Wine book reviews
The history of Australian wine: stories from the vineyard to the cellar door
Max Allen 

Victory Books, Australia 2012

Thereís something interesting about history, and as you develop more of your own, you tend to become more interested in it. For this reason, I was really pleased to open a package containing a new book on the history of Australian wine in the 20th century, written by Max Allen.

The book is based on an oral history taken by Rob Linn, who spent a considerable amount of time interviewing key figures in the industry. This research was funded by the Wolf Blass Foundation, and Max Allen has drawn on this to help write this book.

Itís a lovely looking book, in full colour, and has plenty of photographs. They are one of the most powerful aspects of the book, and two, in particular, stand out. The first is on page 155, and itís a black and white shot of a Penfolds board meeting in 1972. Four late-middle-aged men are sitting round a table. The brylcreemed, moustachioed Max Schubert is second right, and heís watching carefully as the chap to his right is pouring a glass of what looks like either sherry or brandy. All four are smoking and the ashtray on the table is full. Another era.

The other is a full-page colour picture on page 9. Itís a beach scene from the 1960s. In the background, out of focus, two men and a girl are enjoying the sun and sea. Even though they are out of focused, you can just see that they are smiling. Theyíre well tanned. In the foreground there are two glasses and a bottle, in sharp focus, stuck into the sand. The bottle shape indicates this is Riesling, and it looks very inviting. The beach goers can be seen upside down in the lens created by the glasses. Itís such a happy shot, but, again, a different era.

Australian wine has come a long way since 1900. It has changed almost beyond recognition, developing since the 1950s from an industry focused on fortifieds to one focused on table wines. And from the 1980s onwards, the style of table wines has shifted. The industry is currently in a period of flux, too.

Allen captures many of the transitions very well. He paints pictures with his words, and the extensive quotes from Linnís oral history help bring this work to life. Any criticisms? Well, the pictures of Cloudy Bayís Marlborough vineyard and an unnamed vineyard in St Estephe on pages 96 and 98 seem a bit of a waste: it would have been better to have some more wonderful archival images than these, which are only distantly related to the theme. And maybe there is one picture too many of Wolf, but I guess he did fund the book in the first place, for which he deserves a lot of credit.

Otherwise, itís a really engrossing read, and thoroughly recommended.

Currently available in Australia from Random House. Will be published in US and UK later this autumn. 

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