Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: Richard Sheppard’s Impressions of Wine Country

Impressions of Wine Country, Richard Sheppard’s latest book, is a cross between an illustrated memoir and one of the most beautiful wine guide books I have ever seen. Even if you’re not much of a wine drinker (I tend toward beer myself), Richard’s sketches and descriptions of California’s wine country will make you want to plan a trip there (not to mention taste a few wines). And if you’re both an urban sketcher and a wine lover, this collection of vibrant watercolors will inspire you on every level.

From his home base in the town of Healdsburg, Richard sketched and tasted his way through the dozens of vineyards and wineries of Sonoma and Napa counties. Over the course of two-and-a-half years, he met and befriended vintners, learned the history of the area and of specific wineries, visited a vineyard at 3 a.m. for the harvesting, observed the entire process of grapes being turned into wine – and documented all of it in his sketchbook.

The cycle of a grape transforming into a bottle of wine naturally follows the four seasons, and some of my favorite sketches are those that document those changing seasons in this lush countryside. For example, Richard sketches a particular wild pear tree from the same vantage point four times to highlight the changing colors of the tree and the landscape behind it. (Color geeks will drool at his spectacular use of the secondary triad of hues that seems to be made for wine country!)

As you know, I’m always interested in trying new media, so I was amused by Richard’s occasional use of natural and self-referential “paints”: a sketch of a wine bottle was painted with the Zinfandel it contained, and a sketch of blackberries was colored with the berries’ juice. Even a half-finished, reluctantly abandoned sketch delighted me: I know well the desire to stop for one more sketch, even when there may not be enough time.

Not just a collection of pretty pictures, the book could be used as a tasting tour guide for wine aficionados looking for detailed information about specific wineries and their specialties. Peppered with personal anecdotes and impressions (and of course his wine notes), Richard’s prose reveals his love for and appreciation of the people, fruit and landscape that make his favorite beverages possible.

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