Northwest Wine

Tacoma professor writes wine book

When he toured Napa Valley 30 years ago, Mike Veseth never imagined writing an authoritative book on global wine economics.

But an encounter on that visit to America's most famous wine region changed the course of his life when a winemaker on the Silverado Trail struck up a conversation with Veseth. The winemaker discovered he was an economics professor and began peppering him with questions on how the fragile economy would affect his business.

"A famous winemaker taught me to think about wine in economic terms and to consider that supply and demand sometimes matter as much as climate and soil when it comes to what's in my wineglass," Veseth wrote in the opening chapter of Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists, released last week.

Veseth, an economics professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, began thinking about writing Wine Wars a few years ago and launched a blog called The Wine Economist -- www.wineeconomist.com.

"That's been great," he said. "I can try out ideas and get all sorts of feedback. Writing the blog helped me to develop my voice -- and some interesting issues."

While only a small part of his online writing made it into the book, the experience allowed him to meet a lot of people in the business, including the owners of Fielding Hills Winery in Wenatchee. Their daughter was one of his students at UPS, and he and his wife have volunteered at the winery. This gave him great insight on how a small operation works and how that fits into the economics of wine.

Additionally, several former students are in the Washington wine industry, including Chuck Reininger (Reininger Winery in Walla Walla), Michael Corliss (Corliss Estates in Walla Walla) and David Rosenthal (Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville).

"It's been personally satisfying because I can connect with former students," he said.

At UPS, Veseth teaches a class called The Idea of Wine, one of the most popular courses on campus. It looks at the history and economics of wine, and while he doesn't serve wine in class, he does play host to a couple of off-campus tastings. For example, students will watch Mondovino, a 2004 documentary on the globalization of wine, and they will taste wines related to the film as they debate the arguments it makes.

In fact, the concept of the wine tastings worked so well with his students, he extended it to Wine Wars by inserting short chapters in which he encourages the reader to taste certain kinds of wines to see if they fit the point he is making.

Wine Wars isn't Veseth's first book. Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization came out in 2005, and it tackled rhetoric and myths surrounding economic globalization.

In his home state of Washington, Veseth sees many of the lessons he has learned about wine globalization, including an influx of French winemakers coming here to make wine, as well as Chateau Ste. Michelle's efforts to build a global riesling empire (the state's oldest winery now is the world's largest riesling producer).

So far, sales have been strong for Wine Wars, which delights and surprises Veseth.

"If I sound amazed, it's because academic books don't tend to sell well on Amazon," he said with a chuckle.

But Wine Wars is no dry textbook. Rather, it's a well-written story about what is -- and isn't -- happening to the world of wine. Every wine lover will find the stories and history of what is in their glass fascinating.

Wine Wars is published by Rowman & Littlefield and retails for $25.

*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.

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