Acitelli, Tom. 2015. American Wine: A Coming of Age Story. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
If I were going to teach an introductory class on the history of American wine, Tom Acitelli’s latest work would be one of the primary books on my syllabus. This is not to suggest that American Wine: A Coming of Age Story is some dull academic text. On the contrary, what Acitelli has achieved is more significant than a simple linear narrative of American wine production and appreciation. His book lays out a grand narrative of the rise of American wine culture from the post-World War era to the present age, but frames that history in such a way that it is both compelling and entertaining.
On its face, American Wine is simply a compilation of vignettes. Any of them might stand alone as an isolated snapshot. Yet, they are woven together in a manner that gives us a full picture of a veritable American wine renaissance. Acitelli begins in the age of American jug wine, when grocery store selection was limited to just a few brands and bottles. “Fine wine” was both French and a mysterious commodity to all but a few consumers. Along the way we meet early advocates of fine wine, like Julia Child, Robert Mondovi, Robert Parker and others, who were instrumental in reshaping American perceptions.
In tandem with rising awareness, Acitelli chronicles the rise of American wine and its ascendance on the world stage. He deftly guides us through the lean years as early American vintners struggled for market share in a landscape dominated by bulk wine and perceptions of French wine as the definition of quality. Through all of the triumphs and setbacks that ensue, the reader is introduced to many of the most important players in a movement that included growers, winemakers, critics, writers, researchers and educators. It is the story of all those who ultimately transformed the United States into the world’s number one wine-consuming nation.
Acitelli deserves great kudos for his approach to a potentially tedious topic that might otherwise be of interest to only a handful of oenophiles. The story of American Wine is laid out in a simple prose style that is devoid of technical jargon. It is a potentially complicated tale made infinitely approachable by a master storyteller.