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Featured Publication

First Big Crush
the down and dirty on making great wine
By Eric Arnold

Published by Scribner, 2007
ISBN 1416537694

Reviewed by Sue Courtney, 13th January 2009

I'd heard a little bit about "First Big Crush", the story by New York-resident writer Eric Arnold and his year working in Marlborough at Allan Scott Wines.
"Pathetic," someone said to me when I asked if they had read it.
"Filthy," said another who then delighted in telling me about what he considered a particular sordid incident in the book.
"Fails to hit the mark," stated a review.
Nevertheless, when I was down at the library the other day, and saw this on the shelf, I couldn't resist pulling it off.
I started reading and, quite honestly, I found it very hard to put down.

The book is subtitled, "the down and dirty on making great wine". Dirty - well yes. Every metaphor seems to have a sexual innuendo and the "F" word features so much, it becomes a cliché. It is the way lads of Eric's twenty-something age talk, for sure, but rarely do you see it translated so frequently to the written page. If an excerpt of the book was read on the radio, it would be full of bleeps.

The first occurrence of the "F" word was simply attention grabbing exaggeration, he almost explains it as such, but right away you know this author is not going to hold anything back.

Nor does he hold back his opinions of the Marlborough winemakers. That's one of this things I really like about this book - he tells it as he sees it - and because I know most of the people he's writing about, I love it.

He also tells the truths that the winemakers don't want you to know. I mean, there are never any bad seasons in a vineyard, are there? You only hear how fab a season has been or you hear nothing at all.

It seems that once Eric had been around for a while, many of the Marlborough winemakers forgot he was a journo researching a book and dropped their guard. They became much freer with their speech once the tape recorder was turned off. As for Josh Scott and then head winemaker for Allan Scott Wines, Jeremy McKenzie (now with Villa Maria Wines), their guard was down all the time.

Then about a third of the way through the book I realised it had toned down. Several pages of writing and the only 'F' words were those like fruit, ferment, flow, five, fifty, Frenchie (a nickname or one of the workers), flexible, Fromm (another Marlborough winery) and so on.

The 24 chapters are split into three sections: Harvest, Winemaking and The Vineyard and the highlight chapter has to be "Juicy Guys and Meat Pies" where Eric invites several renowned winemakers to a wine and pie tasting. I also like the chapters where he maligns a certain wine critic (twice would you believe), a chapter on blending and his report on a stint as an Associate Judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Anyway, I loved the book and I'm a middle class, middle-aged female. I even laughed out loud in some places and then had to share the paragraphs with my husband, they were such a hoot.

This book was such a hit with me because Arnold is a master of humorous writing and makes mundane winery tasks seem interesting, probably because he's not writing about the mundane tasks as such, but the dramas that seem to regularly occur. He also writing about life in what is essentially a farming town. The book is funny yet informative. What else can I say?

Evidently Arnold was out in New Zealand last April, launching the book, most probably, judging by the number of radio interviews and articles I found dated about that time.

In this informative podcast from Plains FM, Arnold explains it took a little while to get used to the Kiwi turn of phrase.
There's another podcast from "Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill" on Radio NZ, but a little more serious, however, as those interviews tend to be.

I found the Eric Arnold website and that had a link to a Wine Library TV Episode where Gary Vay - whatever - interviewed Arnold. I was surprised how shy and reserved he seem to be, as if swear words would never be uttered from his mouth. Well, looks obviously deceive.

He is now working as a wine columnist for Forbes. I looked up a few of those columns and they are definitely not as racy as his book. What a shame.

As for that 'particularly sordid incident' that I was told about, well when you put it into context, it's just drunken lads being drunken lads. Yep, they sure did swallow a fair bit of beer and wine.

That’s' the bottom line to this book, really. Wine is for drinking! And Eric Arnold says (in the interviews) that he has a particularly fond spot for New Zealand wines and Brooklyn's Down Under Bakery's Kiwi meat pies.

As for those who made those negative comments about the book or wrote it up badly - well you guessed, they are all middle-aged paunchy men, probably regretting that they were never young, raunchy lads.

Incidentally, the book has a different cover here in NZ, to that in the USA. It's available at all good libraries. Probably in retail too. 

© Sue Courtney
13th January 2009

Book Archives

Michael Coopers' Buyers Guide and others

Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape by Peter F.May

How to Drink a Glass of Wine by John Saker

Clair Cuisine Vinous Recipes

Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer

Wine into Words by James Gabler

Wine in New Zealand by Caroline Courtney

Cuisine Wine Country 2004

Screwed For Good

Wine Fact and Fiction

Wine and War

Various Titles

Wine Atlas of New Zealand

Cellaring Wine D-I-Y solutions

Canterbury Grapes and Wine

Pioneers of NZ Wine

100 Years of Kiwiana

Taste of the Earth by Keith Stewart

Vineyards of New Zealand Cookbook by Le Clerc & Williams

Wine Tasting Workbook

Essential Wine Tasting Guide

Pocket Guide to Wines of New Zealand

History and Mystery of Zinfandel

NZ Food, Wine and Art

The Global Encyclopedia of Wine

The Wine Lover's Cookbook by Sid Goldstein

The Fine Wine of New Zealand by Keith Stewart

Confessions of a Wine Lover by Jancis Robinson

The Rewards of Patience Drinking & cellaring to Penfolds Wines

Guides to Wine Grapes

Oxford Companion to Wine

The Colour of Wine, Photos by Kevin Judd.

A Long Finish - a mystery novel by Michael Didbin.

The New Spain by John Radford.

Max Schubert, Winemaker by Huon Hooke.

The Story behind the labels by Andrew Jones.

Vines in the Valley by Bill Bodkin.

The Heartbreak Grape A journey in search of the perfect Pinot Noir, by Marq de Villiers.

Complete List

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