“The books that taught me about wine were as much about places and people as they were about the wines themselves, and those were the stories that stuck in my mind.” They are also the stories that acclaimed wine critic and writer himself, Steven Spurrier, wants to capture and celebrate with his new venture the Académie du Vin Library that will give the opportunity for journalists and writers to have new wine books published, as well as the chance to delve back in time and help re-publish old classics.
Steven Spurrier has written books himself, had books written about him and even been the subject of a Hollywood movie, but now he wants to play his part by acting as a publisher for other talents to share their wine expertise with the Academie du Vin Library, like the launch next week of a new book on Sherry by Ben Howkins.
Tell us about the idea for Académie du Vin Library?
We want to recreate the ‘literature’ of wine. A lot of wine writing today consists of glorified tasting notes and scores. And a lot more simply echoes the free technical information and prices that can be found on the web. The books that taught me about wine were as much about places and people as they were about the wines themselves, and those were the stories that stuck in my mind. I always say to people that the difference between drinking wine and actually tasting it is paying attention: wines will give up their secrets if you listen to what they are saying. My friend Hugh Johnson describes a fine wine as “a wine worth talking about.” And that’s where our books come in – by telling the stories behind the labels. Forget about ‘value for money’; think rather ‘value for pleasure.’
But isn’t it asking rather a lot in this day and age to make money selling books in such a niche area?
I don’t think so. More people are taking up the serious study of wine than ever before, especially in the US and Asia. The WSET alone has more than 100,000 students worldwide in any one year, and there are record numbers of people studying for their Master of Wine/Master Sommelier exams.
The world of wine is also a lot more competitive than it used to be. Gone are the days when wine writers could make firm recommendations about ‘what is good’ and ‘what is bad’. Nowadays, nearly all wines are at the very least drinkable, and there are plenty of wine lovers out there who are ready and willing to be more adventurous if they have the information to pique their curiosity.
At the same time, it’s not just about selling books. Our aim with the Académie du Vin Library is to create an online community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for wine and are keen to experience everything the world of wine has to offer. For the same reason, we’ve just launched a Membership scheme that includes discounts on books, invitations to special events, and access to our monthly Members-only online magazine Vinosity.
I have to say, Vinosity – which is a kind of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ for wine lovers – is really close to my heart. Every month we get people who really know what they’re talking about to report in from around the world on what’s uppermost in their minds. Anything from sustainability, to quotas, to the emergence of a new grape variety.
Many of these people are friends of mine, and have absolutely no agenda other than to tell it like it is, so to speak. But we’re also hoping that Vinosity will become a platform for a new generation of wine writing talent, people who have something new and interesting to say, but who haven’t been able to secure a book deal or a newspaper column because such things, sadly, are in increasingly short supply.
If just one tenth of those studying wine today became a member of the Académie du Vin Library, that alone would make us a force to be reckoned with. If someone discovers the AdVL in four years time they will find ten or twelve books in print, all very different, but all made for people who treat wine as something more than just a beverage.
So what has the response been from readers – and from the trade?
Among our readers, extremely positive. We have no intention of simply churning books out. Our mantra is that a book should look good, feel good, and above all be a good read – not necessarily all in one go, but as the occasion demands. Returning to the wine analogy, for ‘cellar’ think ‘library’. We’ve only published three titles so far, but there are some real gems in there and hopefully there will be many more to come.
Our books have been generally well received by the trade, too, although our attempts to sell them along with the wines themselves have so far met with a lukewarm response. I have to say, I find that surprising. When Delia Smith put a recipe for cranberry sauce in one of her Christmas cookbooks, the supermarkets quickly sold out of cranberries. I would have thought that said it all. The wine trade, it seems, is a little more set in its ways, and prefers wine books to remain in book stores rather than be put in front of its customers. But are the two competitive or complementary? You may not be able to drink a book, but you can certainly use it to enhance your drinking pleasure – both now and in the future. Perhaps one day the penny will drop.
What are the wine books that have particularly inspired you – and why?
Three books in particular: Michael Broadbent’s Wine Tasting, without which there would have been no Academie du Vin. Alexis Lichine’s The Wines of France and Hugh Johnson’s The History of Wine, which needs to be republished.
So where would you like AdVL to be in five years’ time?
I’d like to think we’ll be the go-to place for anybody who’s passionate about wine and interested in learning more – whether it’s through books, online, or even something that hasn’t been invented yet. It’s not about trying to recreate the past – it’s about taking the best of the past and making it relevant for a new age, a new audience. In some ways the world of wine has changed beyond all recognition during my lifetime, but in other ways it has remained reassuringly the same. That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve always loved it. And always will.
- You can take a look for yourself at what AdVL is looking to offer at its website.
- The first book published was 10 Great Wine Families by Fiona Morrison MW available here.
- Newly released is Ben Howkins homage to sherry with his new title ‘Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent!’ which is the first in a series of books to be published on the site analysing different winemaking styles. As the promotional words say: “Ben Howkins, in colourful words and equally evocative pictures, delves deep into Sherry’s fascinating story and reveals why it is set to come back into our lives with a magnificent flourish!”. It is available to buy now for £20 here.
- There is a special event on October 21 to help launch the new book at 67 Pall Mall. Between 2.30pm-3.30pm there will be a masterclass on “Treasures of the Bodegas”. 3.30pm-5.30pm a walkaround tasting and a chance to sample a selection of classic and modern sherries. The event will be hosted by Beltrán Domecq, president of the Consejo Regulador in Jerez, accompanied by the author and by new era sherry evangelist, Beanie Geraedts-Espey. Together they will present outstanding examples of each of the six classic styles, including rare and very old sherries drawn straight from the cask that have never been offered for sale and which truly deserve the accolade “Magnificent”. To attend register with firstname.lastname@example.org.