It is hard to write a book review of Vineglorious! because it isn’t really a wine book. It is more like a love poem to Switzerland and its wines.
Like a poem, this is a collection of images, ideas, emotions and stories held together not so much by a narrative, but by the author’s devotion to the subject. It is a very personal account, but a revealing one nonetheless.
Vineglorious! is a publication by Ellen Wallace, an American journalist now resident in Lausanne, and obviously in love with her adopted home. Ellen has been exploring Swiss wines, and travelling around the country since 1985. She has a keen sense for a story, honed by years as a journalist for Time and Business Week. It shines through even in this short homage.
The physical book itself, square, 144-pages in a hard-back cover, is a bit like Switzerland. It is compact, solid, attractive but unostentatious. When you look inside at the details, you see is meticulous, complex and thought-provoking. It is packed with visually stunning images from the intricate Swiss landscape. Each short chapter, indeed every page, offers a new detail, a glimpse of a history and culture in this country that is much more interesting than our image of banks, cuckoo-clocks, chocolate, cheese and watches gives Switzerland credit for.
There are stories about Nature; such as the birth of the Rhone and Rhine. There are stories of heroic deeds by individuals – noblemen, robbers and monks alike. There are even stories about grapes not as mere ingredients, but as protagonists in mystery stories. Each of these brief stories help us to divine the true personality of Switzerland, and understand a little more about the origins of its unique wine culture, its particular wine styles, and also the potential for the future.
Throughout the book you will find more classic “wine” information such as brief details about the main grapes, both in terms of importance and uniqueness, but these are relegated to the margins. There are also chapters on wine tasting and grape growing, but these are still incidental to the romantic thrust of the book.
As a disclaimer, I shall be heading to Switzerland shortly, for the annual Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) which this year is hosted by Swiss Wine Promotion. Ellen Wallace will be taking part in this event and has become a supportive friend in planning this event, and will be promoting this book which she also sent me to review and to learn from. However, this review is my personal opinion.
This is not a wine book about Swiss wines. It is an invitation to explore some of the stories that shaped the modern country of Switzerland in the company of its wines. It may not be an “essential” book for all wine drinkers, a term used far too often these days, but it is an inspiring read for anyone with a specific interest in Switzerland, and particularly any other wine communicator looking for ways to understand the context of the wines of Switzerland.
It could still be the book that launches a thousand blog posts.
Please do read it. Ideally with Swiss wine in your glass at the same time. Both will be time well spent.
You can buy the book on Ellen’s site here: http://ellenwine.com/book/