meaning of wine

A Rite of Paso: Paso Robles Wine Country. By Chris Kassel. Wine Book Review


You wouldn’t imagine that America’s most interesting wine writer would come from Detroit, but there is truly nobody who writes wine like Chris Kassel. It takes, perhaps, the perspective of a sober alcoholic living a continent away from the infantilizing comfort of ‘wine country’ to understand the beauty of this particular beverage.

Kassel begins his intriguing 2013 study of Paso Robles Wine Country “A Rite of Paso” with a cross-country train ride that slams us quickly into his fraught history with this beverage.

“A train because it’s symbolic, of course; California because on a westbound carrier, it’s the end of the line. Plus, it’s where the wine is, and if I should not - cannot - drink any more of it, I have spent my entire adult life writing about wine, millions of words in dozens of outlets, and writing about wine and wine’s inhabitants is still my comfort zone, even when the comfort zone of a low-grade buzz is no longer an option.”

Chris Kassel innately understands that wine is inherently something beyond the pleasant buzz in the head. It also is something beyond the mere organoleptic game of a blind-tasting sommelier or the Pinterestingly staged images of organic food, wood furniture tasting bars, and ‘wine country casual’ lifestyles. And he isn’t interested in reviewing wines and telling you what to drink.

A Rite of Paso peels away all of that and focusses on a world of real people - often flawed but never boring - who happen to be in Paso Robles Wine Country.

Chris Kassel is actually engaging in Journalism. Writing like this shines a bright light of how much wine writing is merely sales and marketing copy. Those things have their place, but we need much more writing like A Rite of Paso.

Obviously, I enjoyed A Rite of Paso: Paso Robles Wine Country tremendously and I recommend you buy a copy. Click here to buy the book from Amazon.

I’ll finish out this review with a couple of quotes from the book that will give you an insight into the style of the writing.

On Pest Control

“Steve Thompson has been known to sit in the canyon opposite his vineyard, drink a bottle of wine and unleash live-fire hell upon the ground squirrels. He’s also developed a sort of John Wayne vs the Injuns technique while driving his red Polaris wherein he steers with one hand and fires his shotgun with the other. In either case, on a particularly productive whack-a-squirrel day, he may send three hundred rodents into oblivion.”

On the Tarantulas that are a core part of the vineyards of Paso Robles

“About five years ago, I saw a spider a quarter of this size on my washing machine at 4:00AM, and considered that my options were either to fetch my .22 from the gun chest and shoot it or wake up my sleeping teenager to kill it for me. In the end, what the hell? I figured the gunshot would have woken him up anyway.”

And Pinot Noir

“Diaphanous and dainty from vineyard to vat, pinot noir was born with a thin skin, making it hypersensitive to weather and prone to viruses like leaf roll and bunch rot. It’s recalcitrant in handling and as difficult to vinify as it is to farm; it has, as a result, often been described in feminine terms, including ‘voluptuous,’ ‘high-maintenance,’ ‘delicate and driven to drama,’ ‘seductive, wily and sexy.’ Of course, as the French - who have been growing pinot noir since Jesus had milk teeth - well know, the better it is, the harder it is to describe. One thing is for sure: If pinot noir is a woman, it is Carla Bruni compared to cabernet sauvignon’s Kim Kardashia

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Half-bottles, Restaurants, and the Meaning of Wine. Elizabeth Pressler of Elizabeth Spencer Winery: The Complete Interview

My interview with Elizabeth Pressler of Elizabeth Spencer Winery was a pleasant wine conversation with a pleasant lady who makes very good wine.  What really makes this a turning point was that I asked her "What Does Wine Mean to You?"  It was a question I had asked of Dirk Richter and would soon become a motif in later interviews as well.  Enjoy!  Parts of this video were released as separate episodes of Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman and are collected here for the first time.


My name's Elizabeth Pressler, and I am the Elizabeth of Elizabeth Spencer. My husband Spencer is of course the Spencer. We put our first names together to make the brand name. People often mistake the name Elizabeth Spencer as being one single person, and of course it's not. It's the unification of the two of us.

Part One:  What Does Wine Mean to You?

That's a really hard question. It's interesting, because wine is a passion of mine. Wine is my business. Wine is something that stimulates my mind and thinking, and it's a lifelong pursuit. Once you get hooked by wine, you learn about it every time you open a bottle of wine and taste, and it's a lifelong growing experience because you're always experiencing new tastes when you're interested in wines. I also love the way wines bring together the culinary arts. When you begin to love wine, you also appreciate food, and you think about how flavors go together.

Spencer and I cook at home. I love how we will come home and pour a bottle, pour from a bottle, have a glass of wine while we're making our dinner, and we talk a lot about wine.

We have a side board at home in the kitchen, a marble top table, and we have zillions of bottles open, where we're always tasting and sampling. What we'll do is we'll open a bottle of wine and watch it over the course of five to seven days to see how it changes over time, and on that side board, you'll find wines from Napa, Sonoma, France, Italy, Australia. We're always looking at what our friends and colleagues are doing around the world, because we think it's very important to know about wines from other regions.

What else does wine mean to me? I love the way it brings people together. Once you open a bottle of wine and share it with friends or family, suddenly the conversation flows. The conversation moves to interesting things. You talk about art, politics, what movies you've just seen. It just is an added enjoyment to life and to living.

Part Two: On Cooking and a Little History

Oh, gosh. I was raised by a mother who loved to grow organic gardens back in Pennsylvania, and we always had fresh corn, and tomatoes, and lettuces, and my favorite, the strawberries. I got to learn what great, good food tasted like, so that was part of my interest. I always liked cooking, and we always cooked at home as kids with my mother. When I met Spencer, we loved cooking as well, and both of us have spent much time in the restaurant business before we got into the wine industry.

I started out as a waiter, which I think is some of the best training that anybody can ever, ever have for life, because you really learn how to think on your feet, but you also get to appreciate and enjoy fine wine and fine food. I also worked in front of house as a maitre d, and I organized all of the waiters, and I seated our customers. I was even a sommelier in a restaurant, where I went from table to table and really increased wine sales, so I love restaurants, and love food and wine, and putting it all together.

Part Three:  What are the Characteristics of a Good Wine Restaurant?

A restaurant where you get an opportunity to taste wines from around the world, and I love the idea of having different size pours. For instance, I think it's great to have a two ounce pour, so you can really have a sampling or a taste of wine, and then maybe a five to six ounce pour so you can actually enjoy it with a meal, and then I like the idea of having a variety of wines that you can enjoy throughout the course of a meal.

You and I were talking earlier about the beauty of half bottles. My husband and I often like picking those off of the wine list so that we can select a wine that goes well with each course, so it would be fun to have a white wine with our first course, and then move into a red for the second. Of course, I can't forget sparkling wine. We love having champagne as a cocktail, so it's great to have a half bottle or a split of champagne to begin.

Oh, yeah. Spencer and I are committed to bottling in all different formats. This is primarily for our Cabernets. Cabernets are wines that can age very well, and classically in France, the French have always bottled in many different sizes.

When you come to our tasting room, you'll see that we have a display. Everything from the 375, which is the half bottle, to the 750, which is this normal size bottle, to 1.5, which is the magnum. We do a three liter, six liter, 12 liter, 18 liter, and recently Spencer even has done a 27 liter.

Don't ask me what that's called.

I have to read the names to know what it's called.