The Man Who Made Wine, by J.M. Scott, Yolla Bolly Press, 1996

The Man Who Made Wine, published by The Yolla Bolly Press, is a beautiful little book with a story that resonates to all who have life memories intertwined with fine wine. Michel Rachelet, Maitre de Chai of Chateau La Tour – St. Vincent for the past 23 years, vigneron for more than a half century, is retiring.  After his retirement party, he finds himself alone, late at night, with bottles from every one of his vintages lined up on a table. As Rachelet samples through the vintages, memories, triggered by aromas and flavors of the different wines, take him on a reminiscent journey through the long and winding road of his life. As such, this is not so much a book on wine, but a book on life.

The owner of the estate, in his speech saying good-bye to Rachelet says:

What makes one wine better than another? Surely in a word it is character. And is not this wine of ours great because it has in it, perhaps, something of the character of the maitre de chai?

Certainly a fitting tribute to a wine-maker; but don’t worry you traditionalists who insist all that matters is terroir.  Scott agrees with you.

If those knobby old vine stocks with the delicate roots which reached so far down –if they could talk they could say something worth listening to.  Vines were so much more sensitive than men. For instance, take a man and woman of Medoc and transplant them to Algeria. Their children would be the same as if they had been born in the Medoc. Human organisms were not delicate enough to be affected by differences in water, air and soil. But a Medoc wine in Algeria would produce Algerian wine because the vines always repaid exactly what they had been given.

The vines are what matters. The location is key.  Men like Rachelet produce great wines by letting the land itself produce the wine.  A great winemaker is great because he/she knows their place.

Vines could not be cheated. They were the masters sand men the servants. Men could understand only when the fruit had been translated into wine — and then it often took years to appreciate the subtleties.

There are plenty of jet setting wine consultants these days that peddle some useful knowledge and practices, along with some ‘magic’ formulas, that often result in decent, if soulless, wine.  However, in their placement of man over vine, they peddle a false God, a conceit that crushes true character.

Everything was in the earth, and God created out of it each year a new wine with a new character.

What makes wine so interesting to so many of us is that it lives, it evolves. Wine can be young and immature, it can be at perfect maturity, it can be over the hill. It is constantly changing.

But life never stands still: wine, like men, was forever changing, either for the better or for the worse.

Great wine always makes an impression.  Like great music, there are times when a certain bottle of wine becomes indelibly tied into certain events.  The aroma, the taste, becomes a marker, something your brain uses to recall memories and feelings of times past. Forever on, when you smell or taste that wine, recollections  pour into your mind.

The scents and flavors only mattered to him now for the memories which they evoked.  On the 45, “once more he breathed the wine, then put the glass down on the table. The memories of that year were too vivid, too cruelly contrasting” War ended, promise of the future, wife died.

Rachelet continues to smell and sip his way through older and older bottles, eventually reaching the 1900 vintage, with a flood of memories, tying together the inevitable end, be it man or wine.

..with the involuntary gasp of happiness with which one recognizes an old love, be became conscious that he had found what he had been searching for. (this year he met Marie Canet, to be his wife).   The 1900 had been “the wine of his adult life”. At the age of twenty-three he had been concerned both with the harvesting and the pressing of its grapes. While it was making he had first taken Madeleine into his arms, and they had drunk a glass of it for luck at their marriage in the spring.It had played a part in every important occasion–the baptism of Victor, who was born five years later, his first communion and his coming of age, and on every one of their wedding anniversaries. Each time the wine had tasted fuller and better balanced, as Rachelet had felt himself more mature.  He had not had the heart to drink it after Madeleine died. But he would drink it tonight.

He drank the wine he had been holding under his nose…his expression changed. The peaceful, confident look –almost the smile of a young man thinking of yesterday–became in a moment the lined mask of disillusioned age. It was not that the wine was bad….one could still distinguish the qualities of its greatness. But they had become so faint! …the wine had grown weak. It was on the way out–a great wine, but finished. …the wine had finished its work in life. It was the same with him.

If you are a bibliophile or an oenophile, you will enjoy this book.  If you are a bibliophile and an oenophile, you must immediately drop what you are doing and order this!

{Ed Note:  for those who did not see reviews on other fabulous Yolla Bolly Press books, see here, here, here and here.}

About the Edition

  • First American printing of this work
  • Designed and printed for James and Carolyn Robertson at The Yolla Bolly Press
  • Printed by letterpress on acid-free paper
  • Composed in Membo types, the test was printed directly from the type at the Press by Aaron Johnson, who also assisted in planning the edition
  • Copies 1-200 are cloth bound, enclosed in a slipcase and signed, mine is #35
  • Four hundred unnumbered copies are seen in paper wrappers and enclosed in a paper chemise
  • Published by arrangement with the estate of J.M. Scott
  • Illustrated by Los Angeles artist Deanna Glad
  • Afterward by wine writer Rod Smith
  • Signed by Glad and Smith
  • 96 pages, 8.5″ x 7.25″

Pictures

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The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Slipcase Spin
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Cover and Spine
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Cover
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Prospectus
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Opening Paper
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Title Page
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Text #1
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Illustration #1
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Illustration #2
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Text and Illustration #1
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Text and Illustration #2
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Text #2
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Sample Text #3 (Afterward)
The Man Who Made Wine, Yolla Bolly Press, Colophon

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