A friend of mine (Kevin) recently sent a tweet out to me about how he read “The Mad Crush: A Memoir of Mystic Vines and Improbable Winemaking” by Sean Christopher Weir and said it was a good one to check out. Next thing I know Sean tweeted to me that he would send me a copy. The rest they say, is history.
It’s 148 pages about the 1995 vintage at Saucelito Canyon Vineyard in San Luis Obispo. I don’t review books therefore I won’t be going through all the aspects of writing, story line, and whatever else book critics discuss. I will say this, I found the book to be interesting and entertaining, which takes a lot. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve started and quit because they just couldn’t keep my interest.
I think I enjoyed it because of my love of wine. Not to say a non-wine lover wouldn’t but I think it’s more ideal to those that appreciate the industry. The story runs a little deeper than simply being about harvest, crush, and winemaking. It’s about people. It’s about community. It’s about a chapter in life in which Sean seems to be deeply thankful for.
So, if you enjoy reading and are looking for a good, short read…be sure to check it out. Just to be on the up and up, I did receive this book from Sean at no cost, he did not ask me to blog about it but I enjoyed it enough to do so, and I am not making any money from the Amazon link where you can buy the book here.
Now, let’s get into the Q&A with Sean. At the end you will see a couple of paragraphs he emailed me after he read my blog post from April 1st. In those lines he adds another layer to the story which I definitely picked up on while reading the book.
Matt: What was your reasoning behind writing the book? Did you have a goal in mind or were you just trying to capture a moment in time?
Sean: It’s true that I was trying to capture a moment in time, specifically the 1995 crush at Saucelito Canyon Vineyard, which was jam packed with all sorts of unruly twists and turns. I was there, and it was a blast, and the wine turned out great. But for me, that experience was really just an excuse to tell a larger and more important story—specifically the unlikely but true tale of this century-old Central Coast vineyard and the people who have called it home since 1880.
The more I dug into the history, the more fascinating the material became. I gained a lot of oral history from Bill Greenough, the owner/winemaker of Saucelito Canyon who resurrected the vines in 1974, and I also relied on some excellent source materials as well, particularly Mountain Drive: Santa Barbara’s Bohemian Community by Elias Chiacos. Along the way, The Mad Crush became not just a book about winemaking, but also one of entrepreneurship, endurance and adventure with a dash of destiny. This vineyard has changed many lives, including mine. How cool is that—some badass plants a vineyard in the coastal wildlands in 1880 and that single entrepreneurial act is still reverberating today. That’s the larger story that I wanted to tell.
But I also had a goal with this book, which was to invite readers into the basic winemaking process in a clear, authentic and informative way. Several people have remarked that the book has opened their eyes to how wine is made, or at least filled in some gaps, and that is really gratifying.
Matt: Based on the book I would guess you have a romantic view of wine or the wine industry…true?
Sean: Yes, I’d say that’s true, but perhaps not in the typical sense. I find more romance in the grit than in the gloss, as the book probably attests.
Matt: How is the book doing so far?
Sean: I think it’s doing well. It’s not flying off the proverbial shelves, but it’s early. The Mad Crush earned the “#1 New Release” designation on Amazon for the “Wine Tasting” category. It seems to be gaining some momentum as the book gets out there and as people have a chance to read it. Sandra Silfven of the Detroit News wrote that “wine books are seldom as engaging as The Mad Crush.” Veteran wine writer W. Blake Gray called it “one of the two best books I’ve read about a single year at a winery.” And Joe Roberts of 1WineDude wrote, “You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate The Mad Crush.” That last one is particularly cool, because that’s exactly what I was hoping to do—write a wine book that is really inclusive and relatable to anyone.
Matt: Do you have plans for a second book? If so, what would the topic be?
Sean: I don’t have plans for a second book, but I won’t stop writing. Hard to say where that will take me. I have an eight-year-old son, and I’ve toyed around with the idea of writing a chapter book for him. He’s growing fast, so I’d better hop on it!
Matt: What did you learn through the book writing process?
Sean: I learned a lot about myself, and about the art of self-editing. At first, I had visions of writing something with heft in the range of 350+ pages. But I found myself blathering on. I hate books like that. So I hit a wall, and the project sat. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be a big story to be a good story. I circled back to it and started pruning. It was difficult at times to chop away, but also liberating. The telling of the story became more economical, but also better. Instead of filling pages, I became more focused on making the pages turn. I think it was a good call, because the Detroit News called The Mad Crush “riveting” and the Santa Barbara News-Press called it “rollicking.” So in the end, I guess I learned to never give up, and to keep the pruning shears sharp!
Sean (in an email to Matt): One of the things that originally attracted me to the wine industry is its sense of community. It seems that everyone in the industry can point to at least one mentor who showed them the way, and it was the same for me. As an industry, it’s more communal than competitive, and that’s what makes it special. Bill Greenough wasn’t just a mentor to me, but to several other people who went on to become successful winemakers, such as Mike Sinor, and now Bill’s own son Tom. And even though I didn’t stay in wine production, I learned other lessons that will last a lifetime. My experience is far from unique–such stories continue to play out across the wine industry.
Bill himself was mentored by several people throughout his life: his older brother George, his headmaster at Dunn School, and the bohemian legends on Mountain Drive. He was also inspired by the can-do spirit of the World War II veterans who returned to his hometown when he was a kid. When I stepped back and looked at this larger backstory, I could see the dominoes falling, the sense of people paying things forward in a way that eventually shaped my own life in ways I could have never imagined. I would urge people to check out your (HootnAnnie’s) April 1 post about your grandfather, and about the curveballs of life. It’s a great read and something that rings true to me. In real time, things can seem random, and you can find yourself in unforeseen places. But the older I get, the more things seem stitched together in retrospect, as if there was a larger plan after all. That’s something I really wanted to convey and honor in the book.