Wine In Words + Pictures: A Book Review Of The Book That Almost Wasn't
Note: This is the first in a two-part series about wine book publishing, inspired by the October 1 release of The Essence of Wine: Celebrating the Delights of the Palate, written by Alder Yarrow and photographed by Leigh Beisch.
Yarrow is one of the most successful of the current generation’s wine writers, with one of the most popular and longest-established websites at Vinography.com. His site has been nominated for a James Beard award, and he is a regular columnist at JancisRobinson.com.
Here’s the thing. Even with all of his credentials and all of his audience, Yarrow could not find a publisher for his book.
In today’s post, I review the book itself, which Yarrow published thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.com. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at what this example says about the state of wine publishing today.
First, a review of the book.
We’ve all been there.
We take a sip of wine, or smell it in the glass, and there’s something there we recognize…
But we can’t for the life of us put our finger on what it is. It’s some smell, or some taste, or even some color that we know we know, but for some reason can’t name.
There’s an incredibly helpful aid when you’re in that situation. It’s called the power of suggestion. It works because, even though you didn’t identify the smell or the taste on your own, if someone suggests what it might be, you immediately say, “Yes! That’s exactly it.”
Now, the power of suggestion comes in book form.
It’s called The Essence of Wine: Celebrating the Delights of the Palate, written by Alder Yarrow and photographed by Leigh Beisch.
I read it as an e-book, though it was originally envisioned (and also printed) as a coffee table book. Beisch’s imaginative, luscious photographs fit that bill perfectly. There is one photograph for each of 47 distinct, short entries about well-recognized aromas and flavors of wine.
The chapter titled Harvest, for example, is filled with entries about whole, natural fruits like cherry, plum, and watermelon. The Terrain chapter features elements like earth, sea, wet stone, oak, and graphite. The Garden chapter is more vegetable in nature, with entries about dried herbs and white flowers and something called “garrigue” (which turns out to be the herbal underbrush of Provence). And the Kitchen chapter is the most “processed” of the four, in that most entries are crafted rather than primary flavors. There’s buttered popcorn, for example, chocolate, licorice, cured meats, and bread.
Wine writers derive enormous pleasure in describing exactly these things. For me the pleasure would be in choosing just the right descriptors and building the structure of punctuation around it. For Yarrow it’s the pleasure of finding those things, again and again, as he’s tasted through thousands of wines.
“With every new bottle comes the excitement of sticking my nose in the glass to see what slice of the world will leap out at me,” Yarrow writes in the Introduction. Symmetrically, in a later essay, he verbalizes the prayer that the time never comes when wine loses its magic for him. He is a man in love — with wine — and, when you see wine the way Yarrow does, who could blame him?
It’s the seeing of the wine, and Beisch’s photographs, that positively secure the success of this book.
The photographs parse out, one by one, the different dimensions of the 47 distinct aromas and flavors. As the photograph for the Lemon entry suggests, there really is a difference between the lemon peel, the lemon juice, a cut lemon, and the lemon rind. It isn’t necessarily a distinction you notice at first, either in the photograph or in your glass. But this is an exercise in articulation, after all.
For me, Yarrow is at his most articulate when he evokes an aroma or flavor, when he sets up the reader to fill in the gaps of a description with our own imagination. His entry on Candle Wax, for example, goes like this:
It belongs with the sound of slowly creaking doors, the smell of old books and the feel of parchment on the fingers… Riesling aficionados certainly know a good thing when they smell it. [Time] brings new dimensions to many white grapes, but especially Riesling… Smelled more often than tasted, notes of molten candle wax bring a surprising dimension to wine, lending a gravitas that plays foil to other flavors as it whispers mysteriously of times gone by.
There are kernels of insight in the text that can move tasters, who want to be expressiveabout wine, from Point A to Point B: how graphite indicates the alchemy of expensive wood and wine, or why Cabernet speaks deeply and gracefully of tobacco, or why Nebbiolo hosts the scent of violets.
Fortunately there is an audience for exactly this kind of information. During an interview just last week, for example, I was asked this question: “I know I love the flavor of apples, and peaches, but how do I find those flavors in a wine?”
Yarrow offers an answer. For each of the 47 entries, he includes eight wines from around the world that exhibit that particular aroma or flavor. It’s enough to start a curious reader off on a wine journey around the world, or at least to new aisles in their favorite wine store.
The entry on AppleAAPL+0.55%, for example, points you toward Trebbiano (from Italy’s Veneto region), Chardonnay (from Burgundy), Riesling (from the Mosel region of Germany), Sauvignon Blanc (form the Loire), Albariño (from Rias Baixas in Spain), and Moschofilero (from Greece).
For me this is the most impressive part of the book from a functional perspective, because it connects the dots between a flavor and where you’re likely to find it.
One of the greatest compliments to a writer is to take the time to read their work. I’ve done that with Yarrow, and I’ll take it a step further: I’ll buy his book, not just for the writing but because it’s useful – to page through in order to invoke the power of suggestion I mentioned at the beginning of this article, or to pass among friends who are over for an impromptu party, especially if one of them is new to wine.
For all of the creativity and imagination it yields, this book makes me anxious, too, for the traditional publishers who didn’t appreciate the potential of Yarrow’s proposal when they held in their hands.
That is a story for another day — tomorrow, in fact, when we’ll look at the unconventional path this book has taken to publication. Given the roadkill of rejections that litter that path, we’ll consider what the implications of its publication.
Last year I was awarded a fabulous shoot for a long time client. For the second time in 5 years I had the opportunity to go to China for a three week shoot for my client's international partners.
I always like a challenge, but shooting a large scale food shoot in China proved to be a tough one, fortunately with some good producers, leads and persistence, we managed to line everything up. The first challenge was finding a studio that would accommodate the set ups we needed for this scale shoot. As it turns out, Hong Kong is more of a fashion city so most studios are not equipped with sufficient kitchens for this scale of a food shoot. Also space is expensive there so many studios are pretty small- so finding one that had kitchen space, proper lighting and size appropriate for the shoot was one of the bigger challenges. My local producer was persistant and she and I started thinking of alternative spaces. She ended up finding a live work loft in an industrial part of town which suited our needs. Our props were sourced in San Francisco and shipped.We used a shipping company that was used to all the challenges of sending things to China and through their customs. It was a ton of production, required a great deal of organization, but in the end a fantastic, successful project. I truly believe that obsessing over production details ahead of time leads to a much more enjoyable and therefore creative shoot.
Photo shoots invariably have some sort of curve ball that needs to be worked around (late delivery of products, or a client changes their mind on something.) The more you can take out variables ahead of time, the better you will be suited to accomodate the last minute changes. When shooting in Hong Kong it was even more important to do that. We had shipments of product that was flying in from different countries so on time delivery was not always guaranteed. Luckily we had a very persistent and resourceful client who knew how to get things done. Still we needed flexibility and since we had set ourselves up so well ahead of time we were able to afford that.
One of my other favorite stories the trip was that after all the effort to secure the studio that was so accommodating, after two days into the shoot we started to hear horribly loud drilling sounds coming from two floors below which was also vibrating the building. My producer swiftly went down to check out what was going on. Construction was just starting on a lower floor and they were jackhammering the concrete walls and floors. We could barely stand the noise so I asked the producer to go and see what she could do. Shortly after she came up and said that they would only do the jackhammering on the weekends! Wow- thank goodness we had someone who could communicate with them!
Although shooting in Hong Kong posed some challenges, it was a great city to work in. Coming from San Francisco I felt almost at home in this vibrant international city.
How fun! The Essence of Wine books are in! Sara and I got a visit from wine blogger Alder Yarrow with 200 lbs of books for us to sign for his Kickstarter thank you party. We got to see our book in print finally! The Essence of Wine is out and available on Blurb Books. Tomorrow however, you can get it at Omnivore Books in San Francisco and meet Alder. He will be down there from 3-4 tomorrow, October 4th.
Omnivore Books on Food
3885a Cesar Chavez Street (at Church Street) San Francisco, CA 94131
email@example.com OR 415.282.4712
Here are some photos of our fun book signing/wine tasting. Great wine by the way-Alder knows his *hit!
One of my favorite kind of projects is to shoot a cookbook. Shooting a cookbook means that for an extended period of time- one week, two weeks... you get to sink your teeth into a subject. So far I have had the delicious opportunity to shoot books on subjects as diverse as BBQ, ice cream, baking, kids baking and cooking, pickling, Japanese cooking, Chinese cooking, Vietnamese cooking, Irish cooking, infusing alcohol, tea, olives, apples, bread, vanilla, marshmallows, cooking with all parts of the animal, including FAT... well, perhaps I will stop there. All have been great fun, hard work and learning a lot about each subject. The icing on the cake is getting the opportunity to meet and sometimes work with the author. At the beginning of this year I worked on a book that offered me the chance to work for the second time with a legend in the baking world. Working with the author Alice Medrich I have learned to appreciate the subtlety of ingredient flavors complementing each other. I saw how a chef with a refined palatte can balance this so well. I try to do that justice in my photographs. I always have to be careful about how much I say about my projects so I need to leave it at that. I will disclose more when it is published by Artisan later this year.
I recently found this blog post through an alumni posting for the Rhode Island School of Design. The author- Greg Kanaan, is a RISD alum like myself. He went from working in the arts to being a lawyer for the arts- which is kinda cool. Copyright is such a tricky issue- that is why what he says makes sense- always good to consult a lawyer- a professional. As a photographer, our copyrights are our assets. They are part of our business so it is important to manage those rights carefully. Anyway- here is what Greg says: And dont' forget to check out his blog: thelegalartist.
Advice From Attorney > Info From Internet > Nothing
Happy Friday dear readers! I had a post planned this week about the whole GamerGate debacle sweeping through Twitter like wildfire, but then my wife went into labor on Monday night and long story short, I’m a dad now and all my energy has been spent taking care of my wife and infant daughter Hannah.
But in the very little downtime I’ve had at the hospital, I found this chart online and thought I’d share it with you. It lays out in fairly clear terms when you can and cannot use someone else’s copyrighted work. I initially hesitated to share this chart because while the information is generally correct, the law in reality is never this clear cut, and reducing it to a simple phrase or image can be a dangerous proposition. As I wrote last October:
I like to give away lots of free legal information on this blog because I think it’s important for artists to have a basic understanding about how the law interacts with them. I was once in your shoes. I’ve had my ideas stolen, my copyrights compromised, and been in situations where a little legal knowledge could have saved me from a jam or two. At the same time, you can’t cut lawyers entirely out of the equation simply because you possess that knowledge. Legal information without analysis is just raw data. It can’t give you advice or insight. It can’t examine your specific situation and provide you with synthesized options based on that data (i.e. just because you know the fair use factors doesn’t mean you know how to apply them). No two situations are the same and everyone’s needs will differ depending on a variety of unforeseeable factors. Only a properly trained lawyer familiar with your circumstances will be able to navigate that minefield.
This is a reasonable view and I stand by it. Law without anlysis is just data, and data without analysis is useless. That said, I’m sharing this chart anyway because some of you may not have the finances to hire a lawyer, and having some information is better than having none. In fact, I’ve whittled it down to a pretty simple formula.
Advice From Attorney > Info From Internet > Nothing
So hang onto this chart and use it when you need to, but just remember that this is only part of the story and it may not apply to your situation. Be careful out there and call me or another qualified attorney if you have any questions about what this all means.
I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on GamerGate and some other recent news items. Until then, Cheers!
influential wine blogger on the Internet. His award-winning site,
Vinography, has been around for nearly 11 years, and in 2011, he
was a finalist for the James Beard journalism award.
Yarrow has managed to lead this niche by blogging only at night. By day, he is the chief experience officer at Cibo, a brand experience agency whose clients include Tesla and Volcom. Before that, Yarrow ran his own interactive design and strategy consulting firm.
Now after more than a decade online, Yarrow has turned his attention to print, marrying his eye for design and penchant for poetic writing into a 150-page hardcover coffee table book that celebrates the singular flavors and aromas found in wine.
James Beard award-winning wine blogger Alder Yarrow, photographed here atop Mount Etna in Napa, has written his first book, "The Essence of Wine," due out in October. (Courtesy of Alder Yarrow)
"The Essence of Wine" which was funded via Kickstarter, is due out in October. Half the copies of the self-published book have been presold; the rest will be available for $70 onwww.vinography.com.
By all accounts, this book is Yarrow's baby (especially since daughter, Sparrow, is now 6). It is odd to hear an Internet pioneer speak so lovingly about "durable library binding" and paper quality -- Mohawk ProLine Pearl Photo 140#, "the highest quality photo paper I can get" -- but Yarrow is guilty as charged: He's an old-school book nerd.
Books "have a special place in my life," Yarrow says. "I grew up without a television, and I still don't have one. I've read voraciously my entire life, and have always read books."
What's so special about this book? The title is benign, but wait until you see the vignettes. Yarrow captures 47 aromas and flavors, everything from wet stones to violets, cured meats and salty sea air, in romantic, succinct descriptions accompanied by the gorgeous photography of award-winning food photographer Leigh Beisch. Have a taste of graphite:
"There may come a time when, like the clack of a typewriter or the stutter of a rotary phone, children do not recognize the smell of a freshly sharpened Number 2 Ticonderoga or FaberCastell," he writes. "In the wine world, the scent of graphite might as well be the scent of money, as it most often emanates from the alchemy of expensive wood and wine. Cabernet kissed with finely toasted French oak most often proves the source of such aromas."
He follows each description with eight wine recommendations featuring that aroma or flavor. "Editing those was like stabbing myself with a fork over and over," Yarrow confesses. "Making them consistent, making sure they were widely available and spelled correctly. I'm just really anal retentive." And, unlike with a blog, you can't post a correction.
Arty and poetic, "The Essence of Wine" is Vinography blogger Alder Yarrow's first book. It was 100 percent funded through his Kickstarter campaign. (Courtesy of Alder Yarrow)
"The Essence of Wine" actually began in January 2012 as a blog collaboration with Beisch and art director Sara Slavin. Yarrow posted one or two a week, and they quickly became one of the most popular features on the blog. "But the photos and prose were meant to be savored one after the other, and that was difficult to do online," he says.
Publishers have been clamoring to ink a book deal with Yarrow for years, but when he offered them the idea, he got shut down.
"They all thought it was too arty," he says.
Last November, Yarrow launched a Kickstarter campaign and sought out a designer and copy editor to meet his standards. The book features a laminated four-color dust jacket with front and back flaps and a printed spine. The cover is made of a hard-wearing cotton blend that has been coated with water-based acrylic for extra resiliency. Such details make Yarrow proud.
For those who prefer to read books digitally, he has produced a high-resolution eBook version, available for $35 at www.vinography.com. How does Yarrow compare working in both media?
"(Print) is certainly a different mode," he says. "When I blog, I sit down for three hours and it's out and gone. This was a major project. But the book is gorgeous. It's everything I hoped it would be."
When you create art, you must reflect on it. Thinking about what it is to be an artist occupies a lot of time. My teachers along the way have made it clear that as an artist you have to be willing to share your humanity. To not be afraid to reveal yourself in some way. If you are to reveal something true about yourself you need to know who you are and your weaknesses- your humanity.
Every year on May 26th I feel my humanity, my loss, my sacrifice, my pain. It may seem sappy- get over it- move on. This is the day I lost my mother to breast cancer four years ago. Each year this day rolls around I remember the pain of losing her. It makes me human, it makes me feel weak. It makes me understand loss. It makes me feel human.
I share her poems on this day because in them she is not afraid to show her humanness though her observations of simple moments. Her poetry not only reveals something new about her every time I read them, but they make me look more carefully at the life around me. Each thing gurgling up a new truth. Sharing her poetry lets me keep her alive and show others what a beautiful mind she had. I am not posting a photo for this entry as the poem conjured up it's own image.
Spotted at the edge of a clearing, the doe
freezes and in that moment of hesitation,
carelessly exposes a brown flank
with all the insouciance of a woman undressing.
She lifts a delicate hoof and then
reurns it to the snow with all the grace
of someone who was born to run. Once, long ago,
I watched and elephant near Madison Square Garden
being coaxed up onto a ramp. He carefully
placed his giant foot down, then stepped slowly back,
remembering, perhaps, a former collapse.
The elephant knows his great weight in the world,
how the earth opens up, sometimes without warning.
So much of our lives, we spend paralyzed
by indecision, or excessive ambition.
On good days, we go forward...
And sometimes, that elephant's look comes back,
that great moving mountain of animal sorrows
in moonlight in Manhattan. And that memory of that
An award-winning commercial photographer specializing in food and still life. Leigh's work has been featured in numerous cookbooks and magazines, national advertising, packaging and catalogs. Her personal work includes a series of abstract landscapes. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Please note all images are copyrighted and all design layouts are created solely for LeighBeischPhotography blog. Kindly link back to the original post, or drop me a line if you'd like to use or re-post any material. Thank you!