Book Review: Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You know a book is good when you're bummed to be deplaning a cross-country flight before you've finished reading. But that's what happened to me with Evan Dawson's Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes recently.

The book tells the stories of 13 winemakers in the New York State wine region, each extensively researched and told in a narrative non-fiction format. I found the approach particularly effective in conveying each winemaker's story and raising their wines to a higher level of understanding and potential enjoyment. On several occasions I found myself wanting to seek out specific wines described in the book.

If the idea of reading winemaker stories leaves you uninspired I think I might know how you feel. For me, most winery stories sound similar: Guy makes boatloads of money in a non-related industry, dumps it into the sexier wine trade and is now producing wine made with unparalleled standards at unbelievably high prices. That said Summer in a Glass succeeds by relating stories in a way the winemakers themselves might have trouble conveying with a similar level of intrigue.

Perhaps that's because the author is a storyteller by trade anchoring the news desk at Rochester's ABC affiliate. He's also a wine writer who contributes regularly to online wine publications - primarily the highly regarded New York Cork Report. Dawson is the kind of writer I find interesting regardless of the subject he's writing about -- whether it's migraines, Barbaresco or Finger Lakes Riesling.

Impressive On a Number of Levels

First and foremost there's the undeniable charm of being transported to a region like the Finger Lakes. Given its duration and intensity, winter in the Finger Lakes makes summer all the more appreciated and Dawson captures the essence of each season beautifully. It's never in your face with metaphors but the notion of how special warm summer nights are comes through brilliantly.

At its best Summer in a Glass weaves chapters together in near-cliff hanger style showing the interconnectedness of winemakers in the region leaving the reader wondering how each winery will fare.

The work Dawson put into researching the stories relayed is evident and pays dividends. Dawson's wide-open, inclusive personality comes through brilliantly as he embeds just enough of himself in the story to draw the reader in.

One of the most difficult things to do as a narrative story teller, I think, is convey a story about the less-likeable character. It's relatively easy to tell the story of a gregarious German like Anthony Road's Johannes Reinhardt but revealing the essence of a highly regarded but not-so-collaborative winemaker like Hermann Wiemer is a different challenge. As an author you know the subject will read what you've written - and might not be happy with it - but Dawson finds a way to find the best lighting for each personality while painting an accurate picture.

Conclusion and Recommendations

After reading Summer in a Glass in some ways I regret not visiting the region already. But at the same time I feel I now have a reliable guide pointing me some of the best producers in the region and an interest in tasting the wines to compare notes with what's described in the book.

If you're a content creator you might find yourself wondering as you read the book: Could I write something on par with this about another wine region? Regardless of the answer the fact the book has you asking that question is, I think, an inspiring achievement in itself.

I highly recommend Summer in a Glass for anyone interested in good stories about wine, especially in the Finger Lakes, and especially if you're headed there for a visit any time soon.

More info here:

4.5/5 Stars WWP: Highly Recommended


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