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A Letter From The Publisher, Nov. 27, 1972

2 minute read

DURING her childhood in Wisconsin, recalls Patricia Delaney, wine was a holiday treat, sticky-sweet muscatel reserved for family gatherings at Christmas. Her appreciation of what Ben Jonson called the milk of Venus broadened a bit during her travels as a TIME correspondent: in London the cellar of Justerini & Brooks was downstairs from her office. While reporting for this week’s cover story on American wines, Delaney became a connoisseur of magnum-size skills.

For three weeks she toured vineyards throughout California, talking to the men behind the new domestic boom. While little old winemakers long ago evolved into modern businessmen, she found that they remain the most convivial of hosts. She shared a meal of wild boar and vintage Pinot with a vintner in Sonoma, and sipped her way through 33 Cabernets at a tasting session in Buena Vista. She was guest at a château-size winery in the Napa Valley as well as a 10,000-acre vineyard near Monterey, and in the Alexander Valley she was led on a midnight tour through the century-old Simi winery. “Usually I feel thoroughly satiated with a subject toward the end of our assignment,” she says. “Not with wine. I could file on it every week and never tire.”

All did not go as smoothly as the Pinot, however. “Certainly the most difficult and maddening part of the reporting,” Delaney admits, “was the pursuit of the elusive Ernest Gallo, who guards his private and business life only slightly less zealously than Howard Hughes.” Only after he had assured himself of her seriousness and expertise did Gallo grant his first interview in a decade.

While Delaney crisscrossed the grape fields of the West, Reporter-Researcher Eileen Shields tracked down wine experts, investors and merchants in the East. She also assembled an eight-member board of oenologists to act as TIME’s advisory experts on the relative merits of U.S. and French vintages. The group, including Wine Critics Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine and Robert Balzer, gathered recently in the Time-Life Building for some serious sipping, sniffing and critical evaluation. Their efforts resulted in a consumer’s guide to “the Battle of the Bottles”—and 128 slightly used wine glasses.

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