Book Review: “A Perfect Score” by Craig & Kathryn Hall

18 Sep

A PERFECT SCORE: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery by Craig and Kathryn Hall. 224 pages w/16 page photo insert. Published Sept 13, 2016 by Center Street Books. Hardcover MSRP $26, ISBN 978-1-4555-3576-7; eBook $13.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3678-1. http://www.HachetteBookGroup.com

I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But sometimes a great story will propel you to take a look from another perspective.

This was my case in agreeing to review “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery”. I did not know Hall or Walt wines, and I had a blank slate (or palate) to experience this story.

Whether or not  you are a fan of the Hall Wines and Walt Wines brands respectively is immaterial to this text. I found myself carried away on a journey of two adults (and a few co-conspirators and day players) with a mutual passion for wine and life. A Perfect Score looks back and traces the twenty years of the authors’ journey together, starting with their separate, successful, adult business lives in Dallas and their meeting in 1991.

Girl meets boy and introduces him to the beauty of California, and along the way we observe Kathryn’s career as a U.S. Ambassador to Austria to their first joint venture in wine making, to their more recent and current lives owning and overseeing two wineries with multiple vineyards in the Napa Valley. Many trials and tribulations are involved, from losing two entire seasons of their winemaking to a warehouse fire, to the fiscal damage of 2008’s recession. Today, both wineries are successful and highly praised in RP wine scores, and the culmination of the book resounds in accomplishing a lifelong goal and career-making 100 point award for Hall’s2010  Exzellenz Cabernet Sauvignon.

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As I enjoyed this book over several weeks and an accompaniment of wine (while reading, you also will stop mid-chapter to pour a glass. It’s inevitable!) I found this “Dynasty-meets Bottle Shock” story great fun. Would I expect that a re-telling of business challenges, personal struggles, and the conundrums of operations and tough decisions in farming and winemaking to be a compelling story? It is. The stories move along with flashforwards and flashbacks, delving into specific of winemaking and their business evolution, finally giving way to a relatively quick finish of the “holy smokes, all this hard work paid off” ending with their perfect Robert Parker wine score.

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Craig Hall and Kathryn Hall

As with daily life and storytelling, you will sometimes find a bump or two in the road. The prologue is insightful and endearing but fails to re-connect back with the reader later in the story, while the first chapter suffers from rapidly shifting perspective. The lengthy third-person narratives are interspersed with first person accounts by Craig and Kathryn, sometimes switching again over to a third person point of view or even to a “joint” but ambiguous couple’s perspective. These inconsistencies, however, are a small price to pay for sections of the book I enjoyed the most: the struggles the authors face in their personal lives and winemaking. The first-person accounts of the challenges they surmounted down to the tiniest details, and the real effort that goes into farming, tending, harvesting, pressing, and the intricate choices made in the winemaking, operational, branding, and distribution processes kept my interest piqued.

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The Hall Wine Cellar

From the title, the reader already knows that A Perfect Score finishes up with a win, but the struggles in the story are both dramatic and real. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I usually fall madly in love with a bottle of wine before I want to find out about the winery owner, winemaker, and vineyards. But my favorite chapters, as an oenophile, are the exacting details of winemaking, harvest fears, the 7am barrel notes sessions, the dedication spent on the Sacrashe vineyards, and their expansion into pinot noir. I love the stories about re-designing their facilities and incorporating LEED certification, and their passion for art and beauty: building a gorgeous barrel cave, designing architecture and art for the Napa public to enjoy. Devouring this book made me want to visit Hall Wines, to see their vineyards and the Hall art collection, and taste their fruit and wine. It made for a lovely read, and a great trek to the property’s St Helena vineyard off Highway 29 in the Napa Valley. While the photos above came from Hall with approval, the photos below are my own from my visit to their Napa property & tasting room.

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Carefully tended vines in the St. Helena Vineyard

 

Bunny Foo Foo Sculpture, St. Helena Vineyard, Napa

img_2590Tasting ripe fruit from the St. Helena Vineyard


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Beautiful fruit, almost ready for harvest!

 

Processed with Snapseed.

Perfect pairing: a Napa Cab and A Perfect Score! 

 

I expect A Perfect Score will inspire wine lovers, vintners, and those who dream of opening their own wineries for decades to come, in tasting their wines and visiting Napa Valley, to falling in love with a piece of land and tending young vines in hopes and dreams of another great accomplishment.

 

à vôtre santé!

 

 

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