Book Reviews

Book Review: Over a Barrel


Nestled in the Finger Lakes in Hammondsport the family-owned Taylor Wine Company was the biggest producer and marketer in the State. Taylor was the backbone of the economy of Hammondsport and Finger Lakes.

It triggered the planting of hundreds of acres of vineyards, contracted grapes produces, and treated its employees justly.

The book starts with a relatively detailed history of viticulture and wine industry in New York State and the American East Coast, followed by how the company started and grew. Then the narrative continues with California’s wine industry including that of the now famous Napa valley.

It mentions how in 1963 an acre of vineyard-suitable land cost $ 3500.00, but now costs upwards of $ 500,000.00. All this because of the 1976 tasting in Paris organized by Stephen Spurrier, and Englishman who owned a wine store very close to the American Embassy in the capital of France. He also taught wine classes to expatriate Americans living there. His partner, an American, encouraged him to promote California wines, as she knew a little about quality and taste.

The blind tasting of top Bordeaux and Burgundy wines and a selection of Spurrier was organized, and the tasting panel that included several French experts chose two Napa Valley wines as the best of the tasting regardless of vintage differences.

When the Time magazine publicized the results, Napa valley was put on the map and gained worldwide fame. Taylor Wine Company was still successful, but brothers’ health gradually declined. They had no succession plans, and their offspring’s were poorly prepared to street the company in the 1960’s.

The management at time decided to start a winery in California with a plan to transport the production in bulk to Hammondsport for bottling and distribution. The plan worked for a short time but later proved to be unsuccessful.

Coca Cola bought Taylor Wine Company and started to run it like their did their core business, but it proved to be disastrous. Meanwhile Almaden, and Paul mason, two California wineries started competing in Taylor’s markets. The taste of the population had also changed, and which Taylor’s management failed to recognize.

Eventually, a study was commissioned, which revealed that many marketing, production, and inventory control errors were committed. One off spring started his own winery and gave derogatory speeches, which damaged Taylor’s reputation.

This a well researched, well written and revealing book for any businessman or – woman as well as wine enthusiast to read, study, learn from mistakes Taylor’s management committed, thus leading to the demise of the long established and reputable winery.

Highly recommended.

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