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An Uncommon History of Common Things Hardcover – Nov 17 2009
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About the Author
Bethanne Patrick is a writer and book critic. Her features, profiles, and reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, People magazine, and other publications.
John Thompson is the author and co-author of more than a dozen books including Dakotas, America’s Historic Trails, and National Geographic Almanac of American History.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Uncommon History of Wine
·From the Latin Vinum (Wine)
·Popular types: Red, White, Sparkling, Dessert
·“Variety” in winemaking is the type of grape used
Wild grapes have existed for millions of years. Make that tens of millions–the oldest fossilized vine is dated at about 60 million years old. However, wild grapes are small and sour. The first grapes to be made into wine were domesticated, made possible by cultures that had settled and begun to grow annual crops. The oldest wine container finds have been in what are now modern-day Georgia and Iran (where it was called mei). University of Pennsylvania researchers now believe the domesticated grape may first have been planted in Georgia, then spread south.
Just one grape, Vitis vinifera, is the species responsible for 4,000 varieties around the world, but only a relatively small percentage of those are cultivated into wine. Wine production dates back about 6,500 years in Greece, and both red and white wine were important in ancient Egypt. Wine became a commodity in ancient Rome, where barrels and bottles first were used for its storage. The oldest existing bottle of wine is from a Roman colony near what is now Speyer, Germany. That bottle contains some olive oil, an early method of preserving the fermented grape juice, before corks came into use.
After winemaking spread from the Roman Empire throughout western Europe, wine became a preferred beverage in nearly all of those countries, with regional types like sherry (from the port of Jerez), Riesling (grown along the Rhine), and Tokay (a sweet Hungarian varietal) gaining favor, too.
All of these varietals were placed in jeopardy in1863 when the North American root louse Phylloxera vastatrix was brought to Europe, decimating European rootstocks for decades. After a Texan horticulturist named Thomas Munson realized the way to save European vines was through grafting them to American stock, the great vineyards were saved, albeit forever changed.
Nowadays, wineries have become much more than the place where the grapes are grown and the wine made. Many wineries are tourist destinations with overnight accommodations and tasting menus that pair foods with wines. They may also act as wedding sites and corporate conference venues.
Most winery-area real estate is expensive. Modern farming techniques have helped wineries figure out ways to get more mileage out of their acreage while not weakening the soil. Such techniques as vertical shoot positioning (VSP), in which the growth of the vines is highly controlled, results in a very neat, tight canopy. Rather than allowing vines to sprawl, VSP promotes sustainable growth. It's also healthier for the vines, making them less susceptible to disease and able to get shading from their neighbors and leading to more uniform quality.
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The entries are, for the most part, excessively brief and throw out bits of history and culture helter-skelter, without any attempt at context. I assumed that was just the editors, trying to make things fit on the page. There were several instances in the sections on traditions, ceremonies and rituals where a single origin theory was presented as fact, when there are actually several competing theories (as with the origins of Mother Goose).
But when I got to the bit on baby names, I felt like smacking myself in the forehead. The authors had NO idea what they were talking about as regards Scandinavian names -- they said the children of Olaf would be Harald Olafsson (son) and Sigrid Olafsson (daughter). Then, to compound their error, they said some Scandinavian names followed the maternal line, and the children of Sigrid would be named Liv Sigridsdottir and Leif Sigridsdottir. That's the stupidest thing I've ever read. "Son" means son (obviously) and "dottir" means daughter. Not even the drunkest Viking would name his son daughter-of-Sigrid.
My only conclusion is the authors came across some girls named for their mothers and made the stunning leap that ALL of that family's kids had the same surname.
I have to wonder how many other times similar errors and leaps of illogic were made; clearly their fact-checkers (if they had any) did not do their jobs.
In short, the book is somewhat entertaining, but its claims to be a "history" of any sort are questionable at best. It is a collection of popular theory, rumor, myth and legend, packaged in a bright, easy-to-read volume. But before you go quoting it to anyone, you might want to check your "facts."
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