wine was back then.
In the end, this is in no way a practical guide for wine touring in California. What it is is a book of laughs, an escape with an erudite fellow from the hippie generation. And for wine history lovers, a glimpse into what it was to tour Napa when your car would break down on the Silverado Trail and no one else would be in sight.
The book sells for just a few dollars used on Amazon. Save it from the garage sale pile. It’s worth it.
P.S. As I write this, Napa and Sonoma are in the middle of terrible fires that have killed at least ten people and demolished several wineries. History goes on, and the landscape of wine country changes again. I wish them all safety and a speedy recovery.