Every two or three years I re-read James M. Scott’s little book The Man Who Made Wine. I confess that it’s not really the little book I read; it’s part of that fabulous great big book by Clifton Fadiman and Sam Aaron, The New Joys of Wine, published in 1990 as an update to their earlier wonderful book of 1975. So I learned of Scott’s book through their publication, and I do not know when Scott wrote his piece, guessing it to be around 1911, but I do know it’s been re-released several times most recently in 1996. I re-read it faithfully, because even though it’s fiction, it’s one of the most realistic and tear-jerking descriptions out there about a man whose life has been dedicated to producing wine. My re-reading this week was precipitated by my look at the harvesters in California a couple of weeks ago.
Scott’s story is about Michel Rachelet, master wine-maker at Chateau La Tour-St-Vincent for some 53 years. As described in thre story, Michel could be Raoul Blondel (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild), Guy Latrille (Chateau Y’Quem) or Leonhard Humbrecht (Domaine Zind-Humbrecht), or several other wine masters I have known over the years.
In the story, Michel is left alone at the end of a long trestle table where the remains of a dinner in his honor has just ended, and the young folks have scurried off to the dance floor, the older folks to their beds, and the Marquis to his chateau. The wine master is left to his thoughts and the empty bottles. The dinner had recognized his retirement on the eve of “this year’s” harvest.
Michel, by candlelight, moves from bottle to bottle, sniffing, occasionally tasting, but always remembering each harvest with sentiment and hard reality, the good, the great, the poor, the insignificant, Scott’s language and description representing some of the finest verbage ever on the processes that go into produicing fine wine — or even wine less than fine.
Even after dozens of readings, my eyes tear when I see the words telling about his day in the fermentation room, his evening with his beloved Madeleine “tossing and muttering under the blankets with a high fever.” He spent the next few nights at her bed side, the days with the wines, often confusing the “fever which was threatening her life with that of the grapes which were in a hurry to be born as a wine.”
He relates the 1943 vintage with the War and the 1945 with the Peace and others of his some 50-plus vintages with personal and professional insights and experiences . We read his prayer to save the vines from a hail storm and struggling to find the words till he finally came up with “Lord, I will drink Your health in the wine You have saved.”
I wish I could tell you where to obtain the original, but I encourage you to check the Internet for descriptions of The Man Who Made Wine,” by J. M. Scott. Reading his story will offer tremendous insight into the lives of those who bring us so much happiness.