Dr. Vine and the 'Curious World of Wine' 

click to enlarge Richard Vine
  • Richard Vine

Richard Vine has always tried "to do what seemed like the natural thing to do." And that sense of purpose has shaped a career including a ten-year run as a winemaker and 36 years in academia, with two decades of jet setting in the mix. Chatting with NUVO by phone, Dr. Vine described the trajectory of his career as a combination of taking advantage of available options while staying true to his original roots.

He grew up in the vineyards of upstate New York and worked his way through the ranks to be named a winemaker with the Taylor Wine Company, a job which in turn led him into academia: "An opportunity arose to start a research program in viticulture - winemaking - at a university. They were looking for people from the wine industry; there weren't very many wine academicians in the 1970s."

Vine designed a "win-win situation" for himself where he would help Mississippi State University with research and development for their wine program while gaining his own academic degrees. After earning his PhD, he took a job at Purdue University in 1990 to develop their program in enology - the study and making of wine.

When Vine came to Indiana two of the state's nine wineries had recently closed. Of the remaining seven, two were doing well and five were struggling," according to Vine. Three decades later Indiana has 60 wineries. Vine points to the state's gold and silver medal winners, and claims that "Indiana stands side-by-side with wines from California," which produces about 89 percent of all U.S. wine.

Dr. Vine credits Purdue with encouraging that growth: "Purdue itself has a very good name as a pillar for progress. Purdue engineers have a fine image. When we designed the program to grow the wine industry we had to make sure it was an image builder and would be economically viable. "

The Purdue program is funded with five percent of the State's wine sale excise tax. It's a hands-on program that gives back to communities by walking a potential owner of a winery through the legal and economic requirements of starting a company, and ensuring the business plan shows sufficient capital for continued growth.

Dr. Vine has also brought his expertise to bear on a broader scale: In 1985 he was invited by American Airlines to select their wines to be served aboard flights. "It was one of the services airlines had, serving fine food and wine," he says. Along with selecting wines appropriate towards the country of destination he trained the personnel in the art of serving properly.

"It was important to be destination appropriate," and toward that end, he points out, American Airlines was the first to bring attention to Argentina Malbec and wines from Chile.

He's no longer working that job: "9/11 changed a lot. I had 21 absolutely wonderful years selecting wines worldwide for American Airline flights, but by 2006 it was over."

As a cheerleader for Hosier wineries, Dr. Vine advises that "any reader with a mindset that Indiana wine is not good needs to take another look and another taste." He points to the small New Albany-based River City Winery, whose Vignoles 2011 - a "truly delicious white wine" - took The Indy International 2012 Best of Show over 2,399 other entries from the USA and worldwide.

***

click to enlarge The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore about the Drink We Love So MuchBy Richard VineA Perigee Book, 20124 stars
  • The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore about the Drink We Love So Much
    By Richard Vine
    A Perigee Book, 2012
    4 stars

REVIEW

Beware of this delightful 'little book.' Give it a glance, and before you know it, you'll be sucked in for a satisfying hour or two. Vine's ebullient personality translates to print; yes, we've met him at wine events.

A chatty sort, he mixes bits of gossip with historical facts; surrounding innuendo with conjecture as he tells cautionary or risque tales. And through it all you'll learn about wine and meet the personalities from the rise of civilization to the "Revenge of Two Buck Chuck."

I kept earmarking my favorite bits, appearing on the page in thumb-or two-thumb lengths, until sticky notes stuck out everywhere. Of course I looked for Indiana's wine story, and, yes, the Vevay venture is there, along with the rise and demise - and eventual re-rise - of other wine making enterprises that now bring world-wide prestige to the 19th state.

The thrust of the book is aptly summed up by the closing anonymous quote: "Drinking wine is the second-most fun one can have without laughing."

Marjorie Nafziger's sprightly pen and ink drawings add greatly to the enjoyment, as does Pauline Neuwirth's zesty page layout.

Dr. Vine is Purdue University professor of enology emeritus; his winemaking career began in 1958 in New York State, and his academic work started in 1977 at Mississippi State University. And did we mention he served 21 years as the wine consultant for American Airlines? You'll find this book at Mass Ave Wine Shoppe, as well as reputable booksellers. - Rita Kohn

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