Fiction Chronicle: A Consummately Pleasing Taste of Napa
A lively satire of California's "Enotopia" and the local passion that has become big business.
By SAM SACKSSet in Northern California, James Conaway's "Nose" (Thomas Dunne, 326 pages, $24.99) introduces the transplanted British wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, whose magazine, "Craven-Jones on Wine," has the power to make or break "reputations, vintages, business deals, marriages, even lives." Imperious and obese, he sees himself "as the rightful successor to noblemen of old, preserving that most august expression of culture against the onslaught of the vine louse and the wine blogger." His olfactory sense is so keen that an uncapped magic marker can irreparably disturb a tasting.
Craven-Jones is just one character in the besotted rogue's gallery that populates the California subculture Mr. Conaway dubs "Enotopia." Other figures include the downsized journalist turned muckraking wine blogger Les Breeden; the feuding Hutt family, which owns the high-end label Copernicus and is struggling to stay afloat; the iconoclastic Cotton Harrell, an innovator of organic viniculture; and a host of noisily opinionated amateur wine connoisseurs (in any other setting they'd be called drunks).
The lively plot concerns the search for the maker of an unmarked bottle of Cabernet to which Craven-Jones has awarded the highest possible score. But the mystery is a genial MacGuffin. Mr. Conaway's real interest is in giving a loving, lightly critical portrayal of a region where wine has grown from a local passion to a cutthroat big business. "God, what an incestuous world it had become, and what a wonderful one," Craven-Jones thinks at a soirée for Copernicus's annual grape harvest. "Twenty years ago there would have been real farmers here, ruddy-faced men not in tuxedos but in lumpy jackets and their friendly wives enjoying a party, companionable and full of advice for newcomers. Today, the burnished complexions all belonged to golfers and mountain scramblers."
To borrow from the wine critics, "Nose" offers a burst of hearty comic notes and finishes with a lingering penumbra of bittersweet nostalgia.
To order my novel, Nose, click on:
To see my bio, click on: http://cjonwine.blogspot.com/2013/02/heres-concise-bio-for-those-who-have.html