This article may be filed under the Book Reviews section of Vinography, but it isn’t exactly a book review. That’s because I’m not exactly a neutral party when it comes to the 5th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine. During the pandemic I spent countless hours volunteering as a contributor to the largest revision yet for what some people have called (myself included) the single greatest reference book on wine in existence.
For the first time, the editorship of this book was handed off to Julia Harding and her new partner in crime Tara Q. Thomas, with founding editor Jancis Robinson personally revising “only” around 10% of the entries and providing moral support.
Seven-Fifty Daily has a very nice interview with Jancis about the evolution of this book over the last 30 years, which I recommend you check out.
I joined more than 100 new contributors working on the new volume, which has both expanded by 272 entries and been extensively rewritten and edited (roughly 65% of the entries were entirely overhauled and no single entry escaped revision). The new edition is roughly 1 million words in length, 25% longer than the previous edition.
For my part, I was one of five individuals tasked with a significant overhaul of every entry relating to California. In particular, it fell to me to rewrite the main “California” entry itself, along with more than two dozen other entries, totaling nearly 12,000 words.
I’m quite proud of having successfully argued for the inclusion of (and written) several new entries to the volume, including wildfires, Angelica, and entries for several overlooked or underrepresented AVAs that were long past due for a mention in the OCW.
The California entry, itself stretching to more than 6500 words, proved a significant challenge because, in every previous edition, it was structured in a completely different manner than other major wine regions around the world. I was asked to reshape it in accordance with the structures that had been established for places like France and Spain, while at the same time updating it to reflect the current state of winemaking affairs in the Golden State.
In doing so I felt it was important to make some important revisions to how California wine history was described, in particular referencing the roles of the native Californians in their (sadly, often conscripted) work planting vineyards and making wines at the Missions in the early days of California as well as the Chinese laborers who built many of the early wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties before being run out of town following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Referencing the many challenges facing the current LatinX labor force was also important to me in the face of rising housing costs, immigration issues, and safety issues surrounding climate change and fires.
The description of the modern state of the California wine industry needed significant updating to reference the rise of custom crush facilities and the proliferation of small brands making exceptional wines that are sold more through DTC channels than through the Three-Tier system. New words were required on sustainability, organic viticulture, training and trellising systems, alcohol levels, fermentation techniques, and overall trends in winemaking styles, not to mention what has happened with Pinot Noir in a post-Sideways world.
Writing for an authoritative reference volume is quite a different exercise than penning columns or writing wine reviews, but I (perhaps perversely) enjoyed the exercise of writing where brevity and concision rule all.
I don’t think there’s a wine reference book I use more than the Oxford Companion to Wine. If you don’t yet own a copy of the Oxford Companion, or if you’ve got an earlier edition, you should consider adding the 5th edition to…
Source : https://www.vinography.com/2023/10/the-worlds-greatest-wine-reference-book-gets-a-major-overhaul