“Noble Rot” is a groundbreaking piece of beverage writing that straddles the line between research and entertainment. At 288 pages, it is a quick and enjoyable read that tricks you into gaining a comprehensive understanding of the past and current workings of Bordeaux and the most influential people that have helped shape it. It is a must read for anyone with a taste for Bordeaux, or an interest in French wine culture. If all of that didn’t convince you to go out and get this book, you should because the gentleman who wrote it, William Echikson, is incredibly nice and even agreed to do an interview…Enjoy
Mutineer Magazine: What inspired you to write “Noble Rot”? What was your vision going into the project? How does this compare to how the book ended up?
William Echikson: I was looking for a subject to explore modern France. Wine offered, literally, an nice-tasting way to accomplish this goal. When I began, I was going to focus on the fight for Chateau d’Yquem., but after I moved to Bordeaux, I discovered the story of the “garagistes”, the small winemakers who were changing the face of the region. The conflict between modern France (Parker-inspired garagistes) and traditional France (the old chateaux and the 1855 Bordeaux rankings) emerged as a compelling way to tell the story of the two Frances colliding.
was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing this book?
The most challenging issue was finding a coherent story-telling structure. I had many characters and worked hard to weave them into a seamless narrative.
The most enjoyable aspect of writing any book is the opportunity to explore in depth a new profession and universe. A writer is paid to ask questions and learn. Each book is a journey. In Bordeaux, I met people who I admired and also saw less appetizing aspects of human nature. Overall, though, I felt privileged to be allowed into the inner sanctums of French society and winemaking. Of course, the wines I was allowed to taste were amazing.
Can you talk about your approach to researching this book?
My approach was to immerse myself. I moved to Bordeaux, more accurately Pomerol, and lived there for six months watching, observing, and participating.
Were you nervous about the potential backlash this book could have created in Bordeaux? What was the reaction of Bordeaux as well as wine professionals in general?
I am not a professional wine writer and was concerned only to write an honest, unblemished account. Unfortunately, I find most wine writing consists only of various degrees of perfection. Every wine is good. Every winemaker is a saint (exagerrating a bit). I knew that many in Bordeaux would not like to see an unvarnished account of their lives. I was not surprised, then, that many in the region objected. But many also liked what I wrote, appreciating the book’s honesty. The reaction was a little like how Robert Parker is perceived in Bordeaux. Some who have benefited from his ratings want to name an avenue after him. Others resent him as an arrogant American imperialist.
I find this book to have a wonderful flow and balance of narrative, facts, and opinion as well as be incredibly approachable for readers of all levels of wine expertise. How do you feel about the style of writing in this book?
I always try to use fictional techniques and story telling in my non-fiction writing and hope I succeeded. The book’s subject is not just wine, it is also French society. I wanted to make the book accessible to wine lovers and wine haters alike.
What are your thoughts on the book a couple years after being published?
I’m proud that I managed to pull off this project and proud that the book remains in print. Researching and writing it represents one of the happiest times in my life and a project that I will never forget.
Any plans to do a follow up edition to Noble Rot? Any plans to write another book?
I thought about writing another wine book and I still contribute wine columns to the Wall Street Journal in Europe, but I fear that any new wine project (on Champagne for example) would repeat the themes I explored in Noble Rot. So I have turned to a new subject, which seems more relevant to me right now – junior golf. My 15-year old son Samuel is an avid golfer who wants to compete at a high level. I have found a whole world of Tiger Woods wannabees among teenagers and I spent the last six months following the junior tournaments around America. My book – tentatively titled Tiger Cubs – will explore how our society trains top-flight athletes and how parents navigate the thin line between pushing and encouraging. I’ve written about half the narrative and the book should be published in about a year’s time by Public Affairs.
What are some things you like and dislike about modern wine writing?
I’m not a fan of most wine writing. I find it too complacent. Every wine is good or great. Every winemaker (as I said before) is a saint. I like wine writing that uses the subject as a window onto larger emotions and themes, but unfortunately I find too little of it.