Book review: Salt and Old Vines by Richard W H Bray

Sometimes before even opening a book you are kindly disposed towards it. It was like that with Salt and Old Vines. Firstly because it’s published by my publisher, Unbound, and secondly because it’s set in perhaps my favourite part of the world, Catalonia, specifically in the French part around Banyuls. Most vineyards are pretty dull to look at but not so on the hills above the towns of Banyuls and Collioure. They’re cut into the hillside on terraces, I haven’t visited the Douro valley yet but it would have to do something pretty spectacular to be more beautiful that this place.

The author is assistant winemaker at two domaines, Mas Cristine and Coume del Mas. The book is an insider’s look at what really goes on at harvest time. That makes it sound a bit like Kitchen Confidential for wine. It’s not like that as what really goes on isn’t sex and drugs but a lot of very hard and occasionally dangerous manual labour (and quite a bit of drinking). Chances are that any wine made by hand is bound to have a bit of someone’s thumb in it. Of course I knew that harvesting grapes and making wine was hard work but I didn’t realise quite how much e.g. the constant action of the grape juice literally tans skin so that it becomes like leather. And you should see what it does to your nails!

Though the book is mainly of interest to wine bores like myself, it’s certainly not a dry read. The author is, how should I put this, clearly a bloody-minded sort of man, and this makes for a lively and often amusing read. He has strong views on ‘natural wines’, people from Bordeaux and the book is spiced with some quality swearing. I liked the joke that wet vintage where the grapes don’t ripen properly is an AC/DC vintage because you make ‘a whole lotta rose.’

The book has completely put me off any remaining thoughts I might have had about the glamour of making wine. My plans to give up my day job and becoming a gentleman farmer in Paso Robles have been shelved indefinitely. What it will do is strengthen your love of good wine and this ruggedly beautiful past of France. It’ll also make you laugh and make you glad that someone is prepared to get his hands dirty for your pleasure (so to speak.)

You can pre-order a copy of my book Empire of Booze here. I’m working on it now and so far everything I’ve written has been brilliant. 

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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