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Book Review – Passion, Pinot and Savvy, By Kirsten Rodsgaard-Mathiesen


29-Apr-2014
This is my first review of an e-book and I couldn’t have had more help in understanding the reasons and processes behind publishing in this form from the author of ‘Passion, Pinot and Savvy’ Kirsten Rodsgaard-Mathieson, even though our household has electronic readers. Kirsten, originally hailing from Denmark, is a journalist with over two decades of writing experience, now resident in Nelson, New Zealand. During her journey to this Nelson she spent time in the hospitality industry in Marlborough where she gained an extensive understanding and passion for our local wine and food. From that was borne her desire to publish a book about New Zealand wine, its uniqueness and progressiveness through the eyes of women involved in the industry. Having authored other work, Kirsten believes that electronic publishing is the way of the future, and is ideal in engaging a smaller, specialised audience and making writing much more affordable for the writer as well as the reader. The benefit of being able to conveniently connect her work with the wider internet world is another considerable advantage.

The book is subtitled ‘New Zealand Women Winemakers’ and this is a most engaging by-line. The wine industry world-wide is still a male domain, but that is rapidly changing. This country is representative of the openness to gender in winemaking in the New World, and the European countries are also gradually more accepting as time goes by. I believe it’s certainly a generational attitude primarily now, but there must be vestiges of chauvinism and sexism remaining.

The main appeal of the book to me lies in the perspectives of the 16 winemakers who are profiled. They are a mix of all ages, some born in New Zealand, others from around the world, some in charge of their own business, and some part of a team, in big and small wineries throughout the country. The profiles introduce each of the winemakers, covering how they got into the industry, training, touch on significant people and events in their lives, and views to the future. The format is generally in recounting their answers to questions asked by Kirsten. Along the way, the winemakers reveal some of their perspectives, humour, desires, attitudes and indeed, passion. It’s fascinating to read, as it is in their own words. It is like having a conversation with them in person, as Kirsten has skilfully woven the profile around how they’ve answered. What comes across is their commitment to their work and the industry, and the joy they feel, and fulfilment they have achieved.

The 16 winemakers who are profiled are: Anna Bishop from Delegats, Sarah Burton then of Cloudy Bay, Rosie Butler of Lime Rock, Marion Deimling of Schubert, Jenny Dobson in Hawke’s Bay, Edel Everling of Johanneshof, Rachel Garnham of Sileni, Tracy Haslan of Ti Point, Lynnette Hudson of Tongue in Groove, Lucie Lawrence of Aurum, Helen Masters of Ata Rangi, Swan Michel of Georges Michel, Patricia Miranda-Taylor of Marlborough, Kate Radburnd of Pask, Trudy Sheild of Waimea and Sally Williams of Wither Hills. With the profiles taking 75 of the 265 pages, this is a significant part of the book. Kirsten points out there are many more women involved in the industry, not only in winemaking, but in viticulture, marketing and other roles.

Quite surprisingly, given the subtitle, the majority of the book is devoted to an overview of the New Zealand wine industry and some of the most important aspects, factors and issues that affect it. For someone who wants to understand the workings of wine in this country, the book does a remarkable job in providing it. The amount of detail and information makes the book an at-the-moment snapshot of where New Zealand is, and also a reference of sorts, and this is clearly one of the aims of the book once one delves into it. What gives a unique slant on it is that with all of the salient points, the author asks the 16 women for their views. Rodsgaard-Mathiesen calls this part of the book ‘Conversations’. One can see that women’s views, aims and results are not really any different to men’s, but the journey is personal, and the 16 women profiled reveal more about themselves in these conversations.

The subjects of the ‘Conversations’ are quite topical and broad and include: Our most important varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are discussed, as well as Old World versus New World, setting the scene. Issues of male dominance in the industry and if there is any difference in a woman’s approach to work. The criteria for being a great winemaker, mentors and role models. Technical subjects such as sustainability, organics and biodynamics, and screwcaps versus corks. Marketing topics such as medals and awards, and thoughts on aging are included. And a question on how they see the future of New Zealand wine.

Appendices amount to 24 pages and essentially these complete the picture about the New Zealand wine industry covering the regional characteristics, varieties grown and a glossary. Also included is a list of ‘Other wine savvy women in New Zealand’. There are 11 women mentioned, and this could be the basis for a second volume. I’d certainly purchase the next volume if Kirsten decided to write it…

Passion, Pinot and Savvy, By Kirsten Rodsgaard-Mathiesen
Mad Frog Productions Ltd, www.madfrog.co.nz, 2013 ISBN 978-0-473-28216-5
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