In Around the World in Eighty Wines (Rowman & Littlefield, Nov.), Mike Veseth, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Puget Sound who blogs at The Wine Economist and who has authored several books on wine, takes readers on a global journey through the contemporary wine scene, with stops in regions, such as Lebanon and Syria, that even vino aficionados may not be familiar with.
How did your background as an economist inform this book?
I lead two lives. This book brings the two together. As a professor, I was very interested in how globalization plays out, how it changes things, the problems that it forces us to confront. The wine guy looks for things in the wine world that answer those questions. [With Around the World in Eighty Wines], I wanted to try to do something explicitly global in its focus.
The book looks at wines from familiar places, such as France and Italy, as well as ones from less familiar countries, such as Georgia and Syria. How did you come up with the list of regions you wanted to include?
I was driven by the stories about the wines. Georgia and Syria got in the book because I wanted to write about a wine from Lebanon—a powerful, moving story of a wine and winemaker in a war-torn place. In researching that, I learned about a particular winemaker in Syria. That, and some travels, led me to Georgia, where there’s a different wine-and-war kind of story.
Do you feel that some of the wines or winemaking regions that you spotlight in the book will soon become better-known in the U.S.?
In one of the chapters, I go through Bali, and then Thailand, and then India. The wines from all three of those places are now becoming available in the U.S, and some of the Indian wines will become better-known, I think. Georgian wines are now kind of a cult favorite in the U.S. There’s a group of people interested in natural winemaking—winemaking with the fewest possible additions and manipulations—and it's taken [to Georgian wines] .
What surprised you most while working on this book?
If you take this journey with me, you go to places where you expect to find wine, like France and Italy and California, and you go to places that you would never think could make wine, or where anybody would make wine. [You] see how wine inspires people to overcome such natural and political and human odds. In South Africa, for example, I write about a wine that is very popular in the black townships—a place where cider and beer, I think, are traditionally the drinks. To see how that [wine] has changed some things is very interesting. The power of wine—which is just an alcoholic beverage: water and acid and some alcohol—to transform how people think about food, how they think about themselves and the places that they live: it’s inspiring.