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Featured Publication
February 2004

Wine into Words
by James Gabler

Wine into Words
published in 2004 by Bacchus Press
ISBN 0 9613525-5-8

Reviewed by Sue Courtney, 26 February, 2004

When James Gabler wrote to me and asked if I'd like to review a copy of his new book, 'Wine into Words', a bibliography of wine books in the English language, I thought it would be interesting. I thought I knew what to expect as I had used bibliographic indices before when working at the University of Auckland, extremely useful references but not overly exciting. Then the copy of the book arrived and I opened the parcel to find an absolutely magnificent tome within. I was dumbfounded for I had no idea of the scope that this work was going to be.

This is a 500-plus page hardcovered book of A4 size pages and nearly 8,000 entries. As well as a subject index and a short title cross-reference index, it has thousands of annotations covering everything wine has touched – art, literature, history, food, winemaking, grapegrowing, poetry, politics and war. With several of the rare books, the frontispiece has been reproduced.

Plus there are hundreds of biographical sketches of the men and women who pioneered wine's development and recorded its history. Some are brief, just a few lines, but take an important figure like Thomas Jefferson and you'll find an entry that covers more than three pages. Thomas Jefferson (1734-1826), "As sweet as madeira …. as astringent as Bordeaux … as brisk as Champagne", a man thoroughly studied by many historians who largely failed to acknowledge his love of wine. In fact he was probably one of the most important figures in American wine culture, initiating the appreciation of fine wine. James Gabler has captured the vinous life of this man who lived in France for some years and recognised the greatness of wines like Chateau d'Yquem, Margaux, Latour, Lafite and Haut-Brion long before the 1855 classification. After five years in France he returned home with trunks of great wine and introduced them to George Washington then, when President, served wines that were only the best.

Another fascinating entry is for Thomas Jefferson's own writings compiled from letters, his characterisation of wines of different styles and recognition of vintage variations and the problems of shipping delicate wines - a problem that still hasn’t been resolved entirely today.

Of particular interest to a 'down under' reader is the entry on Busby, the father of Australian – and indeed New Zealand – viticulture, with a long extract from his 'Journal of a tour through some of the vineyards of Spain and France', published in Sydney in 1833. There is also mention that Busby's 'A Treatise on the culture of the vine and the art of making wine' (1825) was the first book published in Australia about viticulture and winemaking.

At the back of the 'Wine into Words' is the subject index and here I found a quick reference to all the wine books written about New Zealand. Flicking back to the bibliographic entries I discovered that Busby and our celebrated Romeo Bragato were not the only authors of the 19th century.

George Suttor (1774-1859) wrote The culture of the grapevine, and the orange, in Australia and New Zealand, published in 1843. Suttor planted vines in Parramatta, NSW, in 1801 but it took him 38 years to have a successful vintage. The book included his personal observations as well as extracts from other works.

David McIndoe was the editor of Chapman's New Zealand grapevine manual or plain directions for planting and cultivating vineyards and for making wine, 111 pages, published in Auckland in 1862, republished in 1875 and included some of Busby's manual of the same name.

While this isn’t a book you are going to sit down and read from cover to cover, it's a book you can flick through and open up on a page and find some fascinating entry about a book on some aspect of wine. For me the book fell open on page 361 and this is what I read. The TAPSTERS downfall and the drunkard joy. Or, a dialogue between Leather-beard the Tapster of the Sheaves, and Ruby-nose, one of his ancient acquaintances, who hath formerly eaten three stone of rost beefe on a Sunday morning; but now (being debarred of that privilegdge) sleights him; and resolves to drinke wine altogether. Published in London in 1641, this is a 6 page illustrated publication that tells of the commercial struggle between ale and fortified wine.

Congratulations to James Gabler in producing such an important reference work that will be a treasured asset to any lover of wine books as well as an essential item in any serious wine library.

There is no direct distribution in New Zealand but it can be purchased directly from the publisher, Bacchus Press Ltd (email: and James Gabler has said that he will airmail the book free of charge to readers. Now that is an extremely generous offer and one to take advantage of as the New Zealand dollar continues to rise against the greenback. The price is $75US.

It is also available in Australia from Ryan Publications in Adelaide, Australia. Email

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James Gabler is also the author of the 1st edition of Wine into Words, 1985, Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, 1995, and How to be a Wine Expert 1987, 2nd edition 1995.

For more information visit

© Sue Courtney
26 February 2004

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