A quest for the world’s finest pinot noir


This is no stodgy dissertation on wine and how it’s made. With the very first sentence of The Grail, Brian Doyle uncorks a full-bodied work of enthusiastic storytelling. The Grail delivers on the promise of its subtitle: A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World. Doyle, author of six books and the editor of Portland Magazine, writes as if adjectives are about to be discontinued and run-on sentences outlawed. When the dictionary’s words aren’t enough, he creates his own: “I wander up the next morning, on what appears to be the most crisp clear brilliant sundrenched birdsung hawkhovering day in the history of the world.” Twenty-something winemaker Jesse Lange, on the other hand, relies on one all-purpose word: “Cool.”

Doyle describes both the momentary and the momentous as he follows Jesse Lange and his father, Don, through the crackling color and mad motion of making world-famous wines in the hills of Dundee, Ore. It makes for an entertaining, sometimes hilarious narrative. “ ‘How do you know the right moment for harvest?’ I ask, trying to stay focused on the matter at hand and not think about the wild seething scene in the vineyard, the vines fertilizing each other madly when no one is looking, the little tiny bras, the little tiny cigarettes, the recriminations at dawn.”

But the holy grail may be in peril. A January issue of the Eugene, Ore., Register Guard noted that “climate change could lead to hotter, drier heat waves, heavier rains and quicker snowmelts in the future, scientists say — and a change in the taste of Oregon’s signature pinot noir wines could also be on the horizon.”

In an interview, Jesse Lange agrees: “Global climate change is an issue that we are just beginning to see the effects of, and those effects will undoubtedly increase exponentially.” But he’s not giving up. “My generation in the valley has been given a legacy to uphold, to care for, to improve upon, with all the creativity and respect we can muster, and I am damn well going to do that.”

And that is cool. Very cool.


The Grail

Brian Doyle

208 pages,

softcover: $18.95.

Oregon State University Press, 2006.

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