Though Robert Camuto’s two books: Corkscrewed and Palmento are now six and four years old respectively, their relevance in the wine world continues to grow as our societal deference to all things natural gives way to an evolved form of anti-commercialism. Such themes are woven into Mr. Camuto’s stories about wine and life and are must-reads for any wine-lover or bon vivant.
Our fascination with terroir-driven wines within the industry is certainly ubiquitous, but the trend has been seeping out into the general public as well, especially among those who value any products that are ‘crafted by an artisan’. We think of such wines as having ‘a sense of place’ that is inextricable from the beverage itself. Through his pursuit of these wines and the people who make them, Mr. Camuto takes us on a journey where we can learn a lot about wine and hopefully, a little about ourselves.
The former: Corkscrewed: Adventures in the New French Wine Country is, in many ways, an account of the author’s transformation from American Journalist and wine enthusiast into someone fully immersed in life (to use his language). Because he catalogues his own revelations as the book progresses, the story is appreciable by casual wine drinkers as well as those who have already experienced their own wine-epiphanies. While a reader might question the sincerity of a lesser writer, Camuto’s precise use of language and unpretentious candor make his profound conclusions to be moving, not melodramatic:
In Wolxheim I saw wine as a part of a cycle of life – as natural as childbirth and death – made from the last fruit of the year picked and fermented with human sweat, blood, and spirit. Raising a glass could never be the same.
With an emphasis on traditional, organic and biodynamic wines, the author seeks out small grape growers and winemakers, continually engaging them on the commercialization of wine. Piece by piece, he meticulously creates the analogy of the wine world as a microcosm of global socio-economics and he creates an underlying commentary romanticizing a simpler European lifestyle. This motif is undoubtedly related to his own decision to relocate to France along with his family despite being born and raised in the United States.
In addition to thematic appeal, Mr. Camuto`s ability to tell a story in an engaging and thought-provoking way makes these two adventures enjoyable from cover to cover. Throughout both books he paints pictures of complex characters using only a few words and adds tactility to his settings with the effortlessness that only a practiced journalist could. Nothing is embellished: he is reporting the unaltered facts of his experiences.
His follow-up account entitled Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey has the tone of a wine-enthusiast that is now exploring and evaluating wine and wine- making at a much higher level of expertise. As a result, this volume is slightly less palatable for the layman but even more engaging for the connoisseur.
I was first introduced to this book while visiting the home and vineyards of Ciro Biondi, one of the winemakers featured within. Perhaps it is living and working on the slopes of the volcanic giant Mount Etna that has taught he and his wife Stef such humility but whatever the source, they were simply excited to be included in Mr. Camuto’s work. In their living room, we read a couple of passages from the book and we all agreed that the novel is an honest, genuine account of the importance of wine to the people, culture and history of the biggest island in the Mediterranean.
Palmento is the name for the querky concrete buildings that have been used to crush grapes and make wine for hundreds (if not thousands) of years on the island and much of the peninsula. It is now illegal under EU law to produce wine in a palmento because of sanitary concerns and therefore by using this as his title, Camuto alludes to the long, disjointed and often frustrating history of Sicilian wine. Despite boasting unique terroir and grape varieties, Sicily has only entered its modern winemaking renaissance in the last 20 years. Mr. Camuto successfully chronicles that revival by petitioning most of the great actors from old families to new immigrants throughout his year travelling to and from Sicily. He asks poignant questions, stirring up emotion from Palermo to Messina and records the uncensored reactions of the most important people in Sicilian wine.
He once again discovers that traditional and natural converge in wine and that bigger is not always better. It seems that every wine has a story: it was made by a person and comes from a place. Even those making wine on a commercial scale recognize the importance of where they came from and are investing in the future of the island and the industry as a whole.
I can`t possibly say enough (or more) about these two books. If you have had the interest and patience to get to the bottom of this review, I implore you to invest the time in the novels and hope they give you as much inspiration as they have given me.