You know a book is good when it has a way of gliding into your everyday life and subtly changing your thought patterns almost without you realizing it. This is exactly what happens when you read Inventing Wine by Paul Lukacs. It is what happened to me, anyway. Even as I was reading it – in bits and pieces in the few moments I managed to carve out of particularly busy days – page after page I found that it just seemed natural to start quoting concepts from the book during my classes.
What makes Inventing Wine all the more compelling is the realization that, if you take them one by one, there are not many pieces of information or historical data that would appear totally new to average wine professionals moderately at peace with their homework.
Of course we know that ancient wines were for the most part foul tasting concoctions with a bit of everything thrown in to make them less unpalatable than they would have been in their “natural” state. We know of the old Spanish practice of storing wine in animal hides – although we probably find it hard to imagine just how repelling they must have tasted. We know that most of the various wine stories are made up by a few historical facts whipped up with fantasy to full-blown legends. We know that poor Dom Perignon, far from being elated by “tasting stars” spent his life battling against bubbles. We know that Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino are very recent wines, like we know that before Dutch engineers reclaimed the land most of Médoc was a salty swamp.
We know how these and many more historical facts are at odds with the typical wine narrative, which tends to emphasize continuity – a continuity extending back into the millennia – over development and change. We know but, just because of the strength of the deeply ingrained continuity narrative, we tend to see each one of them as an isolated episode which does not essentially undermine the paradigm.
This is exactly what Paul Lukacs does: by meticulously collecting solid historical evidence, he operates no less than a paradigm shift. Read the book, and you will find yourself thinking: “Well, of course winemaking has evolved through the centuries with stops and starts along with the general social and scientific environment like any other technical activity”. Except: when talking about a new sleek automobile with high-tech safety features and fabulous performance, nobody even thinks of relating it to the crude chariots of Homeric times. So, why do we feel the need to do it with wine? Simply because one of the many unique features of wine is that every successful innovation get immediately transfigured into a time-honored tradition. And, after all, this intermingling of technology and narrative imagination is one of the reasons we love wine.