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The Grail

A year ambling & shambling through an Oregon vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the whole wild world

Brian Doyle

Line drawings by Mary Miller Doyle.

5-1/2 × 8-1/2 inches. 224 pages.

2006. ISBN 978-0-87071-093-3. Paperback, $18.95.

From the red clay hills of Dundee, Oregon, come increasingly world-renowned pinot noir wines. After being startled and delighted by one winery's elixir, and the shaggy humor of the father and son who made it, Brian Doyle set out to spend a year in one Willamette Valley vineyard, chronicling the creative and chaotic labor as the winemakers chase after the perfect pinot noir.

A self-described "wine doofus," Doyle follows closely at the elbow of Jesse Lange, son of Lange Winery founder Don Lange, peppering the young winemaker with questions about the growing of grapes and making of wine. With dry wit and otherworldly patience, Jesse Lange offers his interlocutor a primer on pinot, describing how acres of tiny black grapes are turned into complex and superb wines.

Doyle is absorbed in the real work of winemaking, "the sheer labor of it, the creativity, the dust, the bugs, the machinery, the botany, the chemistry, the wild nuttiness of trying to make a great wine." He records the rhythms and cycles of winemaking: the fallow times, the times of wild energy, and always the worry about the precious crop.

Doyle serves as a cheerful tour guide through the world of wine, alert to the colorful and riveting stories that swirl around its creation and consumption. In The Grail, he collects and shares dozens of these stories about the natural history of the vineyard, the fussiness of the pinot vine, the boom in pinot noir around the world, the surprising buying habits of tasting room visitors, and the subtle craft of winemakers who know, as Jesse Lange says, grinning, "how to get out of the way of great grapes." In short, The Grail is a spirited and entertaining chase for a truly special wine.

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