I just finished "The Initiates" (Étienne Davodeau), and I must say: I liked it. A lot.
The premise of the book is that Davodeau, a cartoonist, comes to Richard
Leroy, a vintner and proposes a deal. He will work for the vintner for
one year, helping him to plant, prune, harvest, bottle, market - the
whole cycle of commercial winemaking (and I suppose, except for the last
step, of home winemaking too). As he does it, he will sketch out all
of the steps, all of the events, all of the people. In return, he will
teach the vintner about cartooning -- what it's really like (yes,
it's drawing guys in tights flying through the air, but it's much more
than that, with the whole human condition reflected in its various
styles). He'll bring the vintner to meetings with his publisher, bring
him to the factory where the book is physically created, to the
conventions where cartoonists meet - just as they went to conventions
where vintners meet.
I thought this would be a kids book, because I read about it on a web
site that recommends books for children and adolescents. I suppose, in a
way, it is a kids book, but it is so much more than that. In a
gentle, friendly way, it talks about these two disparate cultures, about
what the serious practitioners in the field are trying to accomplish. I
was intrigued but not captivated by the cartoonist's story -- I knew of
some of the cartoonist novels he mentions, such as Maus and The
Watchmen -- but the vintner overwhelmed me. The reason is that I have
never understood wine. I know that many people are captured by the wine
culture, but as far as I was concerned, these people were kidding
themselves - nodding wisely that one wine was better than another, but
capable of switching their opinions on the flimsiest of evidence - such
as discovering that the wine they disliked in a blind taste test was in
fact a highly renowned wine. I was sure that some wines were good, but great? I found that hard to believe.
I won't say that this book changed my mind about wine, but I was grasped
by the deep seriousness of the people who work in the field (some of
them, literally!) - what they thought about, what they felt was
important, their discussions and arguments about whether the use of
sulphur is acceptable (and if so, how much), what the difference is
between organic wine and biodynamic wine (I knew a tiny bit about this,
having seen a video on a vineyard owned by Gérard Depardieu, but just a
bit), why you prune vines, and how much. These people are not fools.
They love what they do, but they're not blind, or robots, or
fashionistas. They think. Which is much more intensity and conviction than I ever thought possible in winemaking.
How much did I like this book? My copy is from the library. I'm going
to buy one of my own - maybe, the French-language one. Its awesome.