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Book Review

C.J.J. Berry's First Steps in Winemaking

"The classic that guided three generations from garden to wine"

Berry, C.J.J. First Steps in Winemaking. Reissued edition, G.W. Kent, Ann Arbor, MI, 1994.

(Reviewed for Amazon.com by Jack Keller, The Winemaking Home Page)

C.J.J. Berry is a legend to winemaking hobbiests worldwide as the man who had a winemaking recipe for just about any ingredient. For literally tens of thousands of home winemakers, this is the only reference book they ever had or needed.

When it first appeared, the layout of "First Steps in Winemaking" was quite unique. After an admirable discussion of the basic principles of home winemaking, Berry then presented his recipes on the basis of the month in which the principal ingredients are readily available at market or are typically harvested in the British home garden. There are three things wrong with this format.

Firstly, citing harvest months for various ingredients geographically limits the accuracy of the format. Harvest times for any crop will vary greatly around the world, but they can differ from Britain's calendar by six months for gardeners in, say, Australia. Berry's treatment works fine in the British Isles and many other places, but certainly this is not universally so. In his later books, Berry abandoned the calendar-month format of "First Steps...."

Secondly, at least in developed countries, there is no longer a need to be tied to calendar-month availability of ingredients. Advances in cargo transport and refrigeration over the past 50 years have made dependency on local crops a thing of the past. Almost any ingredient can be found in the modern supermarket or produce center at any time.

Thirdly, Berry's presentation of recipes by month results in dependence on the index in order to find recipes for a particular ingredient. This is perhaps the greatest shortcoming of the book's layout. An alphabetical listing of recipes, as he used in subsequent books, would have been more convenient.

In defense of the author, however, I must point out that Berry never anticipated his book would have worldwide appeal. Nor, it would seem, that it would remain popular for so long. Certainly he would not have quoted prices for ingredients and supplies had he suspected as much.

Are these shortcomings fatal? Not in the least! This is still the classic reference to the subject and ought to be in every winemaker's library. Indeed, if you could only buy one book on the subject, only Terry Garey's "The Joy of Home Winemaking" could challenge "First Steps...." to a coin toss.

Buy it. Read it. Make wine. You'll love yourself for it.

Order C.J.J. Berry's First Steps in Winemaking from AMAZON.COM now!

Last update was November 3rd, 2000.

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