"The 1992 Wine Merchant of the Year describes one year in the life of a small wine-making village in Burgundy, discussing its ancient rivalries and political intrigues, its residents, and the rhythms of the agricultural year."
There are plenty of expatriate enthusiasts sending missives from France who are more than ready to line our bookshelves and convince us that by the time we have got to the last page, we will be wine connoisseurs of the first order or ready to do up a derelict château in the middle of nowhere. Simon Loftus, however, is not one of these illusionists, presenting us with a down-to-earth and illusion-free account which is somehow still enchanting. This is even in spite of the fact that in the thirty or so years that have elapsed since the book's publication, some elements of the village life he describes may have changed a little.
Packed full of fascinating facts (including that Puligny-Montrachet has no underground cellars due to the water table causing them to flood should they be dug below ground), Loftus manages to engage his audience without patronising us by flying too low or losing us in technical jargon by flying too high. The production of the wine is fabulously intertwined with tales of the villages' inhabitants, which are enhanced even further by individual interview snippets conducted by Loftus. As if this were not enough, we are also treated visually with photographs, although in a more modern (perhaps hardback) edition there may be even more of a wow-factor with colour photographs (those in the paperback edition are black and white, although this also adds to the journal's more rustic feel).
The journal format also allows the story of the year's wine season to flow, building atmosphere and intimacy with success. It has been said that Loftus' book is not only the best story of French wine-making but also the best story of France in general, and this is certainly a convincing assessment - Loftus takes us all by the hand and leads us to meet the people, the village, the businesses, the landscapes, the produce, the language and the atmosphere with authenticity and vigour. Rich in detail, it also calls us back to reread the account again and again. While it may not convince readers that spending a summer of back-breaking physical labour in the form of harvesting grapes is the best idea, the journal is not here to sell us an untainted dream; Loftus leaves us with no false impressions of how difficult this work and this life can be. We are tourists, but of the best kind, as we are guided by perhaps one of the most honest accounts that there is, by a wine expert who also seems to be very much one of us.
Other works by Simon Loftus
A Pike In The Basement: Tales of a Hungry Traveller (2004)
Red Wines of Bordeaux (1988)
White Wines of Burgundy (with Jasper Morris; 1988)Anatomy of the Wine Trade: Ade's Sardines and Other Stories (1987)