The Wild Vine is a must read for any lover of American wine or what we like to call “weird varietals”. Weird varietals are obscure wines that are often made from indiginous grapes or hybrids. In this case, The Wild Vine chronicles the birth, growth and near death experience of Norton, a grape that its author calls the most American of grapes. As you learn in the book, it’s obscure, a hybrid and indiginous to the United States.
In providing context for his exploration of Norton, Mr. Kliman also chronicles the struggle of the American wine industry from its nascent beginnings along the hot and muggy East Coast (not the favorite of the grapevine) to its expansion westward and then its destruction during Prohibition. The backdrop of the American wine industry is the perfect foil to Norton. Norton, like the greater wine industry, struggles, triumphs and then searches for redemption in the wake of Prohibition, which doesn’t come as easily for Norton as it comes for the American wine industry.
It’s hard to imagine that a book chronicling the life of a grape could be compelling, but, yet it is. A colonial Virginian doctor succeeded in creating a vine that could thrive on the East Coast and produce drinkable. Achieving something that no American had been able to do since the inception of the British Colony at Jamestown, including Thomas Jefferson, arguably America’s greatest oenophile. It took a wave of German immigration and planting of the grape in America’s heartland for the hybrid to achieve its potential. While it took well over two hundred years for an American grape to achieve success, it was destroyed within less than a decade. Yet, as Kliman reports, there are forces at work trying to bring this grape back. Read The Wild Vine to find out more.